Parenting lesson #2: Friends don’t tell you what it’s like to have a newborn because they can’t.

Zach, all swaddled in the hospital

“Why didn’t anyone warn me?” I wondered to myself over and over in the early days with a newborn.  How could having a baby be so hard, despite attending breastfeeding and infant care classes?  How could two educated parents be so clueless?

The answer, I have come to realize, is three-fold.  For one, friends did reveal the truth to me to an extent, and so did the birth and baby books I read.  But like anything that’s hard (like training for and running a marathon, or making it through medical school, I imagine), people can’t fully make you understand it with words and warnings.  Going through it yourself is the only way to truly “get it.”

Second, when I was struggling, I wanted to talk to others who had struggled.  Crying on the phone to my childless friends about being tired, feeling trapped and not producing enough milk just wasn’t as comforting (or baggage I wanted to unload on someone who was hopeful to have children some day).  I needed to talk to people who could relate, who could promise me I would come out the other end of the exhaustion and struggle.  I think this means that we don’t get the real scoop before having a baby.

The third reason is that I have a few friends who have had their babies and everything has been dreamy – they had easy labors and deliveries, their babies were perfect little eating and sleeping angels, and for these friends, life was just beginning.  (Haters.)  Every family’s experience is so different, even from child to child, that trying to warn people about how bad it could be doesn’t make sense.

All of that said, there are some aspects of becoming a parent that are universal.  So, if you want to know what to expect (no matter what), here’s what I can promise:

1. Bleeding: I was left in wonderment at how I was supposed to think missing 8 periods was so glorious when, once I had Eliza, I got all 8 missed periods in a row (and then some).  Having a baby makes you bleed.  A lot and for a long time.  I’m talking about gelatinous clumps in the first 24-48 hours that make you wonder if you’re going to lose all your blood.  (And you can’t use tampons.)  The good news is that you get these really cool disposable net panties from the hospital or birthing center that you can throw out along with the elephant-sized pads you are provided.  This is one of the reasons many postpartum women are anemic, so it’s important to continue taking pre-natal vitamins for the first few months, even if you’re not breastfeeding.  (As a side note, my friend who just had a C-section was under the impression that she wouldn’t bleed because when they went in after the baby, they’d get that out, too, along with – in her dream world – a few pounds of extra stomach fat.  She had no such luck.)

2. Pain: Whether you have a C-section or a vaginal birth, there is pain after expelling another person from your body.  It’s not like the baby comes out and you prance out of the hospital like the sugar plum fairy.  They wheel you out in a chair for a reason.  And healing takes time, too.  You might be on acetaminophen, or you might get heavy duty drugs.  If you get heavy duty ones, they might be powerful enough to make you forget that you are wearing the aforementioned netted panties.

3. hormone changes: Some hormone levels drop instantly after a baby is born, and some take a few months to normalize.  Almost all women experience some form of “baby blues” (isolation, fragility, and crying) for the first couple of weeks.  If you are one of the few who doesn’t, you’re also a hater.

4. Engorgement: Whether or not you end up nursing, your breasts will assume you are.  Thus, you will experience engorgement, which can be described as a burning hot pain along with super rock-hard breasts that have filled up with milk.  If you don’t want to nurse and you express the milk by pumping, your boobs will keep making more milk, so you just have to suck it up and let them leak and cause pain for a few days.  If you are nursing, you will go in-and-out of engorgement as your body tries to figure out how much milk to produce to meet your baby’s needs.  It’s really awesome when your newborn starts sleeping longer stretches (like 3 or 4 hours) but your boobs wake you up anyway because they’re engorged, anticipating a feeding.

5. No exercise or sex:  At the time when you’re in physical pain and hormonally imbalanced, when a good surge of endorphins would certainly help, you can’t exercise and you can’t jump your husband.  The truth is, for the first 6-8 weeks, you won’t really feel like doing either anyway.  (And if you thought you didn’t want your breasts fondled during pregnancy, it’s a whole new ball game if you’re nursing, seeing as you could leak or spray milk at just about any time.)

6. You will be able to see your vajayjay again, but you’ll be sorry you looked past your flabby, gelatinous belly to peek at it: No further explanation is needed.

7. Eat, sleep and poop:  Granted, your child might not do them in that order, and the frequency of all three ranges from child-to-child, but for the first 6-8 weeks, it’s really all they do.  Then they add smiling to the mix.  (Yeehaw!)

