25 (Universal) New Parenting Truths

All of life’s greatest milestones involve embracing change and accepting a new reality. One of the most earth-shattering of all new realities, in my opinion, is the birth of a child and his/her first few months of existence in our world.

So, in this spirit, I offer my personal new parenting truths. I refer to them as universal because whether you’re in Italy, Iowa, or Indonesia, the shock of those first few months can be pretty intense. Parenthood may perhaps be the most translatable of all life’s experiences – one that transcends borders, cultures, and language.

Anyway, I know it’s just the beginning and I haven’t even gotten through the first year, but I’ve learned a lot so far. I figured I’d better get this stuff down before moving on and putting that entire period of time in the archived file of my burned-out baby brain.

(Sidenote: I’m convinced the ability to mysteriously “forget” what it was like to be pregnant or have a newborn in the house is yet another one of nature’s greatest tricks: one that allows people to even consider putting themselves through the experience more than once, which in turn allows for the continuation the human race. Because, God knows, if our memories weren’t so romanticized, we’d all opt to go back to a life of margaritas, lazy Sunday mornings, and freedom in general as soon as possible.)

Let’s begin with the obvious:

1. Everyone tried to tell you you’d never have a night of uninterrupted sleep again. You thought they were exaggerating. They were not. Wow, were they not.

2. In fact, everything any other parent told you while you were pregnant was completely true, but it didn’t make any sense at the time. Before you have kids, they all sound like they’re members of some secret society, speaking in code. ”Pampers have better leak control than Huggies? These people seriously don’t have a life anymore – who gives a f***?” You will, that’s who. You’ll become more fluent in their language than you ever cared to be.

3. You’ll spend the first few days just trying to wrap your head around the fact that the hospital staff actually let you take the baby home with you.

4. You’ve never touched so much poop with your bare hands and you stopped giving a shit (excuse the pun) after the first week.

5. Silence will never be the same again, because it’s been filled with the incessant, soft lull of ocean waves and babbling brooks. Your life will start to feel like it has its own soundtrack of white noise – and oddly enough, you’ll be fine with that, since it most likely means your child is sleeping. And that is always a good thing.

6. Anything you need while you’re holding/feeding/burping/changing will inevitably be two centimeters out of your reach – or just enough to put you on the verge of a mini psychological breakdown (which is essentially two centimeters away at any given moment).

7. Nothing will humble you more than having someone vomit on your face/in your mouth for the first time – even if it is your own child.

8. Just when you think you have it all under control, your baby keeps your ego in check. And, ironically, nighttime seems to be when all smooth daytime tasks take on a nightmarish domino effect. Example: the baby wakes at 1am, so you decide to give him a quick snack, thinking it’ll buy you some sleep later. Of course, he poops just as you’re finishing the feeding, forcing you to change him. Then, he gets an interminable case of the hiccups from being on his back. Just as he begins to finally doze-off again, you notice his nose is stuffy. You’re scared he won’t be able to breathe, so you decide to use one of those insane contraptions to suck the snot out, which scares and/or completely pisses him off. He’s now wide awake and ready to start the day – at 3am. And you? You, my friend, are screwed.

9. You thought you knew what it meant to be tired. You didn’t. Your body has reached a level of constant exhaustion beyond your wildest imagination. Yet, you’re learning to be a functioning member of society and perhaps even work in this semi-conscious state. If you’re a typical member of the coddled and pampered Generation Y, you’ll almost certainly never have worked so physically hard in your entire life.

10. You used to spend hours getting ready to go out; now, just leaving the house with your hair and teeth brushed makes you feel “glam.”

11. Emphasis on big ambitions and grandiose plans has been temporarily put on hold to celebrate small daily successes – like actually finding time to shower. You are now enrolled in Priorities 101, and your baby is the professor. The self-centered bubble you may have been living in bursts the moment your little one arrives, like it or not.

12. Anyone who’s hitting thirty or older is especially at high risk of shock, since they’ve most likely spent so much time worrying about themselves, their futures, and personal successes. Me, me, and more me. Let me say this: your baby certainly doesn’t care about your success. He will take your ambition and aspirations, and literally poo all over them. And if you happen to have a career you care about, you’ll have to fight hard to rise from the fumes of that diaper genie and back into the mindset of a person who used to have dreams. It all takes more guts, courage, and stamina than you’ve ever had to muster.

