A friend of mine is expecting her first baby in a few weeks. She came by for tea and to pick up some newborn items that our six-month-old son had outgrown.
I held my little guy in my arms (which, at this stage, is sort of like trying to hold an octopus) while she held her big belly and talked about the anticipation and fear of birth. I was flooded with emotion. I couldn’t believe it, but I wanted to do it all over again. I wanted to be thirty-seven weeks pregnant with him flipping and turning in my tummy, staring down motherhood in a matter of weeks, if not days. I didn’t realize just how fleeting those first few weeks would be. I wish I knew then what I know now.
So, I sat down and penned a letter to myself, what I wish I had known at thirty-seven weeks pregnant.
Dear extremely pregnant Karen,
Gather up every thought or declaration in your head that begins with “When I am a parent, I will never…” and be prepared to do exactly that. Never say never.
Take 90% of the time you devote to reading about, talking about and researching childbirth and instead spend that time learning about breastfeeding. Childbirth is a moment: learning to feed your baby will occupy most of your (few and precious) waking hours for weeks. Learn to pump milk and feed your son with a tube attached to your finger. You’ll look back on just how industrious you were. Find the best lactation consultant that you can and book them to come see you as soon as humanly possible after giving birth. Know that you’ll come to absolutely love nursing your son. One day, he will prefer a meal of carrots over nursing and you’ll be utterly gutted.
When you think your freezer is full, make another batch of smoothies, breakfast burritos, lasagna or muffins. Pack every square inch of that freezer. When your baby is born, eat like a queen. Eat for nourishment. Eat for pleasure. Feed yourself.
Childbirth will be hard, sure, but you’ll do it. The nurses, doctors or women who raised their eyebrows or sneered at your hope of wanting to give birth without pain medication are wrong. You will do it, and you’ll be exhausted but happy. Even though your birth doesn’t go exactly as you hoped it would, it will be perfect in its own imperfect way.
In the moments immediately after your baby comes out, no one will tell you what to do. Cuddle and feed him. Feed him immediately and try again every few minutes. Remember that you both have a steep learning curve here.
Your anxiety will hit new heights, though it will pass as quickly as it arrived. Welcome that worry into your home, feel it, keep an eye on it, then when it has stayed its welcome (you’ll know when), tell it to leave.
Go collect all of the books about babies that are in your home. Now promptly put them in your recycling bin. Don’t subscribe to any advice unless it comes from a professional that actually knows you and your baby. Don’t Google or search discussion threads either. They’ll only muddy your instincts at a time when you need to hone them.
Take that cute baby bath that someone gave you and put it away for a while. Fill up the tub and bathe with your baby. Miraculously, you’ll feel that umbilical cord between you again.
Laugh at all the shit. Like, literally, all the shit. If your choices are to laugh or cry, always opt for option a. Babies are hilariously gross and they constantly leak from somewhere.
The sleepless nights and frustrated nursing sessions will be devastatingly hard, but one day, you’ll suddenly realize they’ve mellowed and you’re suspiciously a bit more rested. You will get the hang of it. This will happen gradually and won’t be like flipping a switch. It won’t come as an epiphany. Trust that your baby sleeping through the night is a developmental milestone that they’ll hit precisely when they’re ready to. It isn’t some battle to be won or habit to break.
It’s okay to ask for help and it is also okay to decline it. If you want time alone to settle in as a new family, do that. People can come meet the baby later.
If you think you loved your husband before, man oh man, look out. Things are about to get way, way deeper. Tell him that you love him with that fierceness every day. When he says your post-baby body is beautiful, don’t hmm and hah about the squishy bits. Just believe him and say thank you. He means it.
Concede that you can’t make elaborate cakes, host languorous dinner parties or go for two-hour hikes for a while. Respect the reality of these new limitations. The sooner you get this, the happier you’ll be.
Don’t worry about when you’ll cut the grass, fit into your jeans, wash the dishes, answer those emails. There will be time for all of those things. Trust that the time will find you somehow. Just relax into this new (and wild) priority.
It took almost ten months to make this child, so ask yourself if you are expecting a little too much from someone so new and small, who has only been outside of your body for such a short time. They need you so much. You cannot spoil them with enough love or affection. Cuddle them and marvel at how tiny they are. Tell them how loved they are. In that moment you’re holding them, they’ll never, ever be that small again.