When I was pregnant I thought I knew what to expect once I had my baby. Of course, I had no clue. I was sure I'd adjust quickly and being the mother to a newborn wouldn't disrupt my pre-baby life all that much. Oh, how naive and wrong I was. It's probably a good thing I didn't know what was coming or I'd have dreaded postpartum life. Still, there are some things I wish I'd known before the first 21 days of new motherhood, and because I was clueless I was completely taken by surprise. A little heads-up would've been nice.
Because the reality was harsh at best. Once I had my beautiful newborn baby, life came down on me rather hard. I didn't adjust to my new life quickly, and being someone else's mother didn't look anything like what I had imagined. I couldn't get used the constant disruptions and the no sleep and the unreliable schedule. There wasn't a thing about having a newborn that came easily to me, and though it was definitely worth it, I've never been tested so much in my life.
The bright side is that, eventually, things fell into place. It wasn't immediate, or even after a year. Because of my postpartum depression (PPD), it probably took longer than most for me to find, and be OK with, my new normal. Every journey is different, to be sure, but here are some things I really wish I'd known about those first three weeks after delivery. Knowing likely wouldn't have changed much, but at least I'd have felt more prepared.
That Nothing Would Feel Normal
I don't know why I convinced myself that I would go back to my regularly scheduled life the moment I had my baby. I was confident I'd have her exactly when I had planned to, and my partner and I could still do all the things we wanted to do even after we became parents.
Three whole weeks later I was still searching through the rubble of my former life, slowly realizing I would never find the pre-baby me again. So my new normal would take awhile to find. If I'd known that, I wouldn't have felt so hopeless on the days I fought, endlessly, to find it.
That Breastfeeding Would Be A Challenge
When I was pregnant I planned on breastfeeding, and my partner supported that plan wholeheartedly. We'd gone to all the birthing classes, prenatal appointments, and met with lactation consultants. I researched and felt, in my heart, that nursing would be a beautiful time to bond with my baby. What I didn't know, however, was that in the first 21 days spent attempting to breastfeed would actually make bonding much more difficult.
Despite numerous appointments with professionals and regular, focused attempts to nurse, my postpartum depression sparked an extreme anxiety that made breastfeeding nothing short of impossible. That anxiety wouldn't allow me to relax long enough. When I couldn't care for my baby, I felt like a failure, so the cycle repeated over and over and over again, until I decided to pump my milk, give my baby a bottle, and eventually make the switch to formula.
I didn't know I had postpartum depression and that anxiety would interfere with breastfeeding. If I did, I would have been much kinder to myself as a new, struggling mom.
That I Wouldn't Feel Like A Mom Right Away
I thought holding my baby in my arms meant I'd automatically know how to care for her, how to love her, and how to give her whatever it was she needed way before she cried for it. With so many images and ideas of what I was supposed to feel like post-birth, I thought something was wrong with me for feeling differently. Why didn't I feel like her mom? And why did caring for her seem so unnatural? I struggled with these emotions, not knowing whether I was "normal."
I should've allowed myself time to understand my complicated feelings and accept that even though I didn't feel like a mom right away, eventually I would.
That Weird Places Would Still Hurt
Of course I knew my stomach and nether regions would be sore, but I neglected to think about the other parts of my body that would need to heal post-birth. My feet, where the swelling was. My legs from supporting my pregnancy weight. My hips from the trauma of childbirth. It was a lot more discomfort than I anticipated. So still, 21 days into this new mom thing, walking was a milestone.
That I Still Wouldn't Be Able To Sleep
I assumed that after three weeks my baby would be sleeping regularly, or at the very least on some kind of schedule. Yeah, she wasn't. Not even a little bit.
If I accepted that things wouldn't fall into place right away — and that she'd fall into a pattern when she was ready — I could've been a lot less stressed when it came to sleep talk.
That There Would Be So Much Crying
The baby cried. I cried. Everyone cried. Having a baby is an emotional experience, and I shouldn't have felt the need to hide how raw and exposed I was.
That Motherhood Would Feel Overwhelming
I sort of missed the old me. You know, the girl with the big, bright eyes, filled with potential and certainty and hope for whatever the future would bring. I believed motherhood would just happen to me, instead of me learning how to ease into parenthood itself.
Of course I knew there'd be work, and we'd go through some hard times to figure it all out, but after 21 days as someone else's parent I was so overwhelmed with every aspect of the job. I wish I would have known that feeling overwhelmed is normal.
That My Body Would Feel Unfamiliar
It was hard to acknowledge that my body wouldn't just "bounce back" from pregnancy and childbirth. I expected delivery and the days and weeks after to change me back to the way I was pre-pregnancy. Ambitious, right? And honestly, kind of sad. I wish I'd believed that in giving life to my baby, I was more beautiful than I ever had been. That maybe my body didn't look quite like it once did, but that it did this amazing thing that's worthy of celebration.
That I'd Be Constantly Worried
From the moment I held my daughter, until literally a minute ago, I've been worried. That's one part of motherhood that did come naturally to me: fear.
That My Priorities Would Instantly Change
No matter how much I believed and hoped I could go back to my pre-baby life immediately after I settled into the whole mom thing, I didn't. And really, I didn't want to. I wish I'd known how quickly my priorities would change. There was no going back, because I didn't want to. I was a mom now.
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