*Spoiler alert for future moms – if you would like to be surprised or live in denial about the first two weeks of life after you give birth, do not read the entry below.***
I’m going to call the first week or two, after having a newborn baby, the “new mom victory lap.” Just when you thought you were crossing the finish line, you are actually beginning another leg of a journey. I’m pretty sure that it’s one of those unspoken rituals that one talks to you about until you go through it, like a sorority or fraternity initiation. Well, I wish someone would have given me a heads up. Don’t get me wrong, I know you can’t KNOW what it’s like until you go through it, but you can TRY to prepare, at least a little bit.
This written reflection has two parts: words of advice that won’t help you at all and things that I learned (in retrospect) that I hope will help you a little bit.
Here are things you will hear that won’t help you at all:
1. Countless people told me “you will be tired” (duh!) and my favorite, “you will never sleep again!” I find that comical because I know that’s not true. My mom and dad sleep through the night. It might have taken a few years until we were all in school, but it happened eventually! Just kidding. It won’t take years, but you will sleep for more than two hours at a time sooner than you might think.
2. ”You won’t understand it until you go through it.” No kidding. It’s that way with anything in life – a new job, a new experience, having a child, etc. You can’t possibly know what it’s like until you go through it. That doesn’t mean you can’t try to prepare yourself, ask questions, and learn from the experiences of others.
3.” You might not know to do, but if you follow your instincts, you’ll be fine.” Okay, there is SOME truth to that, but if you and/or your significant other have had limited experience with infants, make sure to ask for help and guidance because while much of it is instinctual, it’s not ALL common sense.
4. “Don’t read anything about pregnancy or being a new parent.” There is a magical line here of being informed and freaking yourself out. Do yourself a favor. If you are going to read anything, read books (hopefully some with humor) and blogs by people who are realistic, honest, and optimistic about parenting. Do not or inundate yourself with articles online about being new parents. That will trust overwhelm you and stress you out. There’s a lot of stuff out there that is just bogus.
Now, here are some things I wish someone would have told me.
1. The labor is NOT the hardest part!!! I was totally deceived here. It doesn’t matter which way you give birth to the baby. The process of having a child is difficult, but beautiful. However, no matter how the baby exits your body, it causes trauma to your body which requires healing, days and weeks of healing. It may have taken you less than, up to, or more than 9 months to reach that point, but having the baby is not the hardest part. I cannot emphasize this enough!!! I naively thought (and no one enlightened me) that the birth process was the most difficult part of the mountain climb before the summit of the mountain, the birth of baby. You may think that with all the time, hard work, and dedication it took you to get there, that when you have that baby, you are able to bask in the victory and joy that lead you there. That is possible for a few moments or an hour. And then the mountain descent begins. I’m not mountain climber, but I have read several books written by climbers. What many of them have shared, and I neglected to remember, was the summit is amazing and worth every ounce of effort to get there, but the HARDEST and MOST CHALLENGING part is actually the climb down. By the time you get to this point, you are exhausted, winded, and physically worn out. You are emotionally drained and ALL of your resources (physically and emotionally) are low. You have to focus twice as hard to finish the journey, even though it seems easier because you should be going down the mountain rather than up the mountain. This is the realization I had DAYS after I had the baby. I wish I would have known this before giving birth as I would have mentally prepared myself for it as best as I could. I was SO intimidated and anxious about the labor, that I thought once that part of was over, everything had to be easier! Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. The difficult part of the journey had just begun! The labor is not the finish line, as I envisioned it to be, it’s actually the beginning of your victory lap.
2. I was prepared to be exhausted. I knew that the baby would be feeding every 2-3 hours starting from the beginning through the first few weeks. What I DIDN’T prepare for was the combination of being exhausted and overwhelmed, while at the SAME time, my hormones being completely out of control (causing crying fits for absolutely no good reason at all) AND dealing with my body healing. Now, there is no way to prepare for this, I know. You can’t know how your body will feel after labor and you can’t bank your sleep ahead of time. (Which reminds me, I will NEVER say to a new mom or anyone for that matter, “Sleep while you can.” That is SO annoying. It’s not like you save your sleep up!!! I will say more on this topic later.)
3. Just because nursing might be natural, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Maybe for SOME women it might seem that way, but most women will tell you that it’s tricky in the beginning. Some of my girlfriends gave me great advice. They encouraged me to hang in there for the first few weeks and that it would get easier. Guess what? I did and it did. The first week was the hardest. Again, EVERYTHING is new. It takes time for you to learn and the baby to learn and that’s normal. I had to call a nurse for assistance in the middle of the night, while still at the hospital, because the baby decided that after nursing just fine for the last two days she would forget what to do and I didn’t know what to do to help her. Additionally, It’s also okay not to love nursing. Many women do love it, but I’m sure there are plenty that don’t. Of course I enjoy bonding with my baby, but sometimes I find nursing sometimes to be tedious. That doesn’t make me a bad person. I love my little girl and am happy to share this experience with her, but it doesn’t mean that at 2:30 a.m., when I’m exhausted and wake up out of a dead sleep to feed her, that I have to love it EVERY time.
