I’ve been a mom for a little over five weeks now and I am in love with my new role and with my new little person. But becoming a parent is an ADJUSTMENT. I can’t imagine it’s even possible to truly prepare oneself, but there are a few things I wish I’d known that would have made the transition smoother.
To my still-pregnant self, I would say:
You might not be flooded with an immediate rush of overwhelming love that transforms you on the spot into a parent who sees nothing but perfection in your child. You may instead find yourself exhausted and slightly traumatized from the insanity that is the birth experience, with so much to process. And that’s okay. You will rest and you will recover, and you and your baby will get to know each other as your love blossoms and grows.
For about a week, you will feel really weird. Your hormones are plummeting and skyrocketing and the ground shifts beneath your feet, all while you’re barely sleeping. Birth is a very physical experience and you will be recovering from that while depending on others for almost your every need. And unless you’ve spent lots of time with newborns, which most of us haven’t, you will feel like a foreigner making your way on another planet. It gets easier, and it gets easier really fast. The learning curve is steep and every single day will be easier than the one before it.
Second night syndrome. It’s a thing. The first night your baby will sleep, because he too is exhausted from birth. But the second night, he will suck, and suck, and suck, trying to get your milk to come in or trying to comfort himself, or both. THIS WON’T LAST. Which brings me too…
Breastfeeding hurts at first. Your nubile nipples are going to develop a new protruding shape, and they are going to get that way by your baby sucking on you with the power of a vacuum cleaner. Your nipples will crack and blister as they stretch and reshape even though your baby is nursing well. It will be excruciating and you will dread every feed (which will be nearly constant). But it will get better, and it will get better fast. Stick with it. Get some nipple cream, take Tylenol and Advil on an alternating basis every two hours, and breathe. Months of ease wait on the other side of mere days of pain.
Speaking of breastfeeding, strengthen your arms and upper back before you deliver. It will help you enormously. Holding an infant to your breast for many hours a day is physically demanding, and until you’ve mastered side-lying nursing (soon), you’ll be grateful to not be coping with an aching upper body on top of everything else.
People will say to you, “it goes by so fast. Enjoy every precious moment.” Before you panic that you aren’t enjoying every moment, you should know that they aren’t actually speaking to you; they are thinking of their own children, now so grown, and lost in the cloying haze of nostalgia, they are speaking to themselves. People forget the hard parts. It’s like travelling: it seems exciting, fulfilling, enriching when our friends are doing it and when we recall our own trips. But when we’re actually travelling ourselves, it may be great overall, but the bed might be uncomfortable, the water pressure might be terrible, we might miss making a cup of tea or preparing a simple meal in our own kitchens, and we might miss being able to speak the dominant language. We do not “enjoy every precious moment,” and nor will you when you are adjusting to life with a newborn.
The reality is that newborns don’t do much, and they are strange (albeit amazing) little creatures. It won’t be long before the habit your baby has of taking a funny breath (two sharp inhales followed by a relaxing exhale) or placing his hands while feeding will be precious. And not long after that, your baby will smile at you, and you’ll realize he is a little human and is becoming more of one every day. Until then, it’s okay to take some time to get to know your baby.
Have enough meals in the freezer for one week for you and your partner.
If possible, arrange to have another adult around to help out. You will be tending to the baby, and your partner will be tending to you. It will help to have another person to attend to your partner, to the house, and to other miscellaneous tasks. It’s also nice to have someone to keep an eye on the baby while you and your partner have some time together after the floor drops out from the world as you know it and you need to spend a few minutes doing something familiar (going for a 15 minute walk with your partner to return a library book, while saying on repeat, “holy shit, I pushed a baby out of my vagina. Holy shit, we’re parents,” will suffice). It’s also nice to have someone around to be amazed by your creation – you’ll appreciate the constant reminder that you’ve done something incredible, that despite the weirdness and confusion you’re in the midst of something truly great.
You won’t believe it at first, but it will be a blink of an eye before you’ll get into the swing of things. One day you’ll think you have no idea what you’re doing and the next you’ll realize you’re explaining to someone how your baby likes something a certain way, and you’ll know you can do this.
When something is wonderful, don’t worry about being anywhere or doing anything else. And when something is hard, remember: this too shall pass.