If there’s one thing I wish I’d fully realized before my daughter Juliana was born, it’s how much her birth would divide my life into “before” and “after”. And that the “after” would bring on a turmoil of feelings and experiences that I’ve never had before. Parents-to-be hear plenty of cliché’d talk about ‘love at first sight’ and ‘you’ll never sleep again’, but there are some things that get way less coverage in conversations with experienced parents.
While it’s true that we can never fully prepare ourselves for what’s to come after our babies are born, it’s at least good to be aware of the changes – especially the fact that not all of these changes are going to be enjoyable. Good news: this too shall pass. In my experience with Juliana, the first month was the toughest – not because of every hiccup and bump in the road we had (and there were plenty!), but because it took time for us to get to know her, her preferences, her rhythms, etc.
If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you know that I strive to share lessons I’ve learned in life regarding all kinds of experiences, from going and staying vegan to working out, traveling, etc. So today I decided to make a list of 5 early parenthood challenges that I wish I was aware of before Juliana was born.
5 Things About Life with a Newborn That New Parents Should Know
1. You will go through an identity crisis. You know that your life will forever change after your baby arrives, but the magnitude of that change doesn’t fully hit you until that moment. If you perceived yourself as the center of your own universe before having kids like I did, the change in the order of things might feel like a shift of tectonic plates with a following earthquake that forever changes the landscape on the surface. The person you were before your baby’s birth, the lifestyle you had and enjoyed – those things are now gone, and it will take time to get to know the new you and get used to your new lifestyle. I personally started feeling better about a month after Juliana was born, and two months later, I can say that I’m even enjoying this new routine.
Here’s a great article about what the mental shift towards motherhood feels like from RenegadeMothering.com.
2. Living with mom guilt is the new normal. I’ve heard about mom guilt before, and honestly, this term puzzled me. Like, what is there to feel guilty about? But a few days before Juliana’s birth, I got my first taste of this new feeling, and it went in full swing after she arrived. For me, mom guilt is the feeling of comparing myself to the ‘ideal mother’ standard that we tend to develop in our heads (peer pressure and social media don’t do us any favors here), and always losing to that ideal because, heck, nobody’s perfect! The bad part is that this feeling is very hard to brush off even if you realize how silly it is. The good part is that if you worry about being a good parent, then you probably already are.
3. Bonding with baby takes time. I have a strong feeling that all those people talking about ‘love at first sight’ are at the very least exaggerating. Think about it logically: you just gave birth, you’re in shock trying to process what just happened, you’re exhausted after many hours of pain, probably starving and wishing really hard for a long nap, and there’s this tiny screaming human demanding lots of attention – not exactly the best environment for falling in love 🙂 In the following hours and days family and friends come at you from all directions asking, “Aren’t you totally in love???” And you feel like something’s wrong with you because your feelings towards the baby are not yet where you think they should be (cue in mom guilt!), so you decide to lie and agree (yay, more guilt!). Trust me: this too shall pass. You’ll get there. Once your routine with the baby becomes normal, your love will flourish.
4. Get ready to accomplish way, WAY LESS every day than what you’re used to. Juliana is now two months old, and I am still in shock about how little I get done every day 🙂 For example, it used to take me about a week to write my blog posts, yet this post took me almost a month! I have to remind myself that it’s all for a reason – I’ll get many chances to do laundry and load the dishwasher in the future, but Juliana will be this little only once. In my previous life, I was a ‘get it done’ person, so it’s a challenge to get used to the new order of things. But I’m still hopeful that I’ll eventually return to being more productive.
5. You will need help. If you get an opportunity to get some help from friends, family, neighbors, etc. – USE IT! Before your baby arrives, you might get tempted to tell everyone that you and your partner (if you have a partner) will be doing everything yourselves, but – see point #4 above – if you want at least the most basic things done (laundry, meals, etc.), accepting even a little bit of help will make a huge difference! Plus, you don’t know how you’ll feel after the delivery process: I didn’t expect to end up with a c-section, yet that’s what happened, and it took me at least a couple weeks to feel 100% again (in my case, being able to carry the car seat and stand upright long enough to make dinner). So if anybody’s offering to stop by and bring you dinner, please let them 🙂
It’s hard to tell what life with a newborn will look exactly for each new family – we’re all different, and our babies are different too. As my sister-in-law told me shortly after Juliana was born, “It will get easier, and harder, and easier, and harder.” My life with Juliana in the past two months has been like a gentle dance where she’s leading: I’m watching for her cues and trying to follow, just before she switches it up and introduces a new move. I’ll admit though, the longer we’re dancing, the more enjoyable it feels.
One important thing: If you or your partner feel absolutely crappy emotionally in the weeks following your baby’s arrival (nothing seems fun anymore, you don’t want to get out of bed, or you hate the baby/yourself, etc.), PLEASE talk to your doctor! Postpartum depression and/or anxiety is real, and there’s absolutely no shame in asking for help. Here’s a great resource about the symptoms of PPD and ways to find help.
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