My pregnancies weren’t too bad, some hot flashes, some nausea and throwing up, a few really terrible leg cramps, and some hip trouble (nothing compared to what some people go through). But I’ll never forget when the doctor said to me, “If your hip pops out of joint, you’ll know it.” And my response, “Wait, that can happen?”
Labor is labor. It is so horrible. The only good part about it, other than the baby, is getting to stay in the hospital and pretend you are on vacation. It may be one of the few times you ever get waited on in your life, especially if you have more than one child. You can sleep, watch t.v., read, play on your phone, whatever. I know you feel bad but just focus on the positives and the fact that nurses are there to support you. The food isn’t that bad and it’s fun getting a tray with water, milk, and juice and a plate with a lid that you open to see what’s inside. Ok, maybe it’s like a creepy hospital plate but just snuggle your baby and pretend you are at a fancy dinner. There’s really no alternative. My doctor had lots of children himself so he totally got it and asked if I needed an extra day. He knew exactly what going home was going to be like. First rule of pregnancy and labor, you have to find a good doctor. A really, really good doctor who hopefully you will love and will become like your family (be aware that you may see different doctors in the same office and have another doctor deliver in an emergency situation or if your regular doctor isn’t on call – ask about this ahead of time so you know what to expect). Having that was one of the biggest blessings of my life and I will forever be grateful to my doctor and to all of the nurses who were with me.
It’s true when people tell you that pregnancy and labor are different for everyone, so try not to be scared by the horror stories. Have you heard that you might poop when you are pushing? I had heard that was common and it stressed me out. It didn’t happen to me but I did ask the doctor and he said it was no problem, normal, and that they see all kinds of stuff. Poop is a like level .05 on the horror scale. It is good to familiarize yourself with a few horrors, just so you aren’t oblivious and hopefully it will cause less panic later. My doctor told me not to worry about pain because he would give me whatever medicine I needed, but he knew as well as I did that I was afraid of getting an epidural and had no plans to do so. Some people breeze through labor, like I did the first time around because it was so fast, but that’s not always how it goes. And even though it was fast, it was still painful, and after came the stitches. I don’t remember anyone preparing me for that. But, maybe there is just no way to prepare someone for stitches down there. It doesn’t even seem like a good idea now that I think about it.
With the second baby I was still trying not to get an epidural, and so she came naturally too, but not fast again like I hoped. People always say that your first baby takes a long time and then the next babies come faster. That wasn’t true at all for me. It was the exact opposite. The first baby was the quickest (we got to the hospital around 4 to check in and she was born at 6:07, just over 2 hours total). I really thought I might die with the second one. I’m not joking. It was that bad. My labors were not like tv ones where the husband puts a cool rag on the wife’s forehead or rubs her legs. I didn’t want anyone to touch me. At all. I felt like I had to concentrate and if anyone touched me then I couldn’t. I was writhing in pain. I taught writhing as a vocabulary word to students but I never actually understand what that word meant until labor #2. When my first two babies were born the rules for epidurals were different than they were by the time baby #3 came around. An epidural used to be given only by a certain time, and if you waited too long then you couldn’t get one.
I remember friends telling me that when in labor, you don’t care who is in the room even though you are half naked. But that wasn’t true for me. I still cared and didn’t want anyone in the room except for my husband. My mom and sister would have been in the room in a second and with baby #1 they were in the hall, but I just didn’t want anyone else in there. Think about that now if you are pregnant and just go ahead and let people know what you want so it’s not an issue later. Also think about company and whether or not you want people coming to the hospital or waiting until you get home to visit. It will likely depend, of course, on how your labor goes, but still think about it and make sure you have someone designated to handle those directives in case you don’t feel up to visitors. You will probably have some excellent nurses who whisper to you that they can tell visitors that it’s time for you to rest if needed.
