10 tough learnings you experience after giving birth

On January 12, 2017, I gave birth to a healthy and beautiful baby boy. At 30, my pregnancy had been unplanned with my boyfriend of two years. I was two months pregnant when we traveled through Asia, and that’s where I told him I was keeping the baby. He was upset—after all, he had just turned 28 a couple of months earlier. We’d been in Phuket, Thailand when I told him. A few days later, we were in Taipei, Taiwan, having lunch, seated across from his best friend breaking the news. After that, the idea of being a father seemed to bother him less and less, and slowly, he grew to embrace it.

Since we hadn’t intended on becoming parents so soon, I was completely in the dark on what to expect from the pregnancy and delivery, and on what to expect the first couple of months. I didn’t end up reading any guides or books on motherhood, but here are some key things I learned about birth and creating life.

  1. Don’t feel ashamed | I went through my entire pregnancy, and even the first several weeks after my son's birth, feeling self-conscious for not being married and still living in an apartment. I felt like everyone was judging me. No one actually ever said anything to me—in fact, the support and love I received was overwhelming, but I had to learn that my son’s life was bigger than any feelings of shame or inadequacy that I felt.

  2. Stockpile healthy snacks | I experienced so much nausea and morning sickness in months 3–8 that I learned the term morning sickness was a pile of BS. I was struck with vomiting and nausea at all hours of the day or night nearly, every day. If I woke up and didn’t immediately eat something, I’d throw up. If I was lying down too long and got up too quickly, I’d throw up. If I didn’t eat something every hour, I’d throw up. If I took vitamins without food… you get the point. Fill your pantry with healthy snacks and easy-to-prep small meals so you can stave off sickness. And keep your purse supplied. Always have food on-hand, and if you don’t want to gain excessive weight, ensure you have smart options.

  3. SHOCKER: my water breaking wasn’t quite like the movies | One of my fears was that my water would break while in the shower. Guess what? Yup—that happened. It was my sister’s birthday and I remember stepping out of the tub feeling like I was dripping off more water than usual. My next thought was, maybe I'm tinkling myself—which does happen, especially if you’re far along. My boyfriend was on a work call upstairs and dismissed my alarm as pre-birth paranoia. But when the leaks kept happening, he finally believed me, and we threw our overnight bags together and rushed to the hospital. There was no great, continuous outpouring of fluids—it was a sporadic leakage every couple of minutes… which went on for hours. Hollywood would have you believe that gallons of warm fluids splash your feet and then a baby magically appears in your arms an hour later, but it was exactly 24 hours from when my water broke that I gave birth to my son.

  4. The biggest bowel movement of my life | It took me over 22 hours from my water breaking for my cervix to fully dilate for me to begin active labor. I asked the nurses what I was supposed to do, and they told me to push like I was passing the biggest bowel movement of my life. Wait—What? Push like I’m going number two?? Yes. So for the next 90 minutes, I breathed in and pushed out for as hard and as long as I could, exhaling only when I couldn’t push anymore, keeping beat with my contractions. In front of a full-length mirror. While snapping at my boyfriend to keep the ice chips coming. I was spared the situation of an actual bowel movement, but I did push so hard that I felt my insides would erupt from my ears. But once I saw my son’s head crown and I overcame the final hurdle, the ring of fire, those 90 hellish minutes were worth every second.

  5. I felt like I was bonding more with my breast pump than baby | My son was covered in green poop at birth, with the umbilical cord wrapped tightly around his neck—the result of a long labor after my water broke. He didn’t cry out when he was born—it took a little extra effort, so I only got to hold him a few seconds before he was whisked away to NICU for tests and monitoring. After my doctor sewed me up (they had to cut me a bit to make way for my son’s head to prevent tearing), the Lactation Consultant came in and walk me through pumping. She said it was extremely important to start pumping as soon as possible following birth to make colostrum and build supply. It took me three days of pumping every two hours for my milk to come in. My baby was formula-fed while in the NICU for the first day, and he already preferred the bottle over my breast. I cried and cried, feeling helpless and like a bad mom for not getting him to take my breast, and I tried enticing him with droppers of milk to get him on my breast, without success. A few days later when we took him to his first Pediatrician appointment, the doctor said he’d lost too much weight, so reluctantly, I started giving him bottles of formula/breast milk instead of trying to eyedropper milk alongside my nipple to try and get him to latch. Presently, I still express milk and supplement with formula. I pump 6 to 7 times a day, and I feel like I’m always in my chair pumping. Always drinking water. Always eating oatmeal and popping lactation supplements. Always applying nipple balm. Always obsessing over how many ounces I’m getting (or not getting). Cleaning pump parts. Pumping again. Over and over and over.

