You’re about to be a mom, and I feel that there are a few things you should know. There is a lot they don’t tell you, and you know what? It’s not fair. You are told to pack a bag and read the books about what to eat to go into labor, you’ll be told not to eat sushi or drink alcohol and you’ll be judged if you dye your hair and you’ll get plenty of advice about how your should raise your baby, but no one tells you the truth about those first few days, that first month of crazy… so here’s a few things I thought you should know. Good luck, mama, hold on… it’s going to be the ride of your life.
Having a baby is beautiful. It is a 10 month transition that takes you from independent womanhood into a whole knew phase of being. You are christened with blood, by the fire of pain, and the power of inner strength to see you through the veil into the other side. You leave behind the singular woman and you become whole as a new being, still independent and ever-powerful, yet, in a whole new way. As happens with any mystical transition, you are given a new name;
It all may sound sweet and feel joyful and perfect and it is… but that’s not the whole story and you should know that.
Most people won’t tell you how strange and confusing it is. They’ll tell you it’s “hard” and, “get sleep now” and they’ll laugh at your optimism as you declare, “I’ve got this! I’m ready!” Their laughter will feel condescending and their pressure to try things their way will feel imposing, but in your arms is this sweet, perfect new human you’ve made that you’ve fed and you’ve nourished inside you for almost a year and you won’t really care what they say… not yet.
With the rush of serotonin flooding your brain and your senses filled with the newness of baby all intermingling with the pain of recovery and painkillers making you dizzy and a revolving door of doctors and nurses and lactation consultants, and that damn admin clerk who keeps asking you if you’ve named the baby yet checking in on you several times a day… there are suggestions to feed and questions to answer, will you leave him intact? Is she getting vaccinations? Is he staying with you or are you sending him to the nursery? Are you nursing or bottle feeding? Do you want help with your latch? How many times has he peed today and has he started to poop?
All of these questions and thoughts and suggestions start floating around till you’re dizzy and confused. See, everyone tells you, “wear cute socks!” and “bring music!” but no one prepares you for the sudden – literally instant – change that takes place. Before baby is here, you’re a participant and a patient. Once she’s arrived, you are a parent and responsible for all that takes place from that moment on. It’s terrifying. it’s overwhelming. But you keep it together, at least on the outside because all the people who have come to see you tell you how amazing you are, how strong you’ve been, how inspring, how beautiful how powerful you seem to them, so you keep up the show and you try to put courage behind your voice as they ask you questions and instead of “I don’t know” you simply say, “we’ve not made that decision yet” because that at least shows them you’re thinking about it and it’ll get them to leave you alone for a while while you grab for your laptop or phone and start looking things up.
Do we want the vitamin K? Do we really need to circumcise? Did we do the wrong thing letting them put that crap in his eyes? Are we breastfeeding? Yes we are, that’s the answer isn’t it? We are, but won’t you want to feed with a bottle too? you never know, so maybe both? I guess both… that’s the answer, both – yes that sounds right. But please no pacifiers, at least I know that isn’t right. “Nipple confusion” they called it on that article you read last month before you really cared and you glanced at it but moved on to the cute ad for pink socks with the ruffles and matching hat… A fleeting thought reminds you, so when they ask again you pipe up excitedly, “yes, I do want to nurse, I remember it’s best, yes, I will do that…” but this isn’t milk coming out, it’s clear – is that right? Is there something wrong with you? You start to worry… the nurse smiles compassionately and tells you she’ll call for the lactation consultant to tell you all you need to know and you do your best with no information to get the baby to suck on your boob. She does it and gulps, she likes it, hooray! It’s like the weight of the world has been lifted and a rush of… Ooohhhh eeeemmm ggeeee what is that feeling like my boobs are getting filled up with a hose, oh my LORD this is strange… a let down. Ah. Yes, I’ve heard of this, okay… we can do this. it’s fine… Oh crap I’m leaking all over myself… does this stop soon? Should I call someone? The lactation consultant comes to tell you what’s up. She gives you tools and supplies, teaches you how to pump how to hold her, how to burp and how to ease her lips to the right position to get the latch just right so she doesn’t choke, doesn’t suck in air, doesn’t hurt you, gets a full belly… holy crap there’s a lot to remember, should I be writing this down?