13. Relationships will change, and friends who are single and/or without children will not understand (although they may try). You didn’t, either, before it happened to you. Maybe they choose the restaurant with a huge flight of stairs and no parking, or forget to say you have a stroller when making reservations, causing a scene when you arrive. It’s not worth fighting with them – just participate when it’s comfortable for you. You can still go out, but it has to be on your terms. Whoever doesn’t like it, can deal with it.

14. Just when you think you can’t take anymore, even more is thrown (up) at you. You no longer have command over your own life (especially if you breastfeed). Feel like dropping over and giving up? Too bad. There are no breaks until the baby decides to give you one. But something inside you gives you the strength to go on. Xanax? No, hormones, glorious hormones. Your body is designed to withstand the emotional bombardment as well as the physical. And as cliché as it is, that first loving coo or smile sans teeth does rejuvenate you, at least for a little while.

15. Vulnerability is a new and unexpected sensation. Even if you’ve been independent and fearless with your own existence, you care so much about this new one that it’s downright frightening. You’re now very careful, always.

16. You have developed a superhero-quality protection instinct, and are constantly prepared to defuse any and all potential threats to your child. You’re like a secret service agent on Inauguration Day: whether it’s the shady character walking toward you on the sidewalk, or that picture frame sitting a tad too close to the crib, you’ve become hyper-aware of your surroundings at all times and are always ready to go all chop-suey on someone’s ass, whenever necessary.

17. You thought you knew your spouse, but you’ve been introduced to a new side of him/her. If you’re lucky, you’ll be infinitely surprised and blessed by more sensitivity, care, love, and pride than you ever knew he/she could possess.

18. Your thoughts become more philosophical – but however profound they may be, the conversations with your spouse usually end up sounding like a scene from ”Dazed and Confused.” They go something like: “Can you believe he was inside you – just inside you, like, living in your belly, for nine months? And now, he’s just, like, here right in front of us?”

19. You’ve gained a new appreciation for anatomy and biology, and realize the full potential and magnificence of the human body – essentially that the entire process of conception, pregnancy, and birth is nothing short of, well, magnificent.

20. Patience. Dear, sweet patience. It will need to be infinite. You learn to surrender to it, and once you do, everything gets easier.

21. You find yourself reflecting on the fact that everyone you know who has children – even strangers on the street – has actually been through this experience and survived. Suddenly, you respect them (and your own parents) so much more.

22. You realize life truly is a miracle, and that each child who comes into this world is as important as the next and should be treated as such.

23. Birth is just as mysterious and confounding as death: one moment a living being is here; the next, it’s not (or vice versa). This concept will completely overwhelm you every time you sit and stare at your child while he sleeps, repeatedly pondering how he came into your lives. Mind, officially blown.

24. You thought you knew what love felt like. You’ve never experienced a love stronger than when you see your child. And you never get tired of looking at that face – studying each feature, swearing you’ve seen it somewhere before. This little person is so new, yet seems so familiar to you. The amount of love actually is indescribable and unquantifiable.

25. Your previous existence is a blur – not because it was at all a waste of time, but because you simply can no longer imagine what your life would be like without him.

Knocked Up Abroad

Unlike the show, “Locked Up Abroad,” I can’t say I’ve ever been placed in a foreign jail – but I can chalk up “having a baby” to the list of things I never thought I’d be doing in a foreign country. And not only am I ecstatic to be having my first child, I’m actually grateful to be doing it here in Italy. After all, I’m about to become a sort of untouchable institution in this country: una mamma italiana.

Lately, I’ve been nesting like it’s my job – because technically, the Italian government has mandated that it is. Having reached the eight month mark, I’m no longer permitted by law to be working. In fact, I had to file a special request accompanied by a doctor’s certificate to stay in the office an extra thirty days, since the standard rule of leaving work actually kicks in at the completion of the seventh month of pregnancy. How ‘bout them cannolis?

Giving a bloated, anxious, sleep-deprived expectant mother the chance to relax and adequately prepare for one of the biggest events of her life, instead of working up until the day she gives birth: now there’s a novel idea.

In Italy, maternity leave lasts a total of five months, at full pay. Traditionally, these months are divided up into two before the due date, plus three after. Otherwise, as I’ve chosen, there’s the option of working an extra month before the due date then carrying that over for a total of four months of leave after the birth.

