I promise moms-to-be, I’m not trying to scare you. Becoming a mother and raising my two beautiful children is easily my proudest accomplishment. There is a lot of unsolicited, cliché advice that you get when you are pregnant (Yeah, I’m looking at you “sleep when the baby sleeps”). Sometimes people will be overly dramatic about life changes, saying that you won’t shower for weeks and you’ll never have sex again (both are not true, but it’s tricky to do either without the risk of being interrupted for a while—Don’t say I didn’t warn you). There are a lot of things that people gloss over though, afraid to sound ungrateful or perhaps afraid they are alone. These are more subtle things, at times, that I wish people had talked more openly to me about.
1. Instead of talking to me about stretch marks and swollen feet, I wish I knew about round ligament pain. I mean, I kind of expect that when my stomach expands to several times its normal size to accommodate a watermelon, my skin is going to take a hit. I had also heard a lot about typical swelling towards the end of your pregnancy, with swollen feet and ankles (although it’s good to know when swelling should be a concern). The first time I felt round ligament pain in my second trimester, it was something I didn’t expect. Just the slightest movement turning in bed or standing up out of my desk chair and I would get a sharp pain in my abdominal or groin area. I thought something was wrong with my baby, and my OBGYN just explained that it was a typical symptom for pregnant women to experience as the round ligament that supports the uterus stretches during pregnancy.
2. Instead of glossing over cesarean sections, I wish birth classes and education focused a larger portion of time on everything to expect with one. The majority of people don’t plan for their baby to come via cesarean section, so a lot of education is heavily focused on vaginal births and everything to expect. Then there is a 10-minute snippet where you discuss what a C-section is. It leaves moms who experience unplanned C-sections completely in the dark about what sensations she may feel (was not expecting my chest to feel like a weight was on it as the baby was being pulled out), what recovery should feel like, what normal will feel like after that. I would have loved to have known that after a c-section they push on your stomach an hour afterward, or that day three and four is pretty sore before you start to get better.
3. Instead of talking about how little I would sleep, I wish people told me about how isolated I would feel. So the sleep thing is real, and it does really mess with you. But its one of the most talked about things with having a newborn. Unless you are one of those people who has a unicorn baby who sleeps through the night from day one (I hate you, by the way), you pretty much expect to be a sleep deprived zombie for months to come. The isolation, though…why doesn’t anybody warn you about this? After everyone stops coming over to see the baby for the first time, and they all return to work, it’s just you and baby on maternity leave. It’s cool for the first few days, you binge watch so many TV shows and it kind of feels like a sleepy vacation where your boobs hurt. Then you start to miss people. Its REALLY hard to take a newborn baby out and about, especially when it’s your first baby and especially if they have a fussier disposition. Depending on what time of year you have your baby, the pediatrician may not recommend you bring them in the general public for a month or more since they aren’t vaccinated against much and could get the Flu. People want to be supportive and see you, but a lot of new parenthood is getting in your own groove, surviving hour by hour, and sleeping when you can. As special as this time is, it makes it hard to connect with other grown-ups and recharge. I do recommend finding a good online support group or moms group, but it can take a few tries to find one that is a good fit.
4. Instead of people telling me how little sex I would be having, I wish people had told me about the emotional disconnect that can happen with your spouse. Yes, sex is important and yes, you’re not going to be feeling it all of the time when you have a new baby. Unless your significant other is a complete jerk, they’re going to understand that it’s not going to happen for a while after you push a watermelon out of your lady parts or have said watermelon cut out of your abdomen. Both of you are going to choose sleep over sex on many occasions, too. But the bigger thing that happens when you have a new baby is new social and emotional territory. Sometimes it’s your spouse feeling like they don’t fit into the dynamic, or you are both feeling irritated about who has more perceived alone time, or you are less tolerant of each other’s normal quirks when you are functioning on two hours of broken up sleep. In the moment, these seem like boulders instead of the pebbles that they are in the grand scheme of things, but it’s important to expect them and address them as they come up so they don’t create larger issues in your relationship as time goes on. I completely underestimated the amount this would come up.
5. Instead of telling me how much I’ll miss it and should cherish every moment, I wish people would have been honest about the stages that are really tough. And not only are they really tough, but they will feel like they last forever. A colicky or reflux baby, or those weeks where they get six teeth at once that take an eternity to poke through and give their poor hot gums some relief. When they don’t have the words to talk yet but have so much they want to communicate, so it comes out in tantrum form and certain days that seems to be all there is. Most importantly, you don’t have to like those moments and you are still a good parent!
6. Instead of telling me how much I would instantly fall in love with my second baby, I wish people had told me how much guilt I would feel towards my first. The vote of confidence for the love equality is a plus, because my biggest fear while pregnant for my son was that there was no possible way I could duplicate my love that I already had for my daughter. Of course, my heart grew fuller and I loved him just the same. But in those early days, I remember feeling so, so sad about no longer having an only child. I felt horrible watching my daughter adjust to the transition of sharing the spotlight, trying to get my attention or crying when he was crying. I felt like I let her down and that she would never love him. They are inseparable now. In fact, I had forgotten about this stage until a friend who just had her second baby came to me and said “why didn’t anybody tell me about this?” It really does get better with time, but I wish I had known to look for it so it didn’t catch me so emotionally off guard.
7. Instead of telling me how “done” they are with having kids, I wish people were more open with the strange feeling you get when you really do decide (or its decided for you) that you are finished with childbearing. So this one is a lot to unpack, but I’ll try my best. With my second son, I had an extremely complicated delivery including a uterine rupture. They were able to repair my uterus, but after that trauma my husband and I said “no way, two is enough!” I smugly walked around with that confidence that I knew what the best path was for my family and our planning. That was until a recent OBGYN appointment for my annual exam, where she asked if I planned on having any more children. I again gave her a resounding “no!”, only to be met with her saying “I’m actually glad to hear that, I think it would be pretty unsafe for you to have any more.” Hearing those words, and really digesting that I’m done having children made me mourn something. I couldn’t quite figure out what. It just felt like a chapter of my life that was over. I truly think there is a lot of unspoken dialogue amongst women who decide to have children, and the feelings they experience when their years of having children are over.
There are probably many more I didn’t add to this list, but my hope is that it at least influences somebody to discuss some of the stickier topics of parenthood. Not so much the overtly gross ones that we moms have gotten used to chatting about (yeah, we’ve all sent the panicked “what is this rash” text to a friend), but more so the emotional ones, and some physical ones. As fellow parents, we are each other’s best resources, and we can only hope that our anecdotes help influence each other’s experiences.