Once upon a time, I was a pregnant princess. I complained that I wasn’t sleeping through the night because I woke up three times to pee or that my hips were sore. I couldn’t wait to give birth. I just knew I’d do everything right. I read all the books. I loved kids. I planned to breastfeed for at least a year, swore I’d never feed my children sugar. My child would never be unhappy, would never throw a fit. I thought I’d fall head over heels in love, have the “you complete me” cheeseball Jerry Maguire moment the second he popped out. I would be the best mother in the world. And I was, until I left the hospital and was on my own.
Here’s what I wish I would have known (but probably wouldn’t have believed a word):
- Unless you are my friend Laurie, breastfeeding really, really hurts in the beginning. It can take up to six weeks to really get the hang of it. Don’t let anyone tell you it shouldn’t hurt. Don’t believe books or Web sites that tell you that if it hurts, you’re doing it wrong. Even if you’re somehow, magically able to achieve a five-star latch, it still hurts in the beginning. Don’t believe it’s something you and the baby should know how to do perfectly from the get-go. It’s a learned technique. Once you get it, it’s easy and wonderful.
- If you don’t breastfeed, you are NOT setting your baby up for a lifetime of hurt. My daughter was nursed for a year and has had more ear infections that I can count and, lucky girl, has a host of allergies. My son, nursed for just six weeks, has never had an ear infection and is hardly ever sick. I’m just saying.
- Ask for help. Accept it when offered. Motherhood, like breastfeeding, is a learned technique. Nobody (especially your mother, your mother-in-law, or any other woman who’s given birth) is going to think you’re a bad mommy if you can’t get your baby to sleep or to nurse. Nobody is going to think you’re selfish if you play Pass the Baby and take forty-five minutes to shower, brush your teeth, and pee.
- More on enlisting help: if you feel blue, like blue-blue, can’t-snap-out-of-it blue, talk to your doctor. I know you’ve read this in What to Expect but even if you think it won’t happen to you, it can. I’m Little Miss Happy Go Lucky, never thought I’d ever experience depression, so after my son was born, I squelched all sad feelings as much as possible. When he was about four weeks old, I thought about driving my car into the ocean. It was only a split-second flash in my head—I spent the rest of the day feeling horrifically mortified that I could even fathom such a thing—but I should have immediately sought help in a happy pill.
- It’s okay if you don’t lose the baby weight in four months. Unless you have your own chef, a home gym complete with personal trainer and a team of nannies. Then you don’t have an excuse.
- One day your sweet baby will grow up enough to throw a temper tantrum. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom. It means you have a normal kid.
- And until that day, please don’t give mothers of tantruming kids smug looks. We know you’re thinking: “Sarabeth/Connor/Caden/Makenna will never behave that way.” Yes, your child will behave that way. We all thought the same thing until it happened to us.
- Not everyone feels drunk with happiness, bonding, and love right away. You’re not a bad mother if you’re not over-the-moon ecstatic every moment of the day. It’s no party getting almost zero sleep and going from Pregnant Princess to Leaking Nipples Mommy overnight.
- You and your husband are going to fight over the right way to soothe her to sleep, the right way to change a diaper, the right way to bathe her girlie parts. Yes, you will. And you’ll probably want to divorce him, especially when you’ve both had five hours’ sleep in three nights and are at each other’s throats. It’ll get better.
- You WILL sleep again. In the beginning (about the first eight weeks), it seems like the constant feeding, changing, rocking, soothing, and cleaning spit-up will never end. But it does. I promise.
- Don’t compare your baby’s milestones (sleeping through the night especially) to your girlfriend’s baby. Don’t compare yourself to Mommy Perfect at Gymboree. Remember that people have it a lot harder than they lead others to believe.
- You are Mommy Perfect, just the way you are. Spit-up stains on your shoulders, unwashed hair and all.