With baby #3 my choosing days were over. I was worried because I couldn’t feel Prim moving around as much as I thought I should. That’s tricky because at the end you are so big and the baby has less space so you get paranoid. Did she move or not? How many minutes has it been? Is it my imagination that she’s not moving? Maybe she’s just out of room? I asked the doctor for an ultrasound and sure enough, something wasn’t right. Trust your instincts and always tell your doctor if you have any concerns. The fluid was running out around Prim and there was a fear that she would press on her umbilical cord and cut off her oxygen. I finally had to be induced. My doctor sat me down, very kindly and patiently, and told me that he knew I didn’t want an epidural but he recommended that I get one because what was about to happen was going to be more intense than what I had already been through with my previous labors. I remember a sweet nurse telling me that they weren’t handing out trophies to the moms who didn’t get an epidural. Getting the epidural was a weird feeling and it took multiple times for the anesthesiologist to get it done so I was about ready to call it quits. Before the epidural, I was hurting so bad I was crying, and when it started working and I was watching the contractions on the monitor and not feeling anything, I couldn’t believe it. I even took a nap. I’m not sure I could go through labor again without an epidural. The doctor gave me a smiley “I told you so” face.
So labor is labor and…breastfeeding is breastfeeding. Moms who had great experiences may be shaking their heads at me in a minute. I would hear stories about moms breastfeeding and having tons of milk, people barely having to pump and the milk just coming out, and that was never anything close to what I experienced. I breastfed all of my children and believe it is great to do, but my experience was not what seemed to be typical or what was supposed to happen. I did not produce very much milk, all three times, so I had just enough to feed the girls but not enough to pump. I would pump for almost an hour and not even get an ounce. And yes, I tried more than one type of pump. It was incredibly disappointing and frustrating. It was also painful. I’m not even going into the details here (think bleeding) so I feel for new moms trying to do this without support. It was not sustainable when I returned to work. There was nowhere I felt comfortable pumping at work and it didn’t matter anyway because nothing would come out. I was able to take a longer maternity leave than I had before with my last baby and that made it possible for me to breastfeed a little bit longer. We ended up supplementing with formula and then transitioning to formula for all of them at some point. The best advice I have for breastfeeding is to ask your doctor or the hospital when the lactation consultant comes around. Hopefully it’s a good one. That made some difference for me the third time around but unfortunately, by the time I saw her I was already in so much pain. See a lactation consultant as soon as possible after delivery or ask a nurse for help. Don’t assume you know how to do it or that you are supposed to know how to do it. I was very modest and didn’t want to get a lot of help from a stranger in that area, but I should have. If you try and you can’t do it, please don’t feel guilty. Just feed your baby and make sure he/she is not going hungry. I’m not sure I could do it again. Also, talk to your doctor about this before labor. With my first baby, the nurses immediately asked how much she was eating and said I needed to give her a bottle if I couldn’t nurse her enough but the pediatrician came in the morning and said that a bottle should not have been given no matter if I had fed the baby or not.
Be mindful that your hormones may do things they have never done before. After baby #3, I could not stop crying. I was happy, really happy, and thankful for my girls but I couldn’t stop crying. I knew it was because my hormones were out of whack, but it was still strange and hard to explain to my husband. When Prim was just a couple weeks old, a young, beautiful relative passed away in an accident and I know that was a part of why I was so emotional. I think Prim was 2 weeks old at the visitation and I kept thinking about how I was there with a new life when a life had just been lost. I did talk to my doctor about it, and was offered help if I needed anything, but I declined. I knew that I was going to be okay. If your hormones don’t straighten out, you feel unusually sad, irritable, you are not able to bond with your baby, or have thoughts of hurting yourself or others, call your doctor or a trusted friend or family member right away.
When people tell you to go see a movie or take a nap or do whatever you want now before the baby comes, they aren’t just being friendly or joking around. They are serious. Listen to them! Life changes fast and it can be really difficult for some women to adjust to having a baby attached to them 24/7. I remember telling my mom that I couldn’t take a shower because baby #1 wouldn’t stop crying and my mom said, “It’s okay if she cries for a few minutes.” But as a new mom, it doesn’t feel like it’s okay! I even moved the bassinet in the bathroom because I was so worried about her crying while I took a shower. You do lighten up by baby #3, but looking back I wish I could have lightened up a little with #1.
