They Never Prepared Me for This

They* never prepared me for this.

 *books, media, society, fellow parents, etc.

By Jess Norby, Social Media Strategist and host of The Sincerely, Your Small Business Podcast.

I’m sure I’m not the only first-time-parent who checked off all of the boxes for being “prepared” before welcoming a newborn into their life: put every Wirecutter best-rated-baby-item on the registry, join a few Facebook groups for moms, save some inspirational Instagram posts about how “it’s hard, but so worth it,” and nod along when numerous friends say, “Just you wait for this phase…” under the guise of sound advice.

Check, check, check. I’m totally ready for parenthood now and promise to not be surprised when life feels a little hard and also, yes, I’m aware that I might feel a little emotional at times!

Our daughter, who is now 3.5, was born in the last quarter of 2019. The journey began with a labor that resulted in a lot of blood loss (my then-medical-resident spouse said I might not have survived if we had a home birth), and transitioned to an emergency C-section, weeks of triple feeds, endless nights of re-watching the Mad Men series while nursing my newborn, and eating late-night peanut butter pretzels from Costco to stay awake when it seemed like the whole world was soundly asleep. I was in pure survival mode.

They never prepared me for this.

After resuming weekly therapy to process my traumatic birth, getting support from my husband and postpartum doula, and learning how to be a parent, I was feeling so excited to step back into daily life and COMMUNITY: meeting up with friends for coffee while my precious newborn slept on me or in her carrier, signing up for yoga classes at the local prenatal yoga studio (shoutout to Kelly Cox!), and resuming work in my social media consulting business.

We were finally getting the hang of life as new parents, and wow. The changes that your newborn goes through every day–and sometimes every hour–were incredible. The first time she rolled over, smiled, giggled, and sat up flew by, and I couldn’t believe that THAT baby came from THIS body. Like, grew up in THIS belly. And we–my husband and I–WE MADE THAT.

They never prepared me for this!

If you recall that our kid was born at the end of 2019, you might understand that she was a Pandemic Baby. At the start of the pandemic, my husband and I discussed how we should live under the same household with an exposed family member (he worked at the hospital), and ultimately decided that we wouldn’t live or sleep in separate rooms, but take the calculated risk of continuing to co-exist under the same roof. All was relatively smooth because he was home a lot more. No one really knew what this virus was, and I wasn’t going to complain about his lighter schedule.

But then, as you may remember, society adjusted to the pandemic. Folks went back to work, people started doing their normal things indoors, and in our household, my husband went back to working 80+ hours a week as a medical resident.

We decided that daycare was not yet a choice that we wanted to make as a family, and that we were not going to invite babysitters and caretakers into our home. This meant I was now going to be a working parent but do it all full-time and at home.

I get goosebumps thinking back to that time: sitting down to work immediately after putting her down for naps while simultaneously scarfing down food, scheduling consulting calls at 6:30 in the morning before my daughter woke up, after 7pm when she’d be asleep for the night, or while she was awake and waving at the computer screen (I’ll admit she made Zoom calls more fun).

In 2019 my business brought in more revenue than the year prior. My assistant and I worked around the clock in order to sustain the business and stay connected to the local community. Don’t forget about feeding the dog and taking her for walks, making three meals a day for myself and a baby who’s new to eating solids, cleaning up said meals from the floor of my daughter’s high chair, laundry, other home maintenance STUFF, and doing 90% of bedtime solo each week while my husband was either still at work or on call for the night.

They never prepared me for this.

One thing I’ve learned as a parent is that with every low, there’s a high. And man, were there beautiful highs. I was fortunate enough to spend that time with my daughter. To see her hit each of her milestones because she was home with me. To laugh with her, cry with her, find a new sense of curiosity and wonder with her, bond with her, and grow with her.

I saw an Instagram post that said something along the lines of, I don’t miss those chapters or the younger years; I miss saying goodbye to them.

That’s a sentiment I’ve carried with me over the past three years, especially when I reflect on raising a baby during a pandemic. If you asked me at the end of 2019, before we finally agreed to send our child to daycare, how it was to work from home while having her home full-time, I would have first shouted a bunch of expletives in your general direction.

And then I’d calmly tell you that I would never wish that upon anyone, even my worst enemy. The anxiety, stress, overwhelm, and burnout that I felt (and brought onto myself, since we chose to go at it without risking exposure) for most of that year was worse than anything I’ve experienced, maybe even more than the trauma surrounding my birth, because it lasted for what seemed like forever.

And at the same time, I can peel back that layer and say, “I don’t miss that chapter, but I miss saying goodbye to it.”

I miss saying goodbye to the small little squish my daughter was. I miss saying goodbye to nursing her and feeling that intimate bond (however many times a day; see, I’ve already forgotten). I miss saying goodbye to her babbles and baby signs, that are now full-on “threenager” sentences, questions, and demands.

I miss saying goodbye to the way she spread yogurt all over her face and body while eating, even though it would require yet another outfit change (and me getting on my hands and knees later to scrape dried yogurt off of the floor). I miss saying goodbye to the way she’d look up at me while I held her tiny body and danced to Johnnyswim in the living room. I miss saying goodbye to the pure innocence of sharing space with a baby (because now we live with lots of big, loud, feelings. If you know, you know).

They never prepared me for these beautiful, priceless, joy-filled moments.

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