What I Wish You Told Me Before I Had A Baby

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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?

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Why Asian Moms Don’t Want You To Hold Your Baby

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Being a first-time mom and the first daughter in my family to have a baby, I expected much nagging from my Chinese-Vietnamese family. For the first few weeks of my baby’s life, my husband and I had to tolerate a barrage of small Asian women telling us a number of things that we should do, shouldn’t do, and are doing wrong. The one advice that was most commonly shared was to not hold our baby too much because that would spoil her. When my baby cried when my parents were over at my house, they would try every which way to get her to stop crying instead of just picking her up (by the way, after several weeks of visiting her, they learned that their method was very ineffective).

“Don’t hold her too much.  If you do, she won’t EVER let you put her down!”

Almost every single relative relayed this vital baby lesson to us as if it was the only thing that was important for us to know. Considering that I am a mom who loves holding, wearing and napping with baby on me, this really irritated me. And, I mean, it irritated me so much, I would lay awake in the middle of the night fuming. I hate not only unsolicited advice but especially advice that makes absolutely no sense to me. But after I had a recent conversation with my mother about why she could not hold my brother much when he was a baby, it framed the “don’t hold the baby” advice into  real-life context for me.

When we moved to America from Vietnam in 1989, my father went to work at a restaurant while my mother stayed home raising my siblings and me. She took a job sewing clothes—it was a job where she could work at home on her industrial machine and got paid for each item that she completed. And so she sewed during the day while taking care of my infant brother who was born soon after we moved here, my sister who had just started elementary school and me, age three at the time when we moved here. It was no wonder she didn’t want my baby brother to get too used to being held too much…she couldn’t physically hold him because she had to work during the day and take care of two other kids at the same time! After hearing her account of raising us, I felt much more empathy towards her and the other women in my family who had to juggle multiple roles while caring for their babies.

Still, this simple story does not fully explain why my Asian family does not want us to overly attend to our babies, nor does it justify letting babies’ cries be ignored. I am almost certain that the women in my family believe in the outdated practice of letting newborns cry and learn to self-soothe although modern science shows that newborns are not capable of self-soothing and need comfort through human touch. I am also sure they are unaware that research shows that responsive parenting during infancy generates human beings who are more confident, capable, and caring. I have to be forgiving of them for not well-read and informed about the science of babies. And I have to remind myself that they raised children in social and economic contexts that are different from mine—and many women do not have the ability to attend to their babies even if they wanted to!

And so here I am, a middle-class, first time mom with the luxury of not having to work for three months and my primary job during this time is to dote on my child. Thank goodness that I actually HAVE the time to just sit there and hold my baby while she is napping. Thank goodness I do not have to ignore her cries because I am caring for other children or working.

I can relish in this beautiful window of time when I can be alone with her, become in tuned with her, and let her know she is loved. Right now, I don’t have anything more important to do besides to rock, bounce, nurse, and hug my baby. The laundry can wait until the next nap time (and thank goodness, I have a baby who can entertain herself for short periods of time when I need to attend to other things). In this moment, the only thing I want to do is gaze at the beautiful sleeping baby that is my daughter and hold her for as long as I want.

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