10 Things I Forgot About Having a Newborn

10. How hard it is to change a diaper on a tiny human

Newborns are tiny (at least mine are), and you forget how tiny until you try to change a diaper. There’s that umbilical cord to avoid which is awkward and nerve-wracking (even for an old pro like me). First, you have to take off the soiled diaper, then you have to pry those curled up legs away from the area to be cleaned (which is not easy… they are strong suckers!). Finally, you must attach the new diaper to this tiny, struggling being. This can take several tries.

During that time, you most assuredly will be peed on, causing you to have to reach for a new diaper. This scenario can repeat several times before you get it right. Also, newborns hate diaper changing. HATE. They scream the whole time. Dressing them is next to impossible, too. For some reason they anchor their little elbows to their sides like their life depends on NOT putting sleeves on. Sleeves are damned near impossible. When will someone invent an infant straitjacket-like garment where one can just put their arms inside their clothes?

OMG. Someone has.


9. Male relatives believe they can “break” the baby

Lots of relatives come to visit after you have a baby and the female relatives will grab the baby and hold him for hours, passing him around between themselves. The male relatives, on the other hand, will not touch a newborn with a ten foot pole. Each one has the same excuse: “He’s too small! I’ll hold him when his head isn’t going to fall off.” I don’t know what it is about men, but they all think they’re going to hurt a newborn. I’ve never seen them do this with puppies. They’ll hold a 6-week-old puppy with no issues, but a newborn is a scary, scary thing for most men.

Mr. Fox does not have this problem, probably because he’s part of the generation of dads who were in the delivery room and who actually change diapers. But any man born before the 1950s acts like you’re trying to hand them a small nuke when you try to give them a newborn. (My dad likes to brag that he’s never changed a diaper. All three of his daughters keep telling him that not helping his wife is something to be ashamed, of but he keeps bragging about it for some reason. My mother is a saint.)

8. What sleep deprivation feels like

You know it’s coming, the sleepless nights and the near-constant exhaustion, but you can’t truly appreciate it until you’re marinating right in the middle of it. Bleary-eyed at 3 a.m. with only two hours of sleep behind you, you can barely recall your own name let alone what you are supposed to be doing. This is where breastfeeding comes in so handy. No mixing, warming, trips to the kitchen or other such nonsense. Just grab baby and go back to bed.

(Please, no “you’ll squash the baby in bed!” hysteria. I know people do this and it’s scary and sad. Know thyself. If a train can’t wake you at night then don’t co-sleep. If a change in air temperature rouses you easily, like me, then don’t worry about it.)

Most of the time, I can snooze half-awake while nursing and when he’s done I can roll over and plop him back in the bassinet and everyone goes back to real sleep. After a few days of constantly interrupted sleep, however, you’ll find your mind feels crazed. Memory goes, patience flees and this can go on for months. In some cases, years. All I’m saying is, if you don’t have any kids yet, enjoy your uninterrupted sleep. It’s important and you will miss it!

7. How much childbirth hurts

Everyone forgets this or the human race would die out. And with the invention of epidurals and spinal taps some people never feel it. I planned on being one of those people, and two out of three of my birth experiences were pretty much painless.

Unfortunately, this last one was somewhat of a cruel joke.

I don’t know what it is about anesthesiologists, but there are never enough of them when needed. My epidural failed shortly before “go time” and the happy-juice guy was doing something else somewhere far away and denied me my pre-planned cocktail. “He’s coming,” they kept saying as the minutes ticked by in excruciating contractions interrupted only by my tears and gasping. He never came. My midwife finally had to look me in the face and say, “You’re having this baby now anyway. Let’s do it.”


This was not the plan. I’ve heard about the burning ring of fire and that’s precisely why I never wanted to experience it! That’s what epidurals are for! They’re not supposed to die out before the Big Show! The Big Show is the moment the epidural is most needed! What the Hell? Clearly, I have a baby now so somehow I did it, but I truly have no idea how and I think my tailbone is fractured (I type this while sitting on an inflatable ring).

I also had the distinct feeling that my head was going to explode at the moment of truth. Strangely, when I asked my husband what he was thinking while I was screaming, he said, “I thought your head was going to explode.” (He really is my soulmate.) That’s what childbirth feels like. Like your head is going to pop off. (And of course there’s the burning ring of fire below.) It’s like what I imagine war to be like. There’s blood and screaming and chaos and pain so bad you’re sure you’re going to die. It’s amazing to me the human race made it through the span of human history with no pain management for childbirth. My sister assures me that now that I’ve pushed out a baby without drugs, I qualify to be a Marine.

6. How much breastfeeding hurts

I nursed two babies. It’s cheaper, it’s healthier, it’s great for lazy people like me and did I mention how cheap it is? It’s free. Go check out how much formula costs. It’s like $500 a can or something. Trust me, with all the other crap you have to buy for babies, you don’t need the extra expense. Formula also smells like fish and tastes worse. I can’t understand how babies drink it. Nursing is worth the pain and aggravation of the first few weeks. If you can get past that you can do anything and you’ll save yourself oodles of money.

