There’s this blog post going around about how inaccurate all the Negative Nancys are who fling all their unsolicited advice at pregnant women, and the Mack Truck of Euphoria they should’ve really warned her about (I’m paraphrasing here). Some parts of it rang true, but she lost me when she started talking about fitting into her pre-pregnancy jeans at six weeks. I don’t mean to shit all over that sentiment to keep it positive, especially to Soon-To-Be-New Moms, and to remember that there are a lot of wonderful, magical, positively euphoric things to expect about having a baby. But, at the same time, I have a whole lot of other things to say about it. And so that’s what I’m going to do.
First, in my experience with both pregnancy #1 and #2, the most negative comment I got was, “Get your sleep while you still can, ha ha ha.” Which, you know what? It’s true. I knew it then, and I know it now. It’s nothing to get offended by. In the two years since having a baby, I still have not gotten a full eight hours of completely uninterrupted sleep. It is something to brace yourself for, because the toll sleep deprivation takes on you is real. I have a friend who as a new mom would steal fifteen minute cat naps in her car when she returned from maternity leave, and when I returned to work I remember some pretty dangerous commutes while battling the exhaustion that comes with being up (in our case, sometimes for hours) with a crying newborn. But, you know what else? It does get better, and even if, as in our case, you’re still not getting a full eight hours into toddlerhood, your body does magically begin to adapt. I now understand why there are people out there who simply function on less sleep. Sometimes you don’t have much of a choice in the matter, and nature has a way of helping you through it.
But other than that, I can’t really think of any really negative commentary about my upcoming reality when I was pregnant either the first or the second time. Maybe there’s just more positivity around here (I do live in a very sunny place, after all). But the thing is, to expect a blissed-out experience in entering the world of parenthood is, in my opinion, a far more dangerous set of expectations.
Here’s the thing. Every journey through parenthood is completely unique. I remember just before our first arrived, a friend with kids said to us, “Enjoy those first few months when the baby sleeps all the time.” Oh, how I seethed to think of those words while bouncing on a yoga ball at 3am. Or when the blogger referenced above talks about the miracle of providing nourishment to your newborn, all I can think of is the helplessness I felt in my first five weeks of severe nursing struggles. The hourly concern that consumed my thoughts? Is he eating enough? She also mentions how the love she feels for her husband was taken to whole other levels when their baby arrived, and I can relate to that experience. But I’ve also witnessed friends abandoned at their most vulnerable time. You don’t need to have an exploding heart for your man, you need a freaking partner. And don’t even get me started on the pre-pregnancy jeans comment. So, my point is that while the newborn days can be a blissed-out time for many new moms, and there’s nothing wrong with sharing those authentic experiences, it’s very, very dangerous for pregnant women to go in expecting it. As for me, my moments of bliss were probably more like hyphens between stretches of new challenges, fatigue, and insecurity. With #2, by all means, I plan to focus on those welcome punctuation marks, but I will not expect them to come unaccompanied.
So, here’s a list of my altered expectations, heading into the home stretch of Pregnancy #2. It’s not meant to reflect the goals or experiences of anyone but myself, because as I said, every journey through parenthood is unique. I’m just sharing it in case there are points that are interesting or relatable to you.
1. I need more help in childbirth.
My first birth experience was the classic American hospital experience gone wrong, and ultimately ended in a C-section. I am approaching Birth #2 entirely differently. It’s a topic for another post, but I’ll just say that this time around I’m a lot more open to philosophies surrounding birth that I previously viewed as self-indulgent and hippie-dippy. I realize that I need more consistent and woman-centered support than our local hospital provides and more knowledgeable and confident support than my husband can provide. So we’re hiring a nurse-doula this time around, and we’ll be traveling to a VBAC-friendly, midwife-staffed hospital off island (a whole month-long logistical production that again is a topic for another post) to try for the more natural and healthy childbirth that we didn’t have with #1.
