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Stuff No One Told Me About Having a Baby

During my first pregnancy, I was determined to do everything right. I devoured books by "Important Experts," monitored every morsel I put into my mouth, practiced regular prenatal yoga, and gently rubbed my belly with fragrant lotions. Now I have a toddler, and I'm expecting my second child. The closest I get to downward dog pose is bending to pick up Legos. I wish I had more time to obsess about this pregnancy, but I'm just too busy. On the upside, I learned so much from my first experience that I'm far less worried. And I'm delighted to share my hard-won wisdom with you.

1. Okay, you know how when you first get pregnant, you go with a girlfriend to try on maternity clothes and there's this cute little stunt-belly pillow in the dressing room? And you strap it on and model some outfits and joyfully cry a little? Guess what? That pillow gives an idea of how you'll look when you're five months pregnant. By the time you reach nine months, it will taunt you with its daintiness. To know what you'll actually look like, you'd need to strap a small planet to your midsection.

2. Don't buy Goodnight Moon. You will receive approximately 10,000 copies as gifts.

3. Do not freak out if you wake up and find yourself lying on your back. I'd gotten the impression from my far-too-extensive reading that the weight of my uterus would crush my spine, give me hemorrhoids, and deprive my baby of oxygen. None of these things ever occurred. What did: I woke up. I rolled over. Everyone lived!

4. Every now and then, the baby wants Ben & Jerry's. Have a scoop. Guilt is not healthy.

5. Do not be suckered into buying ridiculous baby items you do not need, such as a "prenatal sound system." This $50 device -- which comes with a headset, a belt, and a Mozart CD -- lets you listen to the baby in utero and communicate with him via microphone. I imagine thousands of parents leaning down, loudly conjugating French verbs, periodically shrieking, "Make us proud! Win a scholarship to Yale!"

6. Expect that at some point during your pregnancy, you may fail a screening test. You will become convinced that your baby has a genetic defect, any number of fatal maladies, or gills. Most likely, she doesn't. Learn to take deep, cleansing breaths while you wait for follow-up tests. (And hey, it's good preparation for labor.)

7. Do buy the goofy body pillow. Yup, it will take up most of your hubby's bed space. Get it anyway. I spent months creating museum-worthy soft sculptures out of pillows, reconfiguring them a dozen times a night as I flipped like a fat pancake. A body pillow would have done the trick.

8. Get your husband involved; ask him to make you a CD of music to play during labor. And explain that this is no time to get funny with the punk-rock polka songs. Have him do an upbeat mix and a soothing mix. (FYI: I didn't want anything with words, only instrumental music.)

9. I didn't realize it then, but newborns are actually quite portable. Like footballs. I wish I'd gone to more movies, eaten more brunches out, had my hair cut, and gotten manicures.

10. Let the housekeeping slide. When you have a newborn (and cannot afford a cleaning staff -- or elves), it is okay to live in your own filth like the fish in the aquarium in Finding Nemo. Ease up on yourself. You are exhausted, hormonal, and the baby is your full-time job. When the baby sleeps, go ahead and nap, read, take a bath, call a friend. Accept that the house will go to hell in a Moses basket.

11. Stock up on dye-free, perfume-free detergent. It made a big difference to my eczema-prone baby's skin. I washed my own shirts in it too, since Josie spent so much time nestled on me.

12. If you're planning to breastfeed, be sure to get the name of a good, nonjudgmental, board-certified lactation consultant before the baby arrives.

13. Don't buy cuddly toys for the baby unless you really have no friends.Stuffed animals, like rabbits and Tribbles (on an ancient Star Trek episode), have a way of breeding. Soon every surface of your home will be covered. Why rush this?

14. And most important of all, accept that people will criticize your parenting decisions no matter what: your prenatal diet, your baby's name, whether you work or stay home. Get used to it. Just learn to smile brightly and say, "Thanks for sharing!" Then continue doing what feels right, operating on the basic principle that Mother really does know best.

Copyright © 2005. Reprinted with permission from the June 2005 issue of Parents magazine.