There is a blessing and curse embedded in our access to information at the drop of a hat through Google and social media. For women transitioning into motherhood, this can be an amazing source of validation, support, and insight that we wouldn’t normally have access to. After delivery, we are vulnerable and often desperate for something to explain what we’re going through, so having a quick resource at our fingertips can be a sigh of relief. On the flip side, when we have preconceptions from television, the recounted stories of other moms, and the input of our loved ones on how things should be, sometimes these resources fuel a panic. It’s hard enough figuring out how to transition into motherhood, so conflicting feelings and information can put any new mother into a head spin. Luckily, what’s normal for one mother isn’t necessarily what will be normal for another. Here are some common misconceptions about “normalcy” and helpful tidbits to get through the first weeks of motherhood:
C-section or vaginal delivery, you’re going to need to recover.
- Despite how comfortable the royals seem just moments after delivery, your body just went through trauma and you don’t need to put on a brave face for the paparazzi. This seems like common sense, a baby is coming out of you, either requiring an incision or requiring your body to do some miraculous “natural” things. But natural doesn’t mean our bodies won’t need to rest and reset; often times there are tears, friction burns, or stitches in unfathomable places. Sometimes labors last hours, sometimes days, and your body is doing a lot of hard work during that time. It’s absolutely normal to feel like a hot mess, and you are entitled to as much time as you personally require to rest, recuperate, and heal. More than likely, you won’t be wearing heels on the steps on your hospital right after delivery, regardless of how seamless it went.
Continuing with the “natural” misrepresentations, breastfeeding is not always easy, comfortable, or desirable.
- This is probably the best topic to practice telling people where to stick their opinions—everyone seems to have one on breastfeeding. The assumption is that babies come out of the womb prepared to breastfeed perfectly, and women’s bodies are designed to nourish them. The truth is that babies are born with the reflexes to nurse and women have the parts for babies to work off, but most babies need the practice to get things right and sometimes it results in pain for the mother. Babies can have lip or tongue ties, high palates, trouble due to early birth or NICU stays… and this can be incredibly heartbreaking for a mother who is intent on getting things right. The learning curve is normal and usually requires the assistance of a certified lactation consultant to get things right. Sometimes, even with evaluations and help, it just doesn’t get easier. And if you don’t want to breastfeed or decide that it isn’t worth the struggles (I did this with my daughter—after all we had been through, I took it off the table so I could have one less thing interfering with my ability to heal and bond with her), more power to you. Feed that baby and give him/her a happy, relieved mama.
It’s not always love at first sight.
- It’s true that your body released the hormone oxytocin, “the love hormone,” immediately after delivery. Some moms are in love with their babies the moment they find out they’re pregnant, and their first time meeting them is an overwhelming feeling of incomprehensible love. Some moms struggle to feel connected with their growing bellies until the moment they see their baby's face for the first time. And some moms, believe it or not, take much longer to feel that bond, well-beyond the pregnancy and delivery. I remember how much I judged myself when I didn’t instantly connect with my daughter, and how much more difficult it made bonding with her in the months thereafter. It wasn’t until she started developing a personality with smiles and giggles (around 6 months) that something clicked for me. Many moms are afraid to admit that they don’t feel it right away, but this is a little stranger you’re bringing home. A stranger that is going to keep you awake, require all of your time and attention, and that you are responsible for rearing into a functional human being. That in itself is an overwhelming feeling, and it’s perfectly normal if it takes time to get past that to fall in love with the person at the center of it all.
You may change your idea of how the first few weeks after birth look.
- In movies, we often see new moms with their spouses, fresh little baby, and hospital or living room full of doting friends and family. They’re well-dressed in street clothes (usually cross-legged… how are they crossing their legs?!), their little bundle in a cute swaddle and bow with people passing them around. If this is your truth my hat goes off to you—it must be a joyous occasion! If it’s not, don’t worry—it wasn’t mine, either. I was exhausted, in pain, and seriously nervous about having the germs of strangers all over this tiny, vulnerable extension of myself. I was already overwhelmed with the responsibilities of caring for my baby and was not prepared to entertain a room full of people. If you choose to have your hospital room and home immediately after birth reserved for your immediate little family, you are entitled to it and you owe nobody an explanation. (See back to you’re healing, you’re trying to figure out how to feed a person, and you’re trying to bond with your stranger— those are reasons enough.)
You are going to be given contradicting information from every direction—it’s not your sleep-deprived imagination playing tricks on you.
- In the same way that pregnant women have their own personal way of treating their growing bodies, postpartum moms are not exempt from the opinions of others on how to care for themselves and their babies. It is totally normal to hear many different approaches to the same thing (sleep, vaccines, feeding, crying, etc.) and to feel like you’re going crazy. You can do what your mom and her mom did, you can do research and choose a new path, or you can fall into things naturally and just go with the flow. No matter what you do, someone is going to have something negative to say or an alternative “solution.” But it isn’t a problem, let alone their problem, where a solution is necessary. It’s your body, your baby, your family; you call the shots. Find some like-minded pages on social media, practice your smirk-and-nod, and find your favorite come-back to unsolicited advice. There is no one right way to raise a child, and your way will be the normal yours knows.
There is enough stress for a new mom without feeling the need to meet someone else’s expectations for “normal.” Your truth can look very different from that of those around you. There is so much that happens in the moments and days after birth, and this list is far from exhaustive. Talk to a trusted, seasoned mom, reach out to your health care providers, and feel free to comment with any questions you might have— I’d love to share my two very different postpartum experiences!