Required Reading on What to Get Organized for Parents-to-Be: Today’s Moms

In the summer of 2006,if you had interviewed me about what I was getting organized for the impending arrival of my first son, I would have spent 80% of the time talking to you about the delivery.

I had lots of questions, and like any normal person facing a looming challenge, I wanted to get a better handle on it. Does Lamaze breathing really work? Why can’t I stop watching A Baby’s Story on TLC even though it terrifies the heck out of me? What’s with those women in Brooklyn who are delivering their babies at home in the bathtub? Am I less of a mom because I am not even considering that an option? Will I be strong enough? Am I less of a mom if I decide I want an epidural? Will my baby be harmed if I get drugs? Should I get a Doula? What if I have a Doula and end up getting an epidural anyway? Should I have my mom in the delivery room with me or just my husband? What if I throw up a lot? Will my husband still want to sleep with me if he sees me looking all Exorcist-like? What if I can’t hack it? OhmyGODthisthingreallyhastocomeOUT? You sure I can’t go on being pregnant forever? My curiosity knew no bounds. And unfortunately, there was no limit to the birth-related literature/expertise available to me.

When I wasn’t consumed with work or my dark obsession with the birthing process itself, I devoted my energy to the other part of baby prep: getting all the stuff.

Adorable onsies? Check. Mod crib? Check. Swaddlers? Check. Chic yet age-appropriate animal prints on the wall? Yep. Diaper bag for me? Uh-huh. Nose suction thingie, changing table, and blankie? Done, done, and done. High chair? Wooden toys? Yes and yes. The book What to Expect the First Year? Got it.

I was ready, right?

Well, I did survive labor. And then it was time to go home.

In this corner, weighing in at 5lbs 2oz: William Welch (aka Biggie Smalls)

And in this corner: clueless mom!

Will was on the small side, so we found that the diapers we purchased came up to his chin, which wasn’t too great. Then we realized we had no diaper ointment (oops! How did we overlook that?). Then we realized we had no soft cotton pads to wipe his bottom. Then we realized we didn’t have a little plastic bowl to put warm water in for wetting the soft cotton pads that we didn’t have. No odor-minimizing diaper pail either. Then my milk only came in on one side and after meeting with a lactation consultant, I was told my teeny little guy was getting teenier and I had better start supplementing pronto, which led to a realization that we didn’t have enough bottles (or Prozac for moi, the failure with a capital “F” mom). How could I have been so utterly unprepared? And that was just the first day home! The list got a whole lot longer as we stumbled our way through the first year. Three and a half years on, Will seems to have survived, although I’m sure we’ll hear about all of our shortcomings in therapy someday.

It’s too bad that Mary Ann Zoellner and Alicia Ybarbo hadn’t yet written their incredible book about surviving baby’s first year Today’s Moms.

It would have saved me quite a few gray hairs (note to mention more than a few of those ohmyGodI’msuchaFAILURE moments)! I am not overstating it when I say I think it should be required reading for all new moms-to-be. It’s a frank, funny, and truly informative look at motherhood in the first year of your baby’s life. It’s a real-life “what to expect when you’re expecting” handbook – written for moms, by moms and packed with Mary Ann’s and Alicia’s first-person experiences and some wonderful anecdotes from Today Show personalities (including a little bit from Al Roker on breastfeeding, which made me literally laugh out loud on a train ride home).

I was lucky enough to catch up with the authors in New York recently, and we chatted about what expecting moms need to know.

Mary Ann and Alicia

before I had even heard of your book, I was thinking about writing an article about what you really needed to organize before a baby. There’s just so much ‘noise’ out there about this thing and that thing that you really MUST have. But from my own experience, the things were really such a tiny part of it all. They kind of miss the point. Your book was exactly what I was looking for. For all (first-time) expectant moms out there: what are the handful of things that really matter?

Mary Ann: It really has to do with having your team in place, that support network, whether it’s your mom or friends, at the ready. That’s so much more important than the stuff. I had been around babies my entire life, so it’s not like babies were this big unknown. But, in the end, having my own just knocked my socks off. I had issues with breastfeeding and struggled with some emotional ups and downs. Having my mom there to support me was really key.

