Having a baby changes your body, your mind, your life. And some days you just don’t want to talk about it.
You may be the type to barrage your obstetrician with questions, diligently attend childbirth classes, take in every pregnancy book you can find, but after your baby is born, you will still be in for the surprise of your life.
Though moms everywhere may agree that they wouldn’t change their new mother life for anything, most admit that there are a few surprises that come along with it … and for some it can be rather shocking. While the birth of your first baby is wonderful, momentous and mind-boggling, in a matter of minutes you go from being captain of your ship – so to speak – to taking orders from a 20-inch lieutenant. The realization that predictability is out the window and chaos is here to stay is stunning – as Nashville mother Rachel Healy, who has a 6-month-old, admits. “Letting go of control was the hardest thing for me,” Healy says, “and it takes awhile to come out of that cloud.”
Remember to back off your expectations, says Nancy Beveridge, M.D., a pediatrician in practice at Green Hills Children’s Clinic and mother of four. Beveridge says new parents should be wary of preconceived notions about the way things should be. “The first year is full of changes,” she says, “and the best way to approach it all is to be open minded and flexible.” And while you may need to back off from your expectations, remember too, that “parenting is not a democracy,” Beveridge says. “Parents ARE in charge,” and that mantra should guide you through infant issues like sleep and schedules and toddler issues as your baby quickly goes through the first year and starts toddling around.
Because new mommy-hood can be so draining and blurry, we’ve compiled a list of mother shockers to help you cope:
1. There’s tired, and then there’s mommy tired.
Before baby, you cavalierly tell yourself that you will master sleep deprivation by sleeping when the baby sleeps … and you figure the fatigue will go away around the three-month mark (that’s the pinpoint moment everyone talks about) when your infant will begin sleeping through the night. But the truth is, staggering around in the middle of the night is a big part of the new mother story. But that’s not what makes mommy tired. Sure, losing sleep is rough, but what drives you past perfect is the constant day-in-day-out ritual of changing, feeding, soothing and entertaining your child when you’re already overworked or have a headache or something worse … or simply can’t bear picking up one more toy one more time, so you kick it across the room, snarling at it. That’s mommy tired.
2. Having a child is like being in an all-day fitness class.
You will be perpetually cuddling, bouncing and pacing the floors with your motion-sensitive infant. Later, you’ll be running after that same person as she giddily bungees off furniture and bee-lines for the dog’s water bowl to play “splash, splash.â€
3. Your body won’t be the same. Ever.
Even after your body has recovered from childbirth, things will be different. You may be one of those lucky few who zips herself back into her college-era jeans right out of the hospital, but you, my friend, are still going to face bodily changes. Your feet may be larger. Your belly is apt to be stubbornly squishier. You may have a nice, new set of spider veins on the inside area of your knees thanks to the extra weight on your legs from carrying your baby. Your breasts have a whole new shape and feel – which is kind of fun during breastfeeding – but after …
4. If I only had a brain.
The day may come when you step out of the shower without rinsing out the shampoo. You may forget to blend in your concealer under your eyes because your toddler interrupt you mid-makeup, so remember to give yourself quick looks in the mirror from time to time. Motherhood is murder on the small stuff.
5. Breastfeeding is hard … and so is weaning.
While lactation consultants may use terms like “engorgement” and “severe nipple trauma” somewhat casually, experiencing them firsthand is a whole different ball game. Breast-feeding books mention that some women experience nipple soreness, but they don’t mention the obscenities that may fly from your mouth if it happens to you. Even when everything goes well, breastfeeding can be bewildering.
You may think you can feed your infant in 20 minutes, with a plan to do something as soon as she’s finished, and then your baby may prefer to linger, latching on and staying put for an hour while you sit helplessly confined on the couch. You learn that you don’t make other plans so easily … and eventually you learn to treasure the calm, quiet pleasures of breastfeeding … until it’s time to wean … then you are frantically chasing your toddler and longing for the sweet, relaxed closeness that is becoming a thing of the past while your hormones go wacky in the process.
6. It’s a struggle to maintain a personal style.
Don’t be fooled by the new moms out there who look incredible, manicured and stylish. They are working very, very hard at it … and you have to wonder how many self-indulgent minutes they are reserving for themselves while their tot sits in front of a TV. When you’re a mom on call, every outfit may be subjected to poop, spit-up and whatever happens to be your child’s activity du jour. Let motherhood relax you … your personal style is being reworked. No, you don’t want to throw your own self-care out the window (remember you are a role model, after all), and you may yearn to keep your wardrobe up, so listen to yourself. Just remember, impeccable grooming will come and go; not the precious time you can give to your child.
7. Planning required.
Know that a 15-minute car ride to the grocery store with your baby may require 20 minutes of packing. Finding the right opportunity to return a friend’s phone call may take days. The small, little, married-and-no-baby-yet sundries like lipsticks, paper clips and breath mints that once scattered themselves comfortably around your home are now hazards to be kept out of reach.
8. Mothering is fraught with anxiety, frustration and trial and error.
Fortunately, it’s also equally full of wonder and delight. While motherhood may replace the tranquil routine of your life with chaos, noise and endless clutter, chaos with your own child is sweeter, sillier and more satisfying than anything you may ever know. And as hard as it may sometime seem: Enjoy every minute, because the days may be long, but the years will be short.
Susan Day is editorial director of this publication and a mom of four fantastic kids.
help! my baby’s a toddler!
- When your baby starts crawling, it’s time to put covers on your electrical outlets and store crystal vases in a high cupboard. That makes sense for safety reasons, but it’ll also give him freedom to play. Over time, you’ll have to put even more things out of reach – even things you’d never expect. Amy C. had to put her cat’s food up on the counter when her daughter, Emma, turned 13 months. “I never thought cat food would be appealing, but she kept getting into it, and it was simpler to just move it than to keep telling her it was yucky,” she says.
- When your baby starts getting into messy things, distract her. If she insists on ripping up the newspaper, get her psyched to play with a favorite toy instead – or go to the mailbox together to mail a letter.
- Remember that most “misbehavior” at this age – from painting on the walls to digging up houseplants – is about experimenting and seeking independence. Toddlers often don’t know right from wrong, says Ari Brown, author of Toddler 411 (Windsor Peak Press; $13.95). Be willing to set gentle, consistent limits when you need to.
- Focus on sleep … Over-tired toddlers are harder to handle. “Fatigue is the number-one cause of misbehavior,” says Will Wilkoff, M.D., author of How to Say No to Your Toddler (Broadway Books; $13.95). “If he’s consistently difficult, he’s probably sleep-deprived.” Toddlers need 10 to 12 hours at night plus one to three hours of daytime napping.
- Look the other way sometimes … Most children crave their parents’ attention so much that they’re willing to do anything – even something naughty – to get it. “If your toddler starts screaming every time you get on the phone but there’s nothing wrong when you check on him, your best bet is to just ignore him,” says Brown. “Giving him attention – or even getting angry – will only reinforce his behavior.” Try to save less urgent calls for nap-time.