You just had a baby. Holy crap! It’s intense isn’t it? You probably heard a bunch of amazing (and not so amazing, and probably unsolicited) advice from friends and family. But how much of it was the God’s honest truth?
Oh sure, you will be elated those first few days. You will feel the most intense feelings of love and protection, and you will be high on life with your new squishy, sleepy newborn in your arms.
Except you might not.
The harsh truth of those first few days of motherhood is that you might not feel connected to your babe right away. You might feel absolutely awful as you come off of the effects of your epidural. You might feel anxious, nervous, and worried that you can’t handle motherhood. You might feel confused, exhausted, and panicked if your baby won’t stop crying even before you step out of the hospital doors. You will probably come down from your hormones with the most intense bought of sadness that you have ever felt.
No, those first few days of motherhood aren’t what you see on Instagram right after moms give birth. You won’t always sit lovingly with your newborn, looking into their eyes as they open right away. Nursing might be painful, and you will be bleeding and leaking fluids. You’ll want to simultaneously crawl out of your skin and sink into the bed.
But it’s also not all bad. New motherhood is amazing. All of these harsh, scary things have one thing in common- your new baby. And all of it, even the cruddy parts, are a show of what your body has done and what you are capable of. So yes, some days, nights, and moments will be really crappy. But it’s also all pretty darn amazing, too.
Here are 15 harsh but hopeful realities about new motherhood:
1. You will feel like you got hit by a truck. I had one long medicated hospital birth and one shorter natural homebirth, my homebirth being miraculously easier than the hospital birth. But despite one being easier than the other, both times I inevitably felt like my body, my mind, my entire being had been through a battle. The battle of birth. Your nether regions will be incredibly tender, your breasts will be leaky, you’ll potentially be the epitome of exhaustion. Throw in some degree of sleeplessness, and you’ve got one of the most surreal experiences of your life.
2. Your body will change. Your stomach will be deflated, your breasts will be rock hard and then soft again, you may have an assortment of varicose veins or hemorrhoids or various other normal side effects of pregnancy. I urge you to reject, from the bottom of your heart and with all your might, the notion that your body cannot show any evidence of having grown a baby. In fact, I urge you to learn to love it. Not just tolerate it, but truly love and adore and value your healthy body, realizing that beauty standards are arbitrary and you owe it to no one to fulfill them. You will feel like yourself again at some point. Shower when you can.
3. You will cry over all the things. Beautiful things, sad things, emotional things, and irrelevant things. It’s ok. When I was a few days postpartum with my second baby, I was wearing some gigantic postpartum underwear, specifically designed to provide a belly-binding type of support. My sweet, loving, supportive husband saw me in my goofy underwear and accurately said with a kind smile, “Those are goofy.” I cried. I cried so hard. I couldn’t stop crying. Eventually I stopped, and now we laugh about it. It was a learning experience for us both.
4. You will be an emotional rollercoaster. You will likely alternate between the most euphoric love and some pretty intense feelings of helplessness as a new mom. Newborn babies are like floppy octopi who cry for reasons you don’t understand yet. Learning the ropes, especially if you’re a first-time mom, can be incredibly overwhelming. You will stare at the beautiful, helpless newborn in your lap and feel the most pure love you never even knew was possible. Then your baby will poop explosively out of their diaper and won’t stop crying even though you’re doing everything right, and you’ll feel like crying right along with them. The ups and downs are normal, and if they don’t feel normal to you, don’t hesitate to seek help.
5. You’ll be sweaty and smelly. The many hormonal changes of pregnancy and the postpartum period can lead to an excess of sweat and some interesting smells. As your body rids itself of the extra water it retained during pregnancy, you might find yourself soaking sheets at night. Eating clean seemed to help me, and again– shower when you can.
6. Your first postpartum poop might be an event. I’m sorry. It’s true. Your first post-birth poop may be intimidating, and for good reason. Your stomach muscles, which help with elimination, will be weakened and sore. Fear can also be an inhibitor, since relaxation helps us poop– and birth!– better. Pure prune juice was recommended to me by my midwife, and I used my relaxation skills learned during my practice of Hypnobabies when the big moment came.
7. The days following having your baby may be extremely uncomfortable. If you had an epidural, you might be itching all over for 12 to 24 hours as your body comes off the pain medication. If you are nursing, you will feel like you’re having contractions all over again as your uterus contracts when you are breastfeeding. You will be swollen and hot, and then you will get extremely cold. You will want to sleep but you won’t be able to because nurses are walking in every 3 hours and also because you will hear every single noise your baby makes and wonder if they are ok. You also might want to throw a pillow at your partner as they sleep soundly on the couch.
