What to expect after having your first child
A point of view on the not so great things…
Just a few days back one of my friends had a baby and that got me thinking back almost four years ago when I had my twins and how much that changed my life and myself. It also got me thinking what I thought motherhood would be like and what it turned out to be.
Basically, I was sold – I think we all are – that idea about how motherhood is something so amazing and wonderful, peaceful and fulfilling, filled with happy photos of the lovely sleeping baby and the confident, all-knowing mom holding and protecting this little being.
Now, motherhood is amazing, having a child is amazing, but the word amazing can contain a lot of feelings. It is overwhelming and that word also can contain a lot of meanings.
That being said and before we go any further I should clarify that I love being a mom, I love my children and I find it an amazing experience, definitely worth it. But for the sake of all the new-moms out there I think we should cover all the hard stuff, that – I think – everyone goes through, but that usually no one talks about.
You see, at least around me, I experienced a sort of loneliness that almost drove me mad. I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing, but the fact was that apparently, around me, everyone found being a mom something effortlessly, so natural and simple – except me.
I was always a big talker and I tend to say what I feel, so I assume everybody does the same, but that isn’t so… as I came to realize. As far as having a baby is concerned I don’t quite understand why people – and I mean mothers, more than any - only say what is expected, instead of keeping it real. Is it a matter of competition? Is it a question of not admitting how hard it is? Is it to show what super-moms we are? I don’t know, but I think that new-moms deserve knowing how other moms actually feel and felt, not what we are all supposed to feel. It’s all about feeling that someone get us, that we are not alone, that what we feel is natural. Actually, I think that that is more important than all the advices in the world on to raise our kid.
So, this article is about calling things by its names, taking off the sugarcoat and realizing that without it, everything can actually be much better.
Me and a few others
When we become mothers there are so many changes at once and so many feelings flowing through us that we can’t process a lot of them. I think that only a few years afterwards we have the clarity to realize what happened and why.
Everything is a bit of a haze, a blur. We are there, but we actually aren’t.
There are moments that brand us and years after the fact we remember them and realize they are defining moments.
Personally I had two defining moments that changed my perspective completely when I became a mother. Without those two moments, probably I wouldn’t be writing this. Both of them humbling moments and turning points.
- The first one happened on the 7th day after my children were born. I was very tired and I was breastfeeding my little girl while I was at the doctor when I looked into her mouth and I saw it was filled with blood instead of milk, my nipples were bleeding. I then went straight home and my big sister was at the door to welcome me. I threw myself in her arms and cried, just cried for a long time, while she told me everything was alright, that it was hard, very hard, but it would be okay. It was at that precise moment I realized I was very much human and fragile and not all-knowing and undefeatable.
- The second took longer to happen, a few months maybe, and I was with a friend that had a baby one month before I did. We were talking about breastfeeding, our options, about diapers, about rashes, about… well, basically all the things moms talk about, when suddenly we just pour our hearts out, how we were so tired, how we had no idea what was going on when they cried for hours, how we had no time to ourselves.
And that was so wonderful, finally being able to say what we really felt, without someone judging us and looking at us like we were mad, like we should be thrilled for having no sleep whatsoever for two months, having no time to eat, to take care of ourselves, to spend time with our husbands or have an adult conversation.
So, we talked for hours (the kids were asleep) and we kept on talking and we still do, although we now don’t have so many complaints.
She was my companion, my go to person, the one that got me and I think I was hers. That helped us cope with our new life, getting used to it and not feeling so alone.
It was nice finding out I was not alone, that other people felt the same. So, let’s take off all this sugarcoat and find out what having a baby is about.
What was the experience of having your first child like?
It’s all natural
We are all different, we have different feelings, different views, different abilities, but despite that I’ve come to realize that we all feel more or less the same when we have a child.
No amount of reading, no amount of advices will ever get you ready to have a child. That being said we should also remember that it’s being done since the beginning of times, so advices and books apart, we can do it. So, here is what we really need to expect and think it’s all natural, so it will work out in the end.
