Before we became parents, we had certain expectations for what life would be like after our first child was born. Many of those expectations came from movies and TV shows (whether or not we’d like to admit it) while others came from looking through the windows of other families and seeing what it’s been like for them. If you are reading this because you are expecting your first child soon, then congratulations! I am excited for you to join the ranks of parenthood and embark on the next chapter of your life story. It’s going to be quite a ride! To better prepare you for this adventure, here are five truths that most of us veterans wish we’d known before baby #1 came around.
Truth #1: Your delivery won’t be like your mom’s — or anyone else’s for that matter.
Every woman’s body is different. Some women labor for days, while others seem to deliver in just a few hours. There are so many factors to consider, such as genetics, age, fitness, health, position and size of your baby, and pain tolerance. Just because your mother needed to be induced, that doesn’t mean you’ll need to be as well. Your best bet is to create a birthing plan and practice techniques such as breathing, massaging and stretching, while keeping in mind that you might end up ditching your plan altogether (which is OK!) during delivery. Unfortunately, you can’t predict much.
Something else to keep in mind: No one looks like a celebrity after giving birth, so embrace the mess. Even your baby will look gross before she gets cleaned up. Hollywood tends to skip the whole placenta removal process (spoiler alert: they practically punch you in the stomach to get that thing out) so don’t get blindsided by that experience either.
Truth #2: Your body will go through a lot in the next 6 to 8 weeks after delivery.
First-time parents are understandably nervous about delivery. Rest assured, there is definitely relief when the baby’s finally out, but if you don’t know what to expect you might be a little traumatized by the things that happen to your body afterwards.
First of all, there is a lot of blood. The nurse will help you use the restroom (if you have an epidural, you’ll wait for that to wear off before trying to stand up) and she’ll need to sort of measure how much blood is coming out of you. You’ll wash up as best as you can and then wear postpartum diapers for a while. Blood clots are normal during the first week and you might pass some that are as large as golf balls (anything bigger you’ll want to tell the nurse about ASAP). The blood will lighten up over the next 6 to 8 WEEKS. Thank God for maternity leave, right?
Your hormones will fluctuate like crazy and you might find yourself crying over little things. “Baby blues” are normal, but your doctor will monitor you for signs of postpartum depression at your follow-up visit. If you find that you are feeling hopeless, overwhelmed or constantly sad, let your doctor know and don’t hide these feelings from your loved ones. Motherhood is tough and there is no shame in needing help. You are valuable.
Your tummy will look deflated for a while. Breastfeeding will help contract your uterus, which will almost return to normal by your postpartum visit, but these contractions can be as painful as labor (over-the-counter medications help). Your bottom might be sore if you needed stitches after delivery or you have hemorrhoids. I personally never experienced a c-section, but I hear those stitches can make breastfeeding a bit tricky (but there are techniques to accommodate this).
All things considered, don’t refuse any pain relief your hospital offers you. Talk to your provider if you have any concerns about medication and breastfeeding. This might seem like an overwhelming time but you will get through it.
Truth #3: The urge to shake your baby is real.
No parent wants to admit that they’ve gotten this angry at their baby, but sleepless nights and incessant crying can bring out the worst in a person. These feelings are completely normal, and so it’s best if you make a plan ahead of time for when you’re exhausted, emotional and not thinking clearly, because shaking your baby is dangerous. Some things to keep in mind: do not touch your baby when you are angry. Walk out of the room and let your baby cry for a little bit while you calm down. If you have a partner, ask for help (assuming your partner isn’t angry as well). Remind yourself that your baby is uncomfortable and has no other way of communicating his needs. Perhaps looking at a photograph of your baby when he is content will help as well before you step back into the room. Nap as often as possible during the day so that you are better able to handle your baby’s nighttime episodes, even if it means calling a friend to come over and help with the laundry or babysit for a while.
Truth #4: Breastfeeding is hard.
Studies suggest that breastfeeding offers the most benefits for your baby. Your mom breastfed, your grandmother breastfed, your great-grandmother breastfed…basically, you come from a long line of nursing mothers, and so there was no question in your mind that you would follow suit. It comes naturally, right?
Unfortunately, no. Although it seems like all there is to nursing is to pop the baby on and let her do her thing, there’s actually a lot that can go wrong. The baby might not understand latching right away. Your nipples might crack and bleed. You can become engorged (mastitis is no walk in the park). Medications can dry up your milk. The list goes on and on.
But don’t be scared of nursing. Just be sure to make time for reading quality literature on the subject ahead of time and take advantage of the hospital’s on-site lactation consultant (or call for one if you have a home birth). There is no shame in getting help — more moms struggle with nursing than you think.
Truth #5: You’ll mean everything to your baby.
He’s going to sleep a lot those first few weeks, but once his eyes develop a little bit more and his little body stays awake for longer periods of time, he’s going to start looking at you as though you’re the best thing that ever happened to him (and you are!). You have permission to get lost in those big eyes instead of doing the dishes. You might have gone through nine months of discomfort and your body might still be sore from delivery, and someday he’s going to grow up and fall in love with another woman, but for now he’s all YOURS.
This is a bond that is going to change everything you ever thought you knew about life. Let the tears fall. You’re going to make mistakes and he’s going to learn how to forgive you for them (when they’re small, their grace is huge). You will always be his mother. Embrace this messy, head-over-heels life, hold your baby tight and take the future one step at a time.
You’ve got this, Mama.