Like most new moms, I bought the "What to Expect When You're Expecting" book. It introduced me to an entirely new vocabulary with words I'd only heard clicking through shows on TLC — episiotomy, amniocentesis, Pitocin.
The book became my roadmap for the next nine (or in my case, 10) months. With every new symptom, I'd flip to the index, turn to the listed page, read the friendly and reassuring Q & A, and return to my life as gestating mother-in-waiting.
Some experiences in pregnancy and early motherhood, however, were completely unexpected. No amount of flipping and turning, indexing and reading brought me answers or even reassurance.
Here are a few:
How vulnerable you are and feel immediately after giving birth. During my pregnancy, I mentally and physically prepared for the act of birth, but I went into everything that came afterward completely blind. I was left incredibly weak and a kind nurse had to help me stand to use the bathroom for the first time. I felt more vulnerable then than when I was in the delivery room.
Finding the right OB/Gyn can feel a little bit like dating. First, I met two duds who were at odds with my style, health profile and expectations. And then I met The One. The first time we met, he talked to me for over an hour, assuaged all my worries and answered all my questions.
In the final month of pregnancy, you become almost comically huge. I could barely contain my excitement when my baby bump first started showing. It hit peak cuteness around month seven. In the last few weeks of pregnancy, I became so rotund, I, quite literally, had to roll myself into bed. It made my husband laugh every time.
The 3 a.m. argument with your spouse about which one of you is more tired. At first, you'll be in good spirits as you stay up during late nights — such sweet, tender moments! Once the novelty of sleeplessness wears off, anywhere between the first and third month of parenthood, you will start to really miss sleep. That's when you'll have your first nighttime argument.
A quick trip to Target will feel like an indulgence. The aisles are relatively quiet. There are adults. Neatly organized rows and bright paper packages beckon. I'll just take the winding route to the diaper section, so that I can look at the new movie releases (all of which I missed in theaters) and maybe peek at the holiday section.
Natural and organic baby products aren't always the most functional. When you're prepping the nursery, you might feel the need to stock up on all-natural products for your baby. I acted on that feeling but quickly learned that natural products don't always work well. Sometimes you have to adjust your expectations. I picked up a pack of Pampers and never looked back.
It will take many, many months for your body to feel like itself again. I'm not even talking about your body looking like your pre-pregnancy self, rather, just feeling like yourself again. It's hard to describe, but between being almost constantly attached to your newborn, recovering from birth and the adjustments to motherhood, your sense of self is thrown. Eventually, life as a new mom starts to feel normal. And then, you start to feel normal, too.
Breastfeeding hurts, like, a lot. It's one of those problems you can't really bring up in mixed company. While mentioned in the "What to Expect" book, the chapter failed to capture the teeth-clenching pain of breastfeeding — particularly in the beginning. Sore nipples, clogged ducts, struggling with positions, improper latch and biting are all painful problems for breastfeeding moms.
You become a little bit invisible. Expectant moms get showered with love and attention. Once your baby arrives, the main comments you'll hear are: "How is the baby?" "What's the baby doing?" "What's new with the baby?" "Send me a picture of the baby." I'm the person who asks a new mom, "How are you?"
New motherhood is intensely emotional. In the weeks that followed the birth of my baby, I experienced all the emotions a person can feel. I laughed, I cried, I worried. I was in love. Sometimes I felt profoundly connected and inspired. But sometimes I felt isolated and overwhelmed. The breadth and depth of emotion after giving birth is normal. Be assured, it levels off after a while.