1. Leaving the hospital will be awful. When you're surrounded by a round-the-clock staff of doctors and nurses, caring for that wriggly, needy creature seems almost doable. But without them? At home? It hardly seems legal, much less possible. But just remember: you have everything you need. And...
2. You don't need much. Babies R Us is a terrifying place, filled with 8,000 varieties of sippy cups and strollers with more options than my first car. Or my current car. You really don't need every gadget and gizmo that happens to be branded "baby." Save your money for diapers because...
3. Poop will consume you. And I don't just mean quantity-wise. Who knew that when color, consistency and frequency all align it could be such a truly beautiful thing? You will likely find yourself obsessing over the contents of each diaper, and if things stray from the gold standard of mustard yellow, cottage cheese, 6-8 times/day it can be panic-inducing. You may even find yourself Googling "7-week old baby poop brown with flecks of green" at 4am. And you may find comfort in the 3,095,726 results that match your search.
4. You'll want to unpack your baggage. Do what you can to check your emotional past at the door and start fresh. So you weren't hugged enough as a child? Heal yourself by doing better for your own children. Make peace where you can, including with yourself. Forgive and be forgiving. Your kids deserve it, and so do you.
5. Time doesn't always fly. Sometimes it drags, sometimes it leaps out of control. Take for instance the 27 minutes of an episode of Thomas and Friends which seem to last 8 years. But then one day you will look down and all of a sudden that floppy little head will be holding itself upright and before you know it the head is yelling "Look at me, Mom!" as it attempts to cannonball off the couch and then you're signing it up for preschool. It's probably best to just take off your watch and go with it.
6. Not all help is created equal. My extended family greeted our first child with a huge vegetable tray, 6 pounds of apricots and a 4-pack of pita chips with a giant tub of hummus. As I clumsily tried to nurse my son, hormones surging, I looked out over his fuzzy little head at a hospital picnic. The subsequent offers of "help" I received all came in edible form, usually on gigantic platters, which for someone with a history of disordered eating is not particularly helpful. Food is their love language, but it isn't mine. I am a confessed control freak, and getting back in the kitchen after the baby was born was one of the few things that made me feel like myself. Real help should make your life better, not someone else's. It's taken 3 years but I now know what I most need help with: the ability to go for an early morning run, to drink a cup of tea in peace, and one hour, once a week to lie in bed and watch The Real Housewives of New Jersey.
7. You will pray. If you're a person of faith, nothing will strengthen it more than that tiny, innocent, baby-shaped blessing. And nothing will test it like taking that blessing to church when that blessing hits about 18 months old and runs up and down the pews, shouting "YAY!!!!" at the end of each solemn hymn.
8. You will find your own voice. Cloth vs. disposable? Breast vs. bottle? Pacifier vs. thumb? Everyone (family, friends, strangers) will have an opinion, but ultimately yours is the only one that matters.
9. Everything really does change. My shoe size increased to 7.5, and we won't discuss my waist size. That much I expected, but I didn't know how much my capacity to love would grow as well. The night before my son was born I stayed up all night, worrying about what was about to happen. Did I really have the ability to nurture another human being? Could I possibly offer him the emotional nourishment he needed to grow, to develop, to thrive? And then before his sister was born I worried once again: could I ever love another child as much as I'd come to adore that little boy? Was there room in our hearts for someone else? I still don't know much when it comes to raising children, but this I am sure of: the heart is so very, very flexible. It is everything you need.