About halfway through my pregnancy I started to imagine those two months I would take off work after childbirth, and conjured up images of myself being the perfect home builder-mother type person, keeping the house perfectly clean, laundry done, groceries shopped for and freshly made meals prepared every day, so that C could come home late at night and heat up his dinner. Oh yes, I imagined that the first couple of weeks would be difficult, but after that I would magically snap back into my normal self. Little did I know that instead of being worried about the last months of pregnancy or childbirth I should have been preparing for the recovery.
I learnt that there is no “perfect” way to be a mother. You aren’t going to be that woman in the baby food commercial, hair perfectly coiffed, matching outfit and wobbly bits miraculously disappeared. And that’s OK – because you ARE perfect, to your child. You are the most important person in your child’s life, and that’s the most important thing you keep in mind. Motherhood is what you make it, and that’s the wonderful part about it all.
Read what you will about pregnancy and childbirth, recovery is often glazed over (or maybe I glazed over it?). I wish books were more honest with how hard it actually is. You know when they say prepare meals and put them in the freezer? DO IT. And not just for a week or two. Make enough for a month. Stock up on tea and coffee and things that don’t perish easily. Have take out menus and Seamless on hand because if you often find yourself home alone with your child and you are breastfeeding you may not find the time to prepare a meal. And you get HUNGRY. I forgot what it was actually like to be hungry during those last months of pregnancy, but now my stomach actually rumbles every few hours. Don’t worry too much of dishes aren’t done immediately and things get a little dusty – because recovery isn’t called recovery without reason. You have to rest.
I really thought I would be up and about after 2 weeks. After 5 weeks I was still nowhere near the image in my imagination of before. I finally started going out for walks every day. I finally stopped wearing pajama bottoms and started wearing actual clothes. After 7 weeks I feel a LOT better, and have been making trips into the city and making it back alive. Going back to work is something that I never want to have to consider again (um are you asking me to actually LEAVE my child with someone else?!! No way.), and we finally have this breastfeeding thing down for the most part (more on that later). There are so many things that I would like to warn other first time mothers to be about that I wish I had known (or acknowledged when people were trying to warn me). Granted, it may be very different for others, but I think I would have been easier on myself if I had known the toll it would take on me.
No one told me during labour that all the Pitocin and antibiotics they pumped into me could delay my milk coming in for a bit longer than average. Or maybe it doesn’t affect everyone like that, but all that medicine took a toll on my body, maybe more so because I hardly ever take antibiotics. I mean I don’t ever remember taking any at all! The first night in the hospital Luna was crying her eyes out, and I kept thinking she must be hungry, even though I had read that all they need in the first few days was the colostrum you produce until your milk comes in. The night nurse came in to check on us and basically told me that my child was starving and that if I couldn’t feed her properly myself then I needed to give her formula. Even when I tried to explain that that was not true and I didn’t want to give my child formula she kept pressing the issue. Those close to me know how important it was for me to breastfeed exclusively, but after labour and no sleep for 30 hours, a brand new newborn crying in despair in my arms and someone pushing a solution on me, I gave in. The next morning, after a few hours sleep I felt like myself again and was really angry for not being listened to and decided to not let my arm be twisted again. And yes, the formula did shut her up and comfort her, and yes, we did give her a tenth of a bottle over the first couple of nights she was home, but she really disliked it and just wanted to nurse. And nursing was SO painful. I literally cried in pain and gritted my teeth so that Luna wouldn’t feel my stress and pain every time she latched on. The lactation consultant I had seen in the hospital was a complete waste of space (she didn’t even come near enough to actually show me how to make sure I was doing it properly). When myy milk finally came in 6 days after birth and so did the cracked and painful nipples. Breastfeeding is NOT easy, and whoever says it is must have been really lucky. We struggled for at least 3 weeks to get it right, but I am very proud of us both for succeeding and persevering. Oh, and you will not starve your child if your milk isn’t there immediately… Before formula existed women could only breastfeed (or hand their child over to a wet nurse), so don’t listen to people who think better. Case in point: Luna actually put on weight over the first week after her birth and grew 2 inches, and that was NOT due to the tiny amount of formula we gave her the first few days – it was due to what I was giving her, however painful it was. I’ve even started to get over my fear of breastfeeding in public, and even did it in Washington Square Park without a cover the other day (only because there were other mothers doing it and I felt less self-conscious – I used a cover on the subway!). I’m aiming on doing this for a year if possible, even after we start her on solids after 6 months. She’s growing so fast, so it’s definitely doing her the world of good!
