What You Really Want to Know When You're a New Mom
As a mother of two with only 6 years under my belt, I hardly consider myself an expert on parenting. Still, that doesn’t stop women who are either (a) pregnant with their first child or (b) in the very early stages of motherhood from constantly asking me for the lowdown. I remember doing the same when I was in their position and unfailingly hearing the same tired wisdom that’s been recycled since time immemorial: “Go to the movies! Travel! Sleep in! Do it all now because soon it will be a distant memory!” and “Prepare for your priorities to change completely!” and “You’ve never known a love like this!” It’s not that there’s no truth to these nuggets, but you hear them so many times they start to lose any sense of urgency or meaning. And to be frank, none of it is very helpful in the immediate aftermath of having a baby. When you’re sitting at home staring at your newborn and wondering if it’s normal for her fontanelle to be pulsating like an alien is fixing to burst through, you’re hardly going to be lamenting not having gone and seen Avengers - Infinity War. So when these women turn to me with their earnest questions, I answer them honestly. Brutally honestly.
See, what I’m trying to do is pay it forward. When I was pregnant with Luna, I wasn’t actually afraid of childbirth…I had read the books, taken the birthing class, watched the videos, done the hospital tour, etc. I felt as prepared as I could be for the nuts & bolts of delivering a baby. What I was afraid of was what came afterward. The mystery of those first few weeks and months with a newborn terrified me. I was desperate for stories from the trenches, the dirty secrets of postpartum life that don’t get shared often enough, the REAL SHIT. Fortunately, one of the advantages of having had my children later in life is that my sister and many of my girlfriends had already paved the way and could offer up the kind of insight I was looking for. I pumped them for info, begged them not to spare me the grisly details, and thereby armed myself with as much firsthand knowledge as I could get my hands on. Some of it was frightening, some of it was encouraging, but all of it was genuinely valuable. It wasn’t the ubiquitous, generic advice I was used to getting, but the passing of a torch from women whom I trusted and who knew that what I needed was raw, unfiltered, vulnerable, naked honesty.
With Gioia turning two at the end of this month, those crazy days of infancy are still fresh enough in my mind that I can reflect on them with (I think) a fair amount of accuracy. That having been said, this isn’t about providing guidance on major issues like how your baby should be feeding, sleeping, developing, etc., which you can research in any number of ways, but rather a treatise on the mundane yet significant aspects of early motherhood that only get discussed as an afterthought or in hushed voices. And of course I can only speak to my own experience, which was two natural births (as in no drugs, as in WTF) followed by being a stay-at-home mom with no professional help. With that in mind, this one’s for all you new moms and moms-to-be (or veteran moms looking for an amusing stroll down memory lane, or partners who want a peek behind the veil, or really any other folks who are interested). As Oprah would say, here’s what I know to be true:
- Sign up for Amazon Prime. NOW.
- Humiliating and/or geriatric essentials to stock in your medicine cabinet before you bring your baby home from the hospital: stool softener, hemorrhoid cream, epsom salts, nipple salve, and cooling spray for your busted-up lady garden.
- In the days after giving birth, you may find yourself tempted to take a peek at your nethers out of some demented, morbid curiosity. Under no circumstance should you actually do this. I did, and it haunts my daytime thoughts.
- Guess who’s going to pee their pants almost as much as the baby? You. Any time you sneeze, cough, jump, walk rapidly, laugh, breathe, or exist.
- For the foreseeable future, you will be leaking some combination of body fluids 100% of the time: pee, breastmilk, blood, sweat, tears, you name it.
- Yes yes, “breast is best” because it’s free and wonderful for bonding, blah blah. It’s also a gateway for a variety of painful maladies such as thrush, mastitis, plugged ducts, chafed nipples, and engorgement. And it’s a great way to get punched, bitten, pinched, scratched, and gouged with tiny infant dagger nails. So don’t feel badly if the experience leaves you feeling more nonplussed than beatific.
- Speaking of infant nails, prepare to never be more terrifically stressed than when you’re clipping them.
- You know that old pearl about how you forget the pain of childbirth in the all-encompassing joy of ensuing motherhood? It’s a warm turd of a lie. Sure, your child is worth every minute of torment and more, but you’re not likely to forget feeling like there's a Buick driving out of your butt. With the doors open.
- You will start basing the places you frequent on whether the environs are loud enough to mask your child’s various cries/wails/whines/banging/etc.
- Prepare to wake up at the merest suggestion of a sound. A mouse farting next door will send you bounding out of bed like a deranged person.
- Hope your dignity isn’t a priority because voluntarily sniffing someone else’s ass to check if there’s doodoo present is about to become a frequent activity. This will often take place in public but you won’t care because you’re too busy praying an explosion hasn’t occurred.
- The term “blow-out” will take on a whole new, much less pleasant meaning (spoiler alert: it has nothing to do with your hair)
- You will be fervently employing a variety of devices & techniques with which to suck snot from your baby’s microscopic nostrils. And you’ve never known satisfaction the likes of which you’ll experience when you’re successful at it.
- Make sure you are in top physical condition, as you will need to call on all major muscle groups when you are silently parkouring out of your baby’s room after finally getting them to sleep.
- Don’t get too attached to your favorite restaurant/shop/theater/park/museum/any public gathering place, because if it doesn’t have a changing table or easy stroller access it will be temporarily blacklisted.
- You’ll never use the bathroom alone again.
- If you think you’re not going to be neurotic enough to wake your sleeping baby because you’re convinced she’s stopped breathing, you’re sorely mistaken. (ps. enjoy the fallout)
- You will shed an alarming amount of hair, but don’t worry…it will begin to grow back around the 6 month mark, at which point you will be riddled with inch-long antennae sprouting crazily along your hairline.
- Your clothing, furniture, and car are going to smell like a combination of sour milk and desperation.
- Sorry but no, it doesn’t feel the same.
- You may be elated in your new role as mother. You may also feel depressed, isolated, frustrated, resentful, depleted, or ambivalent. It’s all normal, and it’s all ok. Accept help, do things that make you happy that isn’t in service of others, and be unapologetic about it.
- Last but certainly not least, find a group of moms who are supportive, encouraging, and sympathetic. They will buoy you against the ones who are judgmental, patronizing, and competitive. Unfortunately there are a ton of the latter out there, who seemingly live to comment on how they perceive other mothers are failing. But do not let ANYONE make you feel ashamed over how you parent. Being a mother fosters enough self-doubt, fear, guilt, panic, and uncertainty without having to worry about anyone else’s opinion on your choices. What others think of you is their business; trust your instincts and give zero fucks about anything else. You got this.