The worst thing about becoming a new mom is that there is no preparation that can truly help you to understand the immensity of parenting a tiny human. The challenges of motherhood are no joke so I’ve written this article to include all the things I wish someone had told me before my son was born.
You’ve read all the books and taken your birthing courses. Finished the nursery, organized your baby’s clothes for seventeenth time and washed all the bedding. You’ve created an epic stash of diapers and baby gear (see my list of the best newborn essentials here). You’ve even planned out a few events for after the baby is born (as if maternity leave will be some sort of vacation). You stocked up on magazines to peruse, your favorite cell phone games have been downloaded and you’ve packed the DVR with new shows. Now you’re just waiting. It’s the calm before the storm.
I left my job two weeks before my due date and my son was born at 40 weeks and 5 days. That was 19 days of waiting that will just about make anyone insane. You can only clean so many things and watch so many hours of television before your mind begins to melt from boredom and you’re climbing the walls with anticipation. My first birth was pretty straightforward. My labor was about 12 hours long with no major issues and I can still vividly remember how warm and wet his little body felt when they placed him on my chest. Like any mother would feel, I thought he was absolute perfection.
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The way you love them will rock your world
It’s fascinating to think that you will likely spend countless hours just holding, rocking and staring at your sleeping baby. There is really no greater bliss than this. I’ve read a quote once that says having a child is like having a piece of your heart living outside of your body, and it couldn’t be more true. You love them the moment they are conceived and this love only grows stronger and more solid after their birth. It’s the kind of love that can cripple you and yet as mothers we embrace it whole-heartedly because we would imagine it no other way. It is the most beautiful, natural thing in the world to experience love like that.
It’s also scary at times because the thought of any harm coming to your child is downright terrifying. Your baby will be the first thing in this world that you would actually do anything for. This is how much you love them. Emotion at this level literally affects you on a physical plane. Love has similar effects to drugs. It floods the brains and body with feel-good chemicals and hormones like adrenaline and dopamine. It’s by far, the best medicine out there.
The loss of control can be hard to cope with
The moment before my labor started was probably the last time I ever had much control over my own life. Once that child is born, you realize how many factors are out there that could possibly decide your fate for you. It can feel scary and unnerving, feeling that loss of control. There are only so many things you can do to help your baby if they are crying and in distress. How do you know what they want? Well, a lot of the time you don’t. Instead, you just have to keep trying different things and see how it pans out. Parenthood is like one big experiment.
So many questions being to pile up in your brain. Are they eating enough? Do I have them on a good schedule? Do I need a schedule? Why won’t he sleep for more than 20 minutes?? What about pacifiers? And BPA? Does he have reflux? Is this normal? WHY WON’T HE STOP CRYING?!?
So not only are you struggling to grasp this whole new motherhood gig and keep up with your baby’s needs, but you’re also an emotional whirlwind of hormones and self-doubt. Oh, and your body feels a bit like you’ve been thrown out of a moving vehicle. You’re confused, then elated, then sobbing in the shower. Your lady parts feel like they’ve been turned inside out and quite possibly your rear end actually has been turned inside out (thank you, hemorrhoids). Or your midsection was recently explored internally. You’re boobs are achy and your nipples are raw. These bodily changes happen to ALL of us in some manner or another. This is the other way we lose that sense of control and it adds a whole other level of stress and discomfort.
Unfortunately, nothing heals likes time. As much as you want to speed up your own recovery, its so much more important to rest and heal instead. It can be hard to accept that some of these changes will become your new normal (ie saggy skin, stretch marks, etc), but you’re better off putting these thoughts aside for now. Every new mom goes through this period where their physical appearance may suffer more than they would like. Instead, try to feel proud of all your body has accomplished and take it one day at a time. Remember that your body needs hydration and nutrition as well though, so keep drinking water and don’t hesitate to get another snack for yourself. When was the last time you ate an entire meal anyway?
Your level of personal responsibility goes WAY up
I remember at my 6 week follow-up appointment, my doctor asked me what the biggest thing was that I had to adjust to. Weirdly, I told her that I missed my independence. I’m a pretty introverted person and being alone is basically a necessity for me. So the first thing that came to mind was just how much and how often I was constantly needed. Before kids you can just get up and go. Have a nice, quiet dinner somewhere with your spouse. Read a book in your favorite chair (in silence). Get in the car and drive without strapping a baby in and bringing along seven thousand baby things. Sleeping through the night without having your ears blasted off by the baby monitor located directly next to your head.
