I’ve been a mother for nine whole months now. If pregnancy is included, we’re quickly approaching two years of motherhood. I’d like to think this promotes me from newbie mother to slightly seasoned mother. I’m no veteran mom yet, but I at least am at the point where I feel comfortable navigating a car seat and am no longer completely terrified to take my child out in public. Last week while at the grocery store, a new mother asked how she should put her car seat in the shopping cart. I officially felt initiated into the mom club.
I remember those first couple of months filled with complete uncertainty. For all the books I read and advice I received, I was still dumbfounded by the new norm of life as a mother. There were a few things I was not prepared for during my pregnancy, labor, and the postpartum period.
While each child and mother is different, this is my feeble attempt to fill you in on the nitty gritty of the early stages of parenthood that well-seasoned parents may forget to mention. Some of it will seem like common sense to some. Others may have completely different experiences. But if at least one woman feels more prepared for the adventure that lies ahead after reading this, then it has served its purpose.
Take maternity photos. The idea of taking pictures when I felt like a beached whale was unappealing to say the least. I was fortunate enough to have a friend who insisted and I am so happy she did. I canceled on her multiple times and she kept asking. I dragged it out to the very last minute. I actually began having contractions the morning I finally dragged myself to the beach at the ass crack of dawn. She painted my belly and took beautiful photos I will cherish forever. I didn’t value them as much in the moment when all I wanted to do was lay in my bed. But watching my child grow and looking back on those pictures of a time when she fit inside my belly is mindblowing.
Don’t waste money on maternity clothes. Maternity clothes are nothing short of a scam. They seem to be more expensive than normal clothes even though there is only a brief window of time when they’re needed. Sure, if you’re adamant on wearing jeans then you’re going to need that elastic band. But stretchy and flowy dresses work just fine. I’m a big fan of muumuus as well. There are plenty of options that not only work when you have a belly full of baby, but you can actually wear them post-pregnancy. If you have the financial means, go for it. All I’m saying is don’t limit yourself to shopping in the maternity sections because the clothes are more expensive and less cute.
Let people help you. I struggled with this one big time. I felt like a lazy potato when I would get winded walking my dog. Towards the end, taking a shower was exhausting. People will try to help you. Learn to let them. I was bartending up until a week before going into labor. My regulars were making bets on whether or not my water would break behind the bar. Fortunately, I had amazing coworkers who insisted on bringing me ice and stocking my bar when they weren’t busy. I felt so guilty at first. I stubbornly said I could do it. But I realized it wasn’t worth going into early labor over. So I let them and they were happy to help. No one thinks you’re lazy as much as you might tell yourself. And if they do, I bet they’ve never been pregnant. You are creating life. Let them open the damn door for you. You deserve it.
Stay as active as possible. Now on the opposite side of the spectrum, you will regret being glued to your couch the entire pregnancy. This does NOT include high-risk pregnancy where bed rest is recommended. But if you’re capable of physical activity, do it. You will thank yourself later during delivery. A walk around the block, prenatal yoga, a nice swim are just some examples of ways to keep your body active. You are creating life but you aren’t as fragile as you think you are. I was happy to be working throughout my pregnancy. I listened to my body and made necessary adjustments. But I’m convinced it is one of the reasons my delivery went as smooth as it did.
You will feel like you have to pee 24/7. They tested my urine at every checkup but I was still convinced I had a UTI. I remember just chilling on the toilet at times because I would feel the need to pee and barely anything would come out. I heard I would pee a lot, but the constant need without actually peeing is what I wasn’t prepared for. It’s annoying as hell, but it’s only temporary. Thank God.
Tinker with baby contraptions. Maybe it was just me, but I was very intimidated by all the baby contraptions. Car seats, strollers, baby carriers, breast pump…it seriously gave me anxiety. The best way to combat baby contraption anxiety is to familiarize yourself with it before your baby arrives.
Encourage gift cards as baby shower gifts. It is downright impossible to know what you will need and what is superfluous when creating your baby registry. No amount of parenting books or Pinterest boards will prepare you. Every baby is different. I will probably say that about five more times just to make sure it sinks in. My daughter got five binkies and had no interest in them ever. Some babies breastfeed, some will need formula. Some need special detergent, others might need special bottles. You don’t know until you’re there in the muck of it trying to figure it out. Amazon gift cards were my favorite baby shower gifts. You’re able to get what you need once you’re home from the hospital at the click of a button without putting a dent in your maternity leave savings.
