written by Amy Birdseye
edited by Lisa Rose
Motherhood is a mess. Let's start at the beginning. That first year is crazy. That's when you find out what parenting is really all about - when you find out what your real parenting journey is going to be. Not the one you dreamed up...but the real one, the raw one, the one that will bring you more joy than you ever thought possible and at the same time will bring you more pain than you ever imagined.
The first year of motherhood for me is still a bit of a blur. I remember one day I thought to myself, "maybe I'm getting more sleep than I think I am." So I used an app to track my sleep that night. The next morning I realized that I had only gotten 4 hours of broken sleep in a 12 hour period. So yeah, I was tired to say the least. I was not myself, and life felt pretty bleak. Looking back on that first year I know I would do a few things differently.
Harsh Reality: The first year of motherhood sometimes sucks!
1) Get help healing your postpartum body sooner than later.
Birth wreaked havoc on my body. I was induced due to a concerning pregnancy condition a week before my due date. I still laugh a little when thinking back on receiving the call that I needed to be induced. My husband and I are project people. We literally can't NOT have a project going on. And a week before my due date we got it into our heads that making a rock patio on the side of the house seemed like a good idea. We were at Lowe's loading up our car with bags of gravel when I got the call. Test results were in, and my doctor wanted me to get to the hospital that night. My response? "We are right in the middle of something, can we do it tomorrow?" I mean seriously...ridiculous. Things went very quickly after that call. My active labor only lasted a few hours. I remember the nurse telling me I was only 4 cm dilated. At that point I was in excruciating pain, my hands were numb from gripping the side of the bed so tightly, and the nurse had to tell me to stop screaming so loud because I was scaring the other mothers. There was no way I could go on with that amount of pain so we asked for an epidural. I remember telling the nurse that I didn't think I could hold still for the procedure because the pain was too much and that it really felt like the baby was coming. As a courtesy to me, and also probably to get me to shut up, she agreed to check me again. That's when she said, "Don't move, you are crowning. I will call your doctor." Going from 4 cm dilated to baby out in 8 minutes wreaked havoc on my body, and I ended up having an internal labor injury.
Basically, a muscle inside of me tore because
it wasn't given enough time to properly stretch.
But the problem wasn't really the injury...
it was that I didn't get help with it for months after birth.
I literally would shake uncontrollably and my hands would go numb every time my injury was aggravated. Thinking back on it, I don't know why it took me so long to bring it up to my OB. But she never really asked me about how I was doing, and I guess I was embarrassed to bring it up. If I could go back in time, I would have discussed the issue from day one because pelvic floor physical therapists (the professionals who eventually helped me) are in high demand and often have a long waitlist. By the time I got treated, I had spent a full year - the first year of my baby's life, already challenging - in unnecessary agony. Now, not everyone will get a labor injury. "But nonfatal injuries that wreak havoc on a woman’s quality of life remain surprisingly prevalent. Depending on the study, 50 to 80 percent of women who give birth experience tearing of the pelvic skin and muscles. For more than 1 in 10, the tearing is severe enough to damage the anal sphincter muscle, which often leads to the loss of bowel and bladder control." Communicated with your healthcare professionals if you notice something is off! Try not to let them dismiss your concerns. Bring someone with you who can help you advocated for yourself, if possible. Make sure to tell them you are interested in anything that can be done to fix the issue. Don't wait!
2) Go to a lactation consultant immediately.
I remember a lactation consultant came into our hospital room to give some advice on nursing. The room was packed with my family visiting the new baby. At the time I didn't know any better, but I should have lovingly kicked them all out right then and there. Unfortunately, I didn't and that's on me. I could barely hear her advice, and I didn't register a single word.
Now, knowing that I was going to have
a very challenging nursing experience,
I really wish that I had advocated more for myself and our nursing journey.
But beyond that, I wish I had scheduled appointments before I had ever even left the hospital to meet with a lactation consultant the next day. We waited a week. We waited for my nipples to be cracked and bleeding and unknowingly for my baby to be very hungry and underweight. And by the time we had an official consultation, my baby was in danger. At the one-week marker, he was getting zero ounces of milk in a full nursing session.
Nursing is one of those things that feels like it should come totally naturally. But in reality, it often doesn't and can be a huge stressor for those first few months of motherhood. Take care of yourself and reach out to the resources that are around you. Again, DON'T WAIT!
3) If nursing isn't for you, let yourself off the hook and enjoy the gift of formula!
I feel lucky that I was able to nurse for 18 months. But, even typing those words makes me cringe a little. Because I truly believe that formula is a gift and should be used without guilt. At least, I believe that now. But back then, formula meant I was failing. If I used formula, it meant that I didn't properly feed my kid during a nursing session and therefore, in my mind, I failed. And I thought of formula as this horrible thing that was the last result and bad for my child.
