All the things I’ve never known (about babies)

by Janelle Hanchett

As I’ve mentioned before, one of my best friends in the world is having her first baby in a couple months. I feel like I should have some super helpful profound shit to tell her about babies, you know, because I’ve been doing it for 13 years or so, 4 pregnancies, births and babies. Kids ranging from 13 years to 5 months.

And yet, beyond the whole “there will probably come a time when you’re sure you’ve ruined your life” thing, I’ve got nothing. I mean, I know a lot of shit. I know all kinds of shit.


For example, I know there’s no better way to wake up a newborn than to drift off to sleep. Or sit down for dinner. I know leaving in a hurry triggers baby bowels. I know there will pretty much always only be one shoe. I know The One Reliable Nap of The Day will not occur on days that you really, really need it to get something done. Particularly if there’s a deadline involved.

I know there is some sort of telepathic communication between newborns and toddlers that allows them to stagger their sleeping, waking, and getting sick. In other words, there will almost never be two doing it at the same time.

I know this will drive me nearly insane. I know I will roll over at least once and tell myself the baby is not crying, or I can just let him cry and fall back asleep, or that I had rather stab myself in the head with a bamboo shoot than get out of bed and deal with these fucking kids.

I know I will get out of bed anyway.

I know when the baby is a newborn, it’s not a cold. It’s whooping cough. It’s something bad. We should get that checked out. Right now. Yesterday. I know I’ll suspect in the recesses of my brain that I’m being irrational and slightly hysterical but I won’t care because this is my 9-pound most perfect baby creation (and part of my soul) and if something happens to him I may not go on.

I know I will not sleep until I know the exact position of my newborn, the face hands and what’s around her. I’ll check her breathing. I’ll check her breathing more than once. I’ll know this is weird but I won’t be able to stop.

These things have not faded with time. I have not become less crazy. I have only become more accepting of my craziness.

My winning moment with Arlo, I think, was when he started sucking his thumb and I determined this was due to parental neglect. You know, he’s not nursing enough. I have too many other kids. I can’t care for him properly! Poor kid has to resort to sucking an appendage!

I realize this is damn near the stupidest interpretation possible, but it’s what came to my mind, and I shared this with Mac, with a bit of a twinkle in my eye, because I know I’m fucking crazy and I’m okay with it. But every time he’d do it I’d wonder “This is my first kid to suck the thumb. OBVIOUSLY I’M FAILING THIS ONE.”

I know some babies let you sleep and some don’t. I know some will sleep in cribs and some won’t. I know this is an infuriating aspect of parenthood that never gets easier. I know some people “sleep train” by letting their babies scream. I know that isn’t something I’ll do. I know mothers need to do what helps them not go insane.

I know I like nursing my babies but hate pumping. I’ll do it anyway but not constantly. I know I may give formula but not in the first 6 months. I know this is alright.

I know this could all go to shit if I had a 5th kid, which I know I’m not.

I know I’ll feel guilty no matter what I do and slightly unsatisfied too. I know absolutely I can’t have it all. If I work I’ll miss being home. If I’m home I’ll miss work.

Sometimes I’ll feel guilty for feeling guilty, which is pretty meta right? Also ridiculous. But I have 4 kids. I should know better. Guilt? Fuck guilt. Be strong. Be secure in your decisions. Be okay.

I know I will only do that sometimes. I know I will always wonder if I’m enhancing or ruining America. I know I’m not that important. I know I want my kids to be who they were meant to be and my main job is to help that happen. I know my flaws will fuck with that process regularly, leaving me wracked and thinking perhaps a different mother would have been better for them. I know that isn’t true either.

I know I’ll think I have something figured out and then it will change. I know I will constantly be schooled by life that I really don’t know shit.

And I know none of this will really help you. Or it might. I would love if it did. But really what I know is that when you’ve had a kid or two or four you’ll write your list of shit you know, and you’ll realize it’s a ton and somehow nothing at all and both totally helpful to others and yet not helpful at all.

It’s all I’ve got and yet it’s a tiny irrelevant corner of an insane universe, and you’ve got your own corner. (With me in it, of course.)

So there. There you have it, my friend. All the things I’ve never known about babies.

I hope it helps.

Neglect from the start right there.


32 Comments | Posted in I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING HERE. | November 3, 2014
  • Jessica

    Every time you post something, I spend the entire time reading it screaming inside my head, “THANK YOU!” and “YES!” and “FINALLY, SOMEONE UNDERSTANDS!” So, thank you for posting all that you do and for validating so much of what I think and feel!

