When you’re pregnant, everyone has a piece of advice that they just can’t wait to share with you.

“Sleep while you can!”

“Don’t forget – you’re eating for two!”

“Don’t be a hero. Get the epidural!”

The truth is, no one really tells you the stuff you need to hear. I can’t be sure if it’s out of fear of sounding ungrateful, selfish or pessimistic, but there were so many truths that hit me hard after Natalie was born – truths that came out of nowhere and left me feeling confused, alone, and as though I was sold a hard bargain. Whenever people have asked me “How are you?” I’ve been careful to be honest. Because the truth is hard to hear, but it’s valuable, and I wish more women were prepared.

I remember shortly before I left work on my last day before maternity leave began, a coworker said to me, “Remember, it’s OK if it sucks sometimes. And it’s OK to say it out loud.” I wasn’t sure how to take that, but in the days and weeks to come, that tiny piece of truth kept me going.

Here are the things no one told me, the things I wish someone had shared.

1. Recovery is worse than labor and childbirth itself. Granted, this might not be everyone’s experience, but I would rather relive those 16.5 hours than the next two weeks and all the surprises that awaited me at home.

2. You experience the highest highs and the lowest lows, and it equates to emotional whiplash. For two days after Natalie was born, I was high on adrenaline, endorphins and all sorts of other feel-good chemicals that come from hormonal changes. I felt fantastic! I showered, dried my hair, put on makeup, walked around, snuggled my girl and stared at her and Billy while thinking, “I’m the luckiest girl in the whole world!” Then the crash came, and it was ugly, devastating and alienating right down to my core.

3. The baby blues are incredibly common. Around 80% of women experience them, and it comes in different forms. For me, it equated to uncontrollable crying, anxiety, feelings of hopelessness and being so overwhelmed by everything. Each night for two weeks, as soon as the sun set, the tears would start. I stared at Natalie, completely unsure of my ability to be her mom. I missed Billy. He was right next to me, but I’d never felt farther away from him in my life. I’d sit on the couch, sobbing while holding Natalie. He would bring me tissues and tell me that I was doing a good job, that I was a good mom, and that this feeling would pass. Finally, at 16 days post-partum, I went to the doctor. Simply talking about it with a professional made a huge difference. Each day got a little easier. Around 4 weeks post-partum, I was feeling better. It’s hard for everyone in different ways, but I was not prepared to feel so sad after bringing a baby into this world.

4. Your life becomes distinctly divided into two phases: Before Baby & After Baby. There’s a period of time (for me, about the first month) where I’d think of my life before fondly, remembering all the times I didn’t have to plan my days around someone else’s needs. Then, on the good days, I’d think about how much different everything was in a great way. Once we hit the four week mark, I simply couldn’t imagine my life without her. And it felt great.

5. Everything is intense. Each emotion is heightened to an impossible extreme, and the way that this little person needs you can be overwhelming. Talking about it with someone who understands helps, and should not be regarded as a weakness.

6. Sleep deprivation is a means of torture for a reason. Little mishaps and blunders seem like national tragedies when you’re running on no sleep. At my lowest point, during a night where Natalie refused to sleep for longer than 15 minutes at a time, I gave her to Billy and sat in my dark bathroom and screamed. I needed a release, and that’s the only way I was going to get it. I cried afterwards, feeling like a complete failure and a piece of shit. Then I took a deep breath and went back to the bedroom and held her, silently praying for more patience and a few unbroken hours of sleep. Once I got four consecutive hours of sleep, I felt like a new woman.

7. Life at home with a newborn is boring! Make no mistake – it’s not a vacation. There is so much work to do, but it’s an endless monotony of feed the baby, change the baby, bathe the baby, snuggle the baby, try to get the baby to sleep, all while trying to decipher just what their cries and screams are asking for. Hours pass like this. You watch so much TV, simply for the background noise it provides, and you get tired of seeing the same four walls of your own house. For me, getting outside in the fresh air and finding excuses to run errands provided relief and a nice change of scenery.

