Expectation vs. reality: The first six months

I had my first baby, William, last June, and none of the expectations I had for motherhood have been accurate.

I did research leading up to birth so I could be prepared for my baby based on what seasoned mothers posted on the internet, and have found quite a few differences between their experiences and mine.

This is what I discovered.

–I won’t get any sleep–

I sleep quite a bit.

William went through his wake-up-every-three-hours-at-night phase, and I was tired then. But at around three months, I began a bedtime routine (bath, books, bottle, bed), which decreased his night waking to one time.

At four months, I switched the routine to bath, bottle, books, bed and started it a half hour earlier. I put William in his crib awake, said goodnight, turned off the lights and shut the door. He went to sleep on his own and slept all night, and has been doing it since. I learned that if a baby can put himself to sleep initially, he can go back to sleep throughout the night.

There have been a few occurrences when he has woken up and cried, but those were special events.

Once, he was sick with a mild stomach virus. After I discovered his condition in the middle of the night (sympathetic and smiling, not freaking out about what I was getting in my hair and on my face), I gave him a bath, read him a book and put him back in his crib awake. He was able to put himself to sleep and stay asleep until his usual wake-up time, and I still got some shut-eye.

Two little teeth made their appearance recently, and when I put him down for bed one night, he began screaming and crying for the first time at bedtime. Thankfully, my experienced sister was visiting and she advised to let him cry. In less than 10 minutes, William was able to self-soothe himself and go to sleep.

William needs a nap ranging from a half hour to two hours after about two hours of being awake. I use the glider swing for naps, which has been successful. However, when he gets too big for the swing, I am going to have to transition him to his crib, and that might be a challenge!

–I won’t have time to do anything–

This is partially true.

I have the option to carry William around in a baby carrier if he’s requiring attention and I have things to do. Typically, I can plop him in his walker (to scoot around the kitchen and pull down all the dish towels) or on the floor with some toys, and he’s content for about 20 minutes on his own.

Sometimes, I just carry him with me and lay him on the floor near me while I go about my day. For example, I’ll give him socks to “fold” while I do laundry, and that keeps him occupied.

If William is having an extra-needy day and I can’t catch up on house work, I tell myself he’s only going to be a baby once, and spending time with him is more important than dusting or washing dishes.

–I need many toys for my baby–

While there are a lot of cool educational toys available, I discovered that William prefers paper he can scrunch and destroy and any object he can pull off a surface — like a stack of newspapers my mom had on a stool at her house.

Toys that have kept his attention for more than a minute have been stacking blocks, hanging animals and plush bugs that crunch and jingle.

Right now he prefers to have people entertain him, or play with the objects they are using, such as phones, pens or cups.

Be prepared to share!

–Breastfeeding is easiest, best–

I thought this was the case, and I took a breastfeeding class so I would know exactly how to hurdle any obstacles I would encounter. No one in my family had a problem with it, so I assumed it would be a cinch.

Wrong.

William never “latched.” The nurses at the hospital gave me useless advice, and William ended up essentially starving for a few days until he was admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit for subsequent complications.

The first thing the NICU nurses did was give William a bottle of formula. Then, they told me to supplement his diet with formula after every feeding. I was thinking, “Wait, formula is OK? The nurses at the other hospital never mentioned it, and the person who led the breastfeeding class made it sound like a non-option.”

I had detailed instructions from the NICU nurses on how to get my milk to “come in,” but after trying their plan, I decided it was way too much effort to wake up every three hours only to supply a small fraction of William’s diet, and succumbed to formula-only.

He’s fine!

The hardest part was finding a formula that worked for him. Every milk-based formula gave him a stomachache, so we’ve settled on soy formula and it’s been a breeze.

The second hardest part with formula is going anywhere at all. Supplies always have to be in the diaper bag because I never know what could happen — like if I would get tied up in traffic or stay at a place longer than intended and would need to feed William.

When I first began my method of mixing the formula, I made the bottle with cool water then warmed it in a cup of hot water. That was a pain, so I started putting piping hot water in a thermos. I add a couple ounces of hot water to the cool water, and a warm bottle of formula is made every time, anywhere. Even if I’m stuck in traffic.

–Baby food is gross–

I learned that baby food is not gross — surprise! It’s just whatever food is on the label blended with water to make it a thinner consistency.

–I’m not going to have fun anymore–

William and I have fun all the time.

I just have to let down all barriers and be ready to make strange noises to communicate with him, sing and get creative during playtime. I make an effort to never look or act disgusted when he spits up on himself or on my clothing, so he is always smiling. It’s all worth it when he laughs and looks at me with pure appreciation that I’m speaking his language.

I also discovered that to be able to have fun and enjoy William, I have to be easy-going and flexible. Babies don’t know what they are going to want in the next two minutes, so I have to be ready to stop what I’m doing and assist William.

–Reality–

Every baby is different. William’s attributes are varied from internet moms’ posts. Formula is perfectly fine to use. To a baby, anything is a toy, even a calculator. Stop stressing and start enjoying — here is my irreplaceable baby, this is my replaceable shirt, refrigerator magnet, pair of glasses, necklace, glove … now covered in drool.