[I recently wrote this for a dear friend who is close to having her first baby. We had ours about 7 months ago and I wanted to help her avoid the overwhelming shame I experienced in my introduction to motherhood. Nothing was what I thought (and what I feel I was led to believe) it would be like.
I wrote this from my own experience and speak from what I know. I am a mom and as such, that’s the language I use, but am aware that not just moms give birth, and some parents don’t birth at all. I’ve substituted “birth partner” for husband to honor a wider set of experiences. I’m sorry if my language excludes yours.]
* Labor hurts. There’s no technique that makes it not hurt. But you can and you will get through it.
* Your doula and birth partner should squeeze your hips together with every contraction once they intensify. Don’t worry about how hard they are working; you are working harder.
* During active labor only pee standing up (feel free to give the doula/midwife wanting you to sit on the toilet for a contraction the finger from me), even if it means peeing on your birth partner. True story.
* The transition from giving birth to having a baby happens in an instant and it’s okay if you need time to adjust.
* Don’t be surprised if you never fully adjust.
* Moms love their babies differently and at different times. Some people have an instantaneous, overwhelming sense of loving more than they ever have before. Some people have that moment 6 months later. Some, who may have loved deeply in their lives already, don’t have such a moment at all. Regardless, we all love our children. You will love yours perfectly.
* The squeeze bottle they give you is to shoot water at your lady bits while you pee. It takes the sting out. I wish they hadn’t waited 3 days to explain what the bottle was they left on my bathroom counter.
* It is going to be super scary to poop for the first time. You will get through it.
* You will sweat more than you ever have in your life. It will be humiliating. You will live.
* Don’t bother with a shirt for the first 2-4 weeks. Keep towels handy for covering yourself when you have visitors. Sleep with towels on either side of you. Your nipples will be so much happier this way.
* Stay in bed when you have visitors. It makes them uncomfortable and they’ll leave in 15 minutes.
* Mother’s intuition or “Mom knows best” is crap in the beginning. You won’t know better than anyone else why the baby won’t stop crying after she’s eaten, had a diaper change, been swaddled, etc. You just keep trying until something works which is how you know that your baby can only be soothed at a 45 degree angle, with your thumb in her mouth, while you blow on the back of her head and bounce in a 4-1-4 rhythm. Mother’s intuition is something you earn through lots of desperation and hard work.
* Not all babies are able to nurse. Not all moms enjoy nursing. A fed baby is best. It doesn’t ultimately matter how or what they eat as long as they do. Also, your sanity counts.
* If you think of throwing your baby against the wall (out the window, etc) at least once, welcome to the club.
* It is okay to walk away from your crying baby when you’re about to lose your shit. Make sure the baby is safe and go somewhere you don’t have to hear her cry. Lose your shit. This makes you a good mom.
* Strangers and well-meaning friends and family are going to advise you to, “enjoy every minute.” Don’t punch them in the face.
* I know almost no one who enjoys every minute. I know many moms who can’t wait for certain stages to end. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, there’s nothing wrong with the experience you are having.
* Being home alone with a baby all day, everyday, can be stab-me-in-the-eye boring. Make plans. Get out of the house.
* If wrapping your baby makes you throw or kick things across the room, keep it simple and buckle on a carrier. Everyone wins.
* Your baby doesn’t hate you even when you are convinced she does. Someday she will reach for you and you’ll know she picks you too. Keep faith until then.
* Your body may always be different. You created a whole human in it, brought it out into the world, and use your body everyday to help this new human thrive. Try to make peace with it having all left marks. Try to find the beauty in it.
* Some moms love staying home. Some moms love going back to work. We all love our babies. Do what makes you happy.
* If you have questions, make lists for your care providers or call your pediatrician’s office. If you must Google, limit yourself to one search a day.
* Parenting blogs are written by intensely opinionated people. They are so sure of their way of doing things, they started a blog. Nothing good has yet to come from reading them.
* Mom brain is worse than pregnancy brain. Postpartum ADD might not be something doctors diagnose but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real. If you write things down in 3 different places now, add 1-2 more so you have some hope of remembering, or stop caring about missed appointments.
* The transition to parenthood can feel like a bomb going off in the center of your life. If you have to grieve, grieve. If you have to rage, rage. You will get through this too.
* Mom friends are essential. Especially the ones who will be honest with you about wanting to put their baby in the free box at the curb or fantasizing about fleeing to Canada. Talk to them. A lot.
* There is no way to know what having a baby is going to be like for you, your partner, the dog, or all of you together, but please believe me, whatever it is, it’s fine. There is nothing wrong with any of it—if it fits all the mythologies or destroys them. It’s yours and it’s good enough.
Stacey Curl, MA, LMHC, is a psychotherapist in private practice in Lacey, WA, who has committed her life to reclaiming her authentic self, opening to the fullness of who she is (especially the yucky stuff), cultivating mindful awareness of her everyday existence, and helping others do the same. She recognizes how much lovelier all of that sounds than it can sometimes be, and brings buckets of humor into all of the really hard work.