To a new mom: Things I did NOT know to expect
I made a new friend recently who is expecting a child, and she’s a little nervous about what to expect with the whole “bringing a baby into the world” thing. I shouldn’t even say nervous – she’s just feeling the same way that every mom probably feels. Having a baby (and caring for them for the next 18+ years) is the complete unknown. It’s scary – in an exciting way. There are just so many variables…from labor/delivery to breast feeding to getting the baby to sleep (oh, god…the sleeping) – and especially how it will change your life as a person. Forever.
You can read all of the “what to expect” books, but gosh those are boring and wordy, and you’ll probably never encounter 1/2 of the stuff in there. Being an avid reader, an aunt to 7 (at that time), and someone who felt quite comfortable around babies and kids, there were still some things that surprised me. Maybe no one ever mentioned these things to me, or I just didn’t grasp the magnitude – consider yourself warned if you are about to be a new parent.
Before I cover what to expect, let me just say that with labor and delivery, there’s nothing to expect. Or shall I say, throw your expectations out the window because there’s little you can control about the process. You are not in charge – at least your mind isn’t – your body and the baby inside of you are in charge. And the Dr. and nurses. Let them be in charge. They know what they are doing. And hopefully you have amazing nurses because they are really the ones handling everything except for catching the baby and your stitches (yes, there will likely be stitches). There are things you can do before and during labor and delivery to make the process more how you want, but at any moment things can change, so don’t have your heart set on following your 45 point birth plan that includes complete silence except for Mozart playing softly in the background (because that will make your baby smarter, right?), and a unicorns and rainbows in the room after delivery. You should have an idea of what you hope for (whether you want/don’t want an epidural, who you want in the room, if you you want to breastfeed immediately after birth, who cuts the cord and when, etc) and discuss some of those with your Dr. ahead of time – as long as you understand that things may be completely different and impossible – especially in the event of an emergency c-section. I’m not trying to scare anyone…I’m just being real. And if you’ve already had one baby and are expecting again, don’t assume labor/delivery will be the same the 2nd time around. It’s just less scary the 2nd time around. You and your partner should think about a few things ahead of time regarding their involvement. Some women are weird about their partners seeing the mess “down there” that is the miracle of life (its messssssy – especially afterwards), but my husband was really glad that he looked at the last minute to see our children be born, even though he wasn’t sure he would want to. The Dr. asked him if he wanted to cut the umbilical cord, which he wasn’t expecting (by the way, that thing looks really weird). He did – its a weird feeling – but again, he’s glad he did.
Also, I know you are worried about pooping on the table. Don’t worry…in the moment, it’ll be the last thing on your mind. Or at least it should be. I didn’t (as far as I know), but several nurses are there and they can swap out the pads below you as needed, so your baby won’t be born into a pile of poo.
Your body, after birth
Cramps…oh the cramps: As your uterus shrinks in the days following birth, you’ll have cramping. It may range from mild pms cramping to cramping that makes you feel like you’ll vomit. The cramping after Jenson wasn’t terrible (from what I remember), but cramping after Marlowe was horrible. I don’t know if it gets worse in all subsequent deliveries, or if it was from special circumstances that I had with Marlowe which included the retrieval of some rogue tissue (I’ll spare you those details here, though I talked about it in Marlowe’s birth story). Regardless, I wasn’t expecting them to be so bad and when I was showering the next morning at the hospital, I nearly passed out and vomited in the shower and was thisclose to pulling the emergency cord in the shower. They subsided over the next few days, but they took my breath away at their strongest.
12 step bathroom process: Depending on your method of delivery, you may need a squirt bottle of water, tucks cooling pads, numbing spray, an underwear ice pad (yes, that’s a thing) and a maxi pad the size of a couch every time you go to the bathroom for the first few days. Just go ahead and use the ugly mesh underwear they give you in the hospital. Sure you can wear old black underwear that you don’t care about ruining – as long as they can fit all of the props I mentioned above. The mesh undies are comfortable enough, and its nice to be able to chuck the whole bundle in the garbage. Take a few pairs home to continue using, along with any of the pain relieving items you use in the hospital. If you don’t get stitches, consider yourself lucky…you’ll probably just need maxis the size of your couch.
Do the shuffle: For a few weeks after giving birth, it may feel like your uterus could just fall out as you walk. It won’t. It’s not pain, but it’s a weird pressure, or at least an unsecured feeling. I remember walking around the neighborhood with Jenson in the stroller and feeling like I should shuffle my feet to keep things up in there. Hoping I wasn’t actually shuffling.