I hadn’t given this much thought during my pregnancy, but one of the hardest and biggest things you need to adjust to is the ultimate responsibility of wholly and completely caring for another person’s life. It’s a lot. And not just because you are always toting a baby around now, but it’s the mental aspect as well. Whether you were a big worrier before parenthood or not, it soon becomes an inevitable part of your life. Neurotically checking to see if they are breathing. Losing sleep over your baby’s weight gain (or lack thereof) and wondering if you’re making the right choices. There are so many things running through your head at all times. Things you never could have imagined before you started this motherhood journey.
Unfortunately, all things for you are placed on the back-burner for at least the first couple of weeks (although it feels like forever), so get used to showering once every three days, Mama. If you’re lucky. And if you are exclusively breastfeeding, as I did, the load is even heavier. Baby doesn’t just need food, baby needs you. All the time, all hours of the day and night. And speaking of that..
Breastfeeding is HARD
Like, really hard. Don’t let other people tell you its some magic, natural thing. You will not know what you are doing and neither will the baby. SEEK ASSISTANCE whenever possible, including the very first day with baby in the hospital. It’s very likely that nursing your baby will be painful. Like, curl-your-toes pain. Some women don’t have an issues with this, but typically a lot of people do. It does get better, though. If you are worried about having irregular nipples, or just want to check out some awesome gear and advice to alleviate breastfeeding pain, check out my post here.
If you are planning on exclusively breastfeeding, meaning limited bottle usage, then also plan on being available nearly all the time. And remember, that even if you plan on giving the baby a bottle (or having someone else do it), you will still have to pump to maintain your supply. If you’re returning to work and are planning on pumping I recommend getting the best pump available to you, like this one. Pumping is hard work and it can be more difficult to maintain aa adequate supply that way. A really effective pump will help substantially and the free ones you get through your health insurance don’t always cut it.
Make a comfortable area for your primary nursing spot, as you will be there quite a bit. I have a list of essential supplies I kept with me in a basket or bin that I could move around the house, but typically, it remained in my “nursing station.” You can find that post here.
The lack of sleep can turn you into a completely different person
It’s pretty surreal to be so suddenly thrown into this world of motherhood – where it seems that someone is always crying and no one is sleeping. Okay clearly it isn’t always like that, but the lack of sleep is not a myth and typically it is the mother who lose the most shut-eye. Once again, breastfeeding is a big cause for this, but also, we tend to be the most responsive to the baby’s cries because its just in us. It’s like a part of our DNA now.
When you’re sleep-deprived, at a certain point you will be going through the motions like a mindless zombie. It’s like an out of body experience -knowing that you are doing all these things but its not really you. Like you’re watching someone else do it instead. Then you wake up later from an unplanned nap unable to remember anything…
When was the last time I fed the baby? What day is it? Did he poop recently? Is that me that smells?
Lack of sleep is also a major contributor to depression, anxiety and other mental issues, such as postpartum psychosis. If at any time you are having strange or concerning feelings and thoughts that you cannot control, then tell someone. The best thing to do is to call your doctor so they can find the right help for you. If you just tell and friend or spouse, they may be unsure of how to act. It’s okay to admit that motherhood is overwhelming, scary or just plain difficult. Because it is. No one has it all figured out.
Ohhh, the crying
So briefly, about crying. It can be, put lightly, agonizing. I took a baby care class when I was first pregnant and the teacher told us she used to open the class by playing a 3-5 minute recording of a baby crying. People would laugh at first. Then, as it continued they would begin to fidget, look around the room and even get genuinely upset and leave. Then she would turn it off and say “Yeah. That was only five minutes. Imagine an hour or more.” This sounds ridiculous. That is until you have lived that hour, many times, and then it sounds genius.
My son was a crier. Lots of people’s babies are not. However, if you do end up with one of these more sensitive-type children, don’t ever hesitate to seek some help. Or at least set them in the crib or somewhere safe while you take a breather. Or scream into your pillow. Either, or. Because listening to a baby cry for hours on end can break you down like none other. It is soul-crushing. It’s the kind of agony that literally makes your skin crawl. Especially if you are a bit of a sensory person, like me. I don’t like music that’s too loud and I cannot sleep unless its completely silent. Repetitive sounds (like a faucet dripping) drive me up the wall. I know a lot of moms deal with crying a lot better than I do, but it’s a big one for me.
I’m not trying to scare anyone away from becoming a mother. Having my children has been, by far, the best part of my life. They have helped to mold me into the person I was always searching for. I’m not quite where I want to be yet after nearly five years in, but I do consider myself an excellent work-in-progress and a pretty decent mom.
My big take-home for this post is that when you find yourself in the trenches of new motherhood, remember, you are NOT alone. We all experience this in our own way but I can tell you right now, us moms GET IT. You come out stronger and smarter on the other side. Most days will be good days and most bad days will still have a few good moments. There isn’t any all-inclusive parenting course. Were all just winging it, but our kids love us for it. Messy mom hair and all.