10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Had My First Baby


I have a lot of friends who have either recently had their first baby or are pregnant right now.  When I was pregnant with my first baby, I read every pregnancy and newborn book I could get my hands on. I wanted to know what this whole baby thing would be like when it actually happened.  Now, 2 babies later, I am still learning about motherhood. Every. Single. Day. Only now it’s not from a book: it’s from the trenches.

Despite my best intentions to learn all that I could before I had my babies, there’s just so much more that I’ve learned from my on-the-job training than I ever could have gotten out of a book or a manual (if there were such a thing). I’ve learned a few valuable lessons along the way–tricks of the trade, if you will. Here are a few things I wish I would have known about before I had my first baby.

1. Let go of your plans/hopes/desires/dreams for your baby’s birth.

Birth and Coming Home 070This photo is from my first son’s birth. You may notice that I’m lying on an operating table. That was so not the plan. I went into both of my births planning on having natural childbirth experiences with no drugs and minimal interventions. For our first child, I planned an out-of-hospital birth with midwives–I didn’t even want a doctor in the room! Long story short, I’ve had two emergency C-Sections. I’m 0-for-2 in the “having birth go your way” department. But here’s the thing: it’s OK. I had a really hard time dealing with my first C-Section–I felt like my body had failed me in this most basic function. Then I realized that my baby’s birth was not in my control. I did everything I could to get him out safely and, in the end, that meant we had to cut him out at a moment’s notice. And he was perfect and healthy and wonderful. Even though things didn’t go how I would have liked them to go, they went how they needed to go. With our second birth I let go of a lot of my expectations and, even though the outcome ended up being the same (BUMMER!) I was fine with it. Even though the birth itself wasn’t all that different, my attitude about it was–and that made a world of difference! When it comes to babies being born, expect the unexpected. Hold your plans in an open hand, not a closed fist, and be willing to go with the flow.

2. Having a baby doesn’t have to break the bank.
It’s true: having a baby is expensive. Really expensive. But there is hope! There are lots of great ways to save money on baby expenses.

  • The first thing I would suggest all moms do is sign up for Amazon Mom. It’s a great program run through Amazon.com that gives you free 2-day shipping on everything you buy on Amazon, plus it gives you discounts on baby essentials. It’s free to sign up and it saves you trips to the store (which, for a new mom, is as good as money in her pocket!).
  • You can also try your hand at couponing to save money on diapers and wipes. I was pretty diligent about couponing with my first baby and we saved about 50% on diapers that way. If you want to learn the ropes, there are some great tutorials online that can show you how to get the most bang for your buck (or clip?).
  • Take advantage of free/cheap resources and activities in your community–library story times, parks, community play areas (I love the Shoreline “indoor playground”  for all of you Seattleites), beaches, hikes, farms, public swimming pools, and outdoor concerts to name a few.
  • Make your own baby food (see my post for making your own baby rice cereal here).
  • Only buy what you need. You could spend a LOT of money on baby gear, but you really don’t need all of it. See my list of the essentials and my favorite products for more details.

3. “You can do anything, but you shouldn’t do everything”.
I saw this quote recently, and it rang really true with me. Choose what you want to focus on, and go for it–but don’t expect that you’ll be able to do everything that you want to do. In fact, you probably won’t even be able to do everything that you need to do once your baby arrives! Don’t try to be Super-Mom who does everything has it all together all the time–even moms who look like they have it all together really don’t. And that’s fine. That’s called being a mom. If you have piles of dirty laundry, a dish full of sinks, and a child crying at your feet as you’re making dinner, that’s normal. Do the best you can with each day, and call it good.

Along with this, know that it’s OK (no, necessary) to have help sometimes. Allow your friends, family, and community to help with meals, cleaning, babysitting–whatever you need that will free you up to focus on adjusting to life with your new baby. Once you have a baby, you’ll know where that phrase “it takes a village…” came from!

