When you’re pregnant, you occasionally feel as though you’ve been transported to an alternate universe. People lose their filters. Unsolicited advice flies at you from every direction. Random strangers think nothing of gently stroking your mid-section while you’re working out at the gym. People stare at you unapologetically as you waddle down the supermarket aisles. Other parents constantly regale you with stories about how wonderful babies, birth, and parenting are – with the possible exception of that graphic account from your grocery clerk about her 47-hour labor. Clearly you’re pregnant and you must have wanted to hear it while contemplating your dinner menu! It’s the miracle of life here, people!
By the end of your pregnancy, you’ve either learned to take it all with a grain of salt or you’re ready to knock somebody out. I want to let you in on a secret. You know all those people sharing their stories about the wonders of parenthood? They aren’t telling you the whole truth. Here are four major things that they’re probably leaving out.
Your birth likely won’t go as planned
You have a detailed birth plan. You’ve spent countless hours outlining everything from your perfect labor atmosphere to your pain management choices. Your significant other even made a special playlist for the occasion. The reality is that when you give birth, it probably won’t go according to plan. It may, but it’s important to expect the unexpected. Otherwise you could be setting yourself up for disappointment.
Case in point: our four-month old daughter was delivered by a complete stranger. She was ready to make her debut and my doctor was managing an emergency with another mom. Luckily, someone else happened to be on call because our baby wasn’t waiting for anyone. The doctor introduced himself and twenty minutes later he announced, “It’s a girl!”
Most often, it’s your body and your baby – not your birth plan – that guide the process.
Month one will be the most difficult month of your life
Imagine getting hit by a car. Instead of being dropped off at the hospital to rest and heal, you start day one of the hardest job you’ll ever have. That’s sort of what the first few days of parenthood are like. You’re not pregnant anymore and it’s no longer about your journey. It’s about your baby. For many first time moms, this transition is incredibly difficult. You’ve been through the ringer. You are bruised, battered, and stitched up, every muscle in your body is sore, your emotions are all over the map, and you’re suddenly expected to provide round the clock care to a tiny human.
At the beginning everything is hard – feeding your baby, bathing them, getting them dressed, changing diapers, sleeping. Everyday tasks such like taking a shower, doing laundry, and leaving the house become monumental challenges.
You’ve probably heard this before, but it’s worth mentioning again. The best advice I ever got was to swallow my pride and ask for help. Call your friends and family. Find a parenting group for support. Just keep going, Moms and Dads. You’re doing the best you can and things will get easier with time.
Tiny people wield great power
Newborns are the most powerful people on the planet. In a moment, they can make you fall madly in love. You’ll be completely enamored with their soft skin, tiny feet, and every adorable fat roll on their pint-sized body. You’ll want to stop time so they always stay so scrunched up and snuggly. Then in the next moment, they’ll make you feel hopeless and inept. You’ll break down crying and mourn the loss of your old life and your time - especially when you’re exhausted, engorged, and you can’t figure out why your baby is screaming at 2AM. Guess what? It’s okay to miss your former life a little. It doesn’t make you a bad parent. It doesn’t make you ungrateful. It makes you normal. Just remember that these tiny, powerful people are only this small for a really short time. Embrace the moments of joy, and take time to breathe when things get tough.
Breastfeeding is not easy
Whether you plan to nurse or bottle feed, there’s a learning curve for both you and your baby. This is especially true with breastfeeding. Before you give birth, everyone will talk about the benefits of nursing. It’s wonderful. It’s natural. It’s healthy. Most people won’t tell you that it’s also ridiculously difficult for many mothers. It was for me with both of my daughters.
At the beginning, it’s awkward and time consuming. Your baby’s tiny hands will be clawing at their face and your breasts. When they finally latch, they may fall asleep… 16 times. It could take an hour for them to nurse and they may want to eat again an hour later. It’s also painful. Taking a shower will hurt your breasts. Putting on a shirt will hurt your breasts. Stepping outside into a light breeze will hurt your breasts.
But if you can stick with it for a few weeks, it gets easier. You and your baby get into a rhythm, your body heals, and your milk supply regulates. And if you’re not able to continue breastfeeding, don’t beat yourself up about it. We load ourselves up with enough mom guilt to last a hundred lifetimes. You should never feel guilty about choosing to bottle feed your baby. Always remember that you decide what’s best for your family, not anybody else.
Having a baby changes your life. You’ll experience a love more profound than you ever imagined. You’ll also experience pain, exhaustion, and all the feelings that come along with a major transition. My purpose in telling you all this isn’t to scare you – it’s to prepare you. If you’re struggling, it’s to help you understand you’re not alone. When you’re pregnant with your first child, everybody tells you how wonderful it is to be a parent. They are so right. But they tend to leave out the parts about it being really hard. To all you new Moms and Dads out there: just keep loving your babies and know that things will get easier with time.
Jess Ullrich is a professional writer and mom to two girls, ages four months and two years. She's really freakin' busy right now, but still posts regularly at her blog, The Momma Review.
More from health