A few days after my daughter Margot was born, in October 2019, I was lying in bed looking at my phone (turns out parenthood doesn’t change everything). Scrolling through congratulatory emails from relatives and close friends, I noticed one from a woman named Emily. Emily was a friend of a friend — someone I’d see at holiday parties and housewarmings. She’d had her first child a few months earlier, but I hadn’t expected she’d be one of the first to reach out after Margot’s birth, nor did I realize that, of all the messages I got, hers would be the one I really needed.
Her email wasn’t so much a congratulatory note as a “welcome packet” — the kind you get when starting a new job. Congrats on your new human! A few FYIs… It was a handful of helpful reminders — a cheat sheet to reference on those days when you can’t figure out the weird new software, and you realize what a bozo you were to even apply to this job that you’re totally unqualified for.
I went back to it often, especially during those early days when I half expected the baby to fire me as soon as she could hold up her head. It helped to be reminded that there was someone out there who was also in this with me. Someone to whom I could send my weird, un-Googleable questions and fears, asking, “Is this normal???” and know that they’d write back, “omg, totally.”
In fact, within a week of Margot’s life, I had accrued a handful of mom friends I could (and did) text anytime: How do I keep her awake enough to eat?! OH MY GOD WHEN WILL THE SWEATING STOP? Some of them had been friends before, while others I’d known only through old jobs or hadn’t seen since college. I’m not saying they alone got me through those weeks; I had plenty of support from in-real-life friends and family. But reading their calm, generous, not-at-all-grossed-out replies, I felt not just supported but normal.
Emily’s welcome packet meant so much to me that when another friend had a baby a few months later, I sent it along. I’ve since done so several more times, adding in some of the most useful words of wisdom I got from other moms during the newborn phase (along with my phone number). “No need to reply,” I write. “Just wanted to send over these reminders, in case you ever need them.”
1. The nights can be hard, but the day always comes. No matter how impossible it seems at 3 a.m., there will be sunshine and coffee.
2. Everything’s a phase. Newborn phases pass quickly.
3. Fun, familiar music helps. When in doubt, put on tunes.
4. Nothing feels linear, but it’s all progress. Really.
5. Sleep — both yours and theirs — will be all over the place. Don’t look for patterns, because there aren’t any yet. Some folks don’t feel sleep deprived at first and feel like they’ve won the lottery, but then everything suddenly changes. For others, it’s the opposite. Do what you need to get some rest, but try not to get hung up on whether you have a “good sleeper” or “bad sleeper.” Enjoy the good nights if/when you have them — and if/when you don’t, know that you likely will one day soon.
6. Listen to your gut, but also trust the professionals and loved ones you’ve decided to trust. Your gut has a lot on its plate right now.
7. Birth recovery is both faster and slower than you think, and it’s different for everyone. Eat, hydrate, take the poop pills — that’s pretty much it in terms of universal advice. Just know that your hormones are on a real journey right now, and you’re along for the ride. (If it gets too bumpy, see #6.)
8. The first 100 days or so are about survival. Routines are great, but don’t worry about establishing solid ones or creating “bad” habits just yet. Prioritize what you need to get through, because all the baby needs is you.
9. Everyone will give you an exact age or developmental milestone for when life starts to feel normal again. Your age or milestone will probably be totally different. But it will happen. I honestly didn’t buy this one myself, but it’s true.
10. This one is key: Basically, every mom is your friend now. Neighbors, old roommates, Instagram-only friends — they’re there for you. You will be stunned by how many on the outskirts of your life will step up and offer support. We’re the invisible network you never knew you had. Use us. Text us. Never hesitate to reach out with a complaint, a question, a photo, or a fear you’re too scared to say aloud. No context necessary. No need to apologize or reciprocate. It may not fix the problem, but I guarantee you, it will help.
There is so much more about new parenthood that I wish I could convey in words to everyone who needs to hear it: the intensity of love and fear and how sometimes it seems so big it’s almost unsurvivable. The knowledge that you are stronger, wiser, and more capable than you ever knew. That some of the hard parts people warned you about are easier than you thought, and this feels like a secret you must keep. And that there are hard parts that no one mentioned and you can’t find on any YouTube video, so it must just be you, and that definitely feels like a secret.
Sometimes, the whole experience feels like that — a bizarre, wonderful, totally unique experience that only you and your baby are having. So, all you really need to be reminded of is that the world is full of people who are in on the secret, with you.
P.S. “10 things I always tell pregnant women,” and a motherhood mantra.
(Photo by Jamie Grill Atlas/Stocksy.)