|This is what “utterly shell shocked” looks like.|
- Babies tend to sleep a lot for their first 24 hours, and don’t really need any feeding or much of anything else. Take advantage and get your head down.
- One major thing a few people said to me was that you don’t automatically feel a heady rush of love for your baby as soon as it is born. That can take days, weeks, even months. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother. Rachel Cusk wrote a good book about this sort of thing called A Life’s Work.
- Something nobody can ever prepare you for, and a lot of people don’t mention, is the complete and utter shock. Personally, I was shell-shocked for a good couple of months after S was born, and thought I must have something wrong with me. Turns out, the only thing wrong was that I’d just given birth five weeks early and was in shock. Who knew. Certainly not her father, but that’s a whole other blog post.
- The longer you spend on the postnatal ward, the more different opinions you will hear presented to you as fact. It is worth remembering here that midwives and health visitors are mere mortals the same as everyone else and ultimately in the end, it’s your baby, and you know best. Unless you’re planning to hang baby out the window by his toes, in which case listen to the midwives.
- The postnatal ward is often very busy and horribly understaffed. This can mean that if you need help with something, you need to assert yourself to get it. Don’t be afraid to push your buzzer to get a maternity assistant or midwife to help you with something.
- When you go to the ward, you hear all the babies screaming and think there is no chance you will get any rest here. My experience, and that of several people I’ve spoken to, is that you suddenly develop an ability to fall asleep very quickly, and to sleep through all the noise and the lights being on, but the minute your baby stirs, you wake up.
- While you are on the ward, don’t feel that your baby must spend all non-feeding or changing time in its little plastic fish bowl. Certainly when I was in hospital, I initially felt a bit like “you’ve played with it, now put it away.” It took me a while to realise S was my baby, and I could just sit and hold her if I wanted to. In fact, after one of the NICU nurses told me it would be beneficial for S to be stripped to her nappy and put down my top, I had her like that as much as possible for as long as possible. I’m sure that did a lot to help both of us through a fairly difficult time. (Also it’s pretty funny when the ward staff come in to check on you and look down into the fish bowl before squeaking, “where’s your baby?!”)
- When you are pregnant, your abdominal muscles can sometimes split in order to allow your belly to expand. You know sometimes you see women with a little lump above their belly button? That’s a little hernia. A lot of the time, you give birth and your muscles knit themselves back together and everything is peachy. Sometimes they don’t knit back together quite so quickly, and you can find yourself in a position, 3 months post partum, with a gap as wide as 4 fingers between your muscles. That tends to hurt when you lift things. You will probably need physio to sort it out, otherwise it will just get worse and worse. There are some truly horrific photos on the internet of women who can fit their entire fist between their abdominals. Not pretty.
- Once you’ve given birth, your uterus sets about shrinking itself back down to how it used to be before. It feels like period pains. If you breastfeed, the first few times you feed your baby will cause your uterus to contract more and it will hurt. It hurts for some more than for others. For me, the first few times I fed S I wondered whether perhaps part of the placenta was still in there and needed to come out.
- Listen to the midwives. Do your pelvic floor exercises. You can never do too many.
- Even if you have had a C-section rather than natural birth, you will still get lochia. What is lochia, I hear you ask (I heard myself ask it in the hospital) – it’s another thing nobody tells you about beforehand. It’s bleeding. There will be a lot of it, and it will go on for a long time. You can buy maternity pads specifically for this job; they are big and unattractive, but they do the job and are more heavy duty than your standard pad. Also, one thing I wish I’d thought of in hospital – in an emergency, a nappy can double as a maternity pad (obviously not done up!)
- Remember in the pregnancy post, where I said your pelvis can go a bit squiffy? Well sometimes after you’ve given birth, it sticks itself back together a bit crookedly, and you get a pain between your legs when you do random things like take a step to the left too quickly or kick something. You can go to a physio and get it put right, though – but while they’re fixing it, it can feel a lot like they’re just trying to break your pelvis.
- When your milk comes in, it feels like someone has sneaked in and injected concrete into your boobs. They swell about 6 cup sizes, and feel solid, hot and painful. It eases eventually. Also one very important point here: even if you have decided not to breastfeed, your milk will still come in. It’s important that you don’t try to express any off in an attempt to alleviate the pain, as that will just make your body think someone is drinking the milk, and it needs to produce more.
- Be prepared for your hair to start falling out. Not going bald, just all the hair your body kept hold of while you were pregnant will start to deposit itself all over your house. And wrap itself around your baby’s fingers. It’s normal. Don’t worry about it unless you genuinely do start to look a bit thin on top. And try to check baby’s fingers for a build-up every day or so.
- While you were pregnant your body had to amend your metabolic rate to allow for the fact you needed more calories. Once the baby is born, your body resets itself, and tries to figure out how many calories you need to live on a day to day basis. In some people, this can change dramatically. I am one of the lucky ones, and when my body reset itself I ended up losing weight. For a lot of people, it can go the other way, and they find it very hard to lose their pregnancy weight.
