Before I had my baby, I dreamed that I would be an ascetic New Age mother whose baby would fit into the house as it already was. There would be no baby paraphernalia. I would walk around town beatifically wearing my baby in a long swath of hand-loomed organic fabric, looking like a Yuppie Nepalese peasant, and the house, like our lives, would be serenely the same as before, enlarged only on a spiritual plane.
Then I had my baby.
Infancy is a time of root chakra needs. It all boils down to comfort. When you haven't slept, you're sporting homeless-person-chic, and you can't remember the last time you finished a sentence, it doesn't matter if the nursery walls are chartreuse or champagne.
It doesn't matter if the crib is bamboo or acrylic—for that matter, it doesn't matter if you thought you would be a co-sleeper and instead the baby is sleeping in a basket, or you thought the baby would sleep in his crib in a separate room and somehow he ended up in bed with you. Nothing matters except making it through each day as comfortably as you can.
You can buy everything imaginable for your baby
Fortunately, we live in an era with a multi-billion-dollar baby industry. There's an avalanche of Buyable Stuff out there ready to help you find the comfort you need to make parenthood as enjoyable as possible, most of it touted as somebody's must-have, much of it probably ok, and some of it even useful.
Real style and comfort never go out of style. Except for the monitor app, the real must-haves of 2016 have been around for a while, because they work. I, who once believed I would be the Mies van der Rohe of mothers, spurning all but the most Spartan of essentials, owe truckloads of sanity to some beautifully-designed products that truly did make my life and my baby's life easier and better.
And their makers are making them better every year. The best part is, even though some of these things aren't cheap, you can buy them all used (except the monitor app).
And here they are, from least to most expensive
7 Baby monitor app
Stop the presses and tear out the front page! An app that turns objects you already have (smart-phones, tablets, and computers) into a video baby monitor system. You can even talk to your baby with it. No more investing in expensive single-purpose electronic objects that then have to be sold.
We're still waiting for the app that tells you when your child is about to pee.
6 Nursing pillow
I spent most of my time nursing. If you choose to nurse, you will probably spend most of your time nursing too. I thought I could get away with no pillow, or using ordinary pillows. I was wrong. This purpose-built tool took the hassle out of positioning the baby securely in the right spot and keeping him where he needed to be while reducing strain on my own body.
5 Under the Nile baby clothes
So soft. They embarrass all the other baby clothes and make them feel rough and coarse by comparison. I wish they made them in my size. And you can feel good about the environment, society, and your baby's health when you use them. No pesticides, no chemicals, everything organic, sustainably harvested cotton, and made with pride by real human beings.
4 Sleep Sheep
I still have a Sleep Sheep in my closet. Just in case. I scoffed when someone sent us this cuddly white-noise-maker, oh how ridiculous. Then I turned it (him?) on, and joined legions of families who swear by him.
Once you turn the Sleep Sheep on and choose one of his soothing assurances, somebody in the room is guaranteed to fall asleep. It might be the baby. It might be you. It doesn't matter. As long as someone is sleeping, you will feel better later.
I personally owe the Sleep Sheep a huge debt of gratitude. As a nursing mother with post-partum psychosis induced partly by Vicodin and partly by insomnia, I didn't know how to sleep in ten-minute intervals every two hours, and I was hallucinating around the clock.
The Sleep Sheep helped me fall asleep quickly and take advantage of the cat-nap opportunities afforded me, thus doing its part to reduce my hallucinations and bring harmony and ease to my new life with my baby. The baby also occasionally fell asleep thanks to the Sheep.
3 Ergobaby carrier
I am an urban carless mother and I live in a child-unfriendly city with a lot of hills and staircases. Sometimes the stroller was the right choice, but sometimes it was not. Often the carrier was just easier. It could go on buses, which the stroller could not. It left my hands free, which the stroller did not. It took up less space in crowds and required less maneuvering. And it was noticeably more likely to calm an upset baby. Just thinking about the phrase, “a walk in the carrier,” makes my own eyelids droop pacifically.
I had thought I would be a wrap and sling person, and they may be great for other people. My particular baby refused them altogether, with an opinion quite vociferous for one so young.
The Ergobaby had the same snuggle-quotient as a wrap. It instinctively made more sense to me than a Baby Bjorn because with an Ergobaby the child faces the parent. That's the direction legs and arms bend in; they're clearly meant to wrap around something instead of flap in the breeze.
