Baby buying checklists traditionally cite prams, cots and change tables, but here is a list of the things you will really need if you are having your first baby.
1. A close friend who is also having a baby
One of the most important resources in the early years of motherhood is real mum-to-mum companionship. The easiest way to kill two with one is to co-ordinate procreation with your best friend. I’m not saying get weird and make it ‘happen’ on the same night, but the same year is optimum. Then you can bore each other with all that talk about sleep cycles, what colour your baby’s poo is and how many grams your baby weighed at last week’s check-up. Because seriously, no one else is interested.
2. A house-broken husband
I don’t want to be a man-basher but I have substantial anecdotal evidence that a large proportion of men do not do their share of domestic duties. (To those men who do perform their fair share, I salute you and this is not about you.)
The simple fact is, once you have a baby, this gender-driven division of domestic labour is really going to start getting on your wick. There will be so much more of it to do and it will suddenly become clear to you why your own mother used to yell at everyone to pick up their socks.
In the early years of parenting (and beyond) it needs to be all hands on deck NO MATTER WHAT YOUR GENDER OR PAYGRADE. Put bluntly: husbands need to step up and muck in. With regards to simple cooking and cleaning duties, they need to have “able to work independently” stamped on their husband resumes. And most importantly this needs to be ascertained BEFORE you are barefoot and pregnant and tax-classified as a “dependant”.
3. A free approach to bodily functions
There’s no other way to put this: birth is a messy business. If you are expecting to just make a few constipation faces, say ‘ouch’ and pop out a pink-skinned cherub that goes ‘wah’, you are in for a rude awakening. There are a lot of liquids inside your body and most of them will come squirting out of your clacker and bumhole before, during and after the birth.
4. An acceptance that your undercarriage is no longer your private domain
Once you become pregnant, doctors and midwives are going to be poking around down there on a regular basis; both leading up to the birth and beyond. Your ladyparts are now like the Sydney Harbour tunnel: a lot of traffic, regular maintenance work and the occasional accident that needs to be cleaned up.
5. An ability to specifically delegate tasks when people offer to help you
A lot of people will offer to help, but very few will be specific about what they are pledging to do. So if you want help, you are going to have to be smart about turning vague offers into specific tasks such as:
- Do a load of washing, including hanging out and putting away
- Bake us a lasagne, pie, batch of Bolognese or stew
- Settle the baby while I sleep
- Sit with the sleeping baby while I go out and do a proper grocery shop (This will be the best outing you’ve had in months and I’m not even being flippant. You will have THE BEST time at the supermarket by yourself.)
6. A willingness to go with the flow
New mothers who set out to control their post-baby lives like a work schedule will be “broken” by week three. Babies are an unpredictable and mercurial mistress. One week they’ll be sleeping faithfully twice a day for two hours, the next week all bets will be off.
The best way to deal with it is this: when things are going well, never, ever assume that this is now the new world order. And when things are going really, really badly, know that at any moment things will change. Everything is just a phase.
7. A home or apartment with level entry
This really is one of the key features you should be looking for if you are planning to move before Baby arrives: level entry. If you are moving into a three storey walk-up and you plan to just ‘deal with it’ you will cry every day for the first year. Level entry. You want to wheel that pram inside and enjoy the bliss of a sleeping baby for as long as humanly possible. Sleeping babies do NOT transfer from pram to cot. Ever.
8. A large freezer full of pre-cooked meals
Firstly, if you’re in the market for a new fridge, get a big motherf***er with maximum freezer space. And then make like a squirrel and start stockpiling food. If you’re making dinner, make a double batch and freeze a portion for the months after baby arrives. You’ll be so glad you did.
9. A club chair with big armrests for drinks, snacks and reading material
When I had my first baby, “rocking chair” was on a lot of the baby buying checklists as a breastfeeding must-have. However, rocking chairs are either really ugly if they’re comfortable or really uncomfortable if they’re moderately pleasing to the eye. They’re also hard to get rid of once you realise how useless they are.
A big old club chair is what you really need. It must have two big arm rests: one for your drinks and snacks and the other to rest your phone on so that you can check in with friends and social media while you’re breastfeeding. (After you’ve gazed lovingly into your baby’s eyes for a while, OF COURSE.)
10. A good playground within walking distance
You need a good playground that you can walk to in the morning and then again in the afternoon. You will live there. It needs a bench to sit on, good sun coverage in winter and ample shade in summer. In a perfect world there should also be a café en route with an easily accessible coffee window so you don’t have to ram-raid your pram between all the inside tables to order your coffee.
11. A tacit understanding that your life will change
I hear this a lot from young expecting couples: “Oh we’re not going to let the baby change our lifestyle, we’re just going to make the baby fit in with us.” And six months later, it’s always THAT couple who ends up at the sleep clinic with the unsettled baby they have been dragging round from pillar to post, while they live their pre-baby lifestyle.
If you’re having a baby, the only certain thing is, your life will change. It will be more complex but richer for it. And don’t worry, the “carefree” life you once had, will one day be returned to you when your kids get older and have their own lives. But know this: when that life is returned, you will suddenly wonder where all the wonderful noise and light and cuddles of life with small kids has gone.
This is a new phase in your life, some of it is challenging but most of it is a new kind of wonderful. Expect change and embrace it wholeheartedly.