2. My grandma (mother of 11 and grandmother of 19, unless I’m forgetting a couple) was right.
I was a ball of stress in those first weeks with a newborn. I couldn’t feed him, no one had any time to cook (or eat… or shower, for that matter). The laundry piled up. I remember having newborn and family photos taken on Day 10, and I couldn’t even manage to put on mascara. (I know there are people reading this who never bother with mascara, and those people are rolling their mascara-free eyes, but I was a daily eyelash-curler. Mascara was mandatory.) But my grandma passed on some advice that I found extremely comforting. She said, “Megan, for the first month or two you only have two things on your To-Do list: take care of yourself and take care of your baby.” Like with an airplane oxygen mask, notice that “take care of myself” comes first. With those words, it was like a tremendous weight lifted. Laundry, vacuuming, and mascara be damned. I just have two things to do. Now I look at the sleep-deprived and make-up-free face in those photos and I JUST LOVE IT.
3. I will ask for and accept help.
When I was pregnant the first time a New Mom friend offered the ultimate in gifts to a fellow New Mom: she would come over and take care of the baby while I took a nap. Because she got it. No we don’t need another set of onesies. No we don’t need a freaking date night. We need a few hours of precious, precious sleep. I never took her up on it, because with #1 not only did I not realize how valuable that kind of support would be (THANK YOU FRIENDS WHO BROUGHT OVER UNSOLICITED DINNERS, YOU ARE ANGELS!!!!), but I felt uncomfortable “putting people out.”
Well, you know what? The newborn days don’t last long, and people! Especially American people (who are kind of especially clueless about this)! We have got to help each other out during this challenging yet fleeting time!
This time around? Shit, I’m starting a meal train. When friends come by, I am taking their generosity, briefly letting them peek at the baby, and maybe even hold him if my arms need a rest. If there are dishes in the sink, I might invite them in to wash them. And if I am tired, there will be no offers of tea or chitchat.
I know how obnoxious that sounds, and in all reality, I’m sure the old polite me will rear her ugly head, but my point is that we must ask for and accept the help we so desperately need during these first few weeks. It’s really hard to do it alone. With #1 I didn’t think I needed my mom. It was finally in Week 5 that she happily hopped on a plane to offer the support that I’d been so stubborn to admit that I so desperately needed.
4. My mom (and mother of two) was right. I will go back to my pre-pregnancy weight.
But it will take at least as much time to take off as it did to put on (and even then, my body will probably look different). Enough said.
5. I will go in expecting to be a certain kind of parent and will continually surprise myself at what a different kind of parent I really am.
At just about every stage along the way so far, I have not always been the parent I’d previously envisioned. When I was pregnant I think I subconsciously envisioned that things would come naturally, and I’d be a glowing Earth Mama who wore ethereal flowing dresses. Motherhood is instinctual, I thought. Well, it may be for some, but it wasn’t for me. And that came as a letdown and a real feeling of helplessness and failure, and I think that’s why the original blog post that prompted this writing is striking such a chord with me. Be careful about what you expect, Megan, because you will come face-to-face with the unexpected.
For us, as our first has grown (now 2 years old), each stage has gotten easier and more joyful. Again, be careful what you expect, because that is definitely not everyone’s experience, but it has been for us. In that way, it feels like we went through parent bootcamp in the first few months, and we keep getting more and more of a break (and simultaneously more and more confident in our skills) as he gets older.
But even as he’s passed through different stages my parenting choices have surprised me. Just one example, we’re co-sleeping now. Not because we consciously chose to, but because it just naturally happened and felt (and feels) like the right thing at the time. I could come up with dozens of other parenting moves that would have surprised me before having our own child. Point is? Don’t judge it until you’ve been there. You know what? Even then, don’t judge, because even if you’re a parent too, we all have an entirely different set of circumstances: children (even when they’re babies) are little individuals, each one is different, each of our family dynamics are different, income, values, all of it, is unique. So just keep your judgement where it belongs: in your head and maybe a little bit amongst your very closest friends.
6. It’s true what they say: it goes by quickly. So take the challenges in stride (as much as your sleep-deprived self will allow). And enjoy the sweet moments of joy.