“Nobody told me…(fill in the blank)”. How often have you said this or heard one of your girlfriends say this about something pregnancy or post-pregnancy related? While pregnant with my first child, I felt like I was saying it all the time.
I polled some of my closest friends to find out what they went through that they weren’t expecting during pregnancy and their baby’s first year. Here are a few of ours - the good, the bad and the ugly (and in some cases extremely ugly). Sometimes you don’t need advice, you just need to know that someone else has gone through the same thing. We can relate.
Contrary to what they told you in high school, it is actually extremely difficult to get pregnant. It may seem as though everyone you know talks about how they weren’t really trying or it happened on the first try. For every one of those stories, there are dozens of stories of heartbreak and frustration with conceiving and infertility consultations that go untold.
It is also, unfortunately, very common to miscarry, but it isn’t talked about that much, so when it happens to you, you feel like no one else understands what you are going through and everyone else had it easy. I heard a quote the other day that applies not only to this, but to life in general: "Stop comparing your behind-the-scenes life to someone else's highlight reel." How true is this? We really have no idea what goes on in everyone else’s life, only what they choose to tell us. So while we think we are the only ones that are going through something difficult, chances are we are not alone.
Once you get pregnant the fun is just beginning. You already expect your body to change; there are pages and pages of detail on that. But the gas, the snoring, the drooling, and the leg cramps while you are sleeping, at some point its like come on already. The upside though, is that these conditions are not permanent. Not so, in the case of skin tags and the small moles that creep up out of nowhere. Those don’t go away. As far as completely unexpected body changes, one of my girlfriends’ boobs leaked while she was pregnant. The poor thing was at work and had nothing to cover herself up with except a notebook and some toilet paper stuffed in her bra. Pregnancy and parenting often requires a little problem solving on the fly.
Some simple notes while you are preparing for your delivery. Do not bring your pre-pregnancy jeans to the hospital. They will not fit. They will not fit for a while. Don’t be depressed, just be happy you’re getting some longevity out of those maternity clothes you bought. As far as the actual delivery, just an FYI…you will also have to deliver your placenta, which apparently is like delivering a second baby.
One of my girlfriends has a condition where labor comes on very quickly, you feel a twinge in your uterus and all of a sudden you are 10cm dilated and ready to push. She didn’t make it to the hospital for her second child and her husband delivered her baby in the front seat of her car. She made it to the hospital for her first child but each subsequent pregnancy the labor happens more quickly. So don’t freak out or anything but if you already know you fall into this category, go live in the hospital for the last few weeks of your pregnancy or something just to be safe. Unless you don’t mind delivering a baby in a random place then knock yourself out.
Some people have a baby and instantly bond, and some do not. When our third child was born I spent a lot of the time in the hospital with him lying on my chest and I really enjoyed it. My husband commented that it was nice to see me bonding so well right away. And I said really? Is it surprising? And he said well with our first baby I was concerned that you might eat him (yes, he actually did say that) and I wasn’t sure you wanted to be left alone with him. I knew I had a little trouble bonding but I didn’t know it was so obvious. I’m a good mom, it just took us a little bit to get acquainted.
Breastfeeding is not a given. You may not be able to breastfeed, you may not even be able to produce milk. You are not a failure. And you are not alone. Consider yourself lucky if you can do it and you enjoy it. If and when your milk comes in your boobs will probably grow at least two sizes and be as solid as a rock, which would look pretty awesome if only my stomach was flat right after delivery. During breastfeeding you may experience cracked or bleeding nipples, your milk ducts can get blocked up and make you sick, (a condition called mastitis that requires antibiotics to fix) and your boobs can spontaneously start leaking.
If you can’t breastfeed and you have to give your child formula, you might get some evil stares in public and perhaps a comment or two from some unsympathetic passersby. While no one deserves to be judged, unfortunately, mothers are some of the biggest recipients of judgment and often can be the worst culprits too. Be kind to your fellow moms.
While your boobs are bleeding and leaking, things are pretty grim at the other end too. Constipation can be really bad and you can bleed anywhere from 4-6 weeks after delivery, which is really like having a heavy period for a month. Fabulous. Sometimes it can take a while for your regular period to return and in some cases it isn’t until you stop breast feeding, which for some women can be a year or longer. You can still get pregnant though, which is a tricky little glitch in the system isn’t it?
No one really tells you just how difficult the first 6-8 weeks of having a new baby can be. People need to know that babies can just cry for no reason at all. They have fussy periods in the day and can be inconsolable and that combined with sleep deprivation can make you want to lose your mind. Not all babies are like this mind you, so again, count yourself lucky if you don’t fall in this category. You’ll learn what movements will quiet your baby and you’ll find yourself doing squats in the living room just to get your baby to stop crying, or swaying side to side, or jiggling your stroller. You’ll actually find yourself doing this even when you’re not holding a baby. But it does get better. Way better, you just have to stick it out.
Sex after birth can be a touchy subject. It can take longer than the six weeks that is the standard wait time before you feel like it again. Whether you had a vaginal birth or a C-section, and depending on your birth experience sex can be uncomfortable. Husbands please be patient. Women go at your own pace, it will get better.
Sometime in the first six months after birth your hair may start to fall out. You may say, well sure, my hair falls out in the shower all the time. No, this is serious wads of hair that you’ll start losing. You’ll be pulling clumps of it out of your butt crack when you get out of the shower. But then just as quickly as it started, it stops. Then you’ll have new little fuzzy hair that grows along your hairline that you’ll get to contend with until it grows out.
Your friends without babies may ask you what you do all day. Trying to describe this can make you want to cry. The first year can be lonely and isolating and you wonder what you do but you know that you’re busy and you’re exhausted. Your brain hurts from trying to figure out if you have fed your baby enough, or if he is sleeping enough along with the overwhelming responsibility of it all. The late night feedings can be eerie and lonely. Baby blues or postpartum depression is a real thing, if you feel like you might have this, seek out help either from your own OB or from your infant’s pediatrician. Time will feel like it crawls day to day but then the years fly by before you can even blink your eye. People will tell you to savor every moment, but honestly, sometimes you just need to get through it.
Now, I realize this is quite the laundry list, and maybe you can relate and maybe you can’t. Keep in mind, these were surprises that each of us found out along the way, we didn’t each experience all of these. If every single one of these things happened to you then childbirth and newborn parenting would be pretty horrific. Chances are there is at least one item on this list that you have experienced. But these are things we wish we had known, or wish they had been talked about more so we could navigate through them more easily ourselves. Sometimes there is comfort in knowing that you are not alone in an experience.
At the end of the day, we all love our kids and we all keep procreating so none of it really can be that unbearable.
Everyone agrees the most important item, is that no one told us the love we would feel for our children would be so consuming, that we would do anything to protect and care for these precious little lives. Being a mom is the best gift in the world, and we’re all lucky to be part of the club.
This post was written with thoughtful contribution from some of the best moms I know. Among us we have 22 children and one due any day now:
Mary Beth White