Alicia: I agree with Mary Ann on that one. Having my mom there was a lifesaver. Another really important thing to do that Jean Chatzky talks about is getting yourself prepared financially. The last thing you want to be as a new parent is stressed about money. If you’re currently working, start living on one salary now and do that throughout your entire pregnancy, so that when the baby comes you’re used to living on that amount. Being pregnant does not give you license to go out and spend like crazy. Quite the contrary. Sock it away. You’ll enjoy your maternity leave so much more if you’re prepared to live on one income.

Mary Ann: Find a mommy mentor: someone who, in your mind, is the perfect mom. Ask yourself what lessons you might learn from her. Talk to her about her experiences – the things she remembers as important and the things she things stressed over that really were not worth it. Having a role model will make it much easier to navigate the mommy minefield.

Alicia: Organizing what we refer to as the “unmentionables” is also key. The soothies for your bum, the nursing pads that keep you from leaking, mesh undies. It’s also a good idea to give yourself (or get as a shower gift) something nice, like a manicure/pedicure scheduled for a few weeks post partum. When you’re pregnant – you get so much attention and care. Then, all of a sudden the baby comes and mom is thrown by the wayside. Just a little something like a mani/pedi is wonderful when you’re exhausted and feeling not so great about yourself.

Mary Ann: Another thing you might want to think about if you’re having a baby shower is this: instead of having people give a card with their gift, have them give a book instead. We did that at my shower and five years later, we’re still enjoying the books that people gave. A nice card is often a few dollars, and you tend to throw them away pretty quickly. But if you spend a few more, you can give a book with an inscription that lasts a lifetime.

Alicia: Other things you’ll need to keep track of: baby’s eating, pee/poop, and sleep habits. If you’re breastfeeding, you will need to remember which side you fed last – and that’s harder than you might think when you’re sleep deprived. Get yourself organized on those fronts before you leave for the hospital. We have a pee chart template in the book that is easy to create and easy to use.

I loved the fact that you included a chapter about how to share the load at home with your spouse/support network. Yet it can be a tough thing for moms to admit that they need help (or to let go enough to effectively delegate something). What advice would you give to moms on this front?

Alicia: Men generally want to be more involved with their kids than ever before, but a lot of them are terrified that they are going to hurt this tiny little being. Encourage them to get comfortable holding and playing with the new baby. Don’t nit pick – and when you find yourself doing it, stop! Your husband may hold your child differently than you do. Let it go. He may change a diaper more gingerly. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Resist the urge to gang up on him and huff “here, I’ll do it.” Let him figure out how to handle things. Another thing: be really clear about what you expect from your husband and allow those expectations to evolve. Maybe during your maternity leave, it’s natural for you to do more during the day and then when he comes home, you get a break. But if you go back to work, maybe it becomes more of a partnership. It’s just important to be clear and flexible.

Mary Ann A lot of working women feel like they’re a failure if they delegate. That’s because they are unconsciously (or consciously) emulating their mothers. But the chances are your own mom didn’t work. Nothing about taking care of a baby was necessarily any easier for her, but that’s what she did all the time. You balance so much more as a working mom. So you have to get clear on that in your own mind from the beginning.

Alicia: Make sure your intentions are clear. You can’t be resentful; deal with any issue that’s bothering you right away. If he’s not changing the diapers and you’re overwhelmed, just say it. Don’t let it fester!

Motherhood is one area where women just have an almost impossible time letting go of perfectionist standards (the stakes are so high). What advice would you share for new moms to be (or even old moms) on this topic?

Mary Ann: From day one we’re hard wired to second guess what we do as moms. We love it when someone else we know is imperfect – “oh that’s so cute your kid dressed himself in mismatching clothes and proudly wore them to school!” Yet for some reason we don’t cut ourselves any slack. Why is that? We need to give ourselves more leeway.

Alicia: I’d encourage moms to really strive to be IN the moment. I’m too frequently thinking about the next step (like ugh, I am going to have to clean up that big mess the kids are making right now as they play in the living room). That means I’m not enjoying the play time with the kids. Don’t worry so much about putting everything away, having it all neat. I mean, if the kitchen is a mess, it’s okay. WHO CARES? Nobody cares. Once you get caught in a day or to where you can’t do it all perfectly, you start to realize that the world didn’t end. Just relax and truly enjoy as many moments as you possibly can.

Great advice. Thank you both so much for sharing your own experiences (and for writing such an excellent book!)