What is labor like? Is everything everyone tells you about childbirth true?
I poured into blog article, after blog article before having Mae. I wanted to know everything! I took classes at our hospital, departing each time with a notepad full of new notes and binder in tow.
Yet, with all of this, I STILL felt like there were things I wished I would have known. Here are my top ten:
10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Having a Baby
1. What contractions and labor are really like
Contractions felt, at first, like stomach cramps or like gas.
They progressed to feel like really bad menstrual cramps. I woke up at 5 am with the barely noticeable “cramps” and four hours later (because they were consistent and becoming more noticeable) I knew I had to be in labor. I was surprised. On TV, you see women’s water breaking and tons of pain. It was more like a mild pressure for a minute or two, every couple of minutes. Ten hours after I had felt the first “cramps” at 5 am, the pressure became more painful. An hour after the pain started, it became so intense, I was throwing up after each contraction but not for long. I had an epidural, which was painless and amazing. No more throwing up!
Fifteen hours after the epidural, I had Mae. That was 26 hours of labor total (that I knew of because I woke up around 5 am with contractions) but honestly only a couple hours of labor were truly painful. I know not all people choose an epidural. For me, I felt it was right. It was a crazy feeling too. I could feel pressure well (so I could push) but I did not feel pain.
The delivery (when I started pushing) was like working out for ten minutes (it felt so fast but it took an hour and a half!) and not nearly as crazy as I thought it would be. My doctor told me that most new moms take about three hours of pushing to deliver.
2. Don’t overpack your hospital bag!
An excerpt from Hospital Bag Checklist, For Mom To Be:
I read many articles on what to pack in my hospital bag, preparing for the big day. I loaded our bags up with everything everyone said to pack! We used almost none of it. I felt so silly lugging around those huge bags. We had to leave the hospital several times, waiting for further dilation. Each time we carried the heavy bags in and out. Finally, a couple of the nurses kindly offered to stow our bags in a closet so we wouldn’t have to keep bringing them in!
I wrote all these tips and more in a related blog post:
Pack your hospital bag at least a month before you are due or whenever is best for your situation. Make a list of what you still need to pack the day of (like your phone, phone charger, toothbrush). Finally, pick the bag up and make sure the weight is comfortable.
3. Have your baby shower whenever and however you dang well please
I was told to have the baby shower close to delivery: about a month. Everywhere I looked online, this seemed to be etiquette. I felt it would be best to follow the norm instead of going with my instincts.
The problem was, I was so incredibly anxious about having a baby! One night, I was hammering a shelf in and having a lot of trouble. It was 11:30 pm (I usually went to bed around 10 pm). Thomas got up from bed and asked me what I was doing. I was shaking and felt like I had chugged a few energy drinks! After a breakdown, I said, “I feel like if I just had everything ready, I would feel better. But I don’t think that’s true. I think I still would feel this anxious.”
The moment we had everything ready, I was at peace and ready to have a baby. I hadn’t purchased much of anything because I was waiting to see what I would need after the baby shower (we were on a budget). All that waiting (those months of anxiety!) could have been avoided by having the shower sooner and having everything done months before the delivery!
4. Make a decision about how you want your friends and family to see you after delivery. Most importantly: after you’ve made this decision, stand your ground.
I am a people pleaser. Close family wanted to fly out and drive over eight hours to come see our new family after Mae was born! I obliged, thinking it would be okay. I mean, they were coming from so far and I did miss my family! I came to realize, as the weeks drew nearer to the delivery, that as fearful as I was of having a baby for the very first time, that I was more anxious about all the family coming in.
All the plans had been set, so I decided to cope and it was the worst decision I made.
Thomas only had a week of paternity leave and we didn’t spent a single day of that time with just us: our new family. I regret that so much.
I LOVE our family, but after being in labor, I didn’t have the strength to deal with everyone’s needs and presence. It sapped me of everything I had and I honestly spent time crying because I couldn’t deal with everyone!
I am not saying that everyone would feel this way, just that this is the way I responded after labor. Next time we are spending an entire week of just “us” before family arrives. 🙂
5. Understand your insurance, start a savings account for baby expenses/delivery and stay at the hospital for the full recommended length if cost permits.
Call your doctor’s office and the hospital. Ask them about the prenatal visits: what is typically charged and delivery. Ask them to give you a list or point you to one.