4. It’s OK to put a crying baby down.

Birth and Coming Home 602

Whenever my first baby would cry, I did whatever I could to make him happy–right away. I had this weird feeling of abandonment  if I heard him crying and wasn’t instantly there to soothe him. But then, one day, I couldn’t get to him right away–and he was fine! In fact, he calmed down on his own, went back to sleep, and didn’t seem bothered in the least. Then I realized, it’s OK to let baby be on his own a bit. Now, with 2 little ones, I’ve learned that it’s actually necessary to put down a crying baby sometimes–and he’s always just fine. An added perk: baby will learn how to calm down and entertain himself if you aren’t doting on him every moment of every day–a valuable life lesson, indeed!  If you need to put down your baby so you can go to the bathroom or even take a quick shower, he’ll survive the 5 minute interlude. You both might even enjoy it!

5. Choose the advice you’ll take 
It never ceases to amaze me how every living, breathing person has advice on child-rearing. People with babies, people without babies, old people, young people, you name it–they all seem to know the only right way to do things with a baby. And they’ll tell you. Especially if you’re doing it wrong. I have found that the best response is usually just to smile, say “Thank you”, and then keep doing what you were doing.
As this baby’s parent, you know them better than anyone else. You know what they like, what drives them crazy, how they respond to different situations, even what bodily functions they’ve performed in the last 24 hours. You are your own baby’s expert. So, even when you get good advice from someone else, check it against what you–your baby’s expert–knows about your baby. What’s worked for someone else and their baby may not work for you.

6. Laugh at yourself
You will have days as a parent that just make you want to cry. Or scream. Or throw a good old-fashioned temper tantrum. And, sometimes, that’s OK. We all need to cry and scream and throw a fit every now and then. But you can also choose to just laugh at the situation and say “oh well, these crazy kids have done it again!”.

For instance: The other day I was trying to cook dinner and my boys both decided this would be a great time to test Mom. With a pot boiling over on the stove, the baby started screaming. When I picked him up, I noticed that he had poop squishing all the way up his back and out the neck of his onesie. I ran upstairs to change him and when I came back downstairs, my 2 year old had flung half of the contents of his rice box (a sensory activity) across the floor. I could have cried or yelled or run away to a nice quiet closet, but I just had to laugh at myself and the “situation” that is my life. This is my lot now, and it’s actually kinda funny. Three years ago, I never would have imagined that this is how a typical Thursday afternoon would look for me. But it is, and I embrace it! If I don’t laugh at myself every so often I could end up resenting the way things are, and I never want that to happen. So bring on the messy, the loud, the annoying, the embarrassing: I will just laugh at you!

7. Sleep. And don’t expect to feel rested for the next 20 years.

Birth and Coming Home 301

You’ve heard it before: sleep when the baby sleeps. That worked for the first few weeks for me, but then I realized that “when the baby sleeps” happened to be the only time I could take a shower or eat a meal or pay the bills. Rest is still really important, though. I’m not good at taking naps during the day, but I can usually fall asleep pretty quickly at night time. As a result, I have to be pretty diligent about setting a bedtime for myself each night and sticking to it–even if I really want to stay up late doing important things like watching TV or checking my friends’ status updates on Facebook. But the sad reality is that even if you do go to bed on time and try to take naps when the baby’s sleeping, you’ll probably never really feel rested as long as there are people who call you “Mom” or “Dad” living under your roof. Kids are exhausting and you’ll probably never get enough rest to make up for the energy output they require. Oh well, can’t blame a girl for trying!

8. Document important information and events.
When your baby rolls over for the first time, or gets her first tooth, or says his first word, it feels like the most earth-shattering event. You know that you’ll remember it forever! But you won’t. My oldest son is only 2 1/2, and I already can’t remember a single stat or milestone from his babyhood. Maybe I just have a terrible memory, or maybe my brain is just a pile of mush after chasing two little boys around every day, but the fact remains that I just don’t remember those all-important details.
Do whatever works for you to record your child’s life. Some people like hanging a calendar by baby’s changing table so they can write interesting little facts about baby for each day of their first year. You could buy a baby memory book from the store, jot notes down in a notebook, or even pull out your smart phone (yes, there’s an app for that).

