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.