You’ll never be so happy to see a tablespoon of pee in your whole life and even though it’s disgusting and looks like tar, that first poop will feel like a relief sent from Heaven to show you that things are alright. The ups and the downs are fast and they’re sharp, they will lift you to a high that makes you weep with joy and the wonder of your new life as fast as they will drop you to the bottom of a dark, storming ocean with no way out and no way to breathe and you’ll feel like you’re dying under the weight of what you’ve suddenly realized you don’t know.
The pain takes a back seat as you settle in that first night, it’s gone quiet because your guests have left, well, everyone but your partner and your mom and his mom is getting dinner across the street with your sisters because they won’t go home for the night until they get to hold that baby one more time…. but for now, your brain is quiet and your cooing baby is grasping for you and is foggily looking around but knows your voice because you’re not meeting for the first time, she’s known you from the first minute she was created – from that first spark of life at the joining of those cells, she has been a deep, integral part of you and already knows you through and through. She squirms toward your breast as you hold her because she can smell that liquid gold, the colostrum – now you know what it’s called and you know there is nothing wrong with you and everything is just right. You sit up and ignore the sharp pains deep inside you. Your brain makes sure you care more about the joy than the pain. Breastfeeding releases chemicals that make you happy, that make your baby’s brain stimulated and grow. You two become one again, almost as if she were still inside you- a moment of perfect peace as you know you are still connected, you are still providing her nourishment and her life force. She still relies upon you, there is no loss here, only a new beginning of joy.
Except, it hurts because he won’t latch correctly. You have done all you were taught by the lactation consultant and you start to worry because he’s just crying and crying and doesn’t seem to want it. You know “breast is best” you heard that a lot, so it must be true, but damn this is hard… can’t anyone show you without touching your boobs? Why does everyone think it’s okay to do that? “Can you show ME what to do, don’t do it for me, I need to know how to do this when you’re not here” you ask in the kindest tone possible as not to offend all these marvelous ladies who are doing their best to help you get it just right even though you want to scream.
Chin up, little mama… It’s all going to be okay. You tell yourself in the night when hubby is curled up in a ball on the chair by your side, fast asleep and drooling and snoring while you and sweet baby are staring into each other’s eyes. You try feeding him again because practice makes perfect, right? A nurse comes in to tell you “you need to sleep, let me take him to the nursery… just for a while…” and you choke back bitter tears of rage as your first thought is, “you don’t think I can do this? That I need some kind of break from being a mom?? I’ve only been doing this for 12 hours and you already think I need a vacation?” but instead you say, “no thank you, I’d rather bond with my baby” and she’ll smile sweetly and say “okay, is there anything else you need” then she’ll be along on her way.
In the darkness and solitude when it’s just baby and you, she’ll look up at you and you’ll swear she’s binding your heart in her eyes and you know nothing is more important in this entire world or your life than keeping her safe and happy and helping her grow into the person she is meant to be. It’s unexplainable beauty and completely euphoric, the exhaustion, the hormones, the new life now outside you holding your hand and filling your heart in a whole new way than she did just a few hours ago….
But there’s more. And it’s okay. You need to know that it is okay. No one tells you, except in snide or sarcastic remarks how hard it can be and how it’s okay if it’s not beautiful all of the time. It’s scary and hard and dangerous and makes you feel inadequate in the worst ways and it’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to share that you are afraid. It’s okay to say, “I have no idea” and “I am too tired to think about that” and “please, could you just give me a little while to be with my new baby, alone?”
Babywearing is a thing, so is skin-on-skin and it’s all important for bonding and transition and teaching baby that even though he is separate now, you’re still here to guide him, but people will judge you for that, too, so be aware and know why you choose what you do because the ones who wont’ understand will think you are crazy and you’ll probably want to make sure they know you aren’t.
