“You’re doing it wrong.”
I noticed a woman with pointy glasses standing at the door to my delivery room, where 15 minutes prior I gave birth to my first child. At this particular hospital, the parents of the newborn are given an hour, specifically a “magic hour,” where no one is permitted in the room save for a nurse or doctor if necessary. This magic hour is meant for some serious family bonding and, in our case, giggling over the fact that we just became someone’s parents. An amazing and kind nurse who was by our side through a two-day labor suggested I try breastfeeding before she quietly left the room, so I did.
“I said you’re doing it wrong. You shouldn’t be wearing your gown. Did you hear me?”
She was a little louder this time, making sure her statement was read as absolute, and she was clearly miffed that I wasn’t paying attention to her, but instead to my brand new daughter, who was successfully latched onto me. I glared at this woman, a complete stranger who felt entirely too comfortable shaming me fifteen minutes deep into motherhood, and asked who she was.
“I’m a lactation consultant. Didn’t you read the literature on the magic hour?”
“Oh! The literature. No, I didn’t read it.” I stared down, perhaps a little embarrassed for not having read the precious literature, but mostly I was just pissed. All I could think was, “But do you wanna know how I know I’m doing it right? Because my daughter is content and feeding. Thanks for stopping by, you special asshole!”
I smiled at the woman and went back to being mesmerized by the teeny little girl in my arms. Dumbfounded, she made her way out of the room as she mumbled under her breath, “Who doesn’t read the literature?”
I don’t read the literature. That’s who. My name is Liz Shields, and I’d like to make it known that I didn’t read the baby books. Or the articles, posts, rants, raves, pamphlets, memos, packets, blogs and binders about motherhood, pregnancy, post-pregnancy, pre-pregnancy, or mid-pregnancy. And I’m doing just fine.
When I first found out I was pregnant, I expressed to my mother that I was a little nervous and scared because hello! I’m making a human being that I’ll need to care for for the rest of my life. How does one adequately prepare for that?
“You can’t,“ she said. “And you shouldn’t. Just remember, women had babies in concentration camps and trust me, they didn’t have baby books. They didn’t have bread. Cave women didn’t have $800 strollers! They were too busy fending off the dinosaurs.”
Well-played, Mom. Even if your take on the Pleistocene epoch is a tad off, you set a good and reasonable tone for my pregnancy.
I noticed my own aversion to the books and various other baby-based rackets early on when, flipping through a book that a friend gave me, I found myself wondering why there was more than one book in the entire universe on these subjects if every book claimed to be the definitive source of child bearing and rearing. And that’s when it occurred to me that it’s likely because there’s not one way of doing these things, but instead many, and they’re varied as hell. To paraphrase a saying I’ve never understood but feel is appropriate, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.
In addition, when you’re in the throes of labor/a tantrum/your sixth consecutive night without sleep, it’s unlikely your lizard brain will take you back to that thing you read on page something-or-other in the baby book that will successfully alleviate the problem.
Also, for me, knowing too much sort of ruins things. My pregnancy was relatively easy, but reading about difficult pregnancies and other people’s complications filled me with anxiety. Every headache or cramp made me wonder if it was the beginning of a real, emergent medical problem or if it was just a headache or a cramp.
The same can be said for general advice. No expecting human wants to be told how overwhelming it is to walk through the front door with a newborn for the first time. No one wants to hear how little sleep they’ll get or how miserable late-night feedings can be or how they’re going to be neck-deep in poopy diapers. And for the record, ending these notions with “but it’s the most amazing experience of your life!” doesn’t calm anyone down or make them look forward to being covered in spit up while falling asleep standing up. For me, trying to envision how upended our lives were about to be without being able to adequately prepare was altogether terrifying.
While we’re on the subject of sort of pissing all over the experience that is parenthood, I mistakenly clicked a link early in my pregnancy, and I was taken to a post that was, essentially, a mother who chronologically detailed every single thing she did in a day all the while complaining that she had “zero time.” Highlights of this timeline included typical gems like “make breakfast only to have the little one throw it on the floor” or “barely find time to brush my teeth before realizing it was noon” and “microwave the coffee I made 5 hours ago…again.” The entire time I was reading this post, all I could think of was the fact that if she genuinely had zero time, how did she manage to create a very detailed and specific play-by-play of her daily life? And furthermore, why did she feel she had to?
I felt inclined to contact the author and let her know that posts like this, and there are many, are spoiling the experience for those who haven’t done it yet, but I didn’t see any space allotted for “reading angry reader’s responses re: unnecessary, time-wasting posts” anywhere on her timeline.
And then there are the lists. The numbered, ridiculous, arbitrary lists that pop up in feeds everywhere with headlines such as “37 Things EVERY Mother Must Do To Properly Raise A Child” or “The 14 Things Every Parent Is Doing Wrong” or “The ONE Word Every Father Needs To Say To His Son/Daughter” and the like. These lists are crazy Facebook bait and, if you’re anything like me, you never finish them and feel educated or enlightened. In fact, you likely stress about how many of these things you fear you might forget to do. In reality, you’re probably doing a really great job as a parent even if you haven’t created a Gmail inbox for your child and sent him/her pictures every week so he/she can open it on his/her 18 birthday and celebrate his/her life in photos.
Pregnancy and raising a child can be hugely overwhelming, and the information out there on paper or the internet can suck you into a black hole of self-doubt and shame. Now, I realize that ending this post about what got me through my pregnancy and the first few hot moments of motherhood basically flies in the face of everything I just said, but I feel it would be irresponsible of me to guide you away from this junk without re-directing you towards something more helpful and fulfilling. So, without further ado, here’s my own list of suggested sources:
1. In order to have this child, you must have an OB and/or a midwife. Use this person. Ask him or her all the questions you have instead of Googling them at 1am only to end up in a frantic, sobby ball on the floor. They will give you actual scientific, clinical answers based on your body, your needs and your medical history.
2. Re-read #1 but replace “OB” with “pediatrician.”
3. Talk to trusted family members and friends who won’t intimidate you or tell you you’re doing something wrong. And if there are certain people who thrive on pointing out what they feel you’re mishandling, limit your time with them.
4. You have instincts and, despite what the books and posts and articles imply, these instincts are likely more spot-on than any information you could possibly garner from a Buzzfeed list or a random HuffPo article. Your gut is one of your greatest assets, and I suggest you use it.
Most importantly, remember that you’re doing what women have done for centuries and you and your child will survive and likely thrive, whether or not you read the baby books.