The moment is here, all the excitement and anticipation in the last 9 or months has led you to this point: you are finally handed your squirming bundle of love, yours and yours alone and yours to keep.
Having your first baby is overwhelming, and there are some things that I wish I had known before she arrived so that I would be prepared for them. And maybe understand them better. And not feel like it was all wrong, and that I had somehow failed or was broken.
1 Bonding isn’t always instant, and that is OK
I don’t know what I expected to feel but I certainly didn’t feel that “instant mother bond” that everyone speaks of.
My response was more of a “thank God that is over” and a “whose baby is this and when are they coming to take it” sort of thing. It was weird and very disconcerting.
Don’t get me wrong, she was beautiful and amazing (and LOUD) but the thought that she was mine and that I should love her was quite foreign to me. As it turns out this is a very common response, especially for first time mothers.
All the preparation that had gone on was around the labor and the birth, handling the pain and the unexpected turns of events. Nothing at all on how you were supposed to feel about this squirming pink bundle that you are handed or what you are meant to do next.
2 Babies don’t come with a manual
Babies really don’t come with a manual, as it turns out there is no manual for a reason – each baby is so different that what works for one will not likely work for your next child.
So you find a book or method that works so beautifully for your first baby, so well that you then recommend it to all your new mommy friends.
Some of them love it, others try hard and feel like they must be doing something wrong because it works so well for someone else. Or worse, a good friend of yours appears to have that magical “perfect” baby and they kindly (though misguidedly) attribute it all to this wonderful book/method that they are following.
You pay far too much for said book (and express delivery), read it cover to cover in a matter of days (thanks to not sleeping any more anyway) and then you dutifully implement it all.
Right to the tiniest detail. Only then you find baby is not the angel baby you were promised but a howling over tired and or hungry little mess that is worse then when you started.
You figure you must have missed something or are doing some part wrong. Dutifully you re-read the chapter on newborns and sleep, discover actually you were doing it all.
3 You have to follow your instincts.
We all have instincts. For some of us they are buried deeper than others, but they are there. Give up on “the stupid book” and do what comes so naturally
Pick up your little bundle when they cry
Snuggle them in to a blanket
Hold them tight
Rock them swiftly
Walk around ‘shhhh-ing’ them loudly.
Would you believe it, it worked! They fall asleep and you very slowly, carefully and cautiously collapse on to the bed, daring not to move once there for fear of waking them. You do however feel like a bit like a failure because you couldn’t get the fancy book technique to work, but really now you are too tired to care and you fall asleep too.
4 Baby is learning too
Reading a book is very very different than learning to read your baby! Babies take time to settle in to their new environment, this world is so very different from the womb they came from. In there they were constantly warm, fed and moved, they are learning to adapt too.
It was constantly noisier than a vacuum cleaner running under their cot.
It was calm, safe and warm.
Out in our world there is bright lights, sharp noises, silence, freedom to move, cold air, hot air, smells, weird bowel feelings like hunger, gas and poop; dog slobber, toddler slobber and pokes and prods from people all around. It is any wonder life takes a bit of getting used to.
5 You are not alone
The reality is even very experienced mothers can be baffled by a new human, it takes time to get to know them, their likes, dislikes and their own funny ways of being.
All moms struggle at least a bit. Most of us struggle a lot. You are not alone sitting up breastfeeding at night, trying to get this baby to latch when all you want to do is either a) stab your snoring partner or b) detach your boob so you can just sleep.
Those silent tears go unnoticed, but you are not alone. That frustration, the exhaustion and the fear that you are doing it all wrong? You are not alone.
Countless mothers through the millenia have been there before you, thought the same thing, and survived. Thrived. You will too my dear friend.
Find yourself a village. Be it a good friend, family, a coffee group or a church moms group. Find someone that you can be real with and be real with them.
6 Labor isn’t the end of the pain
I know that all your prep work is around the labor and delivery, but after pains are a b*tch and they get worse with each baby. If you have had stitches (or not) you will be uncomfortable down below for some time.
Breastfeeding can hurt while you both learn how this whole thing works. Arm yourself with some pure lanolin and apply it liberally and often. Give yourself and your baby some slack and some grace, you have got this!
7 Postnatal depression and postpartum anxiety are real. And common.
There is a difference between the normal over tired, exhausted tears at 3 am or being worried that you are screwing everything up and PND or anxiety.
You need to know the signs to look out for in yourself.
If you are finding that you
- Avoiding visitors
- Making excuses to not leave the house
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Crying at things that usually wouldn’t upset you
- Keeping your house weirdly clean
- Unable to bond with your baby
- Lack of appetite
- Wanting to sleep all day (beyond expected tiredness)
- Terrified to do anything in case you do it wrong
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
You need to talk to someone that you trust. Your doctor or midwife is a good place to start.
8 Everything leaks!
After you have the baby, the first time you stand up after a sleep, be prepared for a flood. A blood flood. It is gross, but it is normal. Having laid down for a little while, that first lot of post-baby bleeding just pools in your still big and floppy uterus. When you stand, gravity takes over and taa-daa a flood.
You will continue to bleed for up to 6 weeks. It will be most heavy in the first 24 hours and start to taper off. And it has a weird smell. Like old blood. Gross.
Once your milk comes in, watch out world. Sleep with a maternity bra stuffed with a couple of heavy duty breast pads, or in some cases a diaper is more effective!
Lay on a couple of towels. That will mean that if you need to change the bed due to bleeding, milk spills, baby puke or the night sweats (yes, that is a thing too, thanks hormones!) then all you have to do is remove the top towel and you are good to sleep again.
9 Sidecar your cot / crib
Your baby won’t want to sleep anywhere but with you. In the first few weeks just go with it, everyone will sleep better if you do. Side carring your cot on to the bed is the best way to make sure your baby is safe in their own space, while still being within arms reach so you don’t have to get out of bed.
10 You will be HUNGRY
I cannot believe HOW HUNGRY I was in the first 2 weeks of having a baby. This is a mixture of hormones, your stomach no longer being squashed by a baby and all that milk production.
Make yourself a breastfeeding basket full of snacks and water and keep them by the bed at night and by your favorite chair during the day.
Having a new baby really is totally life changing. And HARD. And AMAZING. Get yourself some support and just hold on for the ride. Before you know it, they will be moving out and having young ones of their own.
Try to be conscious of every moment, enjoy those newborn snuggles. Breathe in their newborn smell and embrace what is happening. It won’t be easy. But it will be worth it. Remember that THIS TOO SHALL PASS.