Recently, I spoke to several fellow first-time mothers and shared with each other the hardship of mothering a newborn:
“I couldn’t walk for 2 weeks…”
“I thought breastfeeding was going to be easy…”
“It’s a good thing babies are so cute…”
“It was the hardest time of my life…”
As we shared our common experiences, we all had the same thought: “Why didn’t anyone tell us it was going to be so difficult?!”
During pregnancy, it seemed as if everyone was only interested in learning the mundane: what foods we craved, if the pregnancy was planned, and our top picks for the baby’s name. My hypnobirthing class—which made up the most of my birth training— was hyper focused on visualizing the perfect birth experience and instilling positive thoughts. The outcome was that I was underprepared for what would be the most difficult weeks I’ve yet to experience.
For me, the part where you love your baby unconditionally is a no brainer—now that I’m almost three months into motherhood, I am LOVING being a mom. It’s the other side of parenthood that people failed to tell us about.
I wish that parents advising me to “sleep when the baby sleeps” would instead wail to me about the nights where they only slept for an hour and the midnight hours walking back and forth to get baby to sleep. And instead of suggestions like “check out the breastfeeding group” and “you should probably read about breastfeeding”, I wish I was informed about the high likelihood of developing blisters, scabs, bleeding, and pain during the initial period of breastfeeding.
I wish I sat down longer with veteran parents and solicited the harrowing details of the first few weeks of parenthood. I admit it—I may also be guilty of being dismissive of negative stories, imagining that I would be lucky and have the perfect experience that I had been meditating on for months and months. After talking to many mothers now, I am surprised to hear how even the healthiest, most prepared and optimistic women just as likely to have these common challenges with birth and motherhood.
Don’t get me wrong—my baby turned out to be the most wonderful thing in my life. She is so happy and beautiful, and her smile lights up my day. However I didn’t have these feelings in the first few weeks of her entrance into my life…but I got through it with patience, time, and encouragement.
Hoping that I can help prevent future mothers from having the same SHOCK experience, I wanted to share these six pieces of advice I wish I had received before motherhood:
1. Expect the unexpected. Nearly every one of my friends who had a baby around the same time as me (early 2015) had some sort of complication during labor. Babies born very early, babies born very late, babies who experienced fetal distress during birth. Friends of mine had unexpected c-sections as I did, were unable to give birth at the birth center, and had unwanted medical procedures done. No matter how hard you prepared to have a normal delivery and how much positive thinking you put into your pregnancy, there is never any guarantee it will happen your way. There may be scary surprises along the way, but you’ll get through it! It’s all part of this wonderful art of creating life.
2. Plan for the recovery period. When I was pregnant, there was so much focus on the pregnancy and birth that very few people prepped me for how difficult the weeks following the birth would be. I wish more people talked about how it was like to recover from a vaginal delivery or a C-section delivery so I knew that I should expect to be immobile for several weeks and that my main job was to nurse and to rest. I didn’t even learn how to change diapers until about a week into it because dad graciously filled the role of official diaper-changer and baby holder while I was recovering from the c-section. I recommend that mothers-to-be start recruiting friends and family who can volunteer to come over to feed to you, help you clean, and look after the baby so you can rest. Inform your family in advanced that you want some private time alone with the baby and your partner & set clear visitation rules if you have overexcited or intrusive family members.
3. It’s okay if you’re annoyed with the baby. The pain from labor, the fatigue from not sleeping for days, and the stress of figuring out why your baby is crying are all enough reasons why parents may not be initially head over heels over their baby. I felt horribly guilty that I was not automatically in love with my newborn. I told everyone that I wished she would skip the newborn phase and turn into a walking, talking toddler already. Little did I know that many mothers felt this same way for the first few weeks or months. It takes time for mommy and baby to get to know each other and develop a bond, so don’t feel bad if you find the baby irritating at first…the love will come in time! Once my baby started cooing, smiling and reciprocating the love, it made the long days a million times more fun.
4. Don’t be surprised by the baby blues. Even if you do not think you are predisposed to depression, you shouldn’t be surprised if you feel sad, anxious or even regretful about having a baby. In my case, I had been baby-hungry for several years—so I was very surprised that I was not completely ecstatic about my little one’s arrival. I ended up reminiscing a lot about the carefree days when my husband and I could sleep, go out, and eat whenever we wanted. I was so sad those days were over! I cried almost daily for about three weeks. The baby blues happen for 80% of new mothers, and it is only temporary. What helped me get through it was talking to other mothers, crying on my husband’s shoulder, energy healing sessions, and some wine! If the baby blues persists, then it’s time to consult professional help.
5. Breast-feeding is not easy. Almost every new mother I know I had some sort of difficulty with breast-feeding in the first few weeks. I had blisters and scabs for the first two weeks and it was excruciating. One night I was so exhausted and in pain from nursing, I had even contemplated switching to formula! I also developed mastitis, an infection of the breast that resulted in a very high fever and had to be treated with antibiotics. Because of these common problems, there’s a good reason free breast-feeding support groups exists. Mothers need as much help and encouragement as they can get to continue breastfeeding their little one and not give up. Being able to provide all of the nutrition to my baby is an amazing feeling, and I’m so happy that I was able to get through those first few weeks with the help of lactation consultants at the hospital and at support groups.
6. It gets better! What I learned from this experience is that I am a much stronger woman—both physically and emotionally—than I ever knew I was capable of. Once I got through the never-ending first month, I felt like everything started falling into place. I started trusting my instincts more and became less reliant on the advice of the internet and other mothers. My baby started crying less and sleeping more. I felt stronger and more confident in my ability to care for her. My husband and I became closer than ever. It indeed does get infinitely better and easier over time!
This post is not meant to scare anyone—I’m sorry if that is an unintended effect. Instead, I hope it helps new mothers to know what to expect and to not be completely taken by surprise.
What do you think about my list? Any other advice you would pass on to new mothers? Does hearing about the initial difficulties of motherhood scare you away from it?