By Olivia Hinebaugh
I remember being pregnant with my first. It was hard for my brain to truly comprehend that I was going to have a baby. Even after the initial ultrasound, it took me a few months to really “get” that I was pregnant. In the last months of pregnancy, I knew labor was going to happen. I devoted a lot of time reading about it, attending childbirth classes, and watching birth videos. It wasn’t until the last weeks that I really believed, “Wow, I’m going to be in labor. I’m going to give birth. There’s going to be a baby in my arms.”
Because of this, I had put very little thought into what those first few weeks as a new parent were going to be like. Thinking about labor and birth is overwhelming. Thinking about the crazy life changes that are about to occur is impossible. Sure, at the last of my four childbirth preparation classes, we briefly discussed swaddling and baby care. And, yes, I took a breastfeeding course. But none of this really prepared me for what to expect in those first few weeks.
I polled friends and Facebook followers about what things surprised them in the first few weeks. Here’s what they said.
On Mom’s Body:
The midwife told me to call them if I passed a clot the size of a plum. A plum! I never did, but that freaked me out.
No one tells you about the night sweats. Those were the WORST.
How much my bladder could hold after my baby wasn’t pushing on it anymore!
That the first time I had to crap would be so terrifying. Lol.
I was told I would look five months pregnant when I left the hospital. But I didn’t really believe it. I was really disappointed when it turned out to be true.
I felt so svelte and skinny after giving birth. Even though I was fluffy, I felt beautiful. I may be in the minority with that one, but there you have it.
That I could touch my toes!
How painful engorgement can be.
That wasn’t a white thread flying in mid-air as I nursed my baby during our evening meal — that was a stream of milk shooting 2 feet across the dinner table!
How hard nursing was, I almost gave up after two weeks and how much it actually hurt.
That breastfeeding would be hard, REALLY hard! I always imagined it happening naturally but it was a steep learning curve for me and bub … Luckily he is fourteen months now and still breastfeeding.
That my baby knew how to nurse. I had to reposition and coax the wide latch, but then he just knew what to do.
I remember neck pain due to staring at my daughter while nursing, but i got used to that!
How freaking scared I was bringing her home.
That I didn’t fall in love with my daughter at once. I loved her, yes, but I didn’t start worshipping her tiny toenails until at least two weeks later.
I remember putting on Facebook: ‘I thought motherhood would be a kind of magical, mystical transformation. But I find that I am the same person, just really, really tired.’ Really, it is a whole new level of sleep deprivation.
I amazed myself (and my husband I am sure) at the power I had to keep going, no matter what the baby needed and how tired I was, it was a kind of devotion and energy that appeared in me the moment he was born.
How much bad advice and lack of support I got from midwives and the health visitor (in the UK the midwives visit every day for the first ten days.) My plan was to just stay inside with my baby and breastfeed on demand (pretty much constantly, for my baby). Everyone kept saying that it would be fine to give him formula and that I needed to get out for some ‘me time’. It was so upsetting!
I used to be someone who hated to miss out on things. But when people came to see us after the baby was born, I often had to “leave the party” to take him away — to feed him, put him to sleep, or just cuddle him and calm him down. Instead of feeling that everyone was having fun in another room and I was missing it, I found these times to be moments of great calm and peace, and I felt whole and happy.
Before my son was born I didn’t realize that I could spend every waking moment just watching I looked at him sleeping and feeding, I marveled at his tiny toes, every move he made I stared and thought in wonder, he is here! He is mine and my life has changed forever. Hours would pass with me doing nothing but gazing at him.
How important a support community is! i loved the first few weeks of motherhood. friends brought meals for us and my mother was over every day for a while. it was great to have zero extra pressure to cook and clean. i could just focus on my physical healing and loving my little one.
Being a Dad:
How useless and powerless I was at first.
How physically painful the sleep deprivation would be; you just can’t prepare for that kind of lack of sleep, even when you know it’s coming.
My husband recalls going into the shops to get me supplies when I was still in hospital after bub was born. He was grinning and the checkout lady asked why he was having such a great day. He said it was the proudest moment of his life telling her, a complete stranger, that he had become a daddy.
Going home from the hospital, we snuggled our little man into his capsule and my husband remembers starting the car and thinking in shock and bewilderment “they are letting us take him home?! Are they mad?! He’s a little human and we haven’t done this before!!” Luckily he ended up being a natural, just like most daddies.
Life with a Baby
At first babies really do sleep. A lot.
That my baby didn’t sleep soundly in his own space like I imagined he would.
Just because diapers say “newborn” does not mean they will fit your baby. And if the diaper doesn’t fit right, there will be leaks, everywhere, for weeks, until one day you happen to have a minute on your hands to notice the diapers come in various sizes based on weight. Doh.
They outgrow clothes so quickly!
The umbilical cord stub was really stinky. The pediatrician said it looked fine, but it really did smell like something dying. Because it was.
That you have to hold them until they’re a limp doll, otherwise they’ll wake up the second they’re put back down.
You do a lot of laundry.
All they need is you, for warmth, for food, for comfort. It’s powerful, but scary.
I used the white noise machine constantly. He loved it.
My baby didn’t like being swaddled. She already had so many preferences.
Their nails are sharp!
She made faces when she dreamed. And I wondered what she could possibly be dreaming about.
About Olivia Hinebaugh
Olivia Hinebaugh is a stay-at-home-mom to a three-year-old boy and baby girl. She is an aspiring novelist and steals time whenever both kids are sleeping to clack away at the keys. She tweets about mothering and writing @OliveJuiceLots
She can also be found on Facebook.
Photos (with the exception of the belly picture) by Lauren Preti.