- Feeling tired, now? We don’t know what feeling tired is until we have babies. Probably before the baby was born we weren’t getting that much sleep, the birth itself is extremely tiring and then, once you are done, you have a baby to take care of, this little being that needs to be fed and bathed and clothed and, well, pretty much everything, and it really doesn’t matter if you are tired or haven’t slept or haven’t eaten. There is no time out. Now, for one thing, you can always ask for some help. Definitely don’t try to do everything yourself, unless you have no other choice. It’s not that you can’t do it, but you’ll be extremely tired and will take very long to recover. The other detail is that you will get used to being tired and in time you will be able to do everything even if you are tired. That is, your ability to work under extreme fatigue will increase, it’s a human ability, we can adapt to anything. So, here it is, you are not alone, everybody feels tired, beaten, down, it’s natural, you’ve been through the birth of your child, you have more tasks than you ever did, you are learning a lot, very fast, so it’s okay to be tired. You’ll bounce back. In the meantime, take whatever time off to rest you can.
- What is wrong with this child? Yes, having a child doesn’t give you immediate powers or knowledge. Mothers don’t know everything automatically. Mothers learn. Mothers watch and listen and get to know their child. It takes time. In the first few days, weeks or months you have no clue, most of the times, what’s going on and then you start guessing, because you think you’re suppose to know, right, so you guess, maybe the baby is hungry, needs to be changed... Why is the baby crying? Now, don’t worry. Nobody actually knows. So long as you go through the motions – food, diaper, sleepiness, cramps – you are doing it right, you’ll probably find the problem and in time you’ll figure out faster what’s wrong. When I had my twins the moment one of them cried, if my mother-in-law was in the room, it was an ordeal, she wouldn’t let me figure out what was wrong with them at my speed, immediately she was crying out how they must be hungry and then she was picking them up, trying to convince me to feed them, while at the same time she checked the diaper and rock them and so on and so forth. That really drove me mad, because I thought: "I need my time to see what’s wrong, but I can get there myself". If only she allowed me, instead of doing everything herself. So, after a while I came to realize that she, also, had no idea what was wrong, she was actually guessing, very fast guessing and the odds were that she got it right at some point, since she tried everything. What I mean is, don’t feel bad for not knowing what is going on, that is alright, we all need to learn and we get there in time.
- The more you know, the worse it is. Here is a hard true. The fact is that the more you read about having a child, all the theories, all the advices, all the things that are expected of you and the child, the worse it is. Once, a doctor told me I had two babies, it wasn’t going for a Ph.D and that is just the problem. There are so many books by so many doctors, so much information online, that once we have the child, we are suppose to know what to do and what is normal. So, if we are having problems breastfeeding, surely the solution must be in some book and if we follow the steps correctly it should work out, when it doesn’t it must be our problem, probably we are not going through all the steps correctly. Then we start obsessing. We know everything that is normal about babies, we know all the averages, ratios and the likes. We know when they are suppose to starting turning and crawling and walking and if something doesn’t go according to plan, it’s hell on earth, we cry and wonder and think there must be something wrong with our baby, right? Because then again, if you remember correctly, didn’t your neighbor tell you that her child was reading and writing by the time he was 2? So, this one is a tough one… forget the books, the ratios and the neighbor. Hundred years ago there was not a quarter of the information we have right now, but there were babies around anyway. So, here is the thing, every baby is different, a baby is a person, with feelings, with likes and dislikes. What if your baby just starts walking when he is 15 months old? Maybe he doesn’t feel like it. So long as the doctor says there is nothing wrong with your baby, just relax. Don’t look at graphics with ratios and averages, don’t read every book you can find, there are no magic recipes. And the neighbor’s baby, most probably, didn’t start reading and writing at 2… you see, sometimes moms can’t help themselves…
- Finding a new meaning to the word meddle. You had a baby, so it’s time everybody you know and you don’t know to give you advices on how you should raise your child. This is terrible; no amount of warning prepares you for this. You probably want to be left alone with your child and husband, you want to find your way, but here you are listening to every piece of advice from everyone around you. People that have children will offer their advice on how to pick up the child, how to breastfeed, the best clothes, what to take when you go out with the baby, every minute of the day will be covered with all the advices offered. Moreover, the people that don’t have children will also offer their advice, probably things they picked up from their neighbor, friend or sister. It doesn’t really matter, they just need to say something. Probably if you don’t know that well the person, you’ll find ignoring is the best policy, but if it’s someone that you spend a lot of time with, it may be quite a problem. And why is it a problem? For once you can’t dismiss it, if you keep listening to the same thing time and again; then, maybe you just don’t care for those advices, if you wanted advices, you would ask; also, it tends to be more confusing, than enlightening, because you hear so many contradictory advices; and, at the end of the day, who says any of that would work with your baby? So, you need to find a way to cope with the situation. For me it was basically about ignoring those people that weren’t that close, nodding my head and saying what a wonderful idea that is, then turning around and doing whatever I wanted; and with those close to me telling them directly, straight on, that I didn’t want advices and if I wanted advices I would ask, then repeating this several times a day. Eventually they got it.
