I was forewarned that parenting would become my hardest job for the next 18 years—people said, “You’ll never sleep again,” and, “Say goodbye to your boobs as you know them”—but I shrugged off the negativity while riding the wave of confidence from second trimester. But then baby came, after 34 grueling hours of unmedicated labor. That was my daughter’s way of welcoming me to what I affectionately call the Upside Down of Parenting.
As an optimist, I expected the unicorns and rainbows that come with having a baby, and I am blessed with a healthy, beautiful, spunky baby girl who melts hearts and takes names. My husband, who stayed by my side throughout labor (did I mention it was 34 hours long?) sprinted into Daddyhood proudly sporting the spit-up badge of honor.
But I did not expect this total reversal of our world. It is not an easy thing to leave your home as a couple and return as a trio. Suddenly you have to put yourself last and this tiny human first. I missed the Jess from 24 hours earlier who was on a date with her husband worrying only whether her bowl of pho would come with enough bean sprouts and sriracha.
And then I instantly felt guilty for feeling something other than elation for my new bundle of joy. Because unicorns and rainbows, right?
Except this is the Upside Down, and it’s not all unicorns and rainbows. I’m only seven months in, but I can safely say parenting is 50 percent raising a kid and 50 percent becoming that kid’s parent—learning the realities of the Upside Down and even embracing your own dark side in this crazy place. Let me explain.
Learning to live in the Upside Down means learning not to judge yourself for experiencing the baby blues, which is a euphemism for feeling lost, detached, helpless and maybe even hopeless. (It should really be called infant-onset insanity.)
It’s also learning the art of selective listening—that is, selective ignoring. Let’s say, hypothetically of course, you are struggling to keep up your milk supply. You mention this to a relative, and then you’re flooded with texts from other relatives asking why you’re starving your child: “How would you feel if someone only fed you a spoonful of food and tablespoon of water each day?” Or when you let it slip that you’re considering hiring a mother’s helper: “So you’re taking a day off?”
What do you do? Well first, you learn to turn off notifications on all forms of social media, and then you graciously accept that judgment and unsolicited (if well-meaning) advice come standard with the growing pains of becoming a parent. You have to accept this fact before the stress takes more years off your life than the sleep deprivation.
And you have to learn a new vocabulary. The Upside Down is full of scary things like WubbaNubs, Boppys, Bumbos and Bugaboos. (Best stroller ever, by the way; it’s smooth like butter.) A game I like to play is renaming these items. WubbaNubs become Plug-It-Up-Shut-It-Ups. Boppys—how about Floppys or Newborn-Never-Stays? (Something else you learn: Boppys are more helpful a few months down the line.)
Try playing this game next time you’re in the deepest, darkest abyss of the Upside Down, aka a 4am feeding that seems like it will never end.
If you get to the point of saying, “Alexa, play the mother-loving womb sounds,” then congratulations, you have reached parenting nirvana.
Welcome to the Upside Down. Embrace it—it will make you a better person.