Those first few weeks are tough, though. First, no matter how many babies you’ve nursed, nipples go back to being sensitive real quick so you have to start over each time toughening them up. After the third day of nursing, I began looking at my son in fear, as if he was a barracuda coming at my nipple with razor-sharp teeth. The latching is the worst part. The minute they create that vacuum it’s like a thousand tiny needles right in the nipple. It makes your feet literally come off the floor and your whole body tense.

However, in a few minutes it subsides and it doesn’t hurt again until you switch them to the other side. The good news is, this doesn’t last forever. Soon it’s not painful at all. There are some people who get cracks and bleeding and infections… but I swear, if you can stick it out you will be so pleased with the outcome. Just slather those things up with all the boob remedies you can find and soldier on. It’s worth it in the end. (And you can save all the painful stories to guilt them into doing chores later on.)


5. Newborns don’t smell good.

Well, they start out smelling good, but then you can’t bathe them for a week or so while that umbilical cord is still attached. They start to smell like sour milk and sweat. Of course you can give them a sponge bath, but they hate anything that makes them cold.

But I had the memory of inhaling baby sweetness and then realized that sweetness is manufactured by Johnson & Johnson and comes in lavender scents. (And don’t forget to get in between the toes — they get really cheesy.) It was also fun rediscovering what’s new in the baby world like ingenious baths for infants. Here’s the one I got so I don’t have to bend over the tub while kneeling on cold tile. We bathe our cub in the kitchen sink in this cushy wonder.

4. The noises they make

Newborns make the craziest sounds that will scare you. They squeak and gasp and make choking noises, sometimes all night long. You get used to it. But in the beginning, it’s upsetting. You think they’re going to stop breathing at any moment. This is why having a bassinet next to your bed is better than a monitor. When a sound scares you, it’s easier to pop your head up and check on them than to have to run into another room. My son had a short stay in the NICU after birth for breathing problems so I’ve been extra freaked out by his noises at night and having him close by is a relief. Mr. Fox has nicknamed the baby “Squeaker” because of his funny noises. Newborn coos are precious and once you get used to them you’ll love hearing them.

3. Being housebound in summer stinks

I forgot how long a new mom ends up inside, unable to go anywhere. For one, you’re sore and feel lousy — and secondly, you can’t just drag a newborn anywhere. There are germs and weather and all sorts of reasons to stay home. It’s really annoying in the summer. At least in the winter you’d probably be inside anyway. During the summer, everyone else is out and about and enjoying life and it can feel like you’re imprisoned in your house. I’ve been out on a few outings but mostly to doctors. I’m getting housebound and crazy. Whenever I consider going out somewhere people yell at me about how little the baby is and how I shouldn’t risk it. There’s nothing like a good dose of guilt and paranoia to get the mother of an infant to stay inside! But if at all possible, it’s a good idea to get out, even if it’s just to sit in the backyard or on the front porch for a while and breathe fresh air.


2. How badly pacifiers are made

I’ve been through exactly 6 different brands of pacifiers trying to find one that my baby likes. This kid has gained a pound in a week which I think I can attribute to the constant nursing. But I’m beginning to think he’s using me as a pacifier. Almost every pacifier, even for newborns, is HUGE. And he hates them. He spits them out and won’t latch on. It took some serious searching but we finally found one he likes called “Mam.” For the first time he was able to latch onto it and gave me about two hours of respite before the next nursing frenzy. Unfortunately, every baby is different, so the only thing you can do is pony up the cash and buy every pacifier they sell until you find one that

1. How delightful and precious they are

We weren’t planning on this baby. I’m almost 40 and the news of it surprised and shocked us. It was upsetting because I thought I had my life all figured out and things were running a little smoother with an 8 year old and a 5 year old. I finally wasn’t changing diapers or carrying someone on my hip. And then it all changed again.

I get how disruptive a new baby can seem. I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the news. Add to that the terribly hard pregnancy I had with the never-ending sickness and sciatic pain and round ligament pain and you have a recipe for depression. I didn’t spend any of this pregnancy in a state of bliss and wonder. I spent it hung over the toilet and at the chiropractor. But then he arrived and after a thoroughly frightening stay in the NICU for a partial lung collapse, I fell in love. The idea of losing this baby, whom I had not been particularly fond of throughout this whole pregnancy, was too much to even imagine. I cannot describe the fear and terror of having your newly born child taken from your body into intensive care. Seeing him strapped up with tape and tubes and needles and sleeping under lamps was terrifying. I had only held him for a moment before they took him away. And there he stayed for two days while he recovered. And I recovered from childbirth with no child. It was bizarre and scary.

Now that he’s home and well and we are together at last, I am remembering what it’s like to fall in love with a new baby. It’s the best thing on earth. I feel so stupid for being so miserable during pregnancy and I wish I could bottle this feeling and give it away to those desperate women out there who don’t stick it out and persevere through the hardship of circumstance and instead opt to end an unwanted pregnancy. I wish I could tell them, you may not want it now when you’re hunched over the sink losing your breakfast but if you could just feel for one moment what it feels like to hold that new baby and feel his heartbeat against your skin, you’d never even consider the alternative.


image illustrations via shutterstock / ajkkafe / Antonio Gravante