And it doesn’t end there:

Once you go back to work, you’re only required to be there for six hours a day – a little something called allatamento, or a nursing benefit. This reduced schedule is automatically extended to mothers until the child’s first birthday.

But wait, there’s more!

In addition to the standard five months, there’s also aspettativa, or an elective, additional leave of absence, paid at 30%. These available months total as many as twelve and can be used anytime – either all together, or split into days, weeks, or months. And get this: they don’t expire until the child is four years old. So if you need extra time (months or even years after your initial maternity leave) for whatever reason, you’re entitled to take it. Oh, and all of this is protected by law, meaning you obviously cannot be let go from your job for having taken advantage of these benefits.

All in all, not too shabby – and light years away from what we’re used to in the States.

Aside from the generous, kick-ass maternity laws, being in dolce attesa in Italy just seems a little sweeter in general. I’ve never had the experience of being pregnant in the States, so I may not be aware of the perks that exist at home. Whatever they are, though, they certainly aren’t as noticeable in daily life as they are here, or I’m sure I would’ve been aware of them at some point.

For example, all the major malls in Rome have special parking places next to the handicapped spots called posti rosa, which are reserved for pregnant women and recognizable by their pink painted lines and a sign like this one:


Welcome future mothers. We invite you to leave this spot available to expecting women. (Small writing) This request is not part of the street code (law), it’s an invitation to make a gesture of civility.

Of course, these spots are designed as part of an honor system, so who knows how many people don’t respect them. But hey, at least they exist.

Parking privileges are just the beginning. The pancione, or pregnant belly, elicits big smiles and “auguri” (congrats) from just about everyone I come in contact with. It comes along with quite a bit of unspoken respect and a certain sense of entitlement in public. I notice that older women especially take an extra second to lock eyes and give me a wink as they pass by, as if I’ve entered into some kind of secret club.

It’s also normal practice not to have to wait in lines of any kind. In fact, most major grocery stores actually have a separate line marked for those with special needs, where pregnant women are welcome to cut in at any time. And at stores without this designated line, all it usually takes is a pop of the belly and people move aside, graciously (or occasionally, not so much) leaving you to pass them and head directly to the checkout.

In terms of the quality of the medical care I’ve received throughout my pregnancy, I can honestly say it’s been top-notch and incredibly thorough. Between regular checkups and special screenings, I’ve had at least one ultrasound a month, with the newest equipment in an exceptionally clean and modern facility. I do consider myself lucky, since my insurance through work covers this private clinic – but it’s worth noting that all women, even those without insurance (the overwhelming majority), are entitled to the same routine checkups and tests in public facilities at no charge at all, thanks to Italy’s state healthcare system. No doubt, these public visits most likely mean more time, energy, and hassle, but regardless, they cost nothing. And having a baby in a public hospital, even via c-section, is completely free as well.

Both my gynecologist/obstetrician as well as the specialist I’ve seen have been great, and experiences in themselves. They’re both well-known as complete pros and baby delivering machines, but at first glance, you’d never know it.

My obstetrician is in his early forties and is so chill, he seems like one of our friends. Totally no-nonsense and relaxed, he never indulges me much in the “what happens if” questions. He’s pleasant, straight-forward, and delivers a slew of babies per week at one of the best maternity hospitals in Rome.

The specialist is so calm and collected, it’s almost unnerving. A bit older, I’ve seen him three times for the in-depth trimester checkups. Each time I walked in, he was leaning on his hands, looking like he was about to fall asleep at any moment. Instead of a white coat, he’s always in his street clothes, which consist of a tailored, decidedly snug (from his substantial pasta gut) button-down shirt and a Gucci belt.

But as soon as he starts the ultrasound, he’s all business – not saying a word, just moving decisively from one side of my belly to the next, calling out measurements for his assistant to record. During my first trimester screening at twelve weeks – without even asking if we wanted to know the sex – out of nowhere he blurted out, “Ecco, guarda che cosa abbiamo qui… un pisellino” (well, look what we have here… a little pee-pee). He then proceeded to print me a 3D picture of said pisellino.

And at the end of the big second trimester screening, which really confirms the solid development of the baby, he simply said, “Tanti cari auguri, signora,” (many heartfelt congratulations) and walked out.

I guess that’s all you really need to hear anyway.