Pregnancy and parenting for the perplexed
It’s inevitable. At some point, you’re going to be complaining to someone about something that’s happening. Either you’re pregnant, and exhausted, cranky, and getting up five million times in the night to pee; or you’re post-natal and figuring out breastfeeding; or your 6week/4month/6month old has a sudden total personality shift. The person you’re speaking to — probably already a parent — is going to say “oh yeah, that’s totally a thing!” and you’re going to think, why the f%^k did I not know about this before?
So much of parenting with a new baby is post hoc. You are living with a human being who is basically evolving before your eyes, and it’s weird and constantly shifting what it is you need to be doing.
Here’s a list of things I didn’t know were things when I was pre-pregnant, pregnant, and post-natal. Many of them will not be true for you, but if one of them is and you’ve had just a smidge of forewarning, maybe that’s good.
Remember: there is a forum for everything. A blog for everything. Everyone contradicts one another. Blood is heated, arguments abound, and people are judgmental. That said people are also great. Be prepared to read The Whole Of the Internet over the next 9+ months
I didn’t want to be someone whose sex life became about ‘trying to conceive’, or TTC as it’s called on the fora. Nevertheless as the months ticked by and nothing happened, I did get a tad preoccupied. When it finally happened, woo what a rush, but also vertiginous awareness that from now on things would always be different. I felt trapped and elated at the same time. This is the first dose of ambivalence.
The second dose came when I realised I was in labour. Oh, I thought, cool, this is finally happening, finally I won’t be some sort of land whale, and I will get my body back, and have a little person to cuddle. Oh shit, I don’t really want to do this. Oh shit, I really have to do this. As things became more urgent in labour, these thoughts stopped appearing, and I concentrated on the bare minimum. Small details — the drip in my wrist, the lights overhead, the inside of my eyelids. It was such a wholly physical set of circumstances, and I will never look at my body the same way again. I was right about the person to cuddle, though she’s pretty wriggly most of the time, and some days I long for less physical contact. I love touch, but there is a different thing when you have a kid where now you just have to, all the time, touch someone and be touched. In the first few months especially I had to really adjust to this. I wanted it, but goddamn I wanted some personal space as well. There’s not much after having a baby.
Also; wrong on the getting your body back, for six months at least. Granted you’re not growing a tiny human any more, but for me I had to get used to my ‘old’ body being pretty much gone, replaced by Body 2.0. I’m happy with Body 2.0, now, but it took some getting used to. I will say though that I savoured nothing so sweetly as laying in bed on my stomach the first time post partum.
Everyone’s pregnancy is different. Each pregnancy for the same woman is different. I was sideswiped by a few things.
1st trimester: so. tired. all. the. time. I knew this was a thing but not how much of a thing. I needed naps almost every day. My body took me to bed regardless of what my brain said. It was my first brush with biology’s triumph over psychology. General abdominal uncomfortableness (why was this like pre-menstrual symptoms?) felt like a slap in the face. I wasn’t glowing. I needed to pee all the time. My boobs were sore. And, weirdly, I burped nearly constantly. A lot of women get indigestion, smell sensitivity, diminished (or increased) sex drive. Also, my ligaments were suddenly super stretchy, and I had to stop running. My hips and lower back ached all the time.
2nd trimester: starting to feel better in those other areas. Awareness of uterus. Weird. First flutters of movement felt like gas bubbles, but gas bubbles not generated by my body. The feeling of it being something growing that wasn’t me was very strange, and very cool. My libido went way up, but (and this sucked!) my natural lubrication system became slightly more acidic than usual. This made sex super painful — like, UTI painful, and for the mister as well as for me. Condoms helped him but not me. The whole thing felt really REALLY unfair, as 2nd tri is when sex is achievable, fun, and plentiful for most people.
3rd trimester: increasing sense of land whale-ness. Exhausted again. Peeing again. Sore back and pelvis again. Boobs sore again. Ugh.
Post-natal: wobbly abdomen (makes sense, high risk of herniating because your belly muscles have been pulled apart). Wore a support stretch thingo to keep all my internals in place, did tummy exercises at the same time as pelvic floor. Hair begins to thin. What? Yeah. Your hair starts falling out. Your vagina and labia don’t look or feel the same. Might sound obvious, but really, for me this was initially really confronting and sad. My sensations are different now, too — more and less sensitive — and I cried when I saw the stitches (which take about 6 weeks to dissolve). I felt like I’d had cosmetic labiaplasty done against my will. Sex, the first time, was and had to be really slow, the pace determined entirely by me, and with some communication inevitable. I wanted it to be the same as before. It wasn’t. It still isn’t. But it will be. I wish I’d known.