Eat, drink, and be lazy: Everyone should know that your body won’t probably won’t go back to normal immediately after birth – unless you are one of the rare lucky bitches. Be kind to yourself. If you’re breastfeeding, you need extra water and extra food to produce milk for your baby. Don’t try to work out too soon or lose the weight too soon. Make sure your milk supply is established before you try to lose the extra weight, and even then you have to eat enough food or it could diminish. Don’t feel bad if you continue to wear maternity pants for a few weeks (or even months if you need)…you don’t have to rush back to the harsh reality of real “non-stretchy” waistbands and be uncomfortable all day. Your body made a baby – be kind to it for a bit. Everyone knows you had a baby and won’t be judging you for not having a flat stomach within 2 months – or they’re dicks.
Your new receding hairline: The biggest surprise about my body after child birth was the hair loss. Around 4 months after Jenson was born, a co-worker (dad of 3) asked if I started losing my hair yet. I was like – what? He warned me that his wife lost a bunch of hair a few months after she had her kids. (sidenote: we were a pretty close-knit group of co-workers who talked about everything, so it wasn’t weird for him to ask me that). Sure enough, by about 5/6 months postpartum, gobs of hair started to fall out when I washed my hair – and my hair was on every surface in the house (ask Lo). Postpartum hair loss is normal. From what I remember during my frantic google search, your hair feels thicker and more luxurious during pregnancy because you don’t shed as much hair due to certain hormones. In the months after, those hormones recede and all that extra hair falls out (and maybe more). I lost a lot around my hairline – especially at my temples. It’s frustrating, but it grows back. You just have to deal with the regrowth that stands straight up – and the people who like to point it out. “Oh, I didn’t notice that the hair along my hairline has been standing straight up every time I look in a reflective surface for the last two weeks…thanks for mentioning it.” I’m guessing postpartum hair loss is the real reason behind the oh-so-common mom haircut. Don’t do anything drastic…it’ll grow back.
So about that baby….
Leaving the hospital: Its scary! You had people waiting on you and helping you with the baby for the last 36 hours or more…and suddenly, you’re on your own as parents. You’ll be fine.
Postpartum hormones: Your body is a little jacked up after birth, and now your hormones are going to match it. It’s totally normal to have some emotional swings. I remember coming downstairs a day or two after we were home and there were tears streaming down my face. But I wasn’t sad or scared or anything – but I couldn’t control the tears. Lo looked so concerned and I was just laughing. On a serious note – be aware of postpartum depression and talk to your Dr. if your struggling with emotions consistently.
Breastfeeding: It’s not always easy, it’s not always intuitive, it’s not always pain-free. But it’s worth it if that’s what you want to do. I won’t go into the issues you may encounter with breastfeeding (I talked about some of them here), but I HIGHLY encourage you to see a lactation consultant before you leave the hospital AND after you are back home if you are having any issues or are struggling in any way. Some hospitals will send one to your house or have breastfeeding groups with a lactation consultant, or you can find one on your own. Insurance should pay for one, but you may have to pick a covered provider. Even if you have to pay for it out of pocket, it’s worth the money. I feel like many women who want to breastfeed end up giving it up early because they didn’t seek out help. Pediatricians aren’t likely to be very helpful with that part of it, so they may just encourage you to use formula if you are struggling. If you want to breastfeed and are having issues, SEE A LACTATION CONSULTANT! I’ve had a couple of friends who ended up being incapable of producing milk, but most women can produce at least some, if not all, of the milk that their baby needs. You may need special equipment, you may need a special pumping/nursing schedule, you may need supplements or special food, but if you want to do it, you probably can if you ask for help soon enough. And if you wanted to and can’t – don’t be ashamed. Fed is best.
Poop: We knew to expect to go through a lot of diapers, but we were still somehow shocked how frequently (and loudly!) that babies poop! It wasn’t uncommon to change a dirty diaper and hear the baby poop again within 2 minutes. Sometimes it’s just a little mustard in the diaper, sometimes it goes all the way up their back, sometimes it runs straight out of the leg of their pants as if they have no diaper on. Just know that onesies with the envelope-like shoulders are designed so you can kind of roll it down their body instead of pulling it over their head. And there’s no shame in just throwing away a completely destroyed onesie rather than washing it. The first poopsplotion that I experienced was while Lo was at work. It was all the way up Jenson’s back and around the front, and I was just looking at him thinking – how do I tackle this?! That onesie went in the garbage.