8. Eating is the most important:  Oh my gosh, a newborn’s stomach grows from the size of a marble to the size of a walnut in the first week of life.  Then the growth spurts start.  The old saying, “Let a sleeping baby lie” is detrimental to your child’s health in the early days.  You have to wake them up to feed them sometimes.  They must eat at LEAST 8 times a day, but it’s normal for them to eat as many as 12.  For several weeks.

9. You will fear the baby is not getting enough to eat:  It is unnerving to be responsible for the survival of another human life, and not knowing how much a child is eating and only being able to gauge it by whether the thing is peeing and pooping can be anxiety-inducing, especially for type-A folks.  Your pediatrician and/or lactation consultants can help you, so don’t be afraid to ask.

10. You will be afraid you are going to hurt the baby: On our first pediatrician visit with Eliza, Kathy, our lactation consultant, was hurling our baby around as if she were Gumby, bending her into different poses and manhandling her.  She was trying to show us how sturdy our love bundle actually was, and that it’s pretty hard to hurt them when they’re so nimble.

11. Exhaustion: Because of 1-9, you will be more tired than you’ve ever been in your life.  (Thanks Dana!)

12. Love overload:  Yet despite all the above, it is impossible not to be in awe of what God has created through you and another person.  There is so much warmth inside on an entirely new level when you nurture a newborn.  There’s no way to recreate it and bottle it up, because if I could, I would, and then I’d sell it on eBay and become a bajillionaire.  And I believe you still experience this, regardless of your level of postpartum depression (it just might be more in moments than all the time).

There you have it.  And I’m sure I’ve forgotten a lot because I’ve read that some of those hormones make you forget how hard it can be.  (Please feel free to fill in my gaps by commenting.)  To the childless, consider yourselves warned.

19 thoughts on “Parenting lesson #2: Friends don’t tell you what it’s like to have a newborn because they can’t.

  1. So true! Good advice for what everyone will experience. I will say however that by hemorrhaging 60% of the blood in my body after labor I managed to miss #1 almost completely. I’m hoping to draw the process out a bit longer this go around though lol. Never will I be so excited to have a period. Perspective changes everything.

    I’ll add to your list:
    10 – You will be tired. Likely as tired as you’ve probably ever been in your life. Regardless of how well your kid sleeps/eats, you will be exhausted. You just pushed a human out of your body so if nothing else you must recover from that. But since you need to feed these little people around the clock at first you also are losing sleep. Then you probably worry if they are breathing all night long too so you check on the 1898492 times a night which also makes you tired. All in all, the first few weeks are exhausting. Luckily, it doesn’t last forever!!
    11 – Nursing probably won’t come naturally. It doesn’t hurt every person, but it’s normally a learning process. Seek out resources like lactation consultants (nice ones!) that can help you figure it out.
    12 – You will still be forgetful. I call it Mommy-Onset Alzheimer. If you’re wondering why you’re still forget then refer to #10.
    13 – Everyone will want to visit. It’s okay to say no. It’s okay to accept help.
    14 – Nap if you want, but don’t feel like you have to work every single time the baby is sleeping. You’ll get around to cleaning the house eventually. Enjoy the excuse to take some time off.
    15 – Every person on earth that hears your newborn cry will tell you it’s hungry. Trust your gut and ignore, nice, though normally unhelpful strangers. Along the same line, if you have a girl, expect that everyone will think it’s a boy even if you’ve got them dressed bow to toe in pink. Middle aged men are the worst. Just know that strangers mean well, but sometimes just don’t know when to let you be. Oh and you likely won’t have the patience to deal with it because of #10. That’s okay too.
    16 – You will be even more hungry then your hungriest phase of pregnancy. Indulge while you have the excuse. You will want to lose weight, but that will come.
    17 – Temperature fluctuation. You will sweat for no reason. It’s gross.
    18 – You will still look pregnant, but your stomach will be super squishy. It’s weird and not something you’ll probably appreciate.

    Sorry I added so many! lol

    1. Great list!
      and I second the additional points 16, 17, and 18.
      Might I add:
      you will pee a little when you sneeze, laugh, cough, fart, stand up too quick…etc.
      Also, everyone thinks the baby is “too cold”. Even if its summer.

      1. Kari – someone JUST told me my baby was cold on Sunday. She was in a fleece jumper with a blanket over her in the church building.

    2. Oh Dana, these are so good! I distinctly remember feeding Eliza (for the 45 minutes it took her to eat) and giving her supplemental pumped milk, too, and then having her cry 15 minutes later and my MIL saying, “Do you think she’s hungry? Why don’t you just give her a bottle?” And you are definitely right about the middle-aged man disease of thinking every baby is a boy. I love it! Thanks for sharing. I hope it makes you excited for baby #2 … =)

      1. I am getting excited for #2, but it’s also helping me remember the reality which on some levels will make it easier to deal with when it happens. For that I’m very thankful. Maybe I’ll cry less over stupid stuff this time around (lol dumb hormones!)