You’ll soon discover that having a baby is actually not the hard part. Being a mother once that baby is outside your body changes all you have ever known about yourself and sometimes you won’t be sure if those changes are good or terrible, but you’ll run with it because that is what seems right in that moment.
If something goes wrong, if baby has a problem like jaundice or an infection or diabetes, it’s like a dark cloud covers you with a paralyzing grip that wont’ let you go and you’ll be falling into an abyss you can’t see the bottom of and no one can catch you before you sink down… when that happens, if it happens, know that you’ll rise and you’ll fight and you’ll be fine because you’ll roar with the mightiest of thundering roars, a new mama is born and you’ll demand baby is cared for. You’ll become an advocate for her in ways you never knew you could be, you’ll become passionate about learning, you’ll read faster than you ever thought you could to learn all you about what is going on. You’ll trust your doctors but you’ll be open to second and third or fifth opinions and you’ll demand to be updated and spoken to like an intelligent person not just some doe-eyed girl who has no clue what’s going on. In those dark moments you will find a power within you that you never knew was there. You’ll make sure you have the knowledge and she gets the best care.
You’ll field unsolicited advice and you’ll have to ignore the judgement from people who don’t have children or had them long ago enough that they don’t have a clue how things should be done now. Don’t let the people who say, “well I know this is the right way because when I did it with my baby 8+ years ago, this is what the book said to do” tell you what to do. Don’t let them sway your instinct. Go with your gut. Always. Don’t be afraid to be inconvenienced by the baby’s needs. It won’t make her clingy. It won’t make her a bad person. It won’t turn her into an entitled monster to let her nurse on demand and it won’t ruin her to allow her to sleep in your bed so you can get some damn rest instead of getting up every two hours to feed her by shuffling into her room where she’s miserable and terrified and only wants to be with you because she was rocked to sleep with the lullaby of your heartbeat for nearly a year in the warmth of your belly and she doesn’t know how to survive without you just yet.
You are necessary to her. You are life, comfort, nourishment in every way a human can be. You are the safe harbor in this new, terrifying world and it’s okay to keep her close at all times. There are studies to back that up if you’re a science person or have people who need proof that it’s not just spoiling your baby.
You can never spoil a baby. You can be over-indulgent with a toddler, a preschooler, a child… but never a baby. You can never hold a baby too much, breastfeed a baby too much, cuddle and care for a baby too much.
It’s okay to set boundaries for friends and for family. Not everyone needs to be there the day you come home and not everyone needs to hold baby every single time they see you.
If you are worried about germs, put some sanitizer by the door and make everyone use it and if they’re sick they don’t get to come over until a week after symptoms are gone and that is okay to set that rule in stone because YOU ARE THE MOM.
That authority you looked to for guidance and support – that is YOU now, so own it.
Let me say that again.
You are the authority. You are the mom who makes the rules.
Don’t allow others to take that authority from you or tear it apart by inflicting anxiety upon you with their doubts and self-judgement. You’ll find that a lot you know, so many moms… their advice is laced with a judgement that if you don’t do what they did then you’re saying they are bad parents. (Twisted, right?!)
Don’t worry about them or how they may have done things or how if you do something different, you’ll make them feel bad. Own your decisions and know that you have a right to change them when or if they don’t work out.
Read all you can, know the facts about breastmilk. Save yourself a lot of grief and look up hindmilk/foremilk imbalance. Know what reflux is and is not and don’t settle for the easy fix, not ever – not from your mother, your aunt or the doctor. If they tell you, “just” do something, it’s probably not the BEST advice, it’s a bandaid solution that can cause problems later. “Just use formula, just bottle feed instead” is not a good answer to weight gain questions or reflux or sleep issues and remarks about how tired you look.
Know that you can pump between nursing sessions to get additional supply and then you store the excess in case you need it, you never know when you might.
Learn about lip and tongue ties and talk to someone who is experienced at finding them – not just anyone, because not everyone knows… even if they say they do. Remember that keeping baby close and nursing on demand is the #1 absolute best way to tell your body to make more milk – NOT by pumping and using formula. Please ask someone who is a known advocate for breastfeeding success for help before you ask random family member or even a doctor. While they are skilled in medicine and basic nutrition, they are NOT experts in infant feeding, breastfeeding and breastfeeding health. Most only take one semester of one year of their schooling studying nutrition as a whole, and one, small portion of that has to do with breastfeeding. Unless they are keeping up with their education, this is not a topic they are experts in.