Naps: Newborns nap frequently, but not necessarily for long. As a matter of fact, it could be months before you get long naps. Since they need to eat frequently, by the time they are fed, burped, changed (and sometimes changed again) and you lay them down/get them to sleep, they often only sleep for 30 minutes before they are awake again. Basically, you’re only going to get short breaks to get things done, and you’ll constantly be worried about the baby waking up early from naps. So that whole “sleep when he sleeps” thing you hear people say…good luck with that. Eventually they’ll switch to 3 regular naps a day (usually one is a little longer), and then to 2 naps (and hopefully one is around 2 hours), so it does get less frustrating and more predictable. It helped once I got Jenson on an eat, play, sleep routine when he was 6 weeks old or something. It wasn’t sleep-training as much as it was not letting him get too tired during the day and giving us a little predictability. Google it if you’re interested – there are many methods – I don’t know that I used one in particular as much as just the general idea.
Nighttime sleep…oh, the dreaded nighttime: I’ll start off saying that I have no authority on this because my 14 month old daughter has slept through the night approximately 1 time (last Friday), and Jenson wasn’t a great sleeper until toddlerhood either. It’s your business what method of sleep training, or lack thereof, you are comfortable with. Let me just warn you, that every person who lays eyes on your baby will ask you this: “Is he/she sleeping through the night?” And if your baby doesn’t, you’ll constantly feel judged when you admit that they don’t. You’ll either get a ton of advice you don’t want (“have you tried this?” “I swear by this book” “My son was sleeping through the night before he was even conceived”) or your hear something like “oh, that’s too bad” followed by a heavy dose of silent judgment. Take comfort in the rare convo with another tired mom who will just respond “mine doesn’t either”.
Car seats: Tightening the straps sucks. It’s hard – especially when rear-facing…you’ll feel like you need to put your whole body weight behind it. But do it right every time and your kid will be used to it and hopefully won’t fuss about it. In short, chest clip at armpits, straps tight enough that you can’t pinch the fabric between your fingers, and no puffy coats worn underneath. If you aren’t confident in the installation, get it inspected (call your fire dept to see if they can check it).
Facts of Life…
Fear: Taking care of this tiny helpless human being will increase your fears exponentially. You worry if he’s warm enough, cool enough, eating enough. Why is she crying? Is he meeting milestones? But the scariest of all is in the night…when you may constantly wonder if he or she is breathing. SIDS is rare, but scary. If you worry so much about it, use a breathing monitor of sorts…Angelcare monitor, Snuza (what we used) or whatever. If it gives you peace of mind, just do it. I know our moms survived without using breathing monitors and video monitors, but that doesn’t mean we have to.
“Are you ready for another”?: You’ll hear that question about 1 month after you have your first. And you’ll probably be horrified at the thought of that (even if you fully intend to have more kids). We knew we wanted to have another child, but in those first few weeks when we were in the thick of it, we kept saying “why would anyone do this again?!”. We also decided that single mothers should rule the world because if they can’t handle all of that by themselves, they can handle anything.
Changes in your relationships: You hope it won’t happen, but it will. Things will change with your partner because you essentially became two new people…Mom and Dad. It’s not necessarily bad..but it’s not just the two of you against the world anymore. Don’t forget about each other though…you need to foster your relationship too. Friendships may change too – especially with friends who aren’t parents. Make time for each other still. It’s hard to get through the diaper years, but you need your friends too. It’s nice to get out of the house and talk about something other than diapers and bottles.
Details, details: Your memory and brain will be shot for awhile, so write everything down. You’ll forget want you went into the next room for, you’ll forget if you ate breakfast. You’ll forget the good, the bad and the ugly, so if you want to remember something, write it down. No, you probably won’t remember to finish the baby book until a year or two or 5 years later, but write the details down somewhere so you can go back later. Text them to yourself, write them on a calendar…whatever you have to do.
1000 kisses: You won’t be able to stop kissing your baby. I swear I kissed my babies hundreds of times a day when they were little. I still kiss them constantly, but they can get away from me now, so it’s not as easy. So kiss that baby constantly while you can hold them close to you, and keep trying even when they can get away from you! I was kissing Marlowe’s cheeks today and saying “I can’t stop kissing this baby!!” and she was squirming and trying to get down…but she was smiling. Jenson is getting stingy with kisses lately, but he doesn’t push me away too much, and sometimes he’ll just come up to me and kiss me…and it makes my whole world.
Days and weeks: “The days are long, but the years are fast” You’ll hear that…and its so true. But man, the days can feel so long and you may wonder if you’ll make it until naptime or bedtime. You will. And soon, he’ll be walking. And soon, he’ll be in preschool. And while you’ll always be his mama, he’ll never need you more than in this moment.
The cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
For children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust go to sleep.
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.
-excerpt: Song for a Fifth Child by Ruth Hulburt Hamilton
Here are a few more posts I’ve written about prepping for and dealing with new parenthood.