It's a beautiful thing, but it sure as hell isn't clean.
One of my oldest and dearest friends is having a baby. This information doesn't shock you, only because you don't know her. Francie is NOT your average BFF who spent her girlhood dreaming about Prince Charming and wondering how many children she'd have.
She's the friend who came over when my oldest son was born, held him for a moment, told me he was great, then said, "I'm not holding another baby for at least two years, so get on some birth control now."
Francie is funny, sharp, and gives zero sh*ts about what anyone else thinks of her. She's often joked that the smell of babies' heads makes her puke and she wanted to adopt kids who were already 17 years old so she wouldn't have to deal with diapers or raising them.
This is her schtick, mostly an act, but when I found out she was pregnant, my first reaction was still, "Wait, what?!"
She's a softie inside, but was simply in no rush for kids. She's an amazing friend, and I know she's going to make a great mom, especially since she waited until she was ready, not when she started to feel societal pressure.
Until she conceived, she wasn't all that interested in babies; she's a total virgin to all this childbirth stuff. So, the other day we had a serious, no-holds-barred conversation about what I felt she needed to know to enter the labor and delivery ward, prepared. Here's what we covered:
1. You might not want to hold the baby as soon as he's born.
I know, this makes me sound like a cold-hearted jerk, but it's OK if you don't want to hold your baby right away. You're probably going to be exhausted, both physically and emotionally, and may need some time to collect yourself and become grounded in the moment. I know I did.
Just because movies and TV always show the moms reaching out and holding their babies when they're still sweaty and the baby is covered in goop, doesn't mean that's the right thing for you.
Your baby will be cared for when he first comes out, and you're not mean or cruel for not wanting to hold him right away.
2. You have to deliver the placenta.
Thank God my friend Summer told me that after the baby is born I'd still have to push the placenta out. Honestly, nobody else told me this and I would've been completely freaked out if she hadn't warned me.
Bear in mind that if you have a vaginal birth, you'll push the baby out, and then a bit later the doctor will ask you to give a few pushes to help deliver the placenta, which feels like basically nothing compared to that watermelon you just squeezed out.
3. It's OK if you don't breastfeed your baby.
La Leche League is going to hate me for this, but I'm for moms and babies, not for the upholding of an ideal that sometimes torments moms when it doesn't work out.
Breastfeeding is great — it's healthy, good for the baby, and good for the mom in the long run. But despite it being the natural thing for moms and babies of all mammalian species, it's not guaranteed to come naturally for you.
We all have different histories and different bodies, and for some people breastfeeding just doesn't work.
You don't have to do it. And you don't have to feel like a failure if you don't. These are your breasts; they're not anyone else's. Babies grow up just fine on formula. Is it ideal? No, but very few things we do as parents are ideal.
Be the best mom you can be. If breastfeeding gets in the way, stop stressing and let it go.
4. Give breastfeeding a try, if possible.
I didn't think I'd breastfeed my first son. I have some personal history that made me uncomfortable with the idea, and I refused to fall for the "Oh, but your baby is going to have a low IQ and develop cancer" propaganda being thrown at me about formula.
But I gave it a try, and it was kind of OK. I kept trying, and even visited a lactation specialist when it wasn't working out. I had some physical issues that affected my milk supply, so I supplemented with formula. But I nursed him when I could, and was happy about it.
My second son was exclusively breast fed until he started solid food, and was on the boob until he was 17 months. Even I was surprised.
My point is, if you've got it in you to give it a try, you probably won't regret it. If it doesn't work out? Just move on.
5. You're the boss of your body AND the boss of your delivery room.
You may feel like a pin cushion or a bowling ball with all these needles and gloved hands inside your body, but it's still your body and people need to ask for your consent before touching you. If you're uncomfortable with the way a doctor or nurse is touching or treating you, you have the right to say no.
Unless the baby is in distress or there's an emergency, you can wait to talk to your own doctor or a doctor you're comfortable with before consenting to a procedure, or a new person touching you.
You also have the right to tell anybody to get the hell out of your room if you don't want them there. Don't worry about their feelings. This is the birth of your kid; you're not going to get the chance to do it again.
Make the room the place you need it to be. Even better, warn your friends and family ahead of time that you're going to be a ferocious mama-bear in the delivery room and will do anything necessary to create the best birth situation you can.
6. You might poop on the birth table.
This has become the biggest joke about birth, but it's totally true. Poop may come out. Sorry, that's what happens.
But listen, you're giving birth to an entirely new human who may grow up and cure cancer or AIDS. And then you'll be like, "A little poo on the delivery table was worth it!"
Speaking of poop ...
7. Newborns have super weird poop.
It's like tar, but sort of green and black. It's sticky. It doesn't smell bad, it just smells weird, and the baby will poop like ten times a day at first. Seriously.
Their little butts can get raw from being wiped so much, so save that squeezey Peri bottle they give you for cleaning your vagina when you leave the hospital. Put warm water in it, and squirt the poo-spackle off with that (into the dirty diaper) before using a wipe.
This really reduces the amount of friction on the baby's skin. Also, Aquaphor is the only diaper rash ointment you'll ever need. Simple and effective.
8. Your vagina is going to be a freaking mess.
If you have a vaginal birth, stuff's going to look weird down there for a while. "Blown out" is a good term to describe the after-effects. But it doesn't last forever.
One hot tip: if you have stitches or a tear and it feels like they're not healing, or if they 're uncomfortable for longer than a couple weeks, switch to unbleached, natural pads.
Nobody told me this, but I was using standard drug store pads to absorb the spotting that happens after birth, and because it was raw down there, the chemicals in the pads irritated me. I switched to some that were from the health food store and within a day was feeling so much better.
Another hot tip: before you go into labor, freeze Karo corn syrup in surgical gloves (tied shut) to put in your pants to make your vagina more comfortable after birth. Unlike ice, which freezes hard, Karo syrup stays squishy when frozen so you can stuff it in your pants for relief. This sounds like a joke, but trust me ... it's not.
9. Don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
Some people want to be alone after their baby is born, but not everyone. Some people want a whole gang of friends, their mom, their grandmother, two aunts, the baby doula, and a dog trainer around when the baby is brand new. That's cool, too; that's your business.
You can call me any time and I'll be there. My kids are big now, but I remember how dizzying those early days were. I'm not afraid of your kid puking on me, and I've changed a lot of diapers. I'm happy to change your baby's weird, sticky tar-poo, too.
10. You may become depressed after the baby is born.
But you can still be an amazing mom. We're told we're supposed to be these glowing pictures of maternal joy when our babies are born, and a lot of women are. But some of us will become depressed and feel disconnected from our kids, and that can lead us into a downward spiral of "I wasn't meant to be a mom," or, "If I'm not enjoying this, it means I'm a bad person."
Becoming a new mom is incredibly hard. Not just the whole not-sleeping thing, but also shifting your entire identity and experience of the world.
Sure, it's easy for some people, but most women I know experience at least passing moments of "What am I doing?" and worries that they might be a fraud.
If it's really dark, ask your doctor. There are excellent, safe treatments that can help you come out of the darkness. You want to be able to enjoy this time, and asking for help can make this possible.
11. Feel free to set up a "no visitors" policy for your baby's first few days, or even weeks.
If this will make you more comfortable, tell people that you'll invite visitors over when you're ready. This tip came from my friend who adopted a gorgeous baby boy at birth, and who was glad she told her family that she wanted a few weeks home with just her husband and the baby so they could all bond.
Whether you're the biological or adoptive parent, you may want this kind of alone time with your baby, and this is NOT selfish of you. Do what's best for your new family. End of story.