What They Don’t Teach You in Parenting Class
Disclaimer: This article is based on the experience of one woman, and though not all can relate, many may.
As a first-time mom, or FTM (the shorthand they use in the mom groups on Facebook), I thought that I was as prepared as I could be for motherhood. When I was in my third trimester, looking ready to pop, many would ask, “Are you ready?” I would respond that I was “as ready as I’ll ever be,” which was mostly true. However, there were things that I did not know, things that people do not talk about, things that no parenting app, book, or Facebook group could really teach: things that you learn from your own experience.
From my first twelve days of motherhood, here is a short list of things I’ve learned. This list certainly doesn’t stop here and will continue to grow as my infant does.
This is clearly an over-exaggeration and major embellishment, but the lack of sleep your baby causes feels somewhat comparable to a torture tactic the enemy must use on prisoners of war. No, I’ve never been a POW thankfully, yet, I can only believe that the sleep deprivation and torment I feel could possibly be compared to a fraction of what someone in that scenario experiences. (For making this comparison please don’t cancel me the way that the world canceled Ellen Degeneres when she compared quarantining in her luxurious, celebrity, mansion to actual prison.)
Since the day of her birth I’ve slept a total of 4-6 nonconsecutive hours a night, the burning sensation in my eyes didn’t quite set in until about night 5 and has continued ever since. You might begin to feel a sense of delirium. For example, sometimes your baby might fall asleep in your arms while feeding at 3:00 am, and when you fall asleep too you begin to question whether you did, in fact, put her back in her bassinet, or did she simply roll out of your arms and onto the bed where she may become engulfed by the blankets, or rather did she roll out of your arms and onto the floor? You’ll be relieved to find that you put her back in her bassinet each time, but the fear that sparks inside of you when you wake is indescribable.
As a result of sleep deprivation, you might become short and snippy with your partner. During what feels like the 700th feeding of the night, when your partner asks you, “are you okay?”, how are you really supposed to respond? Is it appropriate to say “no, I’m dying over here” or “I could have never imagined it would be like this”? Or rather because you are so freaking exhausted you curtly say “what do you mean am I okay” or “yeah, don’t I have to be okay?” To say that it’s challenging to be the only one with the ability to feed our daughter currently would be an understatement, yet I do understand that at this point it has been my choice to not quite yet introduce bottle-feeding (or pacifiers for that matter). Every time your baby cries, needs changing, or uses their sucking reflex, your husband may insist that “she’s hungry again” yet after having just fed her you know that she’s solely looking for comfort and wishing to use you as her human pacifier though all of the professionals say, “Do not introduce pacifiers until about week 4 because it can cause nipple confusion”. Eye roll, she’ll be meeting Mr. Pacifier at week 2.
Experts say that learning a new language becomes more and more challenging as you age, though try learning the language of cries with major sleep deprivation. Distinguishing the difference between hunger, a dirty diaper, or attempts at being vocal feels nearly impossible when you can barely establish coherent thoughts due to your exhaustion. On another note, any new parent would give you the advice to “sleep when the baby sleeps”, but how can you make yourself become nocturnal that easily and that quickly?
You may become saddened to learn that after nearly ten months of your body being inhabited by another being, the body you were hoping to have back is still not the one you know. You might start coming to terms with the fact that it may never be the same again, that was a different time, that was a different you, that was pre-motherhood. Your once near-perfect skin that became oily with the hormones of pregnancy did not simply return to the way it was before pregnancy. You may have become confident, feeling dare I say even somewhat sexy with your robust, convex belly during pregnancy but now as your uterus takes what feels like forever to shrink back down to normal size you might begin to lose some of that confidence. While it may have been spectacular to not have a period for close to an entire year, for the next 6-12 weeks postpartum, as your uterine lining continues to shed, it will feel like you have your period every day except you can’t even wear tampons, only pads. I personally was never one to cramp to begin with, but some most likely won’t experience cramping except for the first week post-birth
Exercise used to contribute to your sense of confidence and make you feel sane as your primary form of self-care; however, for the next six weeks as your body heals you aren’t allowed to work out the way you did pre-pregnancy or even during pregnancy. You might have been looking forward to a good sweat and some endorphins, but in the weeks to come the only exercise you will get is walking and pushing your stroller in addition to the bicep curls of carrying your baby.