I mentioned the subway just above – apart from walking the only form of transport that I use to get around the city… Luna loves her carrier (although the one we have plays havoc on my back after a while so we are saving up to get an Ergo which will help), but if I am going to be out and about in the city for a while I need to be able to put her down at times, and this has been impossible the last few times I have taken her out in it. And she gets really hot in the carrier… It’s a great option for short journeys and if you are going from one location to another but difficult when you are strolling around. She also loves the stroller (and I use it when she refuses to sleep during the day which she does all the time), but the stroller is heavy with the infant seat in it and I can’t carry it up and down stairs by myself just yet. So I figured out which stations have elevators and did a trial run the other day. It’s doable, a little confusing at times (especially 74th St/Roosevelt Ave), and most people were really helpful and lovely (bar the lady who was in a rush and shouted at me that some people didn’t have the luxury of staying home with their kids…). It’s all part of living in the city… And part of the reason that I really want away from all the stress. I LOVE this city and I LOVE that it has been my home for the past 9 years, but I am starting to consider a change… But those thoughts are for another time. In the meantime I won’t let it stop me from getting out and about, but I will be spending a lot of time out and about nearer home.
There will be people who tell you how to parent your child, but I learnt well over the first couple of weeks that none of that really matters – it’s what works for you as parents and your child that is the best. I remember being in the drug store with a friend when Luna started crying while I was paying at the check-out. She literally had time to let out one little wail when a woman behind me said loudly to the rest of the people in the store “somebody needs to give that child a pacifier!” Oh really? I was actually a little shocked and just muttered something about how rude she was and then posted about it on Facebook. A friend left a comment about just ignoring these types of comments gracefully, as I would hear them all of the time, and she was absolutely right. And babies cry, it’s normal. It may be irritating to others, but no one is going to be able to keep their child inside until they are two years old, and at the same time, nobody wants to shut their child up just for the sake of others. There is nothing wrong with a child vocalizing what they want – and the only way for a baby to do it is by crying. I have a baby who is very vocal and I am not going to apologise for it! In the end, I am the one who has been blessed with this beautiful child, and C and I are the only ones who will have a say in how she is raised.
And that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Through-out my pretty wonderful pregnancy and less than wonderful recovery the main point is that we created an amazing little human being who is growing and thriving every day. I already have forgotten the discomfort of the first trimester and the miserable hugeness of the last two weeks of the third trimester, and at nearly 8 weeks post partum I have already completely glazed over the pain of the recovery. To be honest if I hadn’t started writing this 3 weeks ago I probably wouldn’t even have written anything about it. Because it was ALL completely worth it. I look at my daughter’s beautiful little peaceful face while she is sleeping and have to restrain myself from kissing her cheeks every 2 seconds. She smiles at me in the morning and laughs when I do silly things to make her giggle. It still blows my mind that C and I were able to create this little person, the most important action we have ever done in our lives. I’m still completely overwhelmed with happiness and I doubt this feeling will ever go away!
(Huge thanks to my friends Tiffany, Ryvenna and Gina for helping me get through the first few weeks just by answering questions and reassuring me that I was normal, and a huge thanks to Google for answering many of my questions, allaying many fears and sometimes for scaring the shit out of me. And another huge thanks to my doctor Ronnie Lichtman for being there through-out my whole pregnancy, for answering my questions and for just being a lovely human being. I am really going to miss all the ladies at MIC Fort Greene).