In the Hospital
Contractions are the worst part. I was absolutely terrified of childbirth. As my stomach grew and grew, I kept thinking to myself there is no way I’m going to be able to push this beach ball out. But in my experience, pushing her out was the easy part. Contractions were the killer. Contractions took my breath away and brought me to tears. Kudos to the women who take the all natural route because I was begging for the epidural when the time came. I began having them nearly 48 hours before I actually gave birth to my daughter. I didn’t realize what they were at first. I would feel a tightening in my stomach, something comparative to a severe cramp, then it would relax and pass. It would happen every three hours or so at first then more frequently. In retrospect, I should have known. I was so used to feeling uncomfortable and squeezed in my belly region. I just thought little Peanut was adjusting and sitting on my bladder. The best advice I can give you is close your eyes and breathe, breathe, breathe. Deep belly breaths. Holding my breath seemed to prolong the contraction. They pass as quickly as they come. JUST BREATHE THROUGH THAT BITCH.
Ask as many questions as you can. I am grateful for the nurses at my hospital. They answered every silly question I could think of, from the proper way to change a diaper to how in the world I give this fragile little being a bath without breaking her. They will assure you of the resilience of your baby and give you latching advice. Ask any and all questions that pop into your head. A nurse with experience will make you feel much more prepared than Googling it later.
Take advantage of hospital supplies. I actually hid wipes and diapers in my overnight bag and asked for more. I probably didn’t have to hide it, part of your hospital bill is to pay for these supplies so stock up while you can. If you do a vaginal birth, ask for extra ice packs, dinosaur pads, and that weird mesh underwear they give you to hold it all in. I also took home an extra can of that cooling numbing spray. Trust me, you will need it. Also, be sure to take that little squirt bottle home. The one you use to clean your lady parts after you pee. Oh yes, it is glamorous. I’m not sure what is needed after a C-section but whatever it is, a general rule of thumb is to take more than what you think you need at the time. You will appreciate it later.
Limit visitors. This is really up to the type of person you are but I would strongly recommend limiting visitors at the hospital and when you first get home. You will need to sleep when the baby is sleeping. Their schedule will be totally out of whack since they’re used to partying in the womb late into the evening. The nurses and your baby will wake you up at all hours of the night. Whether it’s feeding time or pain medicine time, you will get woken up A LOT. I may or may not have snapped at a nurse for waking me up to take Ibuprofen. Sorry random nurse, nothing makes me crankier than sleep deprivation. Her level of understanding made me think it must happen a lot. It was difficult to sleep during the day with eight people squished in my tiny postpartum hospital room. People will understand.
You might poop during delivery. You won’t care. This was a major concern of mine actually before going into labor. Maybe it was the drugs or maybe it was the fact that my feet were in stirrups and my vagina was exposed for the world to see. But I could not have cared less when the time came to push. Don’t stress it. You are creating life. If you shit the bed, so be it.
There may be time for a nap. I was surprised by all the downtime I had before actually giving birth. I can’t reiterate enough that every woman’s experience is different. But after the epidural, I was straight chilling. Sure I felt the tightening of contractions, but I got to push this fancy little button attached to an IV and boom. It had a limit to the amount of pain medication it would administer which is smart because I was pressing that bad boy like there was no tomorrow. The placebo effect was comforting. I even took a nap for a couple of hours before game time. I highly recommend this if the situation allows. From my experience, there was a lot of waiting in anticipation. I was admitted into the hospital around 7:00 AM. My daughter wasn’t born until after 1:00 AM the following day. Take advantage of that downtime while you can. It’s hard to sleep once you’re holding your little miracle in your arms.
Post delivery glory. I’m not going to sugar coat this. It ain’t pretty. It’s like a period quadrupled. I was terrified about what was going on down there after childbirth. Keeping everything clean would be my best advice. I took advantage of the hospital shower several times during my stay. Witch hazel pads are your best friend. So is the cooling spray they give you. Get extra of both if you can. C-sections are a whole other ballgame I haven’t played but as far as vaginal births go, I promise it will heal faster than you think. The female body is an amazing thing. It knows what to do even when you don’t.
Embrace the night time feedings. Yes, you will be sleep deprived and slightly delirious. Your new baby will need to wake up at least every three hours to eat. Embrace the wee hours at night when the hospital is quiet and it just feels like you and your new baby are the only people in the world. These moments are so incredibly special. This is when you form that unexplainable bond. This is when you realize you are officially a mother and you are this tiny little mush’s whole world. I get chills just thinking back to it. It’s magical. Appreciate the shit out of it.
You will be terrified to use the bathroom. I’m just going to say it. I have never felt such a burning sensation like the one you feel when you try to pee for the first time. It’s like a UTI on steroids. I knew I would be afraid to poop but I was not expecting the pain that came with urinating. Thankfully, it does not last long but just prepare yourself.
Get ready for hemorrhoids. Why did no one tell me this? Take laxatives. For the love of God, do not try and push when you poop. Let it come out naturally, nice and slow. There is no rush. And bloody poop is normal. I thought I was dying. You’re not dying. You have hemorrhoids and they suck. Again, take advantage of that squirt bottle and the witch hazel pads. Just remember this is all a temporary discomfort you endure. The baby snuggles make it all worth it.