Imagine where that put me mentally every single day,
multiple times a day when I
had to supplement my supply with formula. I felt like I was failing constantly and the mom-guilt
I distinctly remember going to a "Baby and Me" group at the hospital I gave birth at and feeling petrified to mix up a bottle of formula in front of all of these breastfeeding mamas. I nursed my son multiple times during the meeting knowing he wasn't getting quite enough and raced to my car to give him a bottle. I don't even know where that shame came from, but it certainly didn't come from those moms in the group. Now in retrospect, I know that FED IS BEST. And sometimes you have to let go of what you thought would be and accept what is. Though I made nursing last for 18 months, I don't think of it as something that was good for my relationship with my son. It caused so much anxiety and guilt. So let yourself off the hook if it isn't for you. Don't let nursing rob you of the joy of giving your baby a full and happy belly.
4) Get a therapist ASAP
Even if you dodge a challenging pregnancy, birth, and postpartum experience you are still going through a huge transformation. The day your baby is born is the same day you are reborn as a mother. You are new, in a new world, with a new baby, and a new body, and unfortunately, most of the world around you will obsess about your new little one and completely forget to check in with you. Don't be afraid to advocate for yourself with the ones you love. They still love you! They are just blinded by how adorable your baby is. Try to take it as a compliment, and kindly remind them you need attention too. Check out my snarky onesies that will not-so-subtly tell them you need help.
But also, remember that there are other resources out there to support you. A therapist is an incredible relationship that I recommend cultivating early on in motherhood.
I waited until my postpartum
anxiety and depression were eating me alive.
That's when I found a therapist
and I had to dig myself out of a pretty deep hole.
If I could go back in time, I would have started a relationship with a therapist during pregnancy. Not all therapists are going to be the right fit. Sometimes it will take meeting a few different people before you feel a good connection. The problem is that once that little baby comes, you will have so much less time to find someone good. I am so grateful to have had support for my mental health during my parenting journey. Do it early! Do it often! Take care of yourself, so that you can take care of your baby.
5) Do research on sleep training and parenting methods before the baby comes.
Along the same lines of getting a therapist before the baby comes, I would recommend doing your research on sleep training and parenting methods before the baby comes as well. I waited. Honestly, I was so sick during pregnancy that I didn't make it a priority. But also, I didn't think sleep training was for me, and I thought my parenting style would just come to me naturally.
It wasn't until I was barely functioning due to extreme lack of sleep and the toddler years hit with a bang that I realized I needed some help.
So I started the research. But I was so exhausted that doing the research just about did me in. I wish I had a general concept of how I wanted to parent starting at pregnancy. I think I just assumed that I would parent as my parents did. I have amazing parents, and I didn't see a need to research other ways of parenting. But because my kid is different than I am, and because I am different from my parents, I needed a different method and clear guidelines for the chaos. The biggest bummer for me was that a lot of the sleep techniques and parenting techniques that I used from the age of 2 (after research) could have been implemented much earlier and could have been much less painful of a process. I found two books that brought me a lot of belated success in sleep and parenting. No Bad Kids By Janet Lansbury and The Sleepeasy Solution: The Exhausted Parent's Guide to Getting Your Child to Sleep from Birth to Age 5.
6) Lower your expectations
To be honest, I hate this one. I have incredibly high expectations for myself. It's funny because I struggle with self-confidence and often think of myself as someone who is failing at life on a daily basis. Yet, at the same exact time, I expect myself to be super-mom EVERY SINGLE DAY...and super wife, super-homemaker, super-friend, super-you-name-it. So what happens when I don't have confidence in myself yet expect myself to excel in every aspect of my life? I feel like a total and complete failure even when I am actually doing a pretty good job juggling it all. This was particularly true that first year, mostly because I expected myself to maintain the lifestyle I had pre-baby. We were avid campers, skiers, climbers, hikers, and adventurers before starting a family.
I had it in my head that I was going to
maintain that lifestyle. I wasn't going to let
motherhood "rob" me of what I loved.
But, of course, when you are exhausted to your very core, driving to the mountain to ski and somehow figuring out how to do it with an infant just doesn't sound appealing...at all. But, I still expected myself to keep up with it all. So we did the camp trips and tried the hikes, and I beat myself up like crazy when I could tell deep inside that I just didn't want to put my energy into making those things happen yet. I wish I could have let myself off the hook. It's okay if your priorities change when a baby comes into your life. I mean, of course, they are going to change. And that doesn't mean that at some point you won't gain your old priorities back again if you want to. But I have found that fighting the change just makes it so much worse. Give in to the fact that you just created a human INSIDE of you, pushed them out of your body, and are now keeping them alive by sacrificing yourself. It is so hard. And it is okay to lower your expectations and let life get simpler for a while.
Now, having said all of that. I can't change that first year of my motherhood experience. And in many ways, the challenges of that year made me into who I am today. I am a stronger mother for going through those things and finding my way out of them on my own. I just want every parent and mother out there to know that they are not alone in the struggles of that first year. If there is something that is causing you pain and stress during that time, I want to strongly encourage you to stand up for yourself and be an advocate for your own needs. I feel so strongly that mothers and parents need MORE support and LESS judgment. And the first way we can make a real change is to stop judging ourselves and make sure we are getting the care we need.