15 and 1/2 Things You Learn After Having A Baby

I thought childbirth would change me forever. Moreover, I was fearing this. I was convinced that delivery unit at the hospital is a sort of a sci-fi transforming portal that you enter as yourself – and exit as a completely different, unrecognizable person. This scared me a lot. I didn’t want to lose myself. I got along with myself just fine – but the impeding motherhood threatened to possibly take away my identity. I was going to bid farewell to good old me and say hello to this unknown person – a Mother. But six weeks ago my theory was put to a test – and, thankfully, failed. The biggest discovery for me was that you don’t change with the arrival of your child – instead, your life changes. Becoming a mother has nothing to do with losing your sense of self – but has everything to do with exploring a new life with your baby and discovering within yourself this boundless love, fear, pride and bond that motherhood entails. You don’t lose yourself – you find a new dimension of being. As you hold your baby, you start learning about this new life – and a lot about yourself, too. Here are a few things that I have discovered so far during the first six weeks of my motherhood adventure.

  1. Shower is your new vacation spot

Before we had our daughter, I was worried I would become one of those fabled urban legend moms who don’t take shower for weeks. The idea of not having washed my hair for a few days disturbed me deeply and kept me up at night. My little one arrived and I am proud to say that I take shower daily. In fact, this is the only thing I am guaranteed to do daily. I might not eat at the table any longer, sometimes I might not eat at all – but I sure as hell jump in a shower every day, even if for five minutes.  Shower has become my daily express vacation, my mini- Sheraton. For me, it is even better than any five-star all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean. It is my own temple of sanity, my daily dose of comfort and stability. I have proven that it is possible to dodge the bulllet and not become the scary unshowered new mom. So smother yourself in shower gels, shampoos, body creams and those intoxicating Lush products, steam up the mirror and enjoy these ten minutes of bliss. You need it. Clean mamma is a happy mamma.

  1. and ½ . The truth about travel mugs

Here is a little life-with-a-newborn hack. Those travel mugs from Starbucks – they are not actually for travel. They are fundamentally misnamed and mis-marketed. They are, in fact, wonderful and much needed shower mugs! I have added a new perk to my (non-existent) morning routine when I poured coffee into a travel mug and jumped in a shower. Bin-go! Hot shower and caffeine intake – two things for the price and time length of one!

  1. You have been a judgemental bitch

Once you have your child, you realize what a judgmental bitch you have been. I myself have smirked more than once when I saw parents using pacifiers, travel systems, formulas, bottles, pink outfits, baby leashes (OK, maybe this last one was a legitimate smirk). It is easy to judge when you are still six months pregnant and have no idea what waits ahead. You are a naïve little cartoon character trotting around, about to be hit with a 1,000 pound hammer. Arrival of you baby changes everything. At 3am with a screaming newborn at hand you would do anything to keep them happy. Anything (except for the baby leash, this is a non-negotiable). You know nothing about parenting. You haven’t been there. So judge away while you can and make promises to yourself – the sort that start with “I would never…” Once you have a baby, you develop a boundless respect and appreciation towards all and any new parents. It is a survivor’s syndrome, an unbreakable solidarity. Once our daughter arrived, I swore off judging other parents’ skills and choices for good. We all know nothing, we learn every day and every hour – and we surely do our best. So bring on the formulas, bottles, pacifiers and anything else that would bring more comfort to your little one – and to yourself too, as a sidekick.

  1. Be OK with letting things go

I had a long and complicated labour. So did many other women I have talked to. Everything I was planning and hoping for – it simply didn’t happen. Everything I didn’t want to happen – it all happened. After all the tears have been cried and scars have been healed, I took away one big lesson from this experience – you have to be OK with things not going according to plan. You have to let go of what you think is best and let the events unfold in their own way. Instead of all-natural zen-inspired Buddha-calm birth saturated with self-hypnosis and meditation I found myself stuck in a tiring 36 hours long labour with multiple interventions, epidural, hormonal induction and finally, an unplanned C-section. Did I ask for any of it? Nope. Do I regret any of it? Nope. Ultimately, my daughter is here – and I know I have done my best to have a natural birth. It was not going to happen, even with all my efforts and support from my husband and the midwife. Then, after the shock and stress are gone, you don’t have regrets. All you have is gratefulness for finally having your little baby in your arms. Don’t have a plan. Have a hope, an intention and an open mind. Everything that happened in the delivery room eventually brought your baby to this world. And this is the only thing that matters. Scars will heal, tears will dry, your baby will stay with you. Amen.