8. It will take you much longer to get ready and go places than it ever did before. One time after my first baby was born, I made plans to go visit my mother. I got us bathed and dressed and all packed up. Getting us ready to go included several diaper changes, which meant undoing my baby’s outfit repeatedly, as he kept soiling each new diaper I put on him before I could get out the door. When I finally made it out to the car, baby and gear in tow, I realized I would have to shovel some snow in order to use my car. I loaded my baby into his carseat and shoveled as fast as I could. We were finally ready to leave. I started my car– or tried to, rather. It wouldn’t start. I was already an hour later than I’d planned to be. I didn’t end up going at all, and it wasn’t the first time I had to cancel or delay plans after having kids. As a new mom, it can take some trial and error to figure out how to manage your time and get out the door in a reasonably timely manner. You’ll get the hang of it.
9. You’ll doubt yourself. There are many times that I have doubted myself as a mom, but a poignant one was after my second baby was born, six years after my first. For six years I had been fully dedicated to homeschooling my high-energy, nature-loving oldest boy. After I had my second baby, I experienced a moment of terror at the thought of homeschooling. How was I going to do this?? How would I find the time? How would I manage teaching two kids at home when the time came? At times like this, I like to play the “What’s the worst-case scenario?” game. In it, I determine what my biggest fear is (not being able to homeschool) and figure out what the worst-case scenario solution is (sending my kids to school). Breaking it down and thinking it through helps to realize that your doubt in yourself is not so significant. You are doing a great job! Keep on keepin’ on.
10. You’ll change. A lot. It is perhaps the biggest cliche, but it’s also the truest: parenthood changes you like nothing else can. You will be more selective with your time. You will find your life goals cemented, or completely overturned. You will have a much lower tolerance for bullshit. You’ll probably become one of those annoying parents who talks non-stop about their kids and posts pictures of what appear to be minuscule events, like a newly lost tooth. You’ll understand it now, and you’ll probably celebrate lost-tooth pictures that your friends post, which you might have skipped over before. Your values will change, and you may find yourself with an overwhelming desire to change the world for the better.
11. You might lose some friends. When I had my first child, it was a surprise pregnancy and I was a single mother at the time. My situation weirded some people out, and I lost a few friends. Friends who had no desire to have kids any time soon, and some friends who must have decided along the way that I was doing something wrong. The more I learned about issues like breastfeeding and circumcision, the more compelled I felt to spread the word, which works like glue with some people, acting to bond us even further, and repellent with others. The good news is that just as you will lose some friends, you will make some new ones and they will be your mama tribe.
12. You’ll realize you know nothing. Remember all those times before you had kids when you thought to yourself that if parents would just xyz, their kids wouldn’t abc? Remember when you swore to yourself that your kid will never have a 4-alarm freakout in the middle of the store, or when you thought you’d never be the kind of parent to bribe a kid with a snack, or that you’d never nurse your baby to sleep because it’s a “bad habit”? Forget it. All of it. You will learn as you go, your values will change, and the biggest key is that you don’t know your child yet. They are who they are. No matter how perfectly you parent them, you might end up with the kid who is petrified of bugs and dirt, or the kid who launches toys across the room, or the one who desperately needs your help through emotional meltdowns. Forget your preconceived notions, and be prepared to learn along with your child.
13. You’ll make mistakes. No matter how much a parent adheres to gentle discipline or non-violent communication, there will be plenty of times where you reach your limit, where you lose your patience and make mistakes. Or maybe you’ll realize too late that your baby does indeed know how to roll over, just in time to see them slipping off the couch. Or maybe you’ll leave the house for a fun afternoon and realize you forgot to pack snacks or diapers, and your whole day is turned on its head. As Leonard Cohen said, there is a crack in everything; that’s where the light gets in. You will make mistakes, you will learn from them, and you will be a better parent for it.
14. Postpartum sex is… interesting. You’ve recently pushed a baby out of your vagina, or had major abdominal surgery in order to meet your newest addition. Who’s going to be thinking about sex?? I was! I wondered how it would feel, how soon I could get back into the swing of things with my husband, if I’d be nervous the first time, if it would hurt. I was also curious about how it would feel to my husband, wondering about the mythical rumor that childbirth “stretches out” the vagina. Truth bomb: the vagina is meant to stretch to accommodate childbirth. It is a muscle that can regain its strength through exercise, specifically exercises that impact the pelvic floor. Squats are fantastic options, as are Ben Wa balls— not only for sex, but for postpartum health in general. The key to safe and satisfying postpartum sex? Communication. Open up and put your feelings out there. Tell your partner that you’re excited, or anxious, or scared. Tell them you’re ready, or not ready. Tell them to take it slow. Foreplay is essential for testing the waters of postpartum sex, so be sure to take your time!
15. Your life will never be the same. For parents, time can be easily divided into two phases: Before Children and After Children. I was a nanny for years before becoming a mother, and I thought, due to having a lot of experience working with kids, that I could maybe understand what being a mom was like, just throw in a little more love… But I had no idea. I had no idea how all-consuming motherhood would be. How precious and adorable and painfully fleeting the tiniest milestones would seem. How a person I adore with the purest love in one moment could be bringing me close to tears of frustration in the next. How being a mom would make me feel the most empowered I’ve ever felt in my life, and how it would set me on a new path. Parenthood will change you; it’s inevitable. Hang on for the ride!