9. Avoid burn out: take time for yourself.

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It’s easy for a mom to get sucked in to the 24/7 nature of parenting. But if you don’t take a little break every now and then, you might just break! Exercise. Get Grandma and Grandpa to come over and watch the baby so you can go out on a date with your husband. Grab some girlfriends and get a pedicure on the weekend while Daddy is playing with Baby. Hire a babysitter and go to a coffee shop so you can lose yourself in a good book for an hour. Maybe even train for a half-marathon on the weekends (see photo above. Bonus: you get an extra member of the cheering section when baby comes to watch your race!). If you need to, schedule these “breaks” into your schedule (and make sure your husband has them in his calendar, too!). I have found that when I take good care of myself, I’m able to take better care of everyone else.

10. Be present and enjoy the ride.
Parenting can be very challenging, demanding, draining. It’s tempting to check out with a smartphone or your laptop while the kids run around at your feet. But blink, and you’ll wonder where the time has gone. Trust me, you won’t want to miss those moments–no matter how mundane or trying they seem in the moment.

Most days I go to bed and think, “What did I do today?”. When I see the list of things that didn’t get done and the piles of things that need to be dealt with it can be a bit disheartening. But the reality is, I did a lot today. I snuggled my babies, I kissed a boo-boo, I cleaned up poo-poo (I cleaned up lots of poo-poo). I read some stories, I played make-believe, I disciplined, I prayed, I disciplined some more. I ran through a park, I bathed tiny bodies, I sang lullabies, I said “I love you!”. I did a lot today–and I want to savor every moment of it.

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"It Worked For Me": Peterson Style

I got a lot of good feedback on my last post about baby stuff, so I thought I’d try to do a few follow-up posts on general parenting tips that we’ve picked up or developed in our 2 glorious years with offspring.

Now that I’m a parent, I like reading parenting magazines that give me advice on how to handle the two little tornadoes of energy that are under my care. One of my favorite columns to read is called “It Worked For Me” in Parent’s Magazine. People basically just write in to tell about little tips and tricks that they use with their kids. Some of the ideas are really amazing–simple little things that make life so much easier.

Mostly out of desperation, Jon and I have developed our own little repertoire of “It Worked For Me” solutions to our every day problems. Here are a few:

  • Water Stopper

    David trying--unsuccessfully--to get water out of the fridge

    David trying–unsuccessfully–to get water out of the fridge

    David loves using the water dispenser in our fridge. The problem is that he usually likes using it as a means to create his own slip-n-slide on our kitchen floor. Or to give the dog a shower. Or just to see how much water will come out before an adult notices his exploits. You get the idea.
    Jon, being the clever engineer that he is, came up with a simple solution to our water dispenser woes. Now we just keep a clean, dry sponge wedged between the back of the dispenser and the push-lever. With a little effort, an adult can still press the lever against the sponge and get water out. No matter how hard he tries, though, David can’t get the lever to push in enough to release the water. I don’t know how long this will continue to work for us, but hopefully by the time David develops the strength to push in the lever all the way he’ll also understand the word “no” and all of it’s consequences a bit better!

  • Easier Pancakes
    A "pancake stick" for David

    A “pancake stick” for David

    We like having a lazy family breakfast most Saturday mornings, so that usually means we’re making pancakes. In order to get the pancakes from griddle to plate as quickly as possible we do a couple of things. First, we mix the batter in an 8-cup pyrex measuring cup. It’s easy to pour the pancakes with the pour spout and it means we only have 1 dish to clean at the end of the day. Then, we like to make “pancake sticks” for David (another idea of Jon’s). That way when the pancake is ready to be cut up into little pieces for David we can just snip, snip, snip down the “stick” with our kitchen shears and it’s ready to go. Sometimes we also like to make fun shapes out of the pancake batter for David. To do this, we use a squeeze bottle to just squirt the shapes out onto the griddle (we’ve even used a clean, empty ketchup container as the squeeze bottle and it worked just fine).