  • R

    I usually agree with most of what you write. I think you’re a fabulous writer. However, I what stood out for me in this piece was your comments about sleep training and feeding babies formula.

    Some of us aren’t fortunate enough to be successful at breastfeeding, or simply choose not to. Your comment about formula being okay, but “not in the first six months” implies that and mom who feeds her baby any way other than with breast milk during that time is not doing it right.

    Also regarding the sleep training. Maybe your kids sleep for more than 45 mins at a stretch. Mine didn’t, from birth until we sleep trained at 4.5 months out of desperation. I did it to save my sanity, and I did not “leave my kid to scream”. Did he cry? Sure, a bit. But after a night or two he slept, actually SLEPT for four hours straight and I was a new person afterward. Do I regret it? Nope. But your tone is awfully judgy. Not all sleep training is torture.. but sleep deprivation surely is.

    Anyway. Hopefully those two bits of all device were not passed on to your friend.. everyone has to walk her own road and make those decisions for herself. I would hate for her to feel inadequate because she couldn’t breastfeed, or all device shamed because her baby was put down on a crib so she could sleep.

    • renegademama

      This is my list of what I know, for my life and my kids. I thought I made it pretty clear that my friend will write her own list, and just as mine may not be helpful to her (for all the reasons you mentioned), hers may not be helpful to me (for all the reasons you mentioned). My entire point with this post is that I know some shit that worked for me but it might not work for you, so whatever.

      I’m not here to make everybody feel good and solid and right about their choices. Shit, I barely feel good about mine. We do what we do. It’s up to us to figure out if it’s good and right and solid.

      Also, it’s super crazy that you said that thing about sanity and sleep training. After I write a post, I go somewhere quiet and read it again, and always there’s a line or two I want to add or take out. when I did that with this post I added the line “I know mothers need to do what helps them not go insane.” No joke that was before I read your comment.


    • Erin Mergil

      I usually don’t comment or reply. I can’t help myself, though, when people don’t read and then make statements that belie that fact and the statements are critical of the,author whose writing was not properly read. Drives me batshit crazy. Crazier than my four children whom I did not sleep train nor formula feed, either.

      • Becky

        Comment policy: try not to be a dick.

        I don’t actually think “R” was being a dick, but I really do think that a lot of the Mommy Guilt that we all risk throwing around at each other is us being defensive. And this is why I love Janelle and read this blog. That post about the No Bullshit Friendship. Don’t be defensive. No one is being accusatory, so you don’t have to defend yourself. In other places maybe someone has judged you for sleep training, or for not breastfeeding, but not here. You do what works for you, I do what works for me, we all do it so we can keep going and no one is judging you. You know your baby. Don’t read into the post something that isn’t there.

        Lets all keep being in each others’ corners.

    • Josie

      Hi R
      every parent will do what she/he feels is best for baby and self…I think that was the point of the article. Read the article again. It’s celebrating your choice to feed and rest baby in the way YOU and BABY need. I believe author was just illustrating what worked for for her.


    • Randi

      I think the point of the article was just what you made. If breast didn’t work for you and you gave formula and your kid turned out just fine, then that was what is right for you. You cant give parenting advice to a new parent, you can say what you did, and how it worked for you, your baby, and your family. You can even share what other parents have done/not done, but the advice is wonderful and useless all at the same time because what worked for you and yours will be utterly worthless to the next parent. That’s why parenting books are such bull shite, there is no exact code or recipe that works, if there was we would have already been doing that and we would all be living in a perfect parenting world. I breastfeed, I also gave formula, I also gave food before 6 months, my son slept on his belly in my bed and was licked by a mastiff on a daily basis. He was rocked to sleep in my arms every night until he was to big to fit in my arms. He was given all his vaccines and allowed to crawl in dirt (he didn’t seem nearly as impressed with soft grass as he was mud). He goes to bed at 7pm religiously, he drinks more then one soda a week and eats candy. And that worked really good for my boy. He is healthy, and happy. For the next parent it would be a nightmare that would never work, it might not even work for my next kid. That’s something she didn’t mention, your own parenting advice is worthless, because what worked for your first kid will be hell for the next one. No two kids are alike, no two parents are alike. And as a first time parent you have all these ideals. My kid will speak 5 different languages, and read by the time he’s two and be a fricken genius perfect child and I will show all these other parents just how its done. But when your sleep deprived, hungry, sick, and a little insane, you wont care if its breast milk, formula or some new form of crack (okay, you might care if it’s crack), you wont care if they watch t.v. or if it is even educational, as long as they are healthy and happy and will eat and go to sleep. You will realize how stupid you look lovingly sterilizing everything they touch/eat, when they start licking the dogs toy and somehow survived it. Everyone starts to compromise on what they thought was the perfect parenting way. And it’s not until you are a real parent making life changing choices that you realize there is no perfect way to do it, there is no training, no book and no advice that will sum it all up. If your child makes it to adulthood healthy, happy and not a complete dumbass then your way was the right way, and that will be way different then a whole lot of other people’s way and yet there way, was still the right way too.

