Lessons Learned From The First Year

It’s been a few months since my baby had his first birthday and, even though every day is filled with growth, new words, and expressions, I find myself stuck reflecting on the past year –– the first year. It’s not just my baby’s growth; it’s mine too. I’ve learned more than I could have ever imagined about human development, the ins and outs of baby gear, and what an over 30 year-old body can accomplish on two to five hours of broken sleep a night.

Mom smiling at newborn

It’s been a few months since my baby had his first birthday and, even though every day is filled with growth, new words, and expressions, I find myself stuck reflecting on the past year –– the first year. Leading up to his birthday I was filled with even more nostalgia than normal (which is A LOT when you have a baby). 

With any impending anniversary of an important milestone, it’s natural to be hit with the thought, “Wow, it’s already been [insert time frame].” Or even, “I can’t believe this time last year, we were doing [insert special moment].” Giving birth is especially mind boggling at the one year mark. It’s MY birth day too! In some ways, I think that moment will always feel like just yesterday. How could something so big ever feel small and far away?

Everything in the first year has felt equally large. And, it’s not just my baby’s growth; it’s mine too. I’ve learned more than I could have ever imagined about human development, the ins and outs of baby gear, and what an over 30 year-old body can accomplish on two to five hours of broken sleep a night. Four years of a college education has nothing on one year of parenting. 

 

Everything is a phase

 

My whole life, this has been a nice platitude I’ve known and believed in theory. However, during the first year of parenting, I saw it in practice so clearly. The things that feel hard, feel REALLY hard because every day is uncharted territory. When you don’t know the way out of a problem or difficult situation, of course it feels like there is no end in sight –– especially when you’re sleep deprived. A year later, any time I encounter a rough patch with my son, or really anything, I’m equipped to handle it by remembering the past year’s challenges, and how small they seem months later. My mom used to always repeat, “this too shall pass,” with an aura of zen, whenever I was having a hard time. I guess I’m not the first parent to get the memo. 

 

Transitions are for parents, not babies

 

The first year is one big transition in and of itself for parents but, for babies, it’s a near constant state of evolution. Just when you think you’ve got things handled as a parent, your child goes ahead with a developmental surge, growth spurt, or new stage of eating, sleeping, or moving. Getting them from point A to point B often requires many frantic Amazon purchases, texts to friends, pleas for help in mom groups, and prayer to a high power to make the transition smooth. Whether it’s making decisions about sleep training, getting them to sleep in their own crib, unswaddling, dropping a nap, introducing solid foods, weaning, or learning to walk, the first year is fraught with making transitions easy for our babies. 

One year later, having watched my son adapt to every change we’ve thrown at him, I realize that the painstaking obsession and anxiety that comes with transitions are more for the parents, and less for our resilient offspring. When all you’ve ever known is dramatic change, it must not phase you as an infant. Adults who are set in their ways… that’s another story. Dealing with upending your routine every couple months is hard. Go easy on yourself. Your baby will be fine. Know that you will be too.

 

Everything revolves around sleep

 

For the first year of my baby’s life, everyone was very concerned with how much all of us were sleeping. If you have to ask… then you probably already know. No, we’re not sleeping. For the first five months, life was horrid. I was so deeply sleep deprived. I used to dread sunset; it was like the Sunday Scaries, only every single day. The long road of a sleepless night ahead made me anxious. We decided sleep training was the healthiest option for our family, and life got better little by little, as I countered my sleep deficit. But still, there are early mornings, random regressions, and my brain is now wired to wake with every noise I hear on the monitor next to my bed. 

This is all to say, having a baby means that pretty much all of your decisions are based on how it will or will not impact your baby’s sleep (and consequently yours as well). I used to think parents who ran their lives around their children’s schedules were ridiculous and now, here I am, a slave to naps and bedtime.

 

There is so MUCH cleaning

 

It starts with diapers and laundry and bottles. Then they begin eating solid foods, and it’s so much wiping, sweeping, and mopping –– like five times a day. And then, the books and toys get thrown EVERYWHERE. Oh, and we can’t forget sitting in and eating dirt. Midday baths become a regular occurrence. When people ask what I’ve been up to lately, cleaning is always in my top three activities taking up my time. No one tells you just how endless, constant, and daunting the cleaning is during the first year, and it only escalates with every stage and phase. It shows no signs of stopping. I’m here to lay it straight. You will be cleaning all day. 

 

Life feels easier after you pass the one year mark

 

I had so much anxiety and nostalgia built up around this big milestone. My mind was suddenly flooded with memories from my pregnancy, the days leading up to labor, his delivery, and those groggy newborn days. I was already saddened that his first birthday would need to be greatly reduced due to the pandemic, and all these emotions piled on top.

It was a lovely, simple day with immediate family. We did the cake, the presents, the photo ops, and then it was over. I breathed a sigh of relief. In a weird way, it felt like our lives as parents could finally begin now that this huge, ever changing year had come to a close.

My biggest lesson, perhaps, is that one year later, it’s just the beginning.

 

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