8. Breastfeeding is not easy, and it doesn’t feel natural for everyone. Natalie was diagnosed with reflux at her two-week check-up, and despite daily doses of Zantac, roughly half of our nursing sessions feel like a battle. She kicks her legs, flails her arms and screams. During the good times, she settles in sweetly and falls asleep easily afterwards. I never know what I’m going to get when I sit down to feed her, and it makes me feel anxious each time.

9. Your world shrinks. Before Natalie, my life was filled with too much stimulation, too many obligations and never enough time to see everyone and accomplish everything. Once she was born, my only responsibility was to take care of her. For some, that’s a welcome change, but for me, it made me feel stir crazy. I dealt with the change by getting out of the house. Simply seeing other people made me feel better. We went for walks, went on trips to Target and made plans with friends. People will surprise you and disappoint you. The good ones are the friends who make the time for you, even though you now have this little person in tow, and they’ll offer to hold your baby so you can eat a meal with two hands, shower, or take a nap.

10. The little moments make it worth it. The first time Natalie smiled at me, I burst into tears – happy tears. It was the first time I could see that she actually saw me. She recognized my face and gave me a huge, gummy grin. It was one of the best moments of my entire life.

New motherhood is different for everyone, but this is my journey. There were some dark moments, but there have also been some of the best, most fulfilling moments of my life. I’m content with the knowledge that it only gets better from here. I’m excited to see what’s ahead.

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Natalie Jane

A few short seconds later, Sara returned to the room. “Are you ready to start pushing?” She was grinning from ear to ear. This is why everyone says it’s the nurses that make or break your experience. And she was awesome!

“Yes, let’s do this!”

What no one tells you is that you have to learn how to push. It’s instinctual to want to push, but you don’t know how to do it properly. I was tilted to my left side and trying to hold behind my legs, only I was exhausted. Each time I felt a contraction, I let it build, then I took a deep breath and pushed as hard as I could. The effort, along with my reaction to the epidural, made me incredibly tired. Between each contraction I breathed through the oxygen mask and shut my eyes, practically falling asleep. Billy had my right leg and Sara had my left leg. At one point, I heard Sara say to me, “Sweetie, are you with us? You need to open your eyes!” Hours later, Billy told me that scared him the most. I went completely white and they thought I passed out. I was just exhausted and feeling so sick. I opened my eyes and said, “I’m fine, I’m just really tired.”

I pushed for what seemed like hours, but was barely 30 minutes. Then, Sara said, “Let’s try something different.” She twisted up a sheet and handed the middle to me. She put her foot on the bed and positioned my left foot against it. She put my right leg back in Billy’s arm and instructed me to pull myself up using the sheet and push as hard as I could. This made things so much easier. I was weak, but this gave me the support I needed to sit up enough and push productively. And push I did! I pushed and pushed and pushed as hard as I could. Then, Billy said, “Babe, I can see her head! You’re doing great!” I didn’t believe him. I responded, “Are you sure?” “Yes, babe! I can see her!”

Then, in an instant, lots of activity. Billy started moving furniture around to make room for the staff. He was grinning from ear to ear, but I was incredulous. “Billy! What the hell are you doing? Come help me!” He was so excited that didn’t know what to do. The doctor entered the room – by now, with the late hour, it was the doctor on call. More nurses and lots of equipment. The doctor introduced himself and said “Let’s have a baby!” I cried out, “DO YOU PROMISE?” You have to understand – I was so tired, and I’d been working so hard for such a long time. I was starting to think she was never going to come out. He laughed, looked me right in the eyes and said, “I promise. You’re almost there.”

So I pushed and pushed and pushed. Then I screamed. It hurt so bad – like fire – and I could feel him trying to help slowly deliver her head. I pushed and Billy told me how great I was doing. I was in a steady rhythm of three pushes and a break. I was loud, too. At one point, as I finished a push, I shouted, “Get out of me! Get her out!” Then, the doctor said to me during my third push of one set, “Give me one more just like that. Do you have one more left?” I dug deep, took a huge breath and pushed as hard as I could. And just like that, at 10:53 p.m., after just under an hour of pushing, she was out. She came out so fast, and the doctor held her above me. He said, “Meet your daughter!” Up until this point, I still had no idea what her name would be. I had options, but no decision. As soon as I saw her, I looked at Billy. “Her name is Natalie Jane. Is that ok?” Billy was crying, and he smiled and said “Of course.”

