There is something both brutal and wonderful about having a baby.
Being a first-time mum, I thought I had prepared myself through my copious reading and attending of gentle birthing/gentle parenting classes. Older mums bestowed knowing smiles on me as they saw my growing collection of baby and pregnancy books. Some would say, "Oh, we didn't need all these books!" implying that I didn't either. I protested and insisted that I'd rather be prepared. So I kept on reading and looked forward to meeting my baby.
Then my baby girl arrived and knocked everything flat.
Here's what I learnt ...
1. At first, you will not sleep for more than two hours at a time
When I read in all those baby books that babies have small stomachs and need to be fed every two hours, some part of me thought that didn't apply to night time. Imagine my shock when my baby didn't clock off at 9pm. For the first time in my life, I was working a 24-hour shift. Every. Single. Day. No wonder the first few weeks (okay, months) of my daughter's life are a bit of a blur.
2. You will be unfazed by baby poop, urine, vomit - or all three, at the same time
The first time, you may be grossed out. By the nth time your baby experiences a diaper blowout/vomits on your shoulder/leaks on your lap, you will handle it like a boss. I remember being half-asleep at 3.30am and being able to feed my daughter, burp her, change her diaper, and then put her back to sleep.
3. You will keep hearing "Is your baby sleeping through the night?"
Sleeping through the night is like the holy grail of newborn parenting. A good friend of mine recently told me that her two-year-old sleeps from 7.30pm to 7.30am. This filled me with an indescribable sense of longing, and hope that one beautiful day, I will sleep for longer than a few hours at a time.
4. You will lose track of time
Some days will feel like Groundhog Day – feed, burp, change, rinse and repeat. OK, make that most days. Yes, the world will keep on spinning and there will still be leadership changes for Australia, but your world revolves around your little, smiling, cooing baby and his/her milestones.
5. Your body … oh, your body
Growing and birthing a human being is no small feat. In fact, it's downright miraculous and a lot of hard work. Our bodies are designed for it, but at the same time, nobody emerges unscathed. I don't think that's the point, either. Giving birth changes you on so many levels, and I'd like to think the marks it leaves are something to cherish. This is easier said than done in a world that is already so harsh on women's bodies. It also takes time for our bodies to recover after birth, and a lot of self-compassion to embrace our post-baby bodies.
6. Your house will look ransacked
With the months of relentless sleep deprivation, it's only natural to want to take a nap every now and then. I've lost track of the number of times wise mums have told me to sleep when my baby sleeps. First, you'll try to tidy up, do the dishes, or run the laundry. If you're anything like me, you might end up making an even bigger mess because you're so tired. What's the solution? Hire some help, enlist helpful friends or family, or come to accept that this messy standard is your new normal.
7. You will get a little lonely
Unless you live with extended family, once your partner goes to work, it's just you and your baby. Now I understand the importance of having other parents to talk to. They're the survivors. There are unexpected waves of loneliness that come with being so desperately needed by a newborn.
8. You will start to dread car rides
I don't know what it is about rear-facing car seats, but my baby girl howls after about 10 minutes. Maybe it's the combination of not getting enough AC while having her little limbs strapped down. The end result is her shrieking, and me frantically trying everything to soothe her. Sometimes it gets so bad we need to pull over so I can calm myself down. The hilarious part is the minute we reach our destination and take her out, she stops howling. And then she smiles at me. And then I need to make myself a cup of chamomile tea. If I could walk everywhere with my baby, I would.
9. You will have a newfound respect for all parents
There's nothing like the lived experience of parenthood to utterly humble you. Now, when I see families strolling through the streets, I marvel at how they got through the newborn stage. I have a new and deep sense of gratitude for my own parents, who went through this six times for my siblings and me.
10. You will understand the saying 'a face only a mum could love'
Even before the moment I first met her earth-side, my heart had swelled with indescribable love for my baby girl. I have become that besotted, cooing new mum: I send photos and videos to my friends and family, who enjoy them as much as I do (really). As much as I value my breaks from her, I still miss her so much.
Overall, take heart, new parents – it really does get better. Looking back at the blur of my baby's first few months of life, if there's anything I would do differently it would be this: I'd try to worry less, relax more, and enjoy the ride. What I keep hearing is that this newborn phase goes by so quickly, and it's only a small portion of a lifetime of love. Rinse, repeat!
This article first appeared on Daily Life.