  • Video Stories
    Jon has the type of job that, at certain times, requires him to spend a lot of time away from our family. He has to pull some late nights and do some traveling. We always have story time before naptime and bedtime where Jon and I read to the boys. I like the boys to be able to have Jon read them their stories even when he’s away, so before he left for his last work trip we recorded him reading several of David’s favorite stories using my iPhone. I transferred the videos to my computer, and also kept them on my phone for on-the-go viewing. Now we can watch Daddy reading stories no matter where he is in the world. Plus, the stories are a great distraction while we’re driving or waiting for our food to arrive at a restaurant. Just flip on my phone, start the video, and we have a happy toddler!
  • Gift Closet
    I have a lot of friends and family members with kids now. It seems like every other weekend we have a birthday party, baby shower, or holiday to celebrate that requires some sort of gift. Since it takes a long time to go out shopping for each individual gift, and because all of those lovely gifts can start to put a dent in your wallet, I’ve started my own little “gift closet”. It’s not actually a closet, it’s just the top shelf in my own bedroom closet, but saying I have a “gift shelf” just doesn’t have the same ring as the “gift closet”. Anyway, I digress. The gift closet is just a place where I put gifts as I find them. I like to shop online deal sites like Zulily, Kids Woot!, Plum District, Mamasource and Totsy. You can get all kinds of things on the deal sites: clothes (for both baby and mom), toys, shoes, nursery accessories, strollers, even baby food and diapers. When a really good deal comes up (like when free shipping is being offered or there are deep discounts on my favorite items), I’ll buy one or two items to add to my gift closet. I also shop stores like Target during their clearance times (typically January and July) when they’re trying to off-load all of their seasonal toys and clothes for up to 75% off. At any given time I have between 5-10 items in my gift closet that would be suitable gifts for babies or young children. Then, when those baby showers and birthday party invites start arriving I know that I can just “shop” in my gift closet. I save myself a trip to the store and I’ve already saved time and money (now that I have 2 kids to tote along with me everywhere I go, I avoid physical stores like the plague. I hate going into stores. But that’s for another post.).
  • Monthly Baby Photos

    David at 1 week old

    David at 1 week old

    David at 6 months old

    David at 6 months old

    David at 1 year old

    David at 1 year old

One of my favorite things that we did with each of our boys was our monthly photo. Starting at birth, we take a photo of each boy each month until their first birthday. For David, we did all of our photos with a sock monkey. It was incredible to see how he went from a tiny infant smaller than the monkey to a big boy who could hold the monkey up for the photo on his first birthday! Jacob’s photos are a bit different. We’re posing him on top of a large paper calendar each month and circling his monthly “birthdays” on the calendar.

Jacob at 1 week

Jacob at 1 week

Jacob at 5 months

Jacob at 5 months

We have a lot of fun going back through the photos to see how our babies have grown. For David’s photos, I plan on continuing to take a photo of him with the sock monkey each year until he moves out on his own or until he is big enough to fight me off when I thrust the stuffed animal at him for yet another photo session. For Jacob’s calendar photos, I may have him continue holding the calendar for important events as he gets older (birthdays, first days of school, etc.).

  • Custom Books
    I get lots of coupon codes for custom photo books from companies like Shutterly and Mixbook. I love making photo books to document family events, but lately I’ve also been making my own picture books for the boys. I just use our photos and I write a story to place in the text box on each page. The last two books I made were “David’s Busy Day” (based on one of David’s favorite picture books, “Lulu’s Busy Day”) and “My Funny Family’s Feelings” (each page is a different family member expressing some feeling–i.e. excited, surprised, sad, etc.).  I can usually get a custom hard-cover picture book shipped to my door for about $10. These are some of David’s absolute favorite books because, like all of us, he’s a bit narcissistic and loves seeing himself.

    Home-made photo books

    Home-made photo books

  • Clothing boxes
    I keep large plastic bins in my kids’ closets. I have one bin per size (newborn, 3 month, 6 month…and on up to 3T). Whenever they grow out of a piece of clothing, I put it straight into the appropriate bin. Whenever we receive clothing that is not a size the kids are currently wearing I put that right into the size-bin as well. That way, whenever I need clothes for the next size up I just grab the bin and unload it into the kids’ drawers. Yay for hand-me-downs!
  • Toddler Thank-Yous
    David is only 2, so he’s not quite at the age where he can write his own thank-you notes.   I happened to have some of his modernistic crayon drawings and finger paintings lying around, so I decided to turn them into thank-yous. I just wrote a note on top of the artwork with a Sharpie marker and David scribbled his “name” at the bottom. So much more personal than a store-bought card, and a good use for the countless creations David generates.

Parents are ever-resourceful, and I’d love to hear some of your favorite tips and tricks. Feel free to leave a comment with your clever ideas!