After enduring the extreme emotional pain of a miscarriage, the news of a second pregnancy was a source of immense joy for my husband and I. However, I had idealistic expectations of what my pregnancy and journey of being a new mom would be like. I was living in this fantasy world where I imagined my baby would sleep through the night, I would have a natural birth, breastfeeding would be easy, and that this whole parenting thing would be a piece of cake. I mean I've watched so many women in my life do it and it didn't look that difficult.
Yeah, no. That did not happen.
I experienced a rude awakening once I had an emergency C-section. The deviations from my perfect image of being a new mom continued when my newborn decided he wasn't going to sleep and only wanted to use my nipple as a soother while enjoying unlimited cuddles (which meant no sleep for Mommy and Daddy). Nevertheless, they were fun times for us. Fast forward to him being a year older and we now have a toddler who sleeps through the night.
Ahead, some of the things I wish I knew before having a baby and what I've learned after having him.
1. To expect the unexpected
It's great to have a birth plan and outline how you would like your birth to go. But ultimately, it is the baby's safety that trumps any birth plan you may have in mind. Don't feel defeated if you require a C-section; it does not make you any less of a woman! My water broke, and after I was in labor for 13 hours and only two centimeters dilated without any progression, his heart rate started dropping during every contraction. It was a very intimidating and scary time for us. Once we decided on the C-section and went through with it, it turned out that our son's head was facing the wrong way. If I were to have had him naturally, there would have been serious damage to his neck.
I thank God every day that we made the decision of having the C-section done, despite it not being part of the initial plan — it happened and I have a healthy little man now. Have people in the room with you that will support you and understand what you are going through, your husband, your mom or mother-in-law, or maybe a close friend or family member, someone that will truly empathize with what you are going through in those moments.
2. The pain experienced during the recovery of a C-section or natural birth
THE PAIN. Some women are warriors; they give birth and then go about their business the next day, cleaning, doing housework, and taking care of their family (sometimes because they have no other choice — some women, like myself, have a lot of support, and without it, I probably would have lost my mind). The pain of a C-section and natural birth is not to be underestimated. If you have a natural birth, invest in a sitz bath and Epsom salts. This will help along your healing according to the experience of my friends and family members. If you have a C-section, WALK. It will hurt, but walking helps your recovery process move along much faster than it would have if you were just sitting around. Also, for those C-sectioners out there — do not lift anything. You do not want to tear a stitch or open a staple.
3. The stress of feedings
There is so much pressure on women to nurse their baby. If you are adamant about breastfeeding, then use your resources: breastfeeding clinics, public health, the hospital and your support team. Stock up on Mother's Milk Tea, nipple cream (Lanolin), and coconut oil (helps with sore nipples). My little guy was never satisfied on the boob, so we always topped him up with formula (I'm in the "fed is best" camp). It took five weeks for my milk to fully come in. It can take a toll on you emotionally so make sure you have a strong support team by your side through your time of nursing.
4. The lack of sleep
No one told me about babies not sleeping at night or how I'd have to get up every two or three hours for feedings. All I was told while pregnant was to ensure I got my sleep then (HOW could I sleep when I was so uncomfortable the last three months?). I miss sleeping. I must say, learning about sleep training changed our lives. Given that this is our first son, we had no idea what we were doing. So, we learned from our friends and families. We coslept with our little man until he was 2 months old, then transitioned him to a bassinet beside me and to his crib at 6 months. We began sleep training at 6 months and fully did the cry-it-out method at 9 months. This was that hardest thing for us, but we did a lot of research and were determined that our son needed to learn how to self-regulate. Ever since then, except for odd nights, he has been a solid 10- to 12-hour sleeper with one nap during the day.
5. That I might be emotional or experience postpartum baby blues
Dealing with postpartum baby blues was probably the hardest thing I went through. Because of my insecurities of feeling like an incompetent mother, I was scared to be alone with my baby; I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. I was lucky to have my husband off from work for the first two weeks, my mom off for one week after that, and my mother-in-law available to come stay with us. It was great for the first four weeks, but the company didn't last. The time ultimately came when I had to be alone during the day. Just me and him.
I cried a lot during the first four weeks because of the pain, breastfeeding not working out, lack of sleep, and all the input from everyone about what I should be doing (which we ignored because we realized that at the end of the day it's OUR child there WE make the decisions for OUR baby, not anyone else). It was a hard transition. I am thankful for the emotional support from my husband who listened to me every day and sat beside me, rubbed my back, hugged me, and told me it was going to be OK and that I will do great. Despite my mom not being an emotional person, she also reassured me that I will be a great mother and that I was fully capable of doing this. The same goes for all my fellow mommy friends who I reached out to. Not every woman will have a husband or partner that will understand their feelings and what they are going through, which is why it's so important to have a support team of friends or family that you know have lived and experienced the same situations in order to support you with your baby blues.
It's a hard time at the beginning, but we are all warriors already. We brought a human being into the world! Therefore, we will get through it and it will all be OK. In the event that you do not have a support team, there are tons of support groups online and public health offers programming for mothers struggling with postpartum. They also have a phone number you can call to discuss what is going on, depending on the region you live in. If you find your baby blues persisting, speak to your doctor and potentially seek out professional care; you want to be in the best of health so that you can be there for yourself and baby. Remember if you don't help yourself first, you can't help someone else. Take care of you.
6. That you and your partner need to be a team
This is a core rule when having a baby. You and your partner need to be a team when addressing family members and friends. Everyone will have input on how you will need to raise your child, even random people you don't know. It is important that your partner speaks with his family and you speak with yours; this is a sensitive time. Everyone is happy that a baby is here but you also want to take care of yourselves and make sure others do not become overbearing. Make sure you and your partner are constantly communicating with each other and telling each other about your feelings right in the moment to help you overcome any issues that could start building up. This is important for your relationship as husband and wife, but also as parents; you are now the role model for this little person so be positive ones and show them you love each other.
7. How important it is to establish a routine
A lot of people may think routine isn't needed until later when the baby is a bit older, but my husband and I started our son's routine as soon as we came out of the hospital. It is so important to begin this as early as you can to prevent day and night mix-ups and to provide your baby with consistency. We began his nighttime routine with an oil massage, then bathed him, read him a book, sang a song, nursed or fed with a bottle, and then put him to sleep. This provided all of us with a schedule for our son and it benefited us in the end because he knew when it was nighttime and time for sleep. I strongly encourage parents to create this as soon as they leave the hospital and make note of feedings.
8. That you won't be able to prioritize friends and family as much
Once you become a parent, your life completely changes. Take the time to reflect on the people who are in your life that bring meaning, that care, understand, and empathize with what you are going through as a new parent. For myself, I've lost many close friends in this process, but I have also gained wonderful ones that have supported me and watched me grow as a mother. As one of my peers told me, "People come into your life for a reason, a season, and a lifetime." Don't hold on to people who don't make you a priority; it's not worth the heartache and stress. You have the needs of a brand-new little person that has to take the front and center position on your list of things to worry about now.
9. About the love that feels unreal
"Tell me it's real, this feeling that I feel" K-Ci and JoJo sang. That moment that you hold your newborn is unreal. Even if they look like a little squishy, wrinkly person, they are the most beautiful person you have ever met. I remember the moment precisely. I may have been a bit high due to the C-section medication, but hearing his cry for the first time, seeing his little body, checking to see if he had all of his toes and fingers, and then him looking at him in the eyes for the very first time and him hearing my voice and grasping my finger is a moment that is priceless. I've loved every moment of motherhood; it has been the best journey that I have traveled through so far and I look forward to what is in store for my little man.