- You lost that special feeling. When you are pregnant you probably feel like a queen, you are pampered and all the lights are on you. But as soon as you give birth the pampering and lights, well, gone… Now, all the attention goes to the baby and you may feel sad and lost and that nobody cares about you. Remember that you are in a fragile state and the fact is that it’s true, all eyes are now on the baby. The worst part is you are not feeling too hot yourself, so every little thing, hurts much more than it was suppose to. It’s okay to feel a bit sad. Suddenly it’s not about us. Probably for the first time – in our life – it’s about someone else. That takes some getting used to and we still have our wants and needs, it’s natural, nothing wrong with that feeling. So, I think that every new-mom should have a special someone to pamper her. The father is probably quite overwhelmed and not thinking straight, therefore I think it’s natural if someone else steps forward, a mother, a sister, someone that buys the new-mom a box of candies, that asks how is she feeling, how is she doing and takes her out for coffee, even if it’s just for 15 minutes.
- Never ending story. It is amazing the number of tasks that are involved in taking care of a baby. It is a never ending story, because once you are done with one, along comes the next. And there are so many new tasks that you really need some time getting used to them. You may feel exhausted. You may feel you can’t cope. You may feel you will never be able to do all that. You don’t know if you are doing it right. Aren’t you taking too long? How will you be able to do everything you need to do with so little time? The most amazing thing is that everything will fall into place again. For one thing, practice makes perfect, so in time you will do everything, you will do it right and each day faster and faster. Finally, in time the tasks will change and there will be less and less. Imagine, in time, after changing so many diapers, you won’t have to change them anymore; in time, your baby will drink water alone, eat alone; eventually, your baby (by then not so much a baby) will do everything alone… So, it’s okay to feel exhausted, to think you can’t do everything on your own, to feel like it’s too much and that you can’t handle it. You will handle it and get used to it and it will be alright. Like my mom always says: “One day at a time and tomorrow will be a little bit easier…”
- Missing much. Yes, having a baby is a big change, so big that probably at first the hours of the day won’t be enough for everything you need to do, much less the things you want to do. You may start missing a bit your old life, when you were your own boss, when you went out when you wanted, if you wanted and came back whenever. You may miss those nights just talking to your husband or a romantic dinner. How about reading a book or listening to some music? It’s natural. You are not expected to get used to such a dramatic change overnight. You don’t love your baby any less, just because you want to have an hour to be with yourself or with your husband. You are still you. Now, there is much adapting to do. Don’t feel bad. In time you will be able to balance it all, the baby with some alone time and with some much needed love time and all the rest that follows. Your wants and priorities will also change, you will change. But all that takes time and you don’t need to feel guilty, because you want a bit more, than just look at your beautiful baby.
- Cry baby, cry mommy. We experience so much imbalance, physical, mental, hormonal even, that actually becoming a mother goes much better that could be expected, if you ask me. Nonetheless, there are a number of factors that can make it a bit worse: not having help to care for the baby, depression after the birth, having a baby that cries a lot and the list goes on. Whatever you are feeling, talk about it and seek help, from family, friends and doctors. Don’t be embarrassed, don’t think what you feel or think is not natural. Being a mother is the biggest change we experience and it’s hard, it’s difficult and it’s worth it. So cry, shout and say what you feel and don’t be ashamed.
Keeping it real
Keeping it true and real can be the difference between losing our minds or not. Calling things by its names doesn’t mean we don’t love being moms, in my point of view, it actually shows our love, because we love despite all the bad things, all the hard difficult times. For us, it doesn’t have to be all lovely and amazing. It can be gloomy and dark and we still find love in our hearts to carry on. Now, if we have someone that gets us, it isn’t really that dark. It helps knowing we are not the only one with doubts, with fears.
Now, maybe there are other opinions and views out there. Agreeing with my point or not, I certainly would like to find out more on other people’s views, so I hope once you read this you all let me know what you think.
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© 2012 Joana e Bruno