4. You thought your hormones were out of control during your pregnancy? Wait until the first week of after the baby is born. Wow. Talk about a rollercoaster ride that lasted for DAYS. One night, in the first ten days after her birth, my parents and my husband’s parents brought dinner to our house. My husband said the before meal prayer saying something along the lines of being thankful for all his wife was doing and for his beautiful baby girl and I BURST out into tears, right there at the dinner table! There was no holding back. I wasn’t sad or upset at that moment, I just had NO control over the emotions or tears. Then there was another night when our parents had just left the house, and as soon as the door closed behind them, I burst out crying. My husband asked me what was wrong and I couldn’t give him an answer. Nothing was wrong! I was tired, but I wasn’t sad or upset and had absolutely NO clue why I was crying. Crazy hormones. Just saddle up and hang on for the wild ride. It’s okay to cry, even if you don’t know why.
5. DO sleep when the baby sleeps. It’s okay to stay in your pajamas until 3 p.m. If you feel like taking one nap one day, great. If you feel like taking five naps that day, do it. Your full time job, especially in the beginning, is caring for the baby and taking care of yourself.
6. DO let other people help you. My husband’s parents did our food shopping and came over to clean our house in the first two weeks. My parents made food and brought it to our house. My mom will watch the baby when she can so I can get out of the house or run an errand. Other good friends dropped off food for us. Don’t worry if the house isn’t in tip top shape for a few weeks. Who cares? The baby won’t know. Let your body heal and take care of the baby.
7. It’s okay to tell people not to visit yet. Not only is it unhealthy for the baby to be exposed to LOTS of people in the first few weeks, but it’s exhausting for you. The only people we had visit us in the first few weeks were my parents, my husband’s parents, my sister, and an occasional close friend (most of which came to drop off food.) People will understand. Anyone who has had children of their own will definitely understand.
8. LOTS of people will have opinions to share about what to do and how to care for your child. Be kind and listen, but take ALL opinions with a grain of salt. This is YOUR child and you can care for him or her however you see fit.
9. It’s okay to be honest when people ask you how you are. When people asked me how I was doing, I told them I was doing better but the beginning was hard. I am generally a smiley and positive person. I also had a fairly good pregnancy and I was excited and optimistic of joining the ranks of motherhood. I think it caught some people off-guard when I wasn’t responding, “life is amazing” and “motherhood is magical” and instead I was saying “I’ve never felt exhaustion like this before” or “we are learning more every day.” What’s wrong with being honest and sharing that motherhood is hard? I think it brought some comfort to fellow new moms who were feeling the same way to know they weren’t alone.
10. If you are expecting a child, instead of “sleeping while you can,” just appreciate being able to do things like go to bed when you want, use the bathroom when you want, run an errand quickly, and go out to do anything at all (see a movie, go to a restaurant, go food shopping etc.) Just embrace and appreciate that time. My husband and I did and we are glad we did because now we are able to fully enjoy time with our daughter and are learning to enjoy our new time as a family. Since we enjoyed and appreciated our time doing all of those things before, and didn’t take it for granted, we aren’t regretful or resentful of not being able to do those things (so easily) now.
Having a child has been a beautiful and amazing journey. Think about it. You created and are caring for a new life of a human being. This tiny little being relies on you for safety, nourishment, and love. This helpless child, who entered the world, will one day being his or her own person, with a unique personality. Just when you thought you couldn’t love someone more, you have this child whom you love so immensely.
Everyone says the time goes fast. It’s true, even though I swear some of those long nights went REALLY slow. Our little angel is one month old today. Already I have forgotten about any pain from labor (I forgot about that almost immediately-what people say is true!) and I’m quickly forgetting how difficult the first few weeks were. My body has been healing well and I am feeling like a normal human being again. The segments of sleep are starting to get longer at night. We are starting to settle into a routine. We are able to recognize the cries of our little one to more quickly figure out if she is tired, hungry, or needs a diaper change. We are starting to see her make different facial expressions and have both admitted we are guilty for watching her sleep. There is something so peaceful about it! We are very blessed to have her and have been doing our best to embrace the beginning of our journey into parenthood. We admit that there have been LOTS of ups and downs, but every time we look at her little face or snuggle with her, the long nights and frustration with fits of her crying suddenly melt away.
Maybe that’s why more people don’t talk about the first few weeks. You really do forget how hard it is because the joy of watching your baby grow takes over every other emotion. So if you are running your new mom victory lap now, have been there before, or aren’t there yet, just hang in there. You know (or will know) what it’s like to have one eye open, if any, and to be so tired you are willing to go to sleep standing up while rocking your baby, hang in there. Or if you aren’t sure how you will be able to have the energy to change one more diaper or have the patience to calm your baby for one more crying minute, hang in there. One of my good friends had the BEST advice when she said, “Hang in there. It gets better. Every day gets a little bit easier.” She was right. It will and it does. Ask any mom, they will back me up on this one. Enjoy the time, it goes faster than you would ever imagine.