For many women this is awesome. I like it but am not crazy about it, and sometimes the sense of no personal space really got to me. Especially in the early weeks where the baby is eating or sleeping and that’s pretty much it. Formerly good fun during sexy times, they leak milk during (which I don’t like) and I don’t really like them being fondled right now. Hopefully when I wean we’ll be able to have fun with them again, but not for now. And given b/f goes for around 12 months for many women, sigh, this is a long time to not have two important erogenous zones in play.
Breastfeeding in the early stages is pretty much bound to hurt in some way. However, breastmilk heals the area nicely. There is in this country 100% emphasis on breastmilk as the superior food for babies, which it is as science shows us. But if it doesn’t work out for you DO NOT LET YOURSELF FEEL GUILTY. Feel sad, feel other things, but don’t feel guilty. Formula is a perfectly acceptable second place. Trying to breastfeed when you’re stressed about breastfeeding almost guarantees it won’t work. A bottle here and there is not the same as child abuse. Try to get to know your new boobs, try not to see it as a battle, which is hard when there’s the pressure and the impossible co-ordination of newborn plus newboobs and the niggling worry about weight gain and dehydration. Do not freak out. Your baby will be okay. You will also be okay. And you have to look after yourself to look after your baby.
Personally I really wish we had given our baby a bottle every second or third day once we were home from hospital. She (at 7 months) doesn’t drink from a bottle and it ties me to her in a difficult way, because she breastfeeds every 4 hours during the day, and eats three meals as well. This means my schedule is 7am feed, 8am food, 9-11 sleep, 11 feed, 12 lunch, 1.30-3 sleep, 3 feed, 5.45 feed, 6 food, 7.15 bed. And all those bits that are feeding have to involve me, her meals can sometimes be someone else’s responsibility, but during the week I rarely get more than 2 hours a day to do something that isn’t directly baby-related. And often those hours are filled with cleaning up after the meals, or washing, or cooking. So. Bottles are your friend, regardless of what midwives say; it can be expressed milk or formula, but getting your baby used to drinking from a bottle is important before they’re about 3 months old. After that, it seems, they don’t really know what to do with it. I wish I’d known.
This is a whole thing. I’m not going to go into too much detail here because everyone has their own desires and priorities. For us, we wanted to encourage good — and by good I mean suits us as a family — sleep habits. So nap times followed a general idea (don’t keep baby up for more than 1 hour as newborn, 2 hours as 3month-6month old, 3 hours as 6+month old; roughly 4-6 hours day sleep per day is ideal; bedtime between 7-7.30. I used dreamfeeds from very early on and I can’t recommend them enough. Basically this involves feeding your baby in their sleep when meal times come around, if they are still sleeping and it’s night. It’s great. I have plenty more to say but won’t just yet.
Lack of sympathy
This was a big and horrible surprise and started very early. When I was pregnant and tired, and people asked me how I was and I would say tired, they would say “Well that’s not going to get better, is it!” or, “Hey, plenty more of that to look forward to!” or, “Guess that’s what you signed up for!” Pretty much same response to any other pregnancy related symptom. It’s insane, and cruel, when if any other person said they had terrible indigestion, or heartburn, or was vomiting a lot, or had a 2 week headache (this happened to me, and is common, and sucks) the reaction would be “oh, that’s terrible, can I do anything?”
People are weird. It’s like because you’re expecting a child, or have a newborn, you have forfeited your right to the kind of basic compassion we would extend to anyone else, even people we don’t know well.
When I’d had my baby, I also got a lot of competitive bullshit from my mother and mother-in-law. Along the lines of “well my labour was X+ hours! And I had Y+ stitches!” or “try doing it with twins!” in response to my answer to questions they asked about the length or horribleness of my labour, the number and location of my stitches, or the difficulty of doing things with a newborn.
Like I say, it’s insane. It makes me crazy, too, and I have stopped having any patience for it. When people say this kind of ungenerous bullshit these days, I pull them up on it and question them as to why they asked if they just want to dismiss or compete with my answer, or point out that it’s not only rude but also unkind.
I wish I’d known.
I’m going to publish a summary list of stuff that happened to me, but this is the wordy version. If there are any questions, then feel free to ask em. Part of what’s super important about having a baby is a sense of community, of not being alone, and of being understood. So, Internet, I am there for you 🙂
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