I feel like the next wave of babies is starting. I know so many people who are pregnant right now. Some mothers-to-be out in the open, and some who still haven’t revealed it to the social media world yet. But all them are gearing up for motherhood. I remember when I was pregnant, and I looked at other women who had their babies earth side, so to speak, and I would think to myself, “I can’t wait for that day. I can’t wait to hold my baby on the outside.”
While I enjoyed the ease of pregnancy and being able to do pretty much whatever I wanted, I still couldn’t wait to meet the life growing inside me. Then once my baby was born I would look at other babies and think, “I can’t wait until mine gets bigger like that. I can’t wait until she can sit up on her own or eat solid food.” As much as I loved having a newborn those first three months were a blur of sleepless nights and wishing for the next step. Now I wish time would stop and Charlotte would stay right where she is in this current growth stag – sweet, unable to talk back, an avid napper, not mobile yet, and no teeth in sight. Still a baby.
Whenever I talk to my other mom friends now the conversation always turns to, “Why doesn’t anyone tell you these things?!” Although the road to becoming a parent is a well traveled one, it’s not a journey most seem eager to share the conditions of… This morning, while lying in bed nursing Charlotte, I started to think back on our journey in the first three months and how hard it was. Hard. That’s a word I use to describe the first three months. While I do not know the exact path my friends who are expecting will follow, I can tell you two things: it’s hard and then it gets better. You won’t believe me on either count until you experience it for yourself, but that’s the truth.
I’m here to tell you what your other friends might not. You don’t have to believe me now, but come back to this after your baby is born and read this at 3AM when you are nursing. Then you’ll know you are not alone.
From the moment you have your baby it will be hard.
Most women who in childbirth have large amounts of bleeding or major abdominal surgery, after withstanding hours of tears, pain and even vomiting, are left alone to recover. You will barely recover before you’ll be prompted to breastfeed from breasts that you’ve had all your adult life but never had to use in any way shape or form before. Breast feeding will be hard. You may not be able to even do it, and that’s OK. Your baby may not latch, it may be tongue tied, your nipples may crack and bleed and your breasts will engorge and you will feel like millions of fire ants are crawling inside your skin. If you want to breast feed then stick with it and fight for it. Know that nurses will come in every two hours, and to your humiliation will grab your breasts and show you how to shove a nipple in your babies mouth the right way.
You may think you know what you are doing but trust me you have no idea. All those family members and friends you want to come visit you in the hospital and at home after baby? They will see your breasts so get over it. Tell them to get over it. Don’t even worry about that cute “hooter hider” you got from your baby shower because you won’t put it to use. Not yet anyway. There’s too much going on and it’s too much of a process to feed your baby to worry about putting that damn thing on beforehand.
So your body is wrecked, it’s going to hurt to pee for awhile if you had a vaginal birth (don’t even think about your first bowel movement, it’s as bad as you might imagine afterwards). And now you have a living being to take care of that comes with no instruction book. You’ll think you know how to swaddle, and you’ll fail the first few times. Most of those clothes you got at the baby shower won’t fit so you may have to send family out and buy infant clothes. Baby will sleep just long enough for you to get one or two things done (showering or teeth brushing top the list) and then it will be time to feed again. You will feel like all you do is feed, and all anyone else does is hold your baby. This is pretty much the truth. Everyone will say to sleep when your baby sleeps but know this may not be possible for awhile. You will be so busy returning phone calls, seeing visitors or having family or trying to eat that you won’t sleep when the baby sleeps. When you do try to sleep the baby will be awake, and you’ll become a zombie after three weeks.
I clearly recall crying a lot in those first few weeks. Crying because I was up at midnight, then two, then four, then six, and always feeding and not knowing if I was doing it right. I suggest you buy yourself a nice robe because that’s what you’ll be in for awhile. Get a nursing bra while you are at it to sleep in. No one tells you that as your hormones regulate back to some sort of normal that you will sweat while you sleep. You will wake up covered in sweat. Until your milk regulates, you’ll wake up covered in milk too. From leaky breasts. I was always diligent about using breast pads during the day but at night, after waking every two hours to feed, well, sometimes those just didn’t make it back in the bra. My bed was covered in them in the morning – that and the boppy and blankets and diapers.
You may want to invest in a king size bed. You will fret whether to have the baby in its own crib or in your bed. Hope you didn’t spend a lot on crib sheets because it’s going to be awhile before baby is in her own room. Most nights Charlotte just slept on my chest with me paralyzed in fear that if I moved she’d roll off or worse wake up. You won’t sleep, and it will make you a crazy person. And by crazy person I mean hormonal lunatic who cries at everything, who sometimes looks at their own baby with a mixture of disgust and fear, and who contemplates packing her bags and running away.
And that’s OK. Accept yourself.
Everyone who has had kids before will tell you it gets better. Everyone you meet will ask you if your baby is sleeping through the night. And you will want to kill them all. In your mind you will think it’s never going to get better. You’ll think that your body will always look and feel horrible, and your baby will never sleep. It’s not true but that’s what your zombie brain will tell you.
Then somewhere around 12 weeks, just when it’s time to go back to work, it will be better. You will have found your groove and your new normal, and you will settle in. Similar to being in a yoga class and being made to hold a pose for so long that eventually you forget you are holding it, and you forget you hate it, and your mind travels elsewhere, and then you start to like it. You will get better at breast feeding and will eventually master the side lying technique so you and baby can both fall back asleep during early morning feedings. Your boobs will stop leaking, and you will quit peeing yourself every time you stand upright. If you had a vaginal birth your postpartum hemorrhaging will subside, and you can work out again without feeling like every jumping jack will kill you. You will build the confidence to leave the house by yourself without worrying about meltdowns. You may even become adventurous enough to fly on an airplane to visit family (and you might immediately regret your decision but hey you tried right?). No one can tell you when this day may come, but it will come, and you will start to feel like you can actually handle this mom thing after all.
Then something will happen and you will question yourself once again. Your baby may accidentally almost suffocate from pulling a pillow over its head while you are arm’s length away (true story). Or perhaps baby chokes on a piece of frozen fruit you give her or you drop your iPhone on her head while she’s nursing and you’re browsing Facebook. Your dog may be sweetly lying beside your baby and then get up in such a panic for no reason that it claws your baby’s face with it’s paws (also a true story) leaving you in tears (even though baby escaped without a scratch). Every day you will fail as a parent but you will also learn and grow and become more confident. Failing is a part of what makes you succeed. Some days you will just do what you have to in order to get by, and others you will feel like the best parent there ever was.
No one ever tells you what the journey is going to be like, what the path before you holds because here’s the truth: none of us really know the first thing about traveling it ourselves. But we do the best we can.
If you’re lucky you’ll have a friend like me who can honestly tell you the very worst of it and have faith you’ll get through it just like we all do. Try not to wish for the next thing and just enjoy what is no matter how bad or dark those times may seem. Because one day the fog lifts and you’ll stand there with your 7 month old wondering what the hell happened and how you ended up on the other side of the worst of it.
Your body, your confidence, your life… it will all come back to you but those days with your newborn won’t. So enjoy. Even at 3AM.
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About the Author: Natalie Magee writes a regular column for Happiness Series about what motherhood and beyond - from prenatal to postpartum. Her intention with her column, "Baby & Beyond - What No One Else Will Tell You" is to give practical advice and tips to the busy mom and mom-to-be. She also shares her experiences good, bad and ugly as a woman, wife, mom, flight attendant and fitness instructor. Natalie is also a regular fitness contributor on Happiness Series. She will continue to create great, effective workouts for anyone - including the busy moms out there - who wants to get fit and stay in shape.