This has been an exciting week for our family: Christmas, snow days, kids + Daddy home on vacation, beloved cousins coming to visit…and the imminent arrival of a new baby!
My sister is due to have her first baby any second now. Well, technically, she was due to have the baby a few days ago, but just as a watched pot never boils so, too, does a much-anticipated baby never arrives. At any rate, we’re all waiting on pins and needles waiting for this baby. And as I’ve been waiting on my pins and needles I’ve been doing some thinking about the journey my sister is about to embark on: childbirth and motherhood.
Like all type-A personality first-time mothers, I read every pregnancy book under the sun when I was expecting my first baby. Real life experience, however, has taught me a few lessons that none of the pregnancy books prepared me for. And in light of my own lightbulb moments, I am going to share the advice I wish I’d had before birthing my first baby:
Get the dang epidural.
Yes, it is medically-preferable to have a natural childbirth with no drugs entering your system. But it is also me-preferable to not endure 40+ hours of excruciating pain when there is a simple (and legal!) option available. I “went natural” for my first two births only to end up with emergency c-sections (and the epidurals that go with them) both times. Receiving pain medication/an epidural/help of any kind does not make you weak or inferior. Looking back, I wish that I would have been alright with accepting the aid of an epidural long before I was at my literal breaking point.
If you feed your baby formula, or choose disposable diapers over cloth, or co-sleep, or _____ you are not a bad mother.
Oh my goodness! Why is this still such an issue? Just do what’s right for you and your baby in your situation, and that will be what’s best for the only people that matter in that situation: you and your own baby. The end.
When you leave the hospital after childbirth you will still look pregnant.
This was a sore disappointment for me. It will take weeks, months, years, maybe never before you will look again like you did before you were pregnant. Just think of this as an excuse to go shopping for fun new clothes (even if they are a size or two up from where they used to be) and remind yourself that your body made a freaking human being and is pretty stinking incredible.
Breastfeeding will not always feel like H-E-Double Hockey Sticks
I remember those first days of breastfeeding were, in many ways, more painful than actually giving birth. I wondered how other “more experienced” moms could just stuff a baby under their shirt in public and continue a conversation while this same searing pain seized their body. Well, here’s their secret: It doesn’t always hurt (Can I get an amen?!). After a week or two your body will adjust and it will not feel like a thousand bees are stinging your most sensitive regions every time your baby has to eat.
*Sidenote* If you are experiencing extreme or prolonged pain, definitely ignore my blog and talk to your doctor instead!
Even when you screw up (which you will), you are still the best thing that’s ever happened to your kid.
You are a mom now, so own it. You do 99% of The Stuff with your ultimate aim being to do what’s best for your child. So what if you mess up now and then? We all do! It’s called being human! When you yell at your kid for leaving Legos on the stairs again or hide in the bathroom to check your email while your toddler roams the house moaning, “Mama? Mama? MAMA?” just cut yourself a little slack. Trust yourself. Apologize if you need to, give a hug, and move on.
Some day your baby will sleep.
This isn’t so much advice as just a bit of reassurance. You will reach levels of exhaustion that you didn’t know were possible to achieve. Hang on, Mama. Because some day. Some day, that baby will sleep. And it will be the best night of your life.
Forget About Cooking.
It is totally acceptable (and recommended) to eat a combination of frozen food, pre-made meals, cereal, and take-out for at least a year after your baby is born. Don’t stress out about making gourmet meals (or even decent meals, for that matter) for a good, long while.
Which brings me to my next point:
Seek and accept help.
I am still working on this one, but it’s a lesson that has sunk in more and more with each child. By baby #3 I finally came to the realization that no, I can NOT handle everything alone. In fact, I really should not even try to do everything alone. If someone offers to bring you a meal or run an errand for you, say yes. If you need someone to bring you a meal or run an errand for you, ask them. Find a friend, a family member, a mom down the street who you can call on, and do it. It takes a village, right?
Which brings me to my next point:
Find your tribe.
Life is not something you should go through alone–we were created for community, and at no point in my life has community been more critical than when I was a new mom. Find some other like-minded moms who are going through the same thing as you, some women who you can swap ideas and stories with. This can happen organically or through organizations (there are TONS of fantastic mom groups out there!). My motto: Stay connected to stay sane!
Don’t enjoy every moment.
People always say to enjoy every moment of motherhood, to love every second because before you know it the kids will be gone. Yes and no. Yes, motherhood offers countless moments to enjoy. Yes, you will blink and your baby will be starting kindergarten, then you’ll blink again and he’ll be moving out. But, no, don’t enjoy every moment. Motherhood is also full of unfathomable difficulties and tough choices and actual real pain. You don’t have to enjoy that. If you’re struggling, that is totally normal. Persevere through the difficult, and there will be new joys to find on the other side.
On a daily basis I come across situations where I have the option of crying or laughing. The sensible option would probably be to cry, but whenever I’m with it enough to choose, I choose to laugh. You’re having a terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad day? The kids team up together to utterly destroy your house while your back is turned? Your preschooler has a bathroom emergency in a public park with no restroom? Laugh, take a blackmail photo, and clean it up. LIKE A BOSS.
There is no problem too big, no sleepless night too long, no tantrum too loud that prayer can not help. Lean on prayer in the good times and the hard times alike, and I promise you it will work!
To my sister and all of the other mamas just starting out, congratulations! You’re about to embark on the greatest journey of your life. Embrace the ups and downs and the twists and turns. Enjoy the great moments and persevere through the difficult ones. You’re amazing, and you’ve got this!