I remember running into a friend who was pregnant with her first child. I had to look twice at her neat bump, as it looked a lot like my own cake baby*. But no, there were ultrasound images stuck on her fridge, unlike my fridge which just has shopping lists, reward charts and dozens of pictures from the girls in varying shades of texta.
My basic principle is that I don’t believe in scaring pregnant women with horror stories nor bragging to them about how brilliant your kids were. This isn’t just because I'm a nice person, but mainly because I have forgotten most of it.
However, there are things that I wish I had known before I had a child; things that have only crystallised in the years after having a baby. Maybe it would have helped manage my expectations. Maybe it would have helped manage the budget.
These are things I wish I knew before I had babies:
1. Have a birth plan but be prepared to chuck it out the window if necessary. I was adamant I was going to have an intervention-free natural birth. I ended up with an emergency c-section. Actually three c-sections. I wish I had known that just because I really wanted something, didn’t mean Mother Nature had read that particular memo. If you learn to be flexible now, it will save all sorts of hassles later on.
2. Learn how to use your car seats and assemble your pram before the baby arrives. Practice folding and unfolding your pram while holding a sack of potatoes in one arm, and a huge nappy bag strung across the other. Practice swaddling techniques on a large stuffed toy, or for more realism, a partially sedated cat. Seriously.
3. Prepare yourself for Day 3 blues, and make sure you (or a loved one) know the warning signs for post-natal depression.
4. If you enjoy reading books about pregnancy and babies, don’t forget to read about the first few months before the baby is born.
5. “Sleeping through the night” actually means only 5-6 hours in a row. It does not mean sleeping from 6pm-8am.
6. You can never buy enough toilet paper. We go through a roll a day, at least.
7. Tell your family and friends ‘no stuffed toys ever’. Ok, maybe one or two, but keep in mind they're notoriously difficult to get rid of/recycle/donate. If you or your partner are susceptible to asthma or allergies, put stuffed toys in the freezer regularly to kill dust mites.
8. Buy nappies and baby wipes in bulk. I could tell you how many nappies a baby goes through in the first year, but you’d probably start to cry. Baby wipes are a gift from heaven. I still carry them in my handbag and my youngest is now seven.
9. When your baby is ready to start solids, skip the bland, processed jar foods and make your own. Don’t be afraid to include real flavours like garlic and onion. If a baby gets used to bland food with no texture, chances are you will have a fussy eater by the time they hit school. I say that with bitter, bitter experience. Here is a recipe I used to make a rice-based baby food that can use with a range of proteins and vegetables.
10. Don’t take books, baby whisperers, routines or methods as gospel, especially anyone who calls themselves an 'influencer'. Take all unsolicited advice with a grain of salt. Repeat after me: smile and nod.
11. Don’t expect to get your pre-baby body back. Ever. Pregnancy changes you – for the better.
12. If someone wants to buy you an expensive gift, ask them for a small, handheld, rechargeable vacuum cleaner for the car. By the time you have a toddler, it will be your favourite appliance – even more than the coffee machine.
13. Repeat after me: you can leave the house. Babies are not a disability.
14. Keep a spare packed nappy bag in the car at all times, with a coin purse, a change of clothes, at least two nappies, something to lay your baby on and some wipes. Maybe a spare t-shirt for you too. Don't forget to update the clothes every now and then. I can speak from experience it's difficult to squeeze a one year old into 0-3 month clothing after they vomit everywhere and you left your regular nappy bag at home because this was 'just going to be a quick trip'.
15. Day-care waiting lists can be longer than the Great Wall of China. If you plan on returning to work put your name down for day-care when you are pregnant. You can always knock a spot back and ask to go back on the list, but the stress of trying to find childcare if you have to go back to work suddenly can be debilitating.
16. Chances are for the first six to twelve months of day-care, your child will get up to a dozen different childhood diseases and infections, no matter how expensive and clean your day care is. Make sure you have babysitting back-up if your workplace isn’t very flexible. If you don't send your kid to childcare, this usually means you will get all the childhood diseases and infections when they start school instead. You've been warned.
17. Pregnancy is not what it appears in the movies. It can be quite horrid. Labour goes for about 12-24 hours longer than movies would have you believe, and there are a lot more bodily fluids.
18. Eating a handful of dirt or having fluff on a dummy is not going to hurt your baby.
19. Baby brain/placenta brain/mummy brain is a real thing. You will temporarily turn stupid and keep dropping things. This should pass in approximately 8-10 years.
20. Buy the best camera you can afford, one that is capable of taking photos of fast action and video. Use it as often as you can but don’t forget to give the camera to other people and make sure you are in the picture too.
21. Breastfeeding is hard. It can really hurt too. If you can, go to a breastfeeding class before the baby arrives. If you can’t breastfeed, don’t stress: down the track, no one can tell the difference between a breast fed and a formula fed baby.
22. Things change quickly with babies, both good and bad. As soon as you are congratulating yourself that your baby sleeps eight hours a night, they will go through a growth spurt and want two-hourly feeds. Nothing stays the same. Be prepared for constant change.
23. Make time for your partner and time for yourself. This will make you a better parent, not a worse parent.
24. Get support. Find a mothers group, even an online support group. Find someone you trust and ask questions but never compare your child with others. It's been twelve years but I still see friends from my Mothers Group regularly.
25. Write it down. You will forget those precious memories. I wrote it down, and now it is Relentless.
*Cake baby: when you have a big round tummy from eating too much cake and people keep asking if you’re pregnant. ‘No, it’s just a cake baby,’ you tell them cheerfully.