I was also concerned with the lack of head and neck support in Baby Bjorns; at the time, there were reports saying babies shouldn't spend more than twenty minutes at a time in a Baby Bjorn because of this but many were spending a lot longer. (By now, there are Baby Bjorns where the baby faces the parent, and their literature now recommends that you do it that way for the first number of months.)
The Ergobaby was cuddly and practical and had a handy inclement-weather-hood. But why I really liked it was because it grew with us. When my baby was very small, he started out sideways in the carrier wrapped up like a burrito, with their included burrito-inset. You can't do that with a Baby Bjorn.
The must-have Ergobaby is just what you need
Then when he got bigger, he went on my front like those gnomes that wrap their limbs around pencil-tops. We spent a lot of time like that. But then he got bigger, and, unlike a Baby Bjorn, the Ergobaby kept on being useful and practical: we learned how to put him on my back. Yes, at first putting him on did feel like we were mastering our own Cirque du Soleil act, and there was a certain amount of contortionism required.
But after we figured things out, we got our little act down to a couple of easy seconds, and were free to explore the world without the encumbrance of a stroller.
We used the Ergobaby until the baby wasn't even a toddler any more, he was definitely a child. It did a great job of distributing weight, so even when he was 16 kilos, he still felt about the same weight as he had when he was two. It helped us go where we wanted to go, it took up no space or weight of its own, it never broke, and it was machine washable. I wish everything was that well made.
2 Dutailier glider
Canadian craftsmanship at its finest. If you didn't know you could get addicted to pieces of furniture, that's because you've never sat in a Dutailier glider. Preferably with matching gliding ottoman. They hook you for life when you start nursing. Nursing is not necessarily instinctive or easy for everyone, and it comes with its own set of challenges.
If you choose to nurse, it will be your full-time job for a long while, so you'd best have a good spot to do it. These chairs provide a supportive, comfortable, soothing place to spend a lot of time, and the gentle movement calms everybody down.
The best part is that these chairs continue to be supportive, comfortable, and soothing even after the baby grows up. They're machine-washable, they never wear out, and they continue adding to the quality of your life for as long as you have them in the house. So get one (or two) that goes with the décor, because it's here to stay.
1 Bugaboo Cameleon
The stroller I loved to sneer at eventually became an everyday savior that truly made my life and my baby's life noticeably better and easier. The first time I caught myself saying, “thank God for the Cameleon,” I blushed. The thousandth time I said it, I took it as a matter of course.
I used to roll my eyes at these ubiquitous status symbols. How pretentious, how label-oriented, how Yuppie. The perfect stroller to go with your organic black yoga pants (guilty), your iPhone (guilty), and your artisanal micro-roasted decaf latte served to you by a beautiful Eurasian with a man-bun (guilty). I would never be one of Those Mothers.
Until I was.
One day, making sure no one I knew could see me, I gave one a test run. After I found my own on craigslist, I never went back. It made the difference between “surviving” and “living.” I couldn't believe how lightweight it was - and as an apartment-dweller who had to be able to pick up and manhandle the stroller on a regular basis, but whose core lifting muscles had been severed via Caesarean, this mattered.
And yet, although so light, it was also so sturdy and solid - I have no idea how they managed this, but apparently throwing money at a problem is a good approach to solving it.
Also as an apartment-dweller, I appreciated another problem at which they'd thrown money: the stroller folded up into the size of a postage stamp when I didn't need it. And yet when we were out and about, it had more storage space than most minivans.
I couldn't believe how much easier its springy suspension made going uphill - and where I live, if you're outside, you're probably going uphill. Suddenly instead of slogging along like Sisyphus, I could walk like a normal human being.
We took advantage of the forward/backward/recline/lie down nature of the seat every day. Sometimes my offspring wanted to face forward and sometimes I wanted him to face me. Sometimes he was awake and it was time to be upright, and sometimes he was tired and it was time to recline. And I wish I had a nickel for every time I'd taken him out with the seat lying all the way down. This was a Godsend when he was sick.
I wished that I had bought this stroller as soon as my cub was born instead of going through others first, because it also chameleons itself into a perambulator for brand-new infants. I could have spent money on one awesome stroller one time, instead of on multiple not-awesome strollers, and had an easier life. But you can learn from what I did wrong, and from what I did right. Give a Cameleon a try. You'll never want anything else.