Whenever a pregnant friend needs a little reassurance that she'll manage this whole motherhood thing, she turns to me. Not because I'm a perfect mom (Ha! Does such a person exist?), but because I was as inexperienced as they came when my son was born. (When the nurses brought him to me, I panicked and asked them to show me how to hold a baby again.) "If you can pull it off," friends tell me, "I'm pretty sure I can."
In truth, I probably could have benefited from a little more experience with kids. But I've found that the best preparation for this gig comes from on-the-job training -- especially in baby's first year. Though I read some books and sat through a few parenting classes, I was nonetheless floored by how much a tiny person could change my entire life. Here are six things I learned the hard way that first year.
1. I do not need eight hours of sleep to function. You know that kid who was always the last to wake up at slumber parties? You're looking at her. But a newborn has a funny way of tinkering with your notion of sleep. Where once I guarded my full night's rest with the ferocity of a mama bear, now I was grateful for any snippets of dreamless sleep I could get.
2. Every single muscle and tendon will ache. Day after day. As a gift for enduring a long back labor, the universe blessed me with an easy recovery. But that didn't mean I was spared discomfort in those first few months. After a few weeks of nursing, cradling, and picking up my growing baby, I started experiencing nagging pain in places I never thought much about before -- above my wrists, around my elbows, and down my forearms.
3. Caffeine is a lifesaver. Three years into motherhood, I could write a love letter to coffee. But it wasn't always that way. For years, I passed over cups of joe in favor of water in the mornings. "It's the real energy drink," I'd declare to my buzzing friends. But two weeks into new mom sleep deprivation and I was (literally) sprinting to my local Dunkin' Donuts for a cuppa.
4. Fresh air cures everything. Early on, my mom told me about the vacuum trick -- "just turn it on and clean the rugs when you need a break from the crying," she'd say -- and I tried this twice. Both times Joshua's sobbing outlasted my tidying up. So one day, when I was plum out of ideas and at my wit's end, I strapped him in the stroller and went for a really long walk along the East River. The gentle breeze and the whooshing of the barges and boats didn't just soothe my son. They calmed me down, too.
5. String cheese and avocado are the food of gods. I love trying new foods, and it's a passion I can indulge often in the city where I live. But infants and high-end restaurants aren't always compatible, so much of that first year was spent eating at home. What I discovered is that sometimes, the simple food my baby ate, like mozzarella, avocado, and hummus, can taste (almost) as good as the fancy stuff.
6. My body is pretty amazing. A few months after I gave birth, I went shopping at a sample sale, which are notorious for their amazing deals and community dressing rooms. I found a dress I loved and, for a moment, considered putting it back on the rack to spare myself having to change in front of perfect (and perfect-looking) strangers. Then I caught myself: I may not have a perfectly flat belly anymore, but I do have a child who this body of mine nurtured and delivered into the world. And that, to me, is more amazing than a six pack. I tried on the dress, did a few twirls in front of the mirror, and bought it.
Tell us: What have you learned so far from motherhood?
Image of Bonnie and Josh courtesy of Love, Louise Photography