- Related to the previous point: your body might well go back to the same weight it was before, but it will most probably never be the same shape. Your fat redistributes itself in different places, and a lot of women find they are never again comfortable in their pre-pregnancy clothes. A few people have commented that their body didn’t go back to feeling like their own for quite some time, especially if they were breastfeeding.
- When it comes to losing pregnancy weight, try not to bend under pressure. One mantra I learned from a Davina McCall dvd is: “9 months on, 9 months off.” Don’t even go near your pre-pregnancy clothes before your baby is 9 months old. It will just depress you.
- Whether you breastfeed or not, it’s the pregnancy hormones that will ruin your boobs. And when I say ruin… imagine two battered Tesco carrier bags, half-filled with wet sand.
- If you decide not to breastfeed, be prepared to feel judged. If not in hospital, certainly when you are out and about. There is a lot of pressure to breastfeed these days, and people do seem to sit in judgement of a woman producing a bottle of formula from her changing bag. I’ve known people who would avoid feeding their baby a bottle in public because they felt they were being stared at. Then again, if you flop your boobs out to feed your baby, they also stare – you can’t really win with this one I’m afraid.
- People you don’t know will stop in the street and chat to you about your child as if they’ve known you for years. They will also offer advice. Lots of it. You will be judged for everything you do, everything you don’t do, and everything you consider doing. People who don’t even know you will tell you exactly what you are doing wrong.
- Once you have your baby, and have gotten over the initial trauma, you find you have a ridiculous level of empathy you never realised existed, for all other women going through pregnancy and childbirth.
- Motherhood also makes you stupidly paranoid. You’ve probably sat and watched TV shows about women who worry too much about their children and wrap them in cotton wool and thought, “oh how terrible, I’d never do that” – but when you have your own, it’s really, really difficult not to. I check S to ensure she is breathing approximately 50 times every single night. And then there’s the paranoia over whether they are warm enough, cool enough, crying because they’re in pain or just because they’re a baby, are you giving them too much medicine or not enough, should you call the doctor or is it just a little cold. When your baby is actually ill – even if it’s only a bit of a temperature or a cold, it is terrifying in a way you cannot imagine until it happens. Nothing prepares you for the horrible thoughts that rush through your brain when your baby does something as simple as sleep a little longer or a little deeper than you expected.
- Always check the back of your top (and your shoulders, and your sides, and your knees) for milky sick before leaving the house. Similarly, try to avoid wearing black. Your best option is a top with a pattern that will disguise the sick patches because by day 3, you will be so over changing your clothes every time you get puked on.
- It sounds strange, but for me becoming a mother has given me a mental strength I didn’t think was possible. I push myself more when exercising now; where previously I might have stopped because it hurt, now I know it really doesn’t hurt, and I can deal with a lot more. This also transfers into everyday life: things that would have stopped me in my tracks and ground me down don’t tend to bother me so much. Don’t get me wrong, I still get upset, but I bounce back a lot more quickly and have a much stronger faith in myself and my abilities. After all, I have successfully grown and given birth to a human being with arms and legs and eyes and a head and everything. Turns out I’m pretty awesome. (I am aware that sounds really daft, but just you wait until you are staring your progeny in the face. You’ll understand it then)
- Think you’re tired now? Pah! You do not know what tired is. Come back when your baby is 2 months old and we’ll discuss it then. You will get to a point where you are able to function almost perfectly normally on as little as 2 disjointed hours of sleep a night. You will consider it a “good” night if you only wake up four times. You will become intimately familiar with the overnight TV schedules, and you will forget the word for “cheese.” Try to think of it as character building. Once you just accept that a good, 8-hour night’s sleep is a thing of the past, you will feel better. And you will still be capable of playing peek-a-boo and laughing with your baby as if you’re perfectly well rested.
- Are you squeamish? Not any more, you’re not. Once your baby has been sick on you a few hundred times, and you’ve dealt with your first couple of poonamis, you just sort of become immune to it.
- Babies get baby acne. Your baby has been in your belly, a sterile environment, for 9 months. Now all of a sudden she’s out here in the big wide world and exposed to all these germs and air and things. As far as I know, all babies go through a week or so where they get lots of little spots on their faces. I didn’t know this though, until it happened to S and the health visitor told me not to worry about it. Don’t be tempted to pick the spots though (who would?) as babies’ skin scars very easily and it could cause lasting damage. They clear up on their own after a week or so.
- You will have at least one moment in your child’s first few months where you just want to scream at them, “what is the matter! Why are you crying! Tell me how to fix this damn you!!” it doesn’t make you a terrible person, it makes you a human. Just so long as you don’t actually scream at them. Usually just having the thought is enough to make you check yourself, and then they invariably look at you or smile, or do something cute, and you forget there was ever a problem.
- Before you have a child, you know in a sort of abstract way that your life will change, but nothing prepares you for the utter carnage that is your first few weeks at home with a newborn. There is no point in my even trying to tell you how different things will be, because you will not comprehend it until it happens. When it does, think back to this post and remember how I tried to warn you.
This post is part of a group of Things They Don’t Tell You About… posts. The others are:
Things They Don’t Tell You About Pregnancy
Things They Don’t Tell You About Childbirth
Things They Don’t Tell You About Breastfeeding
Things They Don’t Tell You About Babies
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