Take the advice of others in stride. People try to be helpful and sometimes they are and sometimes they are not. And sometimes you will take advice better from some people and not from others. Baby #1 would not sleep unless she was on my chest. We tried everything. We bought everything that was supposed to help. I read all the parenting books. She could not be fooled or persuaded. No advice helped and neither did the criticism of those against co-sleeping. I saw the dangers of co-sleeping too and preferred not to do it. It was just the way she was and something we had to go through but I was exhausted. I would get her to sleep, tiptoe to the bassinet, lay her down, and as soon as I tried to step away her eyes would pop right open and she would scream – every time. It was seriously like she had a radar or heat sensor on me or something.
If you aren’t good at asking for help, practice that now before your baby comes. If you don’t, you can become bitter and wonder why you are always doing everything by yourself. Bitterness reminds me of the Nandina bushes in my flower beds right now. It hides itself behind a pretty exterior, but man, try to get those roots out. They twist and grow deeper and wider than you think they will and they just take over the whole place. Your spouse can’t read your mind. Trust me on that one. And the reality is that your spouse can’t do everything that you can do, even if they want to. You are the mom, and that is a wonderful, special role and you need to be able to ask for support.
After baby #3, I went to the doctor and had an X-ray for back pain that would not go away. At times, it was so bad I couldn’t walk and had to get the girls to help me. Literally my children had to let me lean on them to hop across the house and almost every night I was using a heating pad for some relief. The X-ray came back okay and so I was told to go to physical therapy. I know this is absolutely awful, but I never went. I just thought, “When do I have time to go to physical therapy?” The doctor was a female and she was having some of the same problems I was having after her first baby. She asked me if I had been told since my first pregnancy how important it was to do back exercises regularly? I’m sure I was told to be healthy, eat well, exercise, but no one ever mentioned specifically doing back exercises. The doctor said she was seeing more and more of these problems and she was shocked that OB-GYN’s were not advising women on how important this was. So, just do some back exercises! Another physical issue no one tells you about is that you may be using the bathroom on yourself long after labor, and I’m not just talking about peeing. I know it’s embarrassing, but you need to tell your doctor if this is a problem for you, and learn what you can do to help the issue.
Everyone has an opinion on when the hardest stage of parenthood is, but I think it’s all hard. Yes, there’s an ease to not having kids in diapers anymore or in car seats you are toting around, but the ease is always replaced by another phase with its own struggles. Your personal dreams and ambitions, you will still have them. Sometimes they go on hold for little ones, but that doesn’t mean they dissolve. You will feel like you are supposed to do everything, for everyone, but you aren’t, and you may have to make life changes or make yourself take a break to be okay.
If you never start that baby record book, or you get one and barely start it like I did and then quit, it’s okay. No one knows but you anyway unless you tell them. I found keeping one journal that I write notes in for all of the girls to have when they are older to be much easier. The most important things that happen, you will remember. I remember nurses laughing with me at the doctor’s office when my water had partially broken and I was walking around with a towel between my legs. I remember so many smiling faces who came to visit and bring food. I remember friends who came and brought a gift for the new baby and a gift for the new big sister(s). I remember a nurse saying that she didn’t know I could scream so loud. I remember a calm directive from the doctor to rest between pushes with baby #2. I thought he wanted me to rest. I found out later the cord was wrapped around her neck and he fixed it without me knowing so I wouldn’t panic. I remember a wonderful nurse asking us if we minded moving rooms after baby #3 so another mother wouldn’t hear our baby crying, and the doctor coming in to snuggle our baby before we had any idea what had been going on just down the hall. Pregnancy and labor, though very common, bring many unique challenges and sometimes, unimaginable loss. Be kind to those around you who are going through a process that will change their lives forever. And don’t be upset with the women in your life who didn’t tell you everything. They wanted your own experience to be just that – your own experience. And all the while, they were praying for nothing but the best for you.