Then call your insurance and go through the nitty gritty. I used a calculator on our insurance’s website and it was WAY off. I was told by my insurance, “All prenatal visits are preventative, so they are covered.” Later, I found that my insurance didn’t cover ANY TYPE of testing…urine tests, blood tests – even the ultrasound cost us hundreds. We ended up paying out a couple thousand even before the delivery and a few thousand more after the delivery. Good thing we had saved up six grand for all the bills!
When you are calling to talk to your insurance, ask if you are billed per day or a set amount when staying at the hospital. We left early the second day and I wish we would have stayed the entire three days. There is a HUGE difference when someone delivers you hot food (at the hospital) compared to scrounging for food at home after you deliver. Especially because you will be more sleep deprived, exhausted and emotionally drained than you may have ever been in your life. I had planned to make a week’s worth of freezer meals but I went into labor close to a week early!
6. Postpartum depression is real and it happens to a lot of women!
I feel like I always had decent mental toughness until I was pregnant and after I delivered. I thought it was so odd to feel as emotional as I did and then after, to feel so withdrawn. I found myself (the mentally tough warrior woman!) wanting to crawl into bed, pull the covers over my head and cry privately to myself in the dark. On and off, I felt overwhelmed, sad, hopeless, I couldn’t sleep and I couldn’t focus.
I knew I needed to do something about it when things fell apart one morning:
I had put Mae down to sleep for her first nap. Thomas had gone to work and I started cleaning the kitchen. I cleaned and cleaned and cleaned. Soon, I had everything off of every single counter top and every item and drawer from the refrigerator in the living room.
“If I could just get this one more thing cleaned…” “One more thing.” “One more thing.” After an hour and a half, I began to fell overwhelmed.
The anxiety had been mounting. I found myself feeling like I couldn’t get the kitchen clean enough.
No matter how hard I scrubbed, there was still more…more and more. I felt like no matter how hard I tried, it wasn’t enough. Then, I suddenly felt the same overwhelming thoughts about being a new mom. I found myself having a hard time breathing. Mae starting crying in her room. I immediately called Thomas and he talked me through everything, told me to get out of the kitchen, sit down, let Mae cry for a few minutes and he would be home asap.
Afterwards, I realized that I needed to come to grips a little with my new way of life (understand that staying home with our child is precious), get out of the house more and socialize with like-minded people. None of those things came easy for me! But I worked on them, reached out to other mothers and journaled every single morning.
7. For the first six weeks, your baby will sleep through a dump truck and that means you are more mobile: take advantage!
You are exhausted, take some chill time and try to get out and enjoy life with your sleepy baby. At about six weeks old (when his or her social smiles begin), your baby will start developing a bedtime and around twelve weeks, he or she will develop a morning nap. This means, you will be more limited and less mobile.
From zero to six weeks, your baby is the most mobile.
I would suggest optimizing this time. We didn’t and I wish we had! Because now, Mae gets up at 7am, goes to bed from 9am-10:30/11am and 12:30pm-1:30/2pm. Now, I am restricted by her nap time, which in the end is pretty great (quiet mommy time) but I do wish I would have taken advantage of her mobility early on.
9. Go on a Baby Moon!
We were saving, saving, saving for our new baby. I heard about taking a mini vacation during early pregnancy (the baby moon) but discarded it, laughing at the idea of (myself) being pregnant in a bathing suit. (Next time I am rocking a bathing suit!)
If this is your first child, your life is going to change SO MUCH. I look back and think it would have been so amazing to take one last “just us” vacation. I am not saying I regret being a parent at all! Being a new mom is one of the most wonderful things. Sometimes I miss the simplicity of “just us.”
10. The best piece of advice I received was: “feeding and taking care of your baby is your first priority.”
When someone wants to pop by, make a phone call, interrupt the nap you finally get etc., know that you are trying to figure out your new life and other people are going to have to get used to this too.
Set your priority to taking care of your baby first and foremost and that means taking care of yourself too. This way, you can do the best to take care of your new little one and family. Realize that you can’t do everything and be content with just keeping things simple and focusing on the care of your baby.
When your baby comes home, take each day a day at a time. Don’t EVER entertain. For a solid week or two be selfish (this can be hard!). If you have friends who have a “take” personality instead of “give”, don’t invite them over. You don’t need a single second more work than you will have.
Those first couple weeks are survival mode. Take this time to be with your partner and your new baby.
Everyone has a different experience! I hope these insights were helpful.
All in all, I think every baby is a “live and learn” experience and having a baby is one of the most wonderful things!