Sleep becomes an issue – you look tired, so friends start suggesting things. You are totally okay, but you have poopy diapers in the night and baby wants to nurse on one side then the other then the other again and so you’re tired and that’s okay with you, because you are happy with baby- but your friends think they need to help, so they’ll tell you, “just set boundaries” and you’ll laugh because you don’t set boundaries on infants, but they keep pushing; “Just cry it out” or “just put him in the crib” and you KNOW that is not a good answer to your struggles with sleep and if you need back up to support your instinct to keep baby close to you in the night, let me know – I’ve got buckets of research to back you up. I’ve even got your back when daddy complains about the baby in the bed… there’s research for him, too.
Find some good mom groups, private pages on Facebook (like the cautious mom private Facebook page) or on parenting sites, places where people who need to ask questions they don’t want dad or mom-in-law or judgey Aunt Marcy to see what you’re asking.
Don’t listen to people who tell you to give up. Those people did and feel bad about it, so they want someone to give up with them and justify it. Don’t do that – unless you know that’s the right choice for you, don’t ever deny instinct for the sake of someone else’s ego.
People will get annoyed. They’ll make stupid, sarcastic comments about how you post too many pictures of kids. They’ll post on their OWN pages, “ugh, don’t you hate it when people post excessive photos of their random children in nearly the same pose 30 times?” and you’ll know that’s for you, and you’ll want to rethink your posts, but please don’t. Don’t hide your breastfeeding pictures don’t hide the many, beautiful images of your sweet new person as he grows and hits new milestones or just looks cute in a new outfit you bought him. The people who love you, I mean, the people who ACTUALLY love you, will want to see them. They will squeal and love and like your photos, they’ll share them with their friends and be happy for you. If people can’t understand what new and incredible joy being a parent brings to you, respect what you love and that you want to share that love with the people you care about, they are showing you they are not really your friends. Don’t say “sorry for all the baby posts”. Don’t be sorry. If they don’t like it, they can leave. You don’t need to filter your family to accommodate jerks who don’t respect your new life.
You’ll feel like you’ve lost something, the person you were – but you haven’t, she’s just grown. She’s you, just different. Know that you can never go back to “yourself” as you were before because that girl, the woman without children, no longer exists. Her chapter has closed and won’t ever return and it’s okay to feel sad about that but know that who you are now is amazing. A phoenix, rising. A butterfly, hatching. It will ache and it will hurt and it will make you want to run away at times. It will test every aspect of your being and it will force you to hold up your end of the bargain. It will demand that you do what you promised and it will will make you burn inside, sometimes you will long for the days before baby was born and you’ll secretly wish you were still there, but the guilt of that thought will make you start sobbing and you won’t be able to share that with anyone because your friends will just say, “you need a night out” and your family will say, “you’re being childish” and your facebook mom group will say, “you’re a terrible person” so you will swallow that thought because you know it’s really not true, but you need to know, mama – it’s okay to feel that way because transitions are hard and they don’t take root overnight. You were just handed an entirely new life – you can’t expect not to miss the one you left behind, but just know you’re doing the right thing. Remember all the years of “me time” you had before and how you get to gift that same, special time, those years of freedom and discovery, to your own child now.
Your friends who don’t have babies yet won’t understand. They’ll accidentally make you feel bad by not inviting you to parties because they know “you have a baby now, so I figured you woudln’t want to come anyway”. They’ll make another offending mistake by asking, “when can you send your kid to a sitter and come out with us again?” and it’ll hurt. That’s okay. It’s not like you are dead, right? Why can’t they just come to you and see the baby and share in the joy of your new life, you’ll wonder as they send you their selfies holding glasses of liquor you can’t drink because beer and wine is fine as long as you are not buzzed, but liquor of any kind has a 12 hour detox period that makes it not worth it because baby needs to eat and you won’t give her a bottle just to satisfy your friends who don’t understand and want you to go drink with them and pretend you aren’t a grown up with a CHILD.