    • Kate

      Yeah, I’m sure it’s all how we read the internet in our own insecurities. The bits about breastfeeding and sleep training here jumped out and kind of smacked me in the face, but I know that’s just what Janelle was able to do, and not a condemnation of my own mothering.

      When my 4 month old baby wouldn’t sleep for more than 45 minutes at a time… and never in a crib… and my Mom and Grandmother were telling me to put him to sleep ON HIS STOMACH and LET HIM CRY, I felt the most lost I ever have in my life. The internet was FULL of Moms who were so much better than me because they made enough milk and they didn’t let their babies cry, and I wanted to be like those mothers. But, in the end I gave it a try, and after 20 minutes of crying my baby fell asleep on his own for the first time, and it was like a switch was flipped and my life was instantly sooo much better. I was pretty sure I was the only mother that had to resort to such terrible desperate measures, and then the rest of my (younger) friends had babies and they all did the same thing. Some day I’m going to register the domain “” and it’s just going to be like one sentence: “I promise you won’t break your baby if you let him cry for one hour.”

  • Jessica

    I don’t know how you do it, but you always post on days I need to hear a mother-to-mother voice of reason the most. I, too, have four children and I, too, have days when I question them/me/life/purpose/everything. And then I found out this morning that my good friends (who are two of the most wonderful, giving, amazing women in the world) have to report to their lawyer’s office today to hand over the two-week old baby they were going to adopt. A baby who has never known any other comfort but them and their loving home. And I feel like an asshole because I have the nerve to occasionally complain about my babies. Babies who will never be taken away from me…

    And then I read your writing and see how fearless you are and you acknowledge that no one is perfect and we all feel like assholes sometimes and none of us have this thing figured out. But, we go on. And we do what we do. And these little angel/monsters are damn lucky to have us. And we them.

    So, thank you! I am grateful for your blog and look forward to it everyday.

  • Mel

    I feel guilty for NOT feeling guilty. I know this is crazy.

    • renegademama

      Yep. Forgot that. Oh, the giant emotional clusterfuck of motherhood.

    • Annette

      When I go to work (part time, 3 days/week) I feel guilty for not feeling guilty! So you are not crazy, Mel. Or we both are crazy…

  • J

    Great post. Totally got what you were saying, never once thought you were being inclusive or exclusive on what decisions mothers make with their own children. As you’ve said here and on other occasions, we all do what we need to to maintain our sanity and what feels right to us and our families. A friend told me something similar shortly after I had my son and I felt like a huge weight was lifted off of me because I was feeling like so many people were judging my decisions as a new, uncertain, sleep deprived, emotional mother. I try my best with everything and I try to listen to my gut; baby is happy, not happy, clean, fed, sleeping, not sleeping – one day it’ll all be over and maybe I won’t remember those looney days so much. Anyway, thanks for the real talk.

  • Jess at Welcome to the Bundle

    Welcome to thumb sucking! My son was sucking his thumb before he was even born, and I have the ultrasound photos to prove it. In 5 years, I may be eating these words while I cart my kid off to an orthodontist, but I love that he sucks his thumb. I nursed him constantly, but he still loved that thumb. It soothes him to sleep, it comforts him when he’s teething, it keeps him company on long car trips. As for the rest of it — all the baby advice — I too am at a loss. But as for the thumb, I say rejoice!

    • starbell

      Agreed! All three of my kids were finger suckers, and like you, we have ultrasounds to prove they’ve been at it since before I had the chance to mess up! I overall think it’s a good thing. Besides, any child of mine is going to need LOTS of dental work and LOTS of time at the orthodontist anyway. (I had many, many years of retainers and braces in my mouth – but now my smile’s great… and those awkward years build character). So why not? The finger sucking works for us 🙂

  • Colleen

    Best quote of the article “I know mothers need to do what helps them not go insane.” This is what all judge-y moms need to realize; I do xyz because it helps me get through today and feel like tomorrow is possibly doable.

  • brandi

    I am so glad to read this. Just had my 5th and I totally feel like such an idiot on a regular basis that I am losing it over something small with the baby or that I can’t get the kid to sleep…haven’t I done this before? I am amazed on a regular basis though that I manage all that night time sleep deprived baby stuff and still deal with a teenager…I really didn’t think it was possible. The fact that we are all still alive is a pretty big deal. Love reading your site–makes me feel a little less alone.

