When I told my lunch table at work that I was pregnant, everyone was delighted. And why wouldn’t they be? Propagating the human race is a marvelous thing and babies are usually adorable. Every now and then, I would share my plans for childbirth and motherhood. The ladies I lunched with would smile, nod. There were some raised eyebrows, but I ignored those. Occasionally, they would say things like, “Just wait. You’ll see.” See what? I wondered.
No one ever smacked me and told me that I was delusional. Women don’t do this. But maybe they should. Oh sure, I knew that childbirth and motherhood would be hard, but my mother did it. Something like 80% of women do it. (I might be making up that statistic, but I swear, I heard it on NPR.) How hard could it be?
But seriously—I had no idea! Nine months later, I am ready to fess up and reflect.
Delusion #1: I’ll be able to just do the natural childbirth thing. After all, I’ve been practicing my breathing in prenatal yoga, and I’m good with pain.
Reality: The natural childbirth thing flew out the window when I was diagnosed with intrauterine growth restriction. I knew that once one medical intervention became necessary in childbirth, others might follow. I suppose I could have said no when I was told that I would need to be induced two weeks early, but I wasn’t about to risk the health of my baby. And I only thought I was good with pain. About four real contractions in, I was begging for an epidural. Of course, I do know plenty of women who have successfully delivered naturally, but if you are serious about natural childbirth (and clearly I wasn’t), DON’T WING IT!
Delusion #2: I will be power walking a week after giving birth and have my figure back in no time.
Reality: No one actually told me how physically traumatizing childbirth could be. Sure I’d heard about women getting stitches in their who-hahs, but I chose to ignore this fact. And I certainly had no idea that they made COMBINATION ICE-PAD MAXI-PADS!?!?! Why don’t women talk about such things? I am not sure which was worse—the stitches or the hemorrhoids or the crippling exhaustion. Not only was I not power walking—I could barely get up to use the bathroom. My figure would have to wait, and I didn’t care.
Delusion #3: OF COURSE I’ll breast feed! And I will NEVER give my baby formula.
Reality: If breastfeeding was really so easy, why would hospitals offer classes? I took the class, because I am nerd who likes to take classes, but I secretly thought that breastfeeding would be a breeze. This is what my mother claimed. Spoiler: my mother lied! Four days after my baby was born her weight had dropped down to 4lbs 11oz. Have you ever held a baby that tiny? It is pretty scary. She had lost 11 % of her birth weight and my milk had not come in. Plus she was jaundiced. She needed to eat something, and it wasn’t coming from me. So for the first few weeks, I had to supplement with formula. Eventually, I did get the hang of breastfeeding, but it took time.
I also had this foolish notion that I would stock my freezer full of breast milk. What I didn’t know is that PUMPING SUCKS! They have yet to make a breast pump that can suck out milk as efficiently as a baby. Plus, your body adjusts how much milk it produces based on supply and demand. You can’t just decide one day to pump out a bunch of extra milk bottles for tomorrow. In order to provide milk for a day out, I would need to pump twice a day for a month. Maybe longer. I used to get one pumping session in a day when my baby was smaller and less mobile. Now, forget it. I used up my last bag of frozen breast milk months ago.
Delusion #4: I will have plenty of time to [fill in the blank] during maternity leave.
Reality: Apparently, babies need constant attention. And they don’t always sleep. And when they do sleep, other things (like showering or going to the bathroom or eating) sometimes take precedence over anything else. And sometimes babies don’t sleep at all, and you just barely manage to stumble through the day. I realize that the sleepless new parent image is a cliché, but it happens to be true. I thought I would be able to write (because this is what I do) during nap times—but those, so far, have been pretty inconsistent and not conducive to forming a good creative routine. Even now that my baby is sleeping through the night (most nights), I still just want to veg out in front of the TV and drink wine after she goes to bed. Because being “on” all day is exhausting. Oh sure, I will get back to my creative life eventually. I know now that everything will just take a heck of a lot more time. I won’t say how long this blog post took to write.
This list could go on and on. My intention to never let anything other than organic cotton touch my baby’s skin dissolved pretty quickly. As did my plan to only dress her in gender neutral colors. (Those pink outfits are just too cute.) And that cloth diaper experiment? That lasted two miserable months. (I do care about the environment. But I also care about my sanity.)
For those of you who like to sit in judgment, I could also list a bunch of things that I did and am doing that the experts would agree are helping my baby in all sorts of ways. But I won’t.
Because doing those things don’t make me a “good” mother.
Because trying to be a “good” mother could turn anyone into a foaming-at-the-mouth-madwoman.
Because I now know what those raised eyebrows at the lunch table meant.
Nina Mansfield is a Greenwich, CT based writer, mother (to a 9 month old baby girl) and teacher. Her plays have been produced throughout the United States and in England, Ireland, Australia, Canada and most recently Peru. Her first novel, (which she wrote long before getting pregnant,) a YA mystery entitled Swimming Alone, will be published by Fire & Ice, an imprint of Melange Books, later this year. Please visit her website www.ninamansfield.com, or on Facebook, Twitter, or her new blog Not Even Joking.