When I was pregnant with our second daughter, my husband and I attended a birthing class.
With my first daughter, I suffered from severe depression both during and after my pregnancy. It was an extremely difficult time in my life and a decade ago, postpartum depression was not given the weight it is now. Additionally, there’s just a stigma that surrounds mental health issues of any kind, which (ironically) makes me really sad.
So you can imagine how well I did when the birthing instructor started telling women how beautiful labor and delivery was and how you would want to spend every waking second with your precious bundle of joy, from the minute he left the womb until he matriculated from high school.
When she first said this, I spoke up. I brought up how, it’s actually really difficult to want to spend time with your new baby when he’s been screaming all night because he’s colicky and you’re sleep deprived with an influx of hormones. And I told her I thought it was wrong that such an expectation was set up for new mothers.
I was quickly dismissed, both by the instructor and several sets of parents who really believed that labor, delivery, and the few months after would be filled with rainbows and roses.
During our lunch break, I spoke to a young mother who was terrified of giving birth. Not only that, she practiced ballet and theater and was worried about things like how having a baby would affect her career. What if her body didn’t bounce back? What if her baby wouldn’t nurse? What if, heaven forbid, she didn’t want to nurse her baby?
Again, I brought it up to the instructor, and again, I was dismissed.
So angry was I that during my next prenatal check, I complained to my own doctor about the instructor and told her that this is exactly why new mothers often feel such a sense of failure. I’m happy to say that the birthing instructor no longer leads a class at the hospital I birthed in.
But this story brings up an important point. New mothers are often set up for failure. And they need to know that it’s okay to feel like you can’t do it all. If you want to nurse, great! If not, that’s okay too! Want to have a combination of both so you can sleep for more than a few hours at a time? I think that’s an excellent plan. Here’s a few other things new mothers need to remember:
It’s okay to not adore your baby every single second of every single day. Guess what? If you were crying and screaming for hours on end, your baby probably wouldn’t want to hang out with you either. Now, I’m not saying that they can help it, because they can’t. But don’t beat yourself up if you really feel like you just need an hour to yourself.
Never be afraid to ask for help.Â Again, this goes back to having a little time for yourself. No matter how much you want to be Wonder Woman, you need to put away your crown and knee-high boots for a while. As much as you dread picking up the phone and asking your mother-in-law to come over because you know she’ll think you’re weak, do it anyway. Trust me. You need to.
You’ll be exhausted. And not just because you are up five times a night to feed the baby. You’re tired because being a parent is draining. It’s filled with constant emotions (partly because your hormones are all over the place and in part because it’s both frustrating and joyous). And if you’re a first-time mom, you worry if you’re doing everything right. If you’ve been a mom before, you’re worrying about whether or not you’re spending enough time with your other kids.
Labor and delivery is not all roses and rainbows. And I mean that. Nine out of 10 women who tell you that labor is painless, beautiful, and that they left the hospital in their pre-pregnancy jeans are liars. Seriously. You do not gain 35+ pounds during pregnancy and leave the hospital in your skinny jeans people! On top of it, labor is really filled with lots of people looking at your most private areas and telling you to push like you’re pooping. Really. How beautiful is that?
Obviously, there are many things that are beautiful about being a parent – if it wasn’t rewarding I certainly wouldn’t have done it twice. But I, for one, am so tired of women feeling as though they’ve failed themselves and their children because of society’s expectation that we can be and do everything from the moment we give birth. It’s not realistic and it’s totally okay to say, “guess what? I really can’t do it all.”
photo credit: Upsilon Andromedae