Childbirth is a big deal, right? You’re bringing a human being into the world, and there is a lot that can go wrong. And it doesn’t have to be huge things like a baby in distress or a mother having major blood loss. There are many unforeseen events during the labor and delivery process that can derail your ideal birth. When I was pregnant, I was so consumed with how I was going to give birth, I didn’t plan well on what would happen after — when I actually brought my baby home from the hospital.
My husband and I attended a labor and delivery class with a few other couples once a week for four weeks. We learned about the stages of labor, and when to go to the hospital. We learned about the different positions you can be in to give birth, and all the great drugs you could get to help with the pain.
The baby on the other hand, had ideas of her own, and remained stubbornly breech as we completed our last class, about two months before my due date. The closer we got to my due date, I started to realize that this birth would probably be happening in an operating room instead of a birthing suite. Which, while I was disappointed, was still OK, as long as I got to meet her and she would come into the world safe and healthy.
I adjusted my birth plan to include some things about the Caesarean section itself. For instance, I wanted the drape to be lowered so I could see her the moment she came out. I wanted to hold her immediately if there were no problems, baby gunk and all. I wanted to breastfeed right away. Of course, in the early morning hours when my water broke on its own in my bed and we needed to rush off to the hospital because the contractions were coming fast and furious, I forgot my birth plan on the kitchen counter.
My hospital stay was rough, with a diagnosis of preeclampsia, but my daughter was healthy, just a little early and needing some foot pokes for low blood sugars. For six days, I focused on breastfeeding constantly, trying in vain to sleep and praying the heavens down that my blood pressure would stabilize so we could get out of there. The day of discharge was almost as good as hearing my baby cry for the first time. We lovingly took 45 minutes to strap her down into the confines of her infant car seat, swung by the pharmacy to pick up my pain medications, and constantly kept checking the backseat to make sure she didn’t, I don’t know, spontaneously combust or fly out the back window.
My husband and I walked into our house, feeling like somehow we should have gotten the red carpet treatment for what we went through. After all, I had a human child cut from my womb, and I deserved a freaking medal.
Sure I had researched car seats, and knew I was supposed to call the hospital’s lactation consultant if I had trouble nursing, but the day to day with a newborn when it had just been my husband and me for seven years? I was out of my element.
And then reality set in. That this tiny baby was really ours and there were no more nurses around to tell us what we should be doing. And dear god how could I still be bleeding this much from my vagina when I had a c-section? Why won’t the baby latch anymore? Was it OK to eat a plate of spaghetti over the baby’s head? I think I was watching way too much TV — should I be playing with the baby? What the hell do you do with an 11-day-old infant? That’s it, I totally suck at this.
The truth is, all the focus I had on giving birth meant that I had no clue what to expect postpartum. Sure I had researched car seats, and knew I was supposed to call the hospital’s lactation consultant if I had trouble nursing, but the day to day with a newborn when it had just been my husband and me for seven years? I was out of my element and felt like a bumbling idiot. Like, I had no idea babies got gas a lot and you had to try 75 tricks until it was relieved. And did you know a baby’s nails are, like, microscopic? Good luck not going cross-eyed.
As a new mom, I had no clue. And I know that’s OK. It’s perfectly normal. But I wish I was more prepared for the fact that I would find myself wholly unprepared for this journey. In our pre-birth classes, we learned how to diaper and swaddle a baby, but the instructor didn’t tell me I would be swaddling an octopus in real life. And those breastfeeding holds they teach you are fine and nice, but then you try them on a floppy, flailing infant that you swear is perpetually trying to get you to roll their heads right off their shoulders and you realize you know squat about what being a mom is really like.
You don’t realize how intense those postpartum emotions are until you’re truly going through them. You don’t realize how much of a snarling bear you turn into when that stranger tries to touch your baby in the cart while shopping. And you certainly can’t anticipate those 2:00 a.m. feedings where you’re so tired you break into racking sobs and your baby stares wide awake at you like you lost your damn mind. You don't realize how overlooked postpartum maternal health is.
When you become a mom, you become part of a secret club, where everyone looks like they have it together on the outside, but the truth is, they’re just as clueless as you. So, like I learned, fear not, mama. You’re doing great.
Like my daughter, your own baby will forgive you for forgetting to change their diaper before you leave the house and for not realizing their cries actually meant that the tag on that adorable outfit you put them into was actually digging into their neck. The good news is everyone usually comes out of it pretty intact. Kids are put here to perplex us and constantly keep us on our toes, and no book or podcast can ever truly prepare us for this role after we leave the hospital.