Six Surprises from my First Year of Parenting

Parenting the first year

I’m 33 weeks pregnant and I’m really starting to feel it physically. Chasing around a newly walking 14 month old has preoccupied me to the point where I haven’t had much time to think about welcoming a second child in the next month or two. Somehow though, my husband and I are not that worried.

To prepare for Rocco’s birth some 14 months ago, I read every new parenting book under the sun, scoured parenting websites to find out what to expect and to determine what was ‘normal’ in terms of developmental milestones. This time around, I think we have it covered.

As I thought back on Rocco’s first year, I was reminded of some things I really didn’t expect, so I wanted to share them for the other soon-to-be new parents out there who might experience the same sorts of things.

1. Breastfeeding hurt my self-esteem.

Before my son was born, I planned to breastfeed exclusively. Despite my mom and sister both struggling, I figured that if I worked hard enough, I’d be able to do it. I was wrong. I had to work very hard to get Rocco even trace amounts of breast milk. I visited the lactation consultants numerous times, I talked to my doctor and asked for medications, I pumped every 3-4 hours, even in the middle of the night, for 6 weeks straight, but I never produced more than tiny amounts of breast milk. I beat myself up for having to supplement with formula. I wasn’t even prepared with the proper supply of bottles or formula, as I never intended to have to use them right away.  Despite numerous attempts at medical assistance, meeting with doctors, doulas, lactation consultants, following every suggestion and working my butt off, I was just never able to breast feed.

What I learned: Society and the medical community say you are a bad mother if you don’t breast feed. Pregnant and new moms are bombarded with propaganda about breastfeeding, which makes us feel bad about ourselves and makes us feel inadequate if we are not able to sustain breastfeeding. Despite this belief that all women can breast feed, approximately 1 to 5% of women are not able to produce sufficient amounts of breast milk due to something called IGT (insufficient glandular tissue). According to the doctors and medical professionals with whom I consulted, either IGT or my hypothyroidism, or both, contributed to me not producing sufficient quantities of breast milk.

It took me a very long time to come to terms with my inability to produce enough milk.  I felt like a failure and I felt like I was letting my son down.  It took me a long time to realize that I tried absolutely as hard as I could and did everything I could possibly do to try to make breastfeeding work for me, but my body just wasn’t capable. That doesn’t make me a failure as a mother.  The stress I felt left me preoccupied and only hindered my ability to take care of my child, so I had to let it go.

The pressure that these pro-breastfeeding advocates put on women is unfair. Certainly, I am still a proponent of breastfeeding and I do believe there is a lot of work and effort required of women to be successful at it, which is why so many women quit when their bodies are capable of breastfeeding. However, not all women can sustain breastfeeding and ultimately, this should be a choice new mothers are allowed to make without evil stares or judgment if a women chooses not to breastfeed.

 2. It’s OK to let your child cry (a little).

I hate the sound of my son crying. In the first few months of trying to establish a sleeping routine, he would cry for a few minutes and I would wait outside the door wincing, just hoping the crying would stop. After what seemed like an eternity (it was probably 2-3 minutes), I would rush in, scoop him up and soothe him. I’d bring him back outside to his bouncy chair and let him ‘hang out’ with us until we bounced him to sleep. At about the 3-month mark, and after reading countless websites and baby books, I decided to try some ‘self soothing’. The first night, I planned to let him cry for 15 minutes. It never came. After about five minutes, he was asleep. I know some parents do not believe in self-soothing, but if your child gets used to being rocked every night, and being soothed in the middle of the night when he makes the littlest sound, he’ll never learn to sleep on his own.

What I learned: It didn’t take very long for him to learn to put himself to sleep. He still cries for a short while nearly every night when I put him to bed, but it never lasts more than a few minutes. I still hate the sound of him crying, but unless it lasts longer than 5-10 minutes, he’s fine, he will fall asleep, he’s got it covered. The same goes for naps. He will cry nearly every time we put him to sleep, but it never lasts longer than a few minutes and he always falls asleep shortly afterward.

3. Some people are born being picky eaters.

At the six month mark, I had grandiose ideas of feeding my child pureed kale and broccoli and beets. At one year old, he still only eats a handful of foods, mostly in the pumpkin and sweet potato family, with oatmeal, peas and Cheerios rounding out his meals.  He simply does not like to try new foods.  He will happily stick every random household object in his mouth, but food? No. We hand him a string bean, he throws it on the floor.  We place a broccoli floret on his tray, he snarls up his lips, gives us ‘the look’ and throws it on the floor. Every banana, piece of chicken, and piece of bread has met the same fate. We try and try and try, but he just won’t eat very many foods.

What I learned: Don’t fight him too much. Try introducing new foods regularly, and don’t take it personally when he snubs his nose at the food or throws it on the ground.  We make him try one bite and if he won’t eat anymore (or spits it out), we have to let it go. Dinnertime should not become a war zone. It’s OK to lace his food with applesauce to get him to eat and eventually he’ll be more adventurous (we hope), or he’ll be old enough where we can reason with him as to his eating options. The best advice I got from a nutritionist was this: the parents control when and what the baby eats, but the baby decides if he’ll eat it and how much he’ll eat.

4. Traveling with infants is even harder than it looks.

Traveling with an infant can be very stressful and in my case, was unnecessary. I’ve documented my trials with traveling with Rocco before (here and here). I chose to travel long distances with Rocco two times during the first year, and both were pretty painful.  He cried and whined and I felt like I was having a nervous breakdown.

What I learned:  Find other ways to have fun rather than planning long distance trips with young children. Unless it is a family or work emergency, I will not travel with my soon-to-arrive daughter. I don’t plan to travel with Rocco again until he’s old enough to be entertained by a DVR player or similar technology (I don’t condone early technology exposure, but long distance travel would be the exception!)

5. Playpens can feel like kiddie prison.

Early on, we invested in a high-quality playpen that lets Rocco have a safe space to play. His space is fairly large, takes up about a third of our living room and we know that he is secure in there. There are times when I feel guilty for not letting him roam around the house freely, especially when he is starting to throw tantrums. Inevitably, we are teaching him boundaries and providing a safe place with all of his toys and books. Also, if we need to use the restroom or answer the door, we know he is safe for the few minutes we are away.

What I learned: It’s OK not to give your children free-reign of your home, to set boundaries early, and not to coddle them constantly. We are teaching him how to play alone, which is good for his independence. He plays very well by himself for extended periods of time, which I attribute to the boundaries we set early. His space is safe and loaded with fun toys and books, so it has almost become a comfort zone for him.

6. Toothless grins and giggles have a healing effect.

There are moments when I want to tear my hair out, when nothing I do will calm his nerves, when I wish I could just take a break from it all.  But then Rocco will smile or giggle or start on one of his baby-talking rants, and all of that temporary pain goes away.

What I learned: There is no love like the unconditional love I feel for my child. Seeing him smile or laugh to himself while he’s playing quietly gives me an unquantifiable happiness. I feel so lucky to have a healthy and (mostly) happy child and I can’t wait to help him grow up to see what kind of person he becomes.

What surprised you about your first year of parenting?

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