  1. You never fully knew how much your parents love you

This overwhelming feeling of love and care for your new human – this is what my parents lived through thirty years ago. To them I am still that warm little bundle who makes them worry, laugh and cry. I think I never fully realized how much my parents love me until I myself became a mother. Only from this side you can experience the depth and intensity of the parental love. With this new feeling you gain a new connection and even deeper gratitude to your own parents. It is a right of passage. It is a double blessing – you are now able to experience both sides of love – as a mother and as a daughter. You thought you knew love already, but you didn’t fully – until now.

  1. Labour doesn’t hurt

Instead, it blows your mind. Within my body I have discovered a force stronger than anything before. Contractions don’t hurt. Pain is an area-specific experience. Contractions are like an Airbus A380 taking off through your body every five minutes, then every two minutes. Labour is like being swiped by a tsunami, an experience so powerful that leaves no room for pain or comprehension of it. It swipes you off your feet, pushes you onto your knees and plasters you on the floor for good ten hours. I was in awe of the cosmic force that was squeezing, shaking and pulling on my body. I didn’t have a chance to push my daughter out – a surgeon with a sharp knife did that job for me. But I am lucky to have experienced a part of this humbling power of a new life coming. There is nothing more powerful, awakening and unstoppable than birth itself. The ultimate bodily experience – it is a raw force of nature coming from within.

  1. Projectile poop is real!

It is not an invention of producers of movies such as “Hangover” and “Hangover-2”. It is very much a reality! I kid you not. Babies do poop with a force of a small missile launch pad.  Not always, but occasionally – and with an enviable precision. So take cover. You have been warned.

  1. You are not a tiger

I never truly loved my body. I don’t recall ever being truly content with it – there always seemed to be something you wish you could change, decrease, increase, firm or improve. It is probably a perception that almost every woman or man can relate to. But then this funny thing happened recently – after birth I have found more love and appreciation for my body than I ever had. With new kilograms, multiple stretch marks, weakened muscles and a purple scar on my belly – I suddenly feel more happy with myself than ever. My body did a hell of a workout – it delivered a human. So instead of feeling bad about my transformed physique and ripped skin, I feel inspired. I found an appreciation for the body that goes beyond sizes and shapes – an appreciation for what my body is capable of. I substituted self-criticism for self-gratitude. What I am learning is that your stretch marks don’t make you less beautiful or less sexy, less of a human or more of an animal. It is a tattoo of a motherhood. And I don’t care if they fade or not – I would be fine either way. Because this is my transformed body, a physical evidence of this new change. So next time someone calls your stretch marks “tiger marks” or mentions “all that baby weight” you still carry, remember – you are so much more than your body, you are a woman and a mother.

  1. Apple products are great

My iPad and iPhone became my best friends during the late night and early morning feeding sessions. The 4am text messaging marathon with your other mommy friend across the country can make you feel instantly better. Googling “normal poop color” with one hand while changing diaper with the other is a must-do for every new parent.  Watching “How I Met Your Mother” on iPad at 6am keeps you alive and entertained during the sleepless nights. Text, Facebook, message, Google, Whatsapp, FaceTime – anything that helps you connect to other human beings (and other moms) during the first few weeks is really a lifesaver.

  1. Arm’s reach is not a metaphor

Keeping things that are important literally within the arm’s reach can also save your night. Sitting on a couch feeding your baby for almost an hour deep into the night –  and not being able to reach a water bottle or a snack at the far edge of the coffee table – now that might as well be a very efficient medieval torture. Keeping things nearby at the feeding stations and by the change table is a good habit and an exercise in your new household logistics.

