Ninety percent of what you’re told before your child is born is a waste of time.
Not because it’s wrong, or based on a misguided desire to instill "correct" parenting by applying massive guilt to anyone who doesn’t breastfeed/doesn’t have a natural delivery/doesn’t play music to their developing fetus/doesn’t invest in the right kind of formula milk/doesn’t have a c-section/fails to purchase organic, single estate baby wipes.
It’s because you are going to forget at least ninety percent of what you’re told.
Some things you won’t realize are important. Some things you’ll think are ridiculous, or don’t apply to your particular miracle child, or you just happen not to be paying attention at that particular moment. But mostly, in those permanently jet-lagged post-natal days, you’ll be too dammed tired to remember. Even if it didn’t just go in one ear and out the other, memory is situational. Things you learned in a calm, quiet environment aren’t necessarily easy to recall when one hand is on a screaming mess of mustard-coloured excrement, and the other is frantically rummaging for the elusive last nappy.
And so, forged in the white heat of parenthood, here are the things that I think I wish I’d known in advance, and known it was important to know. Perhaps they’re messages in bottles to future mes, to others washed up on a foreign coast, to settle some unknowable karmic debt. Or just to embarrass my daughter in later life.
Get stronger before the baby comes.
By the time the baby is in your arms, it’s a bit late to start working out and having biceps strong enough to hold it, to have a back flexible and robust enough to pick it up from where it sleeps, wrists capable of supporting its ever-floppy head, and legs capable of coping with bouncing your child up and down to sleep.
Get on an exercise ball, at least six months in advance, and bounce up and down for ten minutes, whenever you have ten minutes spare. Hold something heavy in your arms while you do so, and do wrist curls with a tin of tomatoes so that you don’t get mother’s wrist a month into parenthood.
And get good at carrying your baby one-handed.
You need to make sure you can tuck your baby with its head nestled up by your armpit, body lying along your forearm, against your chest. If you have to use two hands to move your child around, life is going to be hard. We only discovered this after a couple of months, and once you realize it’s doable, the world becomes easier for a while. That spare hand can carry a can of beer, a television remote, a wallet, even, at a pinch, a bottle of milk for the child if you really need it. Sooner or later the wee nipper will be too big to carry this way, but by then you want their neck strong enough to not need assistance from you.
And in the meantime, get strong. When you think you’ve done enough to prepare yourself, you’re probably about half way there. Carry on. Get stronger. Nobody in the history of this world has complained that it was too easy to pick their child up.