An open letter to newly expectant friends

I just learned, this past weekend, that two good friends of ours are expecting a child in December. (Out of respect for their privacy, I will call them Sid and Nancy.)

Because this was a decision that they considered carefully over many years, as Joe and I did, and because Nancy hadn’t ever been one of those women with a lifelong, burning desire for children (as had been true for me, too), I thought I’d offer my own take on what may lie ahead for them.

Dear Sid and Nancy:

First, congratulations again! I know you’re in shock, and that this all seems abstract to you. I, too, had just barely arrived, after years of deliberation, at the point of being ready to “try” when BOOM!! It happened immediately. I had been kind of hoping for some time for “trying” to sink in, but happening fast is better than the alternative, of course; so look at it this way: you have several months to get used to the idea.

But the whole “feeling abstract” thing won’t go away until the baby actually arrives. Despite hearing the heartbeat, feeling occasional kicking, getting huge, etc., the whole thing seems too bizarre to be real.

And during and after the pregnancy, please beware of the baby industrial complex. There are a LOT of people out there dying to convince you that you need this class, this toy, this blanket, this music CD, etc. in order to have a thriving child and be a good parent, and it’s all-too-easy to get sucked into the consumption vortex. 95 percent of that stuff, of course, is unnecessary garbage. As much as you can, keep it simple. All your child really needs, at least initially, is both of you.

Which brings me to my next point: on the very hardest days of new babydom, end it by telling yourself: the baby’s is fed, clean, sheltered, and safe. Those are the minimum requirements, and if you’ve fufilled those items, the rest doesn’t matter – even if you found yourself screaming like a banshee at said newborn.

And you will. No matter how patient you consider yourself to be, don’t be surprised when, after being very zen while trying everything you can think of to comfort your wailing newborn, you let loose with your own barbaric yawp. It happens to the best of us. And though your vocal chords will protest, and you’ll chasten yourself and feel guilty about it, the baby won’t remember it. Only you will, and it’s always much harder to let go of things on your end than it is for the baby. He or she will wake up to a brand new day with no memory. You might still have a grudge, but you’ll have to give it up.

And when people offer to help, no matter how casual the offer seems, TAKE THEM UP ON IT, particularly since you’ll be far from family. We had neighbors and friends lending us a hand quite often, and it makes a huge difference.

Sid, because you’ll probably return to work long before Nancy, you should relieve her for an hour or two when you get home. I know you two are truly equal partners in your marriage, so this may be redundant to even say – but Nancy will desperately need that break in order to maintain a sense of herself and her own body, particularly if she decides to nurse.

Nancy, regarding nursing, try not to put too much pressure on yourself. The baby will be fine, no matter what you decide. Some women try nursing and hate it and end it early on; some love it like nothing else. It’s one of those things you can’t know until you’re in the situation. But remember that nursing isn’t some litmus test for good mothering.

And DO take those breaks when Sid comes home. I can’t stress this enough.

Both of you, of course, have taken time to do what you want for several years before having kids, just as Joe and I did. Indeed, that was the only way I’d be willing to make the sacrifices necessary to have a child, I knew. And your lives will inevitably change – but assess, during these coming months, the activities and hobbies that are most important to you; the ones you can hang onto, perhaps in a slightly altered form. Joe and I don’t do everything we used to; but we still manage to do quite a bit, thanks to our commitment to support each other. 

Inevitably, this means we don’t get to do some things that we liked to do as a couple together anymore, which I miss; but Lily is worth it.

I won’t lie to you: the baby phase was not my favorite part. The impenetrability is maddening at times. You can’t communicate with the baby, and vice versa, and you’re both bound to feel trapped by this disconnect. But hang in there. Parenting has gotten more and more fun as Lily’s gotten older, to the point that now, she’s a ball.

Lastly, I’d say that although decisions like where to put your baby in daycare seem nearly impossible when you’re new to this whole game, the fact is that nothing is permanent – and this should be a source of comfort. If you decide to go with one place, and you find you don’t like things about it, you can always switch to a different situation. Nothing’s set in stone, so don’t fear that a wrong decision will doom your poor child forever.

I’m so happy for you both, and I look forward to meeting your little one when he/she arrives! Just remember that you can, and should, find your own parenting path. There’s no right way, and if something makes you uncomfortable, don’t do it. (For me, for instance, I skipped the whole childbirthing class thing and just got some DVDs, and they did the job.) So that’s my two cents – though I may find I have more cents to offer in the future…

Hope your pregnancy goes smoothly. Enjoy the desserts along the way!

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4 thoughts on “An open letter to newly expectant friends

  1. Erik Kuszynski says:

    Jenn- You forgot to tell them one thing. Everyone they know will have advice for them. They should listen and take all of it with a grain of salt.

    • Jenn McKee says:

      True – that should definitely be included.
      As should me telling them that there will be low points when they think they’ve made the wrong decision – that they’re not equipped to do this parenting thing, and that they’re not doing a good job.
      This feeling may even linger for a while. But like everything else, it will pass, and things will get better. Until the next crisis of faith. 🙂

  2. Carol says:

    There is some great advice here, Jenn.
    However, I have to comment on the part about an infant’s inability to communicate with a parent and vice versa. While, of course, it’s true that a baby cannot talk or communicate in the ways adults or older children do, infants can interact quite effectively with us. I have noticed this to be true especially with our third baby. It’s not that I think she’s smarter or easier to read than our other kids were when they were babies. Maybe it’s because I’m more relaxed compared to when I was going through the baby stage the first time around. Or maybe I’m able to pay closer attention since I don’t have an active 19 month old like I did when our middle child was an infant. Either way, I am enjoying this babyhood more than ever before. I usually know from the tone of her cry if she’s hungry, tired, bored, or just plain annoyed. Her smile, coos, and flirty eyebrow movements give me pure, instant joy. I talk to her and play with her and she responds with delight. Even during the frustrating moments of her screaming, I try to remind myself that she is a tiny person trying her best to communicate her needs to me and I try to listen.

    • Jenn McKee says:

      You know, I read about mothers who could distinguish an infant’s cries in terms of what he/she wanted, but Lily’s ALL sounded precisely the same to me. Maybe it was because this was my first and only experience, but I couldn’t glean much of anything, and it drove me CRAZY at times.
      But I’m glad you’re having a better experience! 🙂

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