  1. Breastfeeding is a skill

As any other skills, it doesn’t come at ease without hours of practice. I naturally assumed that baby would simply latch and go right after birth. Little did I know about the days of hunger and tears (for both parties involved), then days of formula feeding and more days of fighting for all-natural approach with at least two different doctors. Eventually we won. We ditched the formula and told ourselves that we know best. It is still not a flawless process, but I am breastfeeding my baby and, like so many other skills in life, the more we practice, the better it gets. For example, not too long ago I was able to watch a movie, breastfeed my daughter, talk to my husband and eat dinner with one hand – all at the same time. That was my little victory. One of many to come.

  1. Accepting help is not a sign of weakness

It is a sign of common sense. My mom stayed with us for a couple of weeks after birth and it helped tremendously. For starters, we didn’t starve – there was always hot food on the table, the house was clean and the groceries were stuffed in the fridge. I highly doubt we would have been able to maintain our nutrition levels and basic house cleanliness otherwise. First two weeks are quite a shock, no matter how prepared you think you are. Once my mom went back home, my mother-in-law stepped in ready to help. Don’t resist help – accept it. There will be plenty of days and weeks to be swamped with baby care, house work, cleaning and cooking. Right now it is a blessed moment – a chance to spend time with your baby without having to think twice about an expiration date on a milk carton or a laundry in a dryer.

  1. You have been re-wired

The first time you leave the house to run an errand without the baby, you realize your brain has been re-wired. You are unable to think of anything besides your little one. When you think back to the time before having a baby, your brain even Photoshops her in your old memories. You start having conversations like “Remember that vacation in Mexico a few years ago? Wait, where was our daughter at that time?” You can’t imagine there was ever time when you didn’t have her. Your baby has been imprinted into the deepest corners of your brain and heart. Over the few short weeks or even days you have been bound to each other on every possible level. You can not reverse this change and un-become a mother. You have been re-wired.

  1.  It gets better

When I was in labour, a few unsuccessful attempts to draw blood left me with a big blackish-blue bruise on my right arm. A bruise size of Alberta – or, to be more realistic, a palm of your hand. Every day after our daughter was born I looked at that bruise and told myself: “As it fades, everything will settle in place”. I told myself, it should get better, all of it – sleepless nights, body aches, surgery pains, swelling, bleeding, cracked nipples, back pain, breastfeeding difficulties – somehow all of it will improve. My bruise became my mantra for healing, emotionally and physically. And just as I passed one month mark of being a mommy, an ugly bruise healed – and things somehow really started to look up. We started sleeping longer than two hours a night, we started eating better, all three of us, I even started doing yoga while little one naps. So it does get better. Or maybe you just get used to your new life.

  1. Banking sleep doesn’t work

You have heard it lots during pregnancy – you have to sleep and rest now as much as you can. I thought it was to help deal with sleep deprivation of the first weeks. I thought I am being a good girl banking sleep and saving me some snoozes for a rainy day. Nope. The real reason people tell you to sleep while you are still pregnant is so that you won’t be mad at yourself for the rest of your brand new life. Sleep, so that you won’t be beating yourself up for missing on that last opportunity. Sleep those uninterrupted eight hours – because you don’t know when this luxurious gift will come your way next time. Sleep – and the future you will be thankful to the present you.

  1. Your partner is a superhero

Wait, you knew that already. But what you didn’t realize is that he is not just a superhero. He is a solid blend of every single superhero character that was ever created. He is your pillar and your daily inspiration through this journey. He sings and dances with your baby while you are crying over a milk pump, while you are bleeding, hurting, losing it, healing, praying, sleeping – he gives you a break. He magically turns your ten minute nap into a much needed three hour sleep. He gave you rest when you were healing, he held you and wiped your tears when you were scared, he was with you through labour and delivery, he changed diapers when you couldn’t get out of hospital bed, he would even breastfeed the baby if he could. He kisses your daughter – she smiles at his beautiful scruffy face. And this is when you find your peace. Because if anything was to happen to you tomorrow, they will be fine. Because one of them is a superhero – and the other looks like she is taking after her dad in just about everything. You are safe – you managed to marry the best possible father for your child. Everything will be alright.

 

Olga Barrows

January 2016

 

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