Billy cut her umbilical cord – this lifeline that kept her connected to me for 40 weeks, that she received nourishment from, smaller than normal umbilical cords, and the cause of all the extra monitoring and medical induction – and I stared into her eyes. All the fear, all the worry that something would be wrong because of her two vessel cord, was for nothing. She was perfect. She was screaming at first, but they placed her on my chest and she went silent, with big, blue eyes staring up at me. “That’s amazing,” Billy said, “She is instantly calm now.” Ten fingers, ten toes, the cutest button nose and tiny little ears. After we bonded for a while, they placed her on the scale: 6 pounds, 15 ounces and 21 inches long. Natalie Jane was here, and she was beautiful!

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At 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 27, the doctor broke my water. Talk about an unusual feeling! Afterwards, the nurse told me to sit tight and wait a few minutes. I mean, really – what else am I going to do? Run around the block? What caught me completely by surprise was just how quickly the pain intensified. Contractions began coming every 2-3 minutes and the pain practically tripled.

Once I was given permission to get out of bed, I began using various comfort measures learned from our classes: leaning over the bed, swaying back and forth on an exercise ball and rocking back and forth with my arms wrapped around Billy’s neck. The room was quiet. My nurse, Sara, was in and out of the room every few minutes checking on me and cheering me on. Billy massaged my neck and upper back. Every time a contraction came, I closed my eyes and did whatever I needed to do to get through it. Slow, steady breathing seemed to work the best. Billy could look at the monitor and see when one approached and when it backed off. Mostly, I just worked on staying calm and breathing through it.

Hours passed in this manner. I breathed through contractions and Billy helped me manage them. As time went on, Sara said to me, “I feel like you’re going to do this all on your own. I feel like you’re going to go the whole way without pain medication.” I was happy to hear her say that. It hurt, yes, but it was manageable.

Then, something changed. My whole body began to shake uncontrollably. The contractions were coming one on top of another, and there was barely any time to catch my breath and relax between them. I knew that tensing up my body would only make things harder, but it was the most difficult thing to try to let my tension release. Around 8:15, with my body shaking uncontrollably as I swayed back and forth on the ball, I began to question my ability. Sara said to me, “This is good. This means that you’re approaching the end. Your body is doing what it needs to do.” I knew that my frantic thoughts and shaking were signs of transition, but I hadn’t been checked in hours. The thought of enduring an exam seemed impossible. I whispered to Billy, “I think I need the epidural.” He asked me if I was sure, but I was exhausted. I’d been at it since 6:30 that morning on barely any sleep. My energy reserves were wearing thin.

Once I signed the consent forms, Sara brought the anesthesiologist to my room. I got into bed, still shaking through contractions, and laid on my left side while he prepared to administer the epidural. Do you have any idea how hard it is to hold still while shaking through a contraction? The pain was intense. I gripped the bar on the bed and clung to it for dear life. Billy sat in front of me and I shut my eyes trying not to think about the pain. Then the doctor said “you’ll feel a stick, then a burn, then eventually, relief.”

Stick. Burn. And not quite relief.  I felt something electrical shoot through my body and I cried out. It hurt. I felt the drugs take a path down the left side of my body, but I could still feel the contractions. “Something’s wrong,” I said. Sara assured me that i just needed to relax, then they would flip me onto my right side to allow the drugs to take effect there as well. They checked my sensation by pinching down my legs. I could still feel things, but at a reduced level. After a few minutes, they flipped me onto my right side, turned down the lights and told me to try to get some rest.

Only I couldn’t. I could still feel every single contraction, but I was exhausted. I closed my eyes and tried to breath and let things progress. Billy pulled the chair up next to me and tried to rest. I was in a halfway state – utterly exhausted, but still aware of everything happening. I remember thinking, “Everyone said I should feel nothing. That I should be able to sleep, even. Something’s not right.”

