A Letter to My Little Sister on the Birth of Her First Child

I wrote a letter to my youngest sister with some words of wisdom for her upcoming marriage, so it’s only fair that I impart my “big sister advice” with my middle sister, who is due to have her first baby in two weeks. I don’t know that I have that much wisdom, but here you have it!

Dear Katie,

I am so excited for you, and all of the joy, love and changes this baby will bring to you and Geoff. You have waited, wished and prayed for this for a long time and you will soon see it was all worth the wait. As you were waiting hopefully and patiently for a baby of your own and having a difficult time, you watched as I got pregnant and had three babies. Despite frustrations with trying to get pregnant, you remained so loving, sweet and positive, and treated my kids like they were your own, never showing any frustration or anything less than total excitement and happiness for us. In the hospital you held Cooper when he was a day old and I couldn’t get him to sleep, and he finally relaxed and slept on your chest, and let me get some much-needed rest.

Somehow you knew exactly what to do when I felt helpless and clueless.

You are already natural at this, but I can’t help but give baby advice. I can’t believe my little sister is becoming a mommy and I can’t wait to meet this sweet baby boy!

Here is what you need to know:

1. Don’t change the nighttime diapers unless they have poop in them!

Brian and I would wake up every time Cooper woke up the first few weeks and turn on the lights, unswaddle him, change his diaper, and I’d feed him. I think we used more diapers on Cooper in the first week than we did in the first month for our third baby. Don’t do that! If he cries in the middle of the night, give him some booby milk and put him back to bed. Unless you smell poop, keep him wrapped up and sleepy and leave the lights off and go back to sleep!

2. Be prepared for a meltdown — from yourself.

With each child, at about two weeks in, I had a crying, pathetic, sad, uncontrollable sob fest for about ten minutes. A mommy meltdown, if you will. With the first baby it freaked Brian out a little, but by the third child when I started crying in the laundry room saying, “I’m just so tired and I’m trying so hard and I’m not being nice to anyone and I’m trying and I can’t and I’m tired and wahhhhhh,” he just hugged me and said, “Everything is going to be ok. You’re doing that thing you do when you start crying uncontrollably a couple weeks after the baby is born. What can I do to help? You’re a good mom. Everything is going to be ok.” Maybe you’ll be different, but be prepared for a big range of emotions. You will be SO, SO tired. The first few days you are living on this new baby high and you don’t feel it. Then about two weeks in, bam!

3. Don’t hide out in the house the first three months.

Be careful not to expose him to germs during flu season, but the first few months are kind of awesome because they sleep and noise doesn’t wake them up. Strap some hand sanitizer to the baby carrier (hint, hint, random stranger: don’t touch the little, tiny baby), or wear him and get out of the house and go on walks, have dinner out, and don’t hide out. Enjoy the time and know that you will go crazy if you don’t get out of the house a little bit.

4. Don’t be afraid to say, “I’m in the weeds!”

When we used to wait tables “I’m in the weeds!” was a common thing to say when you were overwhelmed, couldn’t catch up and needed some help. You will feel that way with a baby — all the time. When you start feeling overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to ask for help. It is hard to explain until you’re in it, but all of a sudden baby pops out and you have this feeling like you should be able to do all the things, by yourself. Resist the urge to do everything. Take a break. Let someone else hold the baby while you take a shower or tell Geoff or anyone else who wants to help, and let them do it. Let someone else do your dishes, or bring you dinner, or anything you can think of. Let people help you and don’t be afraid to say what help you need.

5. Be patient with people.

Geoff may want to help, but may not know how to help. Mom might stop by and try to help clean the house when you really want someone to hold the baby and let you take a nap. I might chime in with some baby advice at the exact moment you want to punch me in the face. You might just want to be left alone. Try to be patient and know that everyone is coming from a good place and trying to help, and we all might need you to tell us what you need help with. Take a breath when you feel tired and frustrated and find a way to tell your husband, or family, or in-laws what they can do to help. Even if you want to do it all yourself, it really does help SO much to let other people do things to help you in the beginning. It takes a village!

6. Don’t get beat down about the breastfeeding.

It hurts — like really, really, awfully bad for the first couple weeks. Stick it out and try to do it. It does get easier after a couple weeks. Sometimes it works great and it’s wonderful and super and all the happy things. Other times it doesn’t. For Cooper, it was a struggle, and he never latched well and was never satisfied, and I pumped and did bottles for three months. I was exhausted. He would wake up crying, I would warm up a bottle of breastmilk from the refrigerator, feed him, then get him back to sleep, then pump, then clean all the parts of the pump. And I’d do this two or three times a night. It was so hard and I was so tired. I finally quit at three months and I felt so sad and like I had failed, but when the sadness lifted and he was so happy with formula, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders, and I had so much more energy to be a better mom.

Caroline and Lucy latched right on, and it was easy and so nice waking up at night, feeding them and going right back to sleep. I still didn’t make it longer than four months because pumping at work was so hard and it didn’t work for me. I still feel guilty and selfish saying that. Breastfeeding is wonderful so long as you’re not going crazy or are so exhausted you can’t give your love, time and energy to your little baby. Breastmilk is best, but only if the mommy is able to stay sane and happy while doing it. Don’t beat yourself up if it isn’t working.

7. “Enjoy this time!”

Ok, this is a tough one. When you are in the midst of those first few months, depending on how well the baby sleeps, you will have a bajillion people tell you “Enjoy this time! It flies by!” From the outside looking in, that is my advice. Sit there, touch your nose to his head and breath in that new baby smell and store it away in your memory because it is so wonderful and perfect, and it all goes by in a flash. Kiss his little baby toes and take pictures of everything. While you are in the thick of it — in the weeds — tired and don’t know what to do to calm him down when his tummy is upset, or how to get him back to sleep when it’s taking every fiber of your being to keep your eyes open, it is very hard to think, “enjoy this time.” I think when you’re not in the middle of it, you forget the hard parts because it’s all worth it. So during the hard times remember that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. When you’re sitting in the quiet, happy moments, bottle up every second because it flies by. Thankfully, it gets better — just wait for the moment they start smiling, or say “mama” and “dada” for the first time.

I can’t wait to be there with you and watch your baby grow and help you in every way I can help, just like you have done for me. You deserve every tiny, sweet baby moment you’ve waited so long for. There is no way to describe the love you will feel for your own child. It is overwhelming and amazing and crazy, and it comes from a place you’ve never felt until you’ve held your baby in your arms. You feel it while pregnant, but when the baby is here you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. It rushes over you — like your heart could burst combined with an overwhelming sense of purpose.

So, between the tiredness and poopy diapers, the tears and bottles, and not being able to figure out why he’s crying, stop and take a breath of that baby smell and let your heart burst. It really does fly by. You are going to be the most wonderful mom and I can’t wait to see it.

Love,

Beth

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