Let me begin by saying that parenthood is (almost always) fabulous. And (mostly) amazing. And, to quote the Peace Corps, “the toughest job you’ll ever love,” at least most of the time. Yes, becoming a mom is amazing, but make no mistake: it’s hard! And it brings with it many different experiences and emotions that are new and unfamiliar … scary yet rewarding. There’s no way to become a parent and not be unchanged.
It didn’t take long after having my first baby for me to feel completely changed. And by changed, I mean absolutely overwhelmed. I felt like the joke was on me … that no one had let me in on the truth about parenthood and how much more involved it truly was. … is. When a close friend came over to talk me off the ledge during those early baby days, I asked her why she, a parent (and friend, for God’s sake!), hadn’t better prepared me for what to expect. Her response was very matter-of-fact: “You wouldn’t have believed me if I had tried.”
Fair enough. But a little heads up would have been nice no matter how fictitious it seemed. I like to go into things eyes wide open, and she knew that. I like seeing the big picture, knowing everything that’s required, what things feel like, what they cost. I like to know what to expect, dammit, but I was in no way adequately prepared in any of these areas despite being surrounded by people who already had children AND having read “the book.” Perhaps these are things that most people try to forget. I am not “most people.”
In light of my experience, I feel it my duty to share and prepare expectant mothers for what’s really about to happen … to pull back the curtain on how your world really changes when you push a life out of your nethers. To be clear, this isn’t a bitch session, nor should you be upset or discouraged by anything I’m about to share. Rather, think of this as me trying to prepare you for this amazing journey you’re about to embark on. Because it truly is amazing, especially if you can go into it as I wish I had: eyes wide open.
So in the spirit of sisterhood—and with the promise of not spoiling the good stuff—take a load off, grab a cup of decaf tea, and let me fill you in on these 10 things every expectant mom needs to know.
- You will never, ever sleep again. OK, that’s a lie. Of course you’ll sleep, at some point anyway. It just won’t ever be as sound, carefree, uninterrupted and awesome as it was before you had a baby. Seriously. The recommendation of “sleep when Baby sleeps”? Do. It.
- People are crazy about babies. And by crazy, I mean filterless, manners-free and sometimes even mean. I have stories for days (and you will too!) about crazy things people did and said to me when I was in public with my babies … like the old lady who told me my youngest (who came out of the womb sweating) would get pneumonia and die if I didn’t have a coat and blanket covering him for the walk from the car into church on a 55-degree day. Or the lady at Walgreens who stuck her finger(!) in my crying baby’s mouth in an attempt to soothe him while I was checking out. Or my husband’s former co-worker who called our pediatrician behind our backs to let the doctor know how concerned she was that we were already feeding our child solids at 12 weeks despite that fact that the very doctor she was tattling to was the one who green-lighted us to do so! See? Crazy. Just go into parenting knowing that everyone knows how to parent your child better than you, and then commit to not caring.
- “Your $hit ain’t never gonna be the same.” When I was pregnant, a woman I didn’t know said this to me. Seriously. Those exact words came out of her mouth. While what she said could be considered a parenting truth on myriad levels, the forewarning this woman gave was in reference to my—and all pregnant women’s—lady parts and how they will likely never return to their original God-given state once a baby passes through the birth canal. I was horrified and disbelieving, of course (My lady parts? Will bounce back without issue, thankyouverymuch!!!), but three vaginally birthed babies later and I’m here to say that this woman was spot-on. My $hit hasn’t ever been the same. I can’t say I wasn’t warned. And now neither can you. But the difference between you and me is that you can get a head start on your kegels! Which you should be doing starting today! Start now, in fact, while you finish this article! Think of it like this: kegels now or Depends later. Your choice.
- Your food is no longer your food. It doesn’t matter if the kid is 10 weeks or 10 years old. If he sees you eating something, he’ll want it. Doesn’t matter if he just ate two minutes before or if he has no teeth or no appetite; he will want whatever he sees in your hand moving toward your mouth. And he will make your life hell until he gets it. So either make enough to share or take it in the closet to eat where you won’t be seen. Done it. Many times.
- You will do everything you said you never would. It’s so easy to have an opinion when you have no experience, isn’t it? “When I have kids, I will never do that.” Or, “My kids will never behave that way.” Or, “I will never let my child sleep in my bed/eat junk food and soda/wear disposable diapers/use a pacifier/eat non-organic/[insert any other judgmental thing you’ve ever thought or said about how someone else parents here]. I’ve got news for you, sister. You will do all of those things and more. And if you keep your judgments and grand plans to yourself now, you’ll feel like less of a jackass later. That’s all I’m going to say.
- You will feel emotions in ways you’ve never experienced. It doesn’t matter if it’s love, worry, heartache or pride; once you have a child, emotions intensify. For example, when my oldest was 3 years old, his preschool class put on a Christmas performance. Sitting in the audience, I, simultaneously clapped and cried as I watched my sweet little boy singing his heart out, so innocent and wide-eyed and filled with joy. I was so overcome by how proud I felt…I had never felt pride in that way. There he stood, in his big-boy plaid shirt and corduroy pants, not jaded or self-conscious, just happy and filled with all-things-amazing! And I couldn’t believe at that very moment that he had come out of me! And I felt so blessed and proud and humbled that I was the one who got to be his mommy for the rest of time.
- Bodily fluids and functions take on a new light. Within three days of having my first child, I was pooped on, peed on and spit up on. And within the first week, I had, for the very first time, inserted a suppository into another person’s bottom (granted it was a tiny, adorable bottom) to help get things moving. I wouldn’t say you ever look forward to such things, but you begin to take these moments in stride. In fact, just this morning, I cleaned vomit up off the floor that came out of my almost-13-year-old who couldn’t make it to the toilet in time. Wet beds, pooped-in pants, stomach bugs… it’s just part of the job, like doing the dishes or taking out the trash.
- You get to be a kid again. Before I had my children, I don’t remember the last time I’d sat outside blowing bubbles on a sunny spring day. Or colored with crayons or played hide-and-seek or taken a nap. Having babies lets you dip your toe back into childhood, allowing you to re-live the fun parts.
- Breastfeeding is great … if you can and want to do it! I planned to breastfeed. After all, as any expecting mother knows, you get “breast is best” drilled into your head like a permanent tattoo throughout the pregnancy from doctors, nurses, other moms and even dads. I was asked a million times if I planned to breastfeed, but not once was I cautioned that I may not be able to breast feed. There was no, “Breastfeeding is a great choice … if you can do it.” Or “if you choose to do it.” Or “if you don’t have post-partum depression where your milk dries up because you can barely drag yourself out of bed to take care of your baby let alone feed yourself” Or “if your body just doesn’t make enough milk to satisfy the baby.” No. There was none of that. Had there been, I likely wouldn’t have felt so awful and inferior at a time when I needed to feel strong and amazing. What I want to share with you is this: studies show that yes, breast is best. But if breastfeeding doesn’t work out, you are still an amazing mom! And your child will still be amazing, too!! Trust me! I have three healthy, brilliant, amazing, formula-fed children to prove it.
- Babies make time fly. Really, they do. Some days obviously feel longer than others, like when you’ve been up all night with a croupy baby, or trying all afternoon to soothe a colicky infant, or desperately trying not to snap when you’ve been battling a 2-year-old’s tantrums every day for a month. Yes, those are long, long days indeed. But one day, a day that seems far away from now, you’ll find yourself looking back on days both good and bad and wondering where in the world the time went. And you’ll realize just how true it is that parenting is, in fact, the toughest, most rewarding job you will ever love.
Ashley Haugen is a writer, editor, wife and mother to three wonderful boys.