I pushed the button for the nurse. When Sara came in, I said to her, “I still feel every single contraction, and they hurt.” She gave me the button to administer another dose. I hit it and waited for relief to rush in. Instead, it was replaced with lightheadedness and nausea. Are you friggin kidding me? When I told her I felt sick, she gave me an oxygen mask to help with my breathing. I was also desperate to use the restroom. I wasn’t able to get out of bed at this point, so in order to pee, I needed to be catheterized. Sara said to me, “Are you sure? We can only do this twice before another intervention needs to take place – the foley bulb.” I was sure. I was desperate for relief. Once that was done, I felt incredible for about 5 seconds, then I felt an incredible urge to push, but how was this possible? I’d only been given the epidural maybe an hour before, and I hadn’t been checked for progress in hours. Not knowing where I was on this journey was frightening. I started to panic. (Looking back now, I see that the epidural – no matter how weak it was – and the catheter probably helped relax me enough to get me ready to push.)

“I need to push. I need to push right now,” I said.

“Let’s check you. I feel like you may be fully dilated,” Sara assured me.

“But how? It’s only been an hour!”

“That’s how these things go sometimes,” she said.

She checked me, and sure enough, it was time to push. She clapped her hands excitedly, saying “I’m so happy! I thought I wasn’t going to be able to help you deliver her. We were about to do another shift change!”

I was relieved. She helped me get this far. She would help Billy and I deliver our baby.

Sara looked me in the eyes and said “whatever you do, don’t push. I need to go tell them to start getting ready.”

Don’t push? Are you joking? It’s all I wanted to do in the entire world. I was exhausted, dizzy and nauseous, sucking on my oxygen mask and feeling every single sensation. But I was ready.

Part 3 to come!

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Natalie’s Birth Story – Part 1

April 13, 2014

Tweet At my 20-week ultrasound, we were notified about a slight complication with my pregnancy. The good news was the baby looked completely healthy and was growing just fine. The bad news was my pregnancy would require additional monitoring and a medical induction at 40 weeks if the baby didn’t come on her own. At [...]

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Everything is changing

March 20, 2014

Tweet With all that’s changing, the way I share information is changing too. I don’t know what the future holds for this space, and I don’t feel pressured to make any decisions right now. But today I wanted to take a moment and preserve my thoughts before this little girl comes screaming into the world. [...]

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{Listed} 5 things that made my week

February 21, 2014

Tweet 1. My birthday card from Billy: I walked in the house on Tuesday night to find quite the surprise – Billy baking me a chocolate cake! He poured me a half glass of wine (my doc says it’s fine to have one every once in a while) and gave me my birthday card. He [...]

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On maternity photos and the best kinds of friendship

February 3, 2014

Tweet Over the weekend, I had a maternity photo shoot. I debated doing them at all, but I figured it was time for Billy and I to have some pictures done since we hadn’t had any taken since our wedding in 2009. It was the best decision. Here are a couple of preview (read: not [...]

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31 Weeks & the Role of Fear

January 24, 2014

Tweet Let’s get real and talk about fear. Time is going by very fast. I’m 31 weeks along into this journey, and that means that I’m down to single digits on the countdown: 9 weeks left! (Insert panicked face here.) Things are going well, but my to do list is rather long, and I’m having [...]

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What was, what is & what is to come

January 1, 2014

Tweet My, how times have changed. Last night we had a few friends over for appetizers and board games. They sipped wine while I guzzled water, and we all got our fill of pizza, bruschetta, cheese and crackers and a few desserts. It was perfect. And what’s even better is that I didn’t even have [...]

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{Listed} Baby Stilly, 25 weeks!

December 14, 2013

Tweet Whenever people ask me how I’m feeling, I usually respond the same: “Pretty great. I can’t complain!” I find it annoying when women constantly whine throughout their pregnancy and never have anything positive to say. The truth is, pregnancy does not last forever. It is also not meant to be easy. You’re growing a [...]

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