If you believe what you see on television, new moms are supposed to be serene and beautiful, and their newborn babies are supposed to be chubby and healthy. You're supposed to be instantly in love when you meet your baby for the first time, and everything is supposed to be perfectly wonderful. So when you actually give birth and damn-near everything is different than you envisioned or imagined, it's pretty impossible to keep yourself from feeling inadequate, confused, and hurt. Well, that's not how moms should feel when they hold their littles, so I think it's time to clear up a few things.
First, I'm going to tell you a secret: most of those preconceived notions we've all been conditioned to believe when it comes to motherhood, and especially first-time motherhood and postpartum life, are big, giant, horrible lies. For example, you think you'll be clean, calm, beautiful and resembling a medieval painting of the Virgin Mary seconds after your baby is born. The reality? You'll be exhausted, hungry, sore, and smell like a modern sculpture made out of poop. You think you and your baby will lock eyes and immediately fall in love, followed by an hour of effortless breastfeeding and warm snuggles. The reality? Your slimy, angry baby will be pissed off that they're now outside your uterus, and the nurses will continuously bug you to get up and pee so they can move you out of the room.
The good news, however, is that perfect is pretty overrated and moms-to-be are better off when they manage their expectations. You don't have to be serene. You don't have to look effortless. It doesn't have to be love at first sight when you hold your baby. Birth is an exhausting rollercoaster ride of pain and emotions, so the last thing you need is to try to meet unrealistic expectations of childbirth in the process. So what if you have broken blood vessels and are covered in bodily fluids? You are still a total badass. Your baby might look creepy, but they're your creepy baby. Breastfeeding might not be as effortless, but you'll have support and, in the end, you don't have to breastfeed if you can't or don't want to. The first time you meet your baby probably won't be picture-perfect, but it doesn't have to be.
You Think Your Baby Is Beautiful
I love babies, and I fell in love with mine the moment they were born (probably before that, if I am being honest). But guys, my babies were gross. My oldest was covered in greasy white vernix and had a full head of stringy hair. My youngest had bruising and bloody eyes from being stuck on my pelvic bone with his hand next to his face. So, no, my babies didn't look the way I expected them to look.
You Automatically Recognize Your Baby
Newborns all kind of look the same to me. It's a good thing that they put a security bracelet on my daughter right away, because I truly couldn't tell which baby was which. When they took her for her medical exam, they could've brought back an entirely different child and I wouldn't have noticed.
You Breastfeed Effortlessly
Breastfeeding, for me at least, was hard. While I breastfed my babies right away, like I was "supposed" to do, nursing wasn't something my baby and I knew how to do right away. I didn't feel prepared or confident in my ability to continue breastfeeding, either, and especially once I left the hospital. Just because breastfeeding is "natural" doesn't mean it feels natural.
Your Baby Smells Good
Everyone talks about how amazing newborns smell, and yeah, after their first bath they do smell pretty wonderful. But when you first meet them, well, neither one of you will smell nice.
You Want To Hold Your Baby Immediately
When my oldest was born I was absolutely terrified. One part of me wanted to hold her, but another, arguably louder voice in my head told me I was going to break this tiny, helpless baby. It took me a while to ease into it, and that's OK. After all, we were meeting for the very first time.
You Feel Happy
One of the hardest parts of meeting my baby for the first time was feeling so overcome with emotion. I thought I would be happy, but instead I felt like I was going to explode from worry, exhaustion, fear, sadness, and complete overwhelm.
You Get Some Alone Time
The hospitals where I birthed my babies all talked about the magical golden hour after birth, where all you are expected to do is snuggle, feed your baby, and get to know them. That was not my experience. I sort of feel like I was robbed of this supposedly important time, because I was in pain, the midwife was sewing me up, the nurses wanted to exam me, and, in the case of my second child, my baby had to go to the NICU for some tests.
The Baby Will Cry
Watch any movie involving childbirth and you'll notice that everyone in the room waits and listens for the baby to cry so they know they're OK. So, when my son was born and didn't make a sound, I thought there was something seriously wrong with him. He was fine, though. He was just surprisingly calm for having been forcibly expelled from my uterus with one push.
You Automatically Know What To Do
It seems like everyone talks about your "mom instincts," like they instantly appear the moment you give birth. Not in my experience. I felt like I had no idea what I was doing, and was honestly surprised that the hospital allowed me to leave with a baby in my arms. The good news, though, is that over the next few months I learned how to be her mom, and I gained enough confidence to convince myself that I wasn't going to completely screw up my baby.
So far, so good.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.