  6. I also felt like I spent more time cleaning bottles than bonding with baby | We primarily use Dr. Brown’s bottles. These bottles have SIX parts to each bottle. The cap, the nipple, the white thing, the blue tube thing, the flat round piece when mixing the formula, and the bottles themselves. If you didn’t think dishes were terrible before, wait until you have over twelve bottles that you’re standing over the sink soaping down and scrubbing thoroughly so that your sweet little one isn’t sucking down any nasties. And the back pain…it’s such a strain standing over the sink for several minutes scrubbing away. I haven’t found one cleaning method that saves time while making me feel confident in the cleanliness of our bottles and pump parts—I’ve tried boiling and the dishwasher kits… I don’t own a microwave so I can’t speak to the sterilization bags. Same with the countertop steamer appliances. If I have to soap down and scrub the parts any way, might as well just hand-clean them all and air dry, or pop them into the dishwasher for sterilization. My son currently eats 5-6 ounces every 2-2.5 hours, and that’s a lot of cleaning, my friend.

  7. Postpartum bleeding | Nine months of being period-free is a beautiful thing, but during those nine months, your body is producing more blood. I gained 50 pounds during my pregnancy, most of that was extra blood and fluid retention. After giving birth, the next 3–4 weeks were pretty much my body purging itself of the extra blood and fluids. It’s not a period—I experienced no cramping or PMS whatsoever, but my body constantly shed nasties as it snapped back into shape. Another little nugget I learned is that I could potentially delay the return of my period by frequently breastfeeding and pumping. My son is three months old and I see no sign of my period coming back soon, and that’s fine by me!

  8. My boobs are no longer mine | Through nursing, I learned a few things about the areola and nipples. It feels as if my breasts have become these alien beings attached to my body. Areolae darken and the diameters increase significantly—this is to help newborns zero in on the breast for suckling. I also learned babies properly latch onto the breast by getting as much of the areola in their mouth—not just the nipple. And about the nipple—I had no idea it would secrete milk from more than one hole. Nipples have several holes which then release milk for baby. Another fun fact? There will come a moment when you’ll hear your baby cry and your nipples will start sprinkling out milk—Always have nursing pads. Birth is a crazy, crazy experience.

  9. Routine is everything | My son craves routine and structure. From hospital to home, he was fed at consistent times each and every day. Each day, after his first bottle, I carry him into the living room where he spends the next couple of hours playing on his piano play mat, which he loves. Then he has another bottle—I make sure to change his diaper after each feeding. My boyfriend and I go to bed late—the earliest being midnight, so we wanted our son to be on a similar sleep schedule, and it works out great. Around 9pm, we turn off most lights, turn the TV volume down, and get him in the mood to relax and go night-night. He typically has a bottle and gets very sleepy at this hour. He may doze off, and around 11:30pm, we’ll wake him to give him a final feeding and diaper change. Then we swaddle him. Swaddling is everything. It makes him feel snug and secure, akin to being in the womb, and it’s lights out, every time. He’ll sleep from 12–12:30am to 8–8:30am. If I didn’t get this window of sleep each night, I’d be a total zombie trying to meet his needs and keep him happy.

  10. Letting him cry it out is totally okay | I don’t rush to console him when he starts being fussy or goes all out screaming and crying. I’m very diligent with sticking to our routine so if he cries, I know he’s getting sleepy, has a poopy diaper, or he’s scared himself (babies startle very easily their first few months). He’s gotten pretty good about self-soothing—he’ll suck on a finger or three, or he’ll close his eyes after a couple minutes of crying and take a little power nap. In the mornings during the first week or so when we were building up to him sleeping a full 8 hours, he’d stir in his crib and quietly cry out. I’d resist getting up to soothe him by waiting to see if he soothed himself first. Half the time, he did. The other half, I’d keep the lights out and give him his binky to suck on and he’d fall right back to sleep while suckling, all swaddled up snugly. Now at 3 months, my son is constantly cooing and playing with his hands and feet and grabbing his toys. Sometimes he’ll cry out, but he first self-soothes with his fingers. Some moms choose to always scoop their babies up and calm them, and that’s 100% okay to do, too. You always learn to do what’s best for your particular little one. There’s more than one right way to do something, and we’re all in this journey of motherhood together!

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