Modern women have a tendency to prepare for motherhood by confirmation bias. We want motherhood to be just as the old feminists told us: a biological function that only adds a baby to our established lives. Motherhood is natural and instinctual and any special knowledge it requires can be easily gained by smart modern women, those multitasking masters who can do everything men can do only in high heels and backwards.
We avoid knowledge that contradicts these assumptions.
This is easy to see in fertility discussions. Motherhood is a late 30’s thing for professional women. To accommodate that delay, our elders had us focus on avoiding pregnancy. We often have to learn how to achieve pregnancy after our fertility declines—unexpectedly, as we say around here. That’s not a jest. There is a book that says just that, along with Amazon comments thanking the author for writing the truth. Tellingly, that book was not the first fertility shock book for the modern woman. There was another a dozen years earlier. It did not get read.
Once pregnant, the avoidance strategy leads women to read up on a more predictable and controllable pregnancy rather than motherhood.
Thus, “Nobody told me motherhood would be this hard” is becoming a cliche—a very annoying and damaging cliche. (Warning: language at first link and blood pressure spike at second.) While there is nothing wrong with a little What to Expect reading, I recommend spending gestation prepping for the long haul of motherhood. This is a general timeline, so that you don’t end up post-delivery, babe in arms, wondering “What in the world do I do next?”
First 20 or So Weeks:
Get organized. Implement a filing system and organize your finances. Start using a to do list for domestic things. They work differently than office lists—less collaborative, more repetitive. Get household systems for laundry, mail, and groceries down. If you do not yet have household systems, start them now. Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House is the modern manual for domestic skills. This is the stuff of the fabled unintelligent drudgery that the savvy modern woman assumes must be easy to handle cold. It is not.
Set up your home office if you plan on working from home and do some dry runs.
Expand your cooking skills.
Nab a few maternity items from friends. You only need enough to get you through the week when you wake up and the unbuttoned pants and loose top trick doesn’t work anymore. That’s later than you think the first time around.
Research car seats and strollers. These are essential items and there is so much information and angst surrounding them that it is easy to get overwhelmed and freeze. Talk with friends in your neighborhood about their strollers. What you need a stroller to do in a walking city like London is totally different than what you need it to do in a car city like Houston. In Houston the stroller needs to be able to go in and out of your car. In London, it is your car. Your neighbors’ pronouncements of the best stroller ever are better recommendations than 5-star Amazon reviews scattered about the world.
Start childproofing your pets. Making changes when the baby arrives is a recipe for frustration and possibly heartache.
Hang out with that mom friend I mentioned the first week. Offer to babysit while she showers, runs a few errands, or goes on a date night. Better yet, couples babysit. While they go on a date night, you and your husband have a babysitting night.
Do the healthy bit: rest, exercise, and spend time with your husband.
During Your Second Trimester
Read up on baby care, the nuts and bolts of it. How much do babies eat and sleep? When do you call the doctor and when do you just watch, and for what? (I have a book list coming soon.)
Interview and choose a pediatrician. After reading up on baby care and chatting with your friends, a little practical knowledge of what you prefer in a doc will help you choose one that fits.
Start researching other baby gear. (I’ll have gear recommendations in a later column. But for now: less is more.)
Start sorting childcare and house care. Who will stay home, and if neither, who will you hire? Seek word of mouth recommendations for babysitters and housekeepers.
Start setting up the nursery space. Move furniture, paint—those sorts of big jobs. This might seem a little early, but after 7 or so months, you won’t have the energy for the big jobs.
Childproof your house for poisons and sharps. This one might seem extra early, but now you have energy and the ability to still get on your hands and knees with sort-of ease. And you’ll have time to get used to the new positions long before the panicked childproofing when your 6-month-old gets into the under sink cabinet. Move poisons, medicines, and sharps out of reach. Clean up electric cord clutter, too.
Get rest, exercise, and spend time with your husband. Also continue hanging out with that experienced mom friend.
Early 30-Something Weeks
Source the big maternity clothes. A 32-33-week belly is often what a woman expected for her 38-39-week belly. Nope. Larger maternity clothes are often required.
Start unpacking and putting the details of the nursery together. If you wait until 35 or so weeks you’ll be too huge, tired, and hot, if it is summer, to care to move.
Cook with an eye toward freezing. Freeze things in single servings—note I did not say “small.” If you plan on nursing, then plan on the diet of a 14-year-old boy in a growth spurt or a marathon runner. Lactation requires fuel.
Consider wills and other legal planning.
Rest, swim (water feels so delightful when you are heavily pregnant), and spend time with your husband. Continue hanging out with that experienced mom friend.
Get your affairs in order at work for your leave or exit.
Write an essential grocery list. I called our list the “Grocery List for the Prevention of Starvation and Preservation of Sanity.” (I started creating our household systems while living in Geneva while my husband finished up his tenure at the United Nations. The bureaucratic titles were our inside joke.) It should have things that you like and can pop in your mouth or prepare in less than a minute: fresh fruit and vegetables, peanut butter, string cheese, yogurt, bread, granola bars. Also remember the other essentials: coffee, tea, milk, toilet paper, laundry detergent. Make many copies of this list and put them somewhere easily accessed. Whenever someone needs to do a grocery run, grab a list, check the fridge and pantry to mark off what you have, and go.
Discuss with your husband what to expect beyond baby care for the first few months, i.e. dog duties, groceries, visitors, etc. I do not recommend 50/50 splits on the details, such as 50/50 on diaper changes. It is the fad these days but we lose all the efficiencies of specialization that way. In the early stages, a 50/50 partnership is mom on baby care and dad on mom care and everything else domestic. The rhymes and reasons of that will be the subject of another post soon.
Put up your (swollen) feet, read, and wait.