If I could travel through time, this is what I would go back and tell myself after having my first baby


The beauty of the third baby
The beauty of the third baby. Photo credit: Chelsea Hudson Photography. http://www.chelseahudsonphotography.com

About a month ago, we welcomed our third child into this world.  I am in awe at what an amazing little miracle and gift from God he is.  The experience this time around has been so different.  Maybe it’s because I am more experienced.  Or maybe it’s because my mom stayed to help for three weeks instead of just one (and left today – sniff sniff).  Or it could be a number of other things.  But in thinking through the past four weeks, my mind dwells on so many beautiful, wonderful moments.  I wish I could have felt the same way when I had my first.  I keep thinking about things I wish I would have known or been able to focus on.  So for those of you out there whom this might help, here’s what I would say to myself if I could go back to the day before Eliza was born:

Hi there.  Tomorrow your life will change forever, but relax, it will be good.  It will be better than good.  But it will be harder than anything you’ve ever done before.  Your life as you knew it is not over; it’s just turning over a new leaf.

I know you have thought through everything you would like for labor and delivery.  You don’t need to throw it all out the window (because that’s actually what’s going to happen), but the whole process will be better if you are able to let go and release yourself to what’s not going your way or as you had hoped.  I know immediately after Eliza comes out you’re going to go through a really difficult time and you’re not going to feel a lot of joy and love for her right away.  Be okay with that.  It will come.  I can even tell you that despite how little you feel like holding and cuddling her now because of depression and your delivery injuries, that she has grown into one of the most nurturing and caring people you know.

Despite having read books about newborn care and taking nursing classes, you are going to struggle in a major way with both.  I think most new parents do to some extent.  This is normal and you should expect it.  Keep the phone numbers of friends who have already been through it handy, and warn them you might call in the middle of the night for support.  And then pick up the phone and actually call if you’re in a rough moment.

Having a baby is not like taking a math test, where if you study hard enough, there is a formula you use and you get the same result every time.  It couldn’t be more different from that.  So stop thinking about a sleep formula right now.  You cannot spoil this new life by holding her.  You are her favorite person, and your breasts her favorite part of you.  She will learn to sleep, but first she has to learn to eat.  In fact, go ahead and leave yourself topless for the first few days and keep her in a diaper, and let her sleep on your chest and nurse anytime she wants.  Enjoy her despite of and in the midst of your pain and baby blues.  Even though you’re not sleeping much and your whole bottom hurts, try to take her in.  You can’t, but you should try.   Journal your thoughts and write her love notes.  I’m talking a sentence here or there, because you won’t have time for more.

I know the sleepless nights that are coming.  You will get through them.  I know they seem interminable right now, but they will end.  I know there will be incessant crying, and the feeling that you’d just like to put her outside in the back yard so you can’t hear her for a few minutes.  You might want to squeeze her or shake her.  You won’t do it, but you will beat yourself up for having the thought.  Don’t do that, either.  This moment that is so hard is also fleeting, and she will sleep and stop crying.

Trust your natural motherly instinct and your body.  Get every bit of help you can get from lactation consultants, midwives, nurses or doulas in the first two days.  Make certain you are getting a good latch.  A bad latch will hurt and after doing it over and over, will mutilate your nipples.  It’s great to know you feel so strongly and fierce about nursing; but also know that if you just need rest and for someone else to feed her formula so you can sleep, doing that does not make you a failure or a bad mom or physically deformed.  When you find out that she’s lost too much weight, the formula supplement they are telling you she needs is not going to poison her.  Your husband and father were formula-fed, and they grew up healthy and pretty darned brilliant.

The pediatrician and lactation consultant are telling you to have a Guinness a day not only because it will help you produce more milk, but also because you need to take a serious chill pill.  Your body cannot heal and produce milk if you do not allow yourself to sleep and relax.  I know at night you want to do what you would normally do, and you want the freedom to stay up late, but it’s just not worth it right now.  Go to bed.  Take the baby with you.  That will also help your milk.  This seemingly inexorable phase is actually pretty short.  In about five years, you will go to Eliza’s dance recital, she will have a loose tooth, and will be preparing to go to Kindergarten, and you will wonder how in the heck you got there.  And you will then know how fast these early days not only go by, but how fleeting all the difficulty of them is.

So rest and relax, my dear self.  Accept help.  Forgive yourself when you flip out or lash out or feel like an idiot for crying.  Let go of how clothes should be folded, stacked in your drawers, or how they don’t fit.  Be okay with paper plate dinners.  Allow others to make meals for you.  Eat dessert.  It, too, is good for your milk.  And cherish and marvel at what God has done.

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.