  • Rosy

    Thumbsucking. Yeah. My daughter also started sucking her thumb in the womb and because I am a mom “of advanced maternal age” (i.e. old), we had lots and lots of ultrasounds to prove it. And it seems like everyone was congratulating me on having a child that self-soothes, while I’m thinking: this must be from her father’s side, no one ever, in the history of my family, has sucked their thumb. What is going on? And she’s going to ruin her teeth. And her thumb.

    Now, at age 2 she has a huge callous on her thumb, but even the dentist told me not to worry about it till she’s 5 (Excuse me, what?) And…that’s not even the worst part. She makes you suck her other thumb too! Just shoves it into my mouth or my mom’s mouth when we are rocking her to sleep, or carrying her, or whenever she feels like it.

    At some point, I gave in. I still put nipple cream on her thumb, and band-aids at night, but figure she will suck her thumb till she is done with it.

  • Karyn

    Nailed it. Again.

    My friend is a new mum and this is what I want her to know. That I don’t know what I’m doing, none of us do. We’re all just doing the best we can and whatever we need to do to stay sane.

  • Nikki


  • Lydia

    I love your blog! I always feel a little “less” psycho and more human-esk after reading your posts… thanks! You’re the. Bomb dot com

  • krisztina

    Good advice!!!

    I hope R will figure out that the main person who judges us is :

  • itzybellababy

    Ugh.. the guilt. no matter what you do.. UGH

  • Jessica with 4

    Again, thanks for taking the time to share. Your blog enriches my life!

  • Sara

    Can you love someone you’ve never met? I’m pretty sure you can.
    You keep me hanging on lady. And for that, I am grateful for you.

  • H!t D!sturber

    I love your blog and can’t begin to express the relief I feel after hearing other mom’s (both you & commentators) are going through the same crazy stress/excitement/guilt/fear/celebration/mental gymnastics as I do! I’m a first time mom of a 15 month boy who I love with every iota of my soul! Yet I’m still terrified I will screw him up irrevocably, so I can’t help but ask for advice. .. and then STILL feel like “nah, I don’t think that advice will work for us” haha. I think you’ve got it right, we need to support each other, in whatever decision made on a particular day might be, because there is no magic formula or “always right” way of doing things. It’s a hard enough scary adventure to start with, being a parent, so let’s not make it harder on each other OR OURSELVES!

  • Jill

    First of all, I love your comment policy. Secondly, all I have to say to all of that is FOR REAL. And thirdly, my second child (of four) came out ACTUALLY sucking his thumb! Because, you know birthing a head isn’t painful enough, lets just jam that arm through at a weird angle for good measure. 🙂

  • Keli

    As another first time Mama due in a couple of months I say to you: It helps.

    Because its honest and its open and its individual and it asks nothing but gives all of your experience and as that is all we can ever offer – because each Mother’s experience will be unique – I totally appreciate the gift of words like these way more than all the ‘how to’ tips and advice from folks who think they’ve got it all figured out. Those folks scare me and sometimes intimidate me cos I know I’m never gonna be one of them’ I’ll never know it all. But I will have an experience and if I can look at it with all its shades and angles and share it with others as openly as you then I reckon I’ll be doing ok.

    So trust me, it helps.

  • Rosa

    Yup, having fifth baby early next year. We are like Hobbits but better *wink*

    The more kiddos I have, the less shit I know.

    Our fourth baby was our wild card, parenting swag gone! Delusions of having this gig figured out, GONE.

    In this house we nurture joy and tame chaos, errr tame joy and nurture chaos…wtf-ever the kids are healthy and happy, I am negligibly still sane, all that matters!

  • Katharine S

    I wish I’d read something like this before child #1, it would have helped immensely.

    Btw, it’s not weird to keep checking on a newborn’s breathing, or to feel guilty about feeling guilty, it’s quite normal, if by “normal” we mean the majority of mothers!


    I never knew before having children that every parenting choice could be debated. I really do not care how people feed their children. What annoys me is when I get on facebook and the same few people are constantly posting arrogant breast-feeding, cloth diaper articles. I guess it gives them a sense of self worth that they lost when they had kids. This is in no way directed at you.

  • Amy

    Perfect timing as usual, Janelle! I’m three weeks in with baby no. 4 and continually having to talk myself down from the anxiety ledge of being sure that I’m ruining all my kids! No, nothing ever turns out as planned and the more tolerant I’m able to be of that the calmer I can remain in the face of whining, complaining, and crying.