  2. I totally agree with this post and Dana’s comments! I have a few to add – probably TMI, but it is truth.
    1. To add to the lack of exercise and flabby, squishy (stretched-marked to the max) tummy, you will still have to wear maternity clothes. And if you fit right back into your skinny jeans, please don’t talk to me.
    2. Speaking of clothes, nursing tops are usually revealing, and your cleavage is huge. Invest in some sweaters.
    3. If you breastfeed, expect to have engorgement at some point. Some experience engorgement, let-down pain and sore nipples. I call that the triple play.
    4. Good luck taking time for your sitz bath. Every time I tried to sit down for one, my baby would start to cry. But, really try to do them because you might end up with your stitches healing incorrectly, and I don’t even want to go down that road with you.
    5. While we’re down there – if your baby doesn’t just pop out and you actually have to push (say 3 hours of pushing a huge baby boy), expect to get some hemorrhoids. Hydrocortisone cream, tucks and possibly some stool softener all help.
    6. If that wasn’t embarrassing enough, you might also get to pee yourself, because in the first few weeks, your bladder control isn’t what it used to be. Just keep doing those Kegel exercises!
    7. Always have a burp-cloth because your baby will spit-up, like mine did on me while we were in church.
    8. Pack an extra outfit in your diaper bag for baby because Murphy’s Law says if you don’t – your baby will blow out of his/her outfit with the most poop you have ever seen.
    9. Your baby will break out with baby acne and have an awesome bald spot. Don’t worry – he or she will grow out it and look super cute soon.

    1. Oh. My. Gosh. And I am always worried about divulging TMI. =) Thanks for posting these! I SO started to include some info about nursing, but then stopped myself because not EVERYONE nurses. So I just left it out and figured I would make a separate post for that. Perhaps another parenting law … And I was going to mention the hemorrhoids, too, but was really just hopeful that EVERYONE doesn’t get them. However, now that I think about it, I don’t know a single pregnant woman or mother who didn’t get at least one from the process. If you’re out there, speak up!

      1. I am 4 days into this and um….why didn’t my friends tell me about engorgement?! Seriously. It is 3am right now and I have ice packs on my boobs to calm the “swelling.”
        Oh, and another thing…. I didn’t get swollen feet in pregnancy….why are they now chubbier than Fat Bastard’s?!

        I would do it all over again though.

    2. Totally agree with so many of these. Particularly #8 and #9. And while you’re packing an outfit for your baby, pack on for yourself. If you don’t get spit up on or pooped on, you’ll likely leak all over your clothes. It’s embarrassing; you’ll want to change.

  3. and I will keep going
    19. Wet Pants: You will randomly pee your pants, you might think while running or sneezing, but no, it will randomly happen
    20. Hygiene: You will randomly take a shower, you might think it’s only been a day, but no, it will be three days.
    21. Reading: You will randomly read things like the package of the wipes, you might think you will read a book for pleasure while the baby sleeps, but no, it will be many months
    22. House Hygiene: Your house will disgust you, you will want to mop. But if you go back to #20, and you get #20 done, mopping will have to wait another day.

  4. Ugh my rear end was a space case for about 2 months. Those tucks do not do justice to just straight up witch hazel (and it was cheaper). If feels like you are pooping square poops. There I said it..

  5. Okay, I guess it sounds like everyone gets hemorrhoids … I might add it to the list. And also engorgement, seeing as whether you nurse or not, your milk will come in and you will experience it … This makes me think of Irene. =)

  6. Oh I had blocked the memory of my giant legs! my ankles/legs were Ok all through pregnancy, then the day after she was born I looked like a giant marshmallow. It gets better; I think it took a week-2weeks to sweat it all out.

  7. You sweat all the time for the first few weeks, plus peeing your pants, plus engorgement and leaking boobs plus bleeding, plus the feeling of square poops out of your rear…..I am now envisioning a cartoon wooden bucket with holes all over and water spouting out of all those holes. I can’t wait till “my time” arrives. I think the worst of it is after you have the baby, but you forget all of those moments to the happiness and joy you feel with a new baby.

  8. This page appears to get a good ammount of visitors. How do you advertise it? It offers a nice individual twist on things. I guess having something authentic or substantial to talk about is the most important thing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s