The First Few Months of Parenthood
Get used to hemorrhoids. I know I said temporary discomfort but I kind of lied. They will never be as bad as they were right after pregnancy. But be forewarned, they may come back to haunt you every now and again. I’m nine months in this whole parenting thing and I still get hemorrhoids from time to time. Apparently they never went away, they just shrank and flare up when I’m a little overzealous with pushing. Welcome to parenthood.
It really is the fourth trimester. I heard rumblings of the fourth trimester but didn’t pay much attention. IT IS REAL, LADIES. Taking care of a brand new little squish while recovering yourself is not easy. It’s exhilarating, terrifying, exhausting, amazing all rolled into one delirious package. Seriously, the first month of my daughter’s life is just one big blur in my mind. That is why the next piece of advice is so important.
Keep accepting help when it is offered. When friends and family offer to bring food say yes please and thank you. Don’t be afraid to kick them out if and when you want to sleep. People want to help and most aren’t sure how especially if they don’t have kids of their own. Be grateful for what is offered and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Prepared meal and snacks were my favorite gifts. The last thing I wanted to do was cook dinner yet I was a bottomless pit of hunger from breastfeeding.
Be open to advice. We all hear about mom guilt and all the advice you get when you’re pregnant. Yes, it gets annoying at times. Remember it is usually given with the best intentions even if it isn’t the best advice. If it’s an 18-year-old trying to convince you to get rid of your cat, smile politely and say hell to the no. If it’s a mother of six children and thirteen grandchildren, take notes. The mom ego is not as known as mom guilt but equally damaging. You are human and you do not know everything. You will make mistakes. Refrain from getting defensive when someone shares their two cents. Who knows, you might actually learn something.
Listen to your gut. Mom ego is real but so is mom intuition. EVERY BABY IS DIFFERENT, I can’t say this enough. What works for one mom might not work for you. Trust your instincts. You are genetically predisposed to taking care of a child. Your intuition will kick in and you will know your baby more than anyone else. Trust yourself.
Google will make you paranoid about everything. Living in the information age can be cool but it can also be a heart attack waiting to happen. I read a lot about SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) as a new mother. Inevitably, I woke up every hour to check and make sure my daughter was still breathing. When she was a little older she got mosquito bites and I was convinced she had the measles for a short period of time. When in doubt, talk to your pediatrician. Other experienced mothers can ease those new mom worrywart tendencies as well.
You will not be sleeping for longer than 3 hour periods at first. And you will survive. The thrill of being a new parent gives you this superhuman strength to be able to function off very little sleep. This new parent high does wear off so don’t get cocky with it. Just know it’s possible and it won’t last forever. Try not to rip your partner’s head off when they keep waking you up to nurse. And remember, grandparents are excellent babysitters if you’re in desperate need of a snooze.
Grandparents don’t always have the answer. They might be the only ones you trust with your precious baby angel at first. Then you see them struggle with opening the stroller or trying to figure out the baby carrier and you wonder how you survived your childhood. Baby gear has come a long way since they brought you home from the hospital. Be patient. Remind yourself they’re human too and your baby will be perfectly fine. Nobody likes a helicopter mom.
It builds your problem-solving skills. One of the biggest strengths I’ve gained from parenting is my ability to solve problems through trial and error. You can’t just toss in the towel when your baby is crying and you can’t figure out why. You can’t stay home forever and expect other people to run errands for you. You CAN try different things until you find a way to soothe their cries. You can face your fears of taking your infant to the grocery store head on and discover it’s not as hard as you thought. You figure it out more every day and take each new challenge in strides. Parenthood makes you a problem-solving boss.
You cannot spoil a baby. During their first year of life, your child is forming an attachment to you that will carry on throughout their childhood. Strong attachments lead to more independence. Respond to their cries. Hugs and kisses will not make them clingy or needy. It lets them know you will always have their back. Worry about discipline once they hit toddler years. Baby years are for snuggles and cuddles.
Don’t be in a hurry to make your child grow up. “I can’t wait until…” was a phrase I uttered all too much in the beginning. My daughter will be nine months soon. She is transitioning from little squish to big squish and time is seriously flying. It may not seem like it when all you want to do is sleep and they keep waking up. But before you know it, they will be starting school, then driving, then graduating, then becoming their own adult. Embrace the snuggles. Take the time to play with them. Learn their likes and dislikes. Life is fleeting and speeds up the older you get. Enjoy the ride.
You can read all the advice in the world. You will never be completely prepared for what’s in store. It’s impossible to explain the love you feel when you hold them for the first time. It’s a whole other level. I didn’t understand the meaning of unconditional love before my daughter was born. She’s given me so many gifts already during this first year of life. Patience, strength, confidence. I will never love anything more. I might be singing a different tune when she’s old enough to start sassing back but something tells me that love will never fade. It might just get tested. You are more capable than you know. As long as you keep on loving that little bundle of joy, the rest will figure itself out.
How has parenting helped you grow? What things do you wish someone warned you about before embarking on this journey?