I have a newly pregnant friend. A first-timer. A rookie. A newbie.
She’s young, nervous, and mostly jubilant. I’m excited for her and her sweet husband but wary for them too. Is there ever a situation more appropriate for the phrase “you don’t know what you don’t know” than first-time parenthood? Not only do you very clearly not know what you don’t know, everyone feels free to tell you what you don’t know. There is often a wide gap between understanding a situation and experiencing a situation. Understanding the mechanics of skydiving will only marginally prepare you for free-falling from an airplane. With parenthood, it’s not a simple knowledge gap, it’s a yawning abyss. While you are standing at the precipice of motherhood you can be sure there will be numerous well-intentioned people looking over your shoulder. What is it they say about the road to hell? It’s paved with good intentions? The road to parenting is marred with potholes and policed by tailgaters and rubberneckers.
It is unnerving to be on the receiving end of so much unsolicited advice and examination. Sleeping, eating, diapering, feeding, crawling, walking, talking—there is no subject too large or too small for cackling over. Veteran parents dispense fortune cookie bits of wisdom like Pez. New parents receive advice in a haze of exhaustion and process it with the brains of zombies. There is no getting around the difficulty of caring for a newborn baby. It is hard.
I recently stumbled across a neat little word that should be a rallying cry for all new parents: Gardyloo.
First used in the 1600s, “gardyloo” was shouted as a warning that slop was about to be thrown from a window onto the streets. It’s a bit like yelling, “Look out below but with far more panache!”
Postpartum, when I could barely flex the tiniest mental muscle, I could have used an absurd term to randomly shout at all the baby subject matter experts. In my fantasy, I have the verve of a musketeer in a Mousketeer package. After all, if you are going to go out on a limb and be fierce, you might as well take an additional step and master adorably fierce. “Gardyloo!” I’d shout, perhaps brandishing a spatula or plunger. “Gardyloo!” Here comes the slop! Here comes the unsolicited advice! And there it goes! Out of my life and out of my home!
I think about my friend, and I want to embolden her to figuratively throw the baby out with the bath water. Motherhood is such a fragile time. Don’t get me wrong—there is a lot of good advice out there from good people. There are also a lot of comments, opinions, and concerns that are better left unsaid. I’m not anti-advice. I’m anti-advice that diminishes confidence and tries to establish any type of norm. There are no norms in motherhood.
You may be surprised to discover that tiny babies aren’t your thing but toddlers completely float your boat. You may picture yourself as a placenta-eating, breastfeeding, organic mattress-buying queen, only to discover that you loathe cloth diapers. Maybe you were sure you wanted to be a stay-at-home mom until the daily tedium felt unbearable to you. Motherhood is a state where ideas are fluid and learning happens by the second. It takes only a moment to discover that, while changing your child’s diaper, urine showers are a possibility. Again, explaining a baby golden shower is worlds away from actually experiencing one. Everything is a possibility—that’s the joy and the terror of taking care of tiny human beings.
Ironically, I do have encouragement (let’s not call it advice) I like to share with my friends: You do you.
Don’t do Betsy or Sarah or Bill or Beth. “You” is whatever works for you. Your child and your experience are unique. As the days and weeks pass, your confidence will grow, making it easier to do you. Give yourself time to adjust to all the changes motherhood brings. Listen to advice with a grateful but cautious heart. Try on different ideas like you would clothes. Keep the ideas that fit—the cozy, yoga pant-like ideas. Throw out those ideas that gap and pinch and feel foreign. I think motherhood is both instinctual and malleable. We grow into motherhood as we grow out of other phases of our lives. Trust yourself and your choices. And feel free to shout, “Gardyloo!” as needed.