Please excuse the TMI to come, but after being stitched up on your vagina after pushing a full human out, for at least the first two weeks postpartum it will hurt! Laughing, sneezing, changing positions in your sleep, and sometimes even simply walking will cause you pain down there. It will burn to urinate, so much so that you’ll have to practice the same breathing skills that you teach to your clients for use in times of panic or crisis. You might have been looking forward to begin sleeping without that ever-so-helpful pregnancy pillow that for so long placed a physical separation between you and your partner in bed; however, the pregnancy pillow may actually feel helpful to continue using to keep your legs apart to hopefully prevent further pain to your vagina while you attempt to sleep. Also, while we’re discussing private parts, when your milk comes in your breasts will appear as if they’ve been augmented a full cup size though they’ll feel hard as rocks until you empty them by either feeding your baby or pumping.
Apparently, you need a diaper bag wherever you go, even if you’re leaving the house for a thirty-minute pediatrician appointment because the nurse will tell you to strip your baby “down to a clean diaper” and you’ll give the confused look and response of “we didn’t bring a diaper.” When your baby is crying because they’re freezing cold because the nurse told you to strip them down, the nurse will suggest your wrap your baby in a blanket, to which you’ll give the same confused look and response of “we didn’t bring a blanket either.” You might then start questioning whether or not they might call DCFS on you because you appear to be neglectful at this point whereas all along you thought about how you just changed your baby prior to the appointment and were planning on changing them again right when you got home. Experiences like this, and practically each time you leave the house, will help you learn what you need to pack in your diaper bag. After a walk by the lake on an 80+ degree day you’ll remember the mini, portable, fan you bought for the stroller and feel like a doofus for not packing it in your diaper bag. Your diaper bag ultimately becomes your new purse. Forget that nice designer bag your partner bought for you as your “push present”, you won’t be needing or using that for a while.
We all knew going into this adventure that you’ll be changing a million diapers a day but what you probably didn’t know is that you’ll at some point feel like you’re wasting diapers. You will be in the middle of changing a dirty diaper, just fastening the Velcro straps of the new one, when your baby begins to urinate or defecate again. Even worse, before you have the chance to close the new diaper the pee stream may begin and become a major mess. Though it’s been a few hours you might think that your baby can go a little longer in the diaper they’re currently wearing because they’re sleeping so well, and you also need sleep, but you’ll later discover that they’ve actually soaked through not only their diaper but also their pajamas, sleep sack, and onto the sheets of their bassinet.
This isn’t news, this isn’t a miraculous discovery, this is something literally everyone will tell you to do, but absolutely accept the help that is offered to you. You may be somewhat resistant to accepting help because you’re a strong, independent woman who made this choice to bring this tiny human into the world knowing very well that it would be a great responsibility. Everyone you know will offer to stop by to take her off your hands while you shower, nap, or run errands really quickly and although yes, you can do this on your own, don’t be too proud. People genuinely want to help you, they also selfishly want some baby time, but you also deserve that nap, that hour or two out of the house, or that manicure your nails so desperately need. My first outing without my baby was to Costco. No shame, it was truly liberating.
Knowing what I know now would not have changed my decision in the slightest to have my darling little angel baby join my family. Knowing what I know now would only have helped me prepare even more for what was to come. As people say, you can truly never be prepared enough to bring a newborn into your life. With each passing day, you’ll learn so much more about what you never knew before. Just understand that it’s okay to make mistakes and to take breaks, and you are doing the best you can with the knowledge and resources you have available to you.