So you’ll start passing on invites. You’ll crave adult attention but they’ll fall into land mines of judgement with each step and they won’t even realize how deeply they are hurting you, their condescending giggles about “how cute that you’re worried” and “oh you’re obviously a first time mom”, “just relax, she’ll be fine – you know once you have more than one things like this don’t matter, you’ll see”… “because why?” you’ll think to yourself, “I suppose moms of multiple children suddenly don’t care if their babies are breathing while they sleep? They don’t care if they could choke on a whole olive or a grape?” And you’ll want to scream, “Are you stupid or just mean? GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!” but instead you’ll smile sheepishly and go along with the joke and pretend it doesn’t bite and you’ll have to remind yourself it’s okay to be angry and it’s okay that they just cannot possibly understand.. it will be YOU who has to change, to forgive, to let go – but don’t give in and do what makes THEM comfortable. Do what makes you a good mom. Have strength that you need to be a good mom more than you need to be an accommodating friend who doesn’t make your friends and family comfortable with your parenting. Remember, you are the mom – you are in charge, not them.
It’ll be worth it, at the end of each day when you know you did what you knew was best, when you followed your instinct and you are holding that baby to your breast and you see how he clings to you, how he trusts you, how he LOVES you and you know that you won’t compromise, not for anyone, not for anything, not to fit in, not to “save face” not to be cool or pretend babies are lame. You will know that you will never do anything that will ever give her the notion that she didn’t come first. In those quiet, dark moments of just baby and you, you’ll confirm and confess to her your one, confirmed truth; You will always do everything from the first breath till the last, with her happiness, her safety and her health in mind and the pain and the fear and the anger and the judgement, none of it will matter in those moments, as you hold her quietly in the night… The realization will hit you at some point in that first few days…
She is YOUR baby. You are HER mother. Your life is new and it’s terrifying. So is hers, so remember that. You’re both learning together, both born in that moment she arrived on this earth and that first ringing cry… it wasn’t just her birth in that moment, it was yours, too, mama. And it’s okay to be afraid of it because it’s new and no one seems to know exactly how to do it right. But you know what? That’s okay, just remember YOU know your baby and your insight matters more than books or stigmas or stereotypes or judgement. You will be strong in all the right ways, so have faith in that instinct and stick to it each day.
It’s absolutely okay to cry, I’m sure there’s never been a mother who wasn’t terrified! Just know that you’re amazing and you are going to be fine.
Welcome, dear mama, to the mother’s circle.
One last thing, I’m sorry to have to break it to you.. it doesn’t get easier. Honestly. It changes, fears change and anxiety shifts from topic to topic like skipping rocks in a pond, but “easy” is never going to be a part of your vocabulary again, as far as parenting is concerned. Don’t let that freak you out though, don’t let that change you or make you grow hard, bitter and don’t let it turn you into one of those cynical parents who talk about how much their “terrible little shits” kept them up all night or ruined their day or railroaded their lives.
Just breathe. Breathe through those moments of insanity and discouragement. Breathe and know that every moment is precious. Even if it doesn’t feel like it, the logical part of you still knows that.
Take it one step at a time, keep moving forward and always let compassion be your guide.
I promise, you will be fine.
Again… You will be fine.
Baby will be fine. You won’t break her, I promise. He won’t grow to hate you because of a choice you made when he was three months old to give him orajel instead of Hyland’s teething tablets (Those teething necklaces REALLY do work, it’s not just hippy, crazy talk. Seriously, get one.) He will love you, and she will always need you and you will always be there and that is what will make you an amazing mom. You already are an amazing mom – Your worry and your fear is what proves you are incredible. If you didn’t care, you wouldn’t be worried, right? Give yourself some credit and know that you are awesome.
That’s it for now. Welcome, mama. It’s never going to stop, not even for a minute, but it’s okay, you’re not alone. It’s worth it. You are amazing. Perfect for this job and that baby loves you.