I always knew I wanted to be a mom. That's about all I knew.
I have no siblings, all of my cousins are older, and I only interacted with children and babies a few times a year. I could play with a new puppy or kitten with ease for hours, but a human child was like a foreign object. I could scruff a kitten like a boss, but when I held a child it looked like I was clutching dynamite.
So now that I am a new mother of a 6-month-old, there are five things t I wish my postpartum self could have told my pre-partum self.
1. You will cry more than you have ever cried before.
As a sensitive, overly dramatic person, crying is a lifestyle. Crying has always accompanied pretty much any emotion I’ve ever felt. Tears will appear after reading an article about a dog reunited with his family or when my bottle of foundation shatters on the floor. From the moment I saw my sweet boy, the tears surfaced.
However, the baby blues are no joke. It started before I even left the hospital. When the hormones crashed, so did my emotions.
You will cry over what you know, what you don't know, this newfound love, the loss of your old identity and body, spilled breastmilk, your need for sleep, the fact that you can't sleep when baby sleeps, and so on. Then the guilt over the fact that you feel sad when you should be happy leads to more tears.
It will get better, postpartum one. You will always cry, but some reasoning will return.*
2. The baby doesn't know that you don't know what you’re doing.
Did you know that the blue line on the diaper isn't just to add a splash of color? You probably did. But I didn't and guess what? Neither did baby boy!
To him, I do everything right (well, for the time being). He knew my voice and now he has a face to accompany it. He eats, sleeps, has a clean diaper, and isn't dropped—he thinks I'm doing great!
When I didn't realize that my nearly 9 lb. baby with a large head wouldn't fit into newborn clothes, he patiently waited as I freed him and put on something more appropriate. (Newborn baby does not mean newborn clothes = lesson learned).
You will learn as you go and that's okay. Baby thinks you're an expert, even when you make mistakes.
3. Breastfeeding is hard... like really, really hard.
People always tell you it's hard and you believe them. But until there is a screaming 3-hour-old baby that won't latch as you try to hold his fragile body properly with wires sticking out of both of you, you don't truly understand what they meant by 'hard.'
I mean, it's natural right? People have been doing this since the beginning of time. The shame I felt after being reprimanded by a nurse for not doing research on breastfeeding was not an ideal way to start this journey.
What do you mean my milk flow won’t pick up until day three or four?
The guilt, frustration, exhaustion, physical pain, and anger didn't help the cause. So I pumped and pumped and pumped some more. Then low and behold —milk! And baby boy drank it! Little by little the supply increased and so did my confidence.
If baby latches, awesome, if he doesn't that's fine, too. There is so much pressure and controversy out there. Breastmilk, formula, both, whatever; do whatever works for you. Don't be so hard on yourself!
4. You will somehow learn to function with no sleep.
At 21 years old I was a rockstar. I was able to party until 4am, sleep for two hours and work an eight hour shift at the animal shelter or sit through a full day of classes. At 30 years old, those 4am nights were few and far between. Yet, on the rare occasion they occurred, I allowed myself a full day of recovery complete with Chinese food and a TV series to watch.
The pregnancy insomnia was terrible but gave me assurance that I could work and function on 2-3 hours of sleep.
Fast forward to baby—those late nights of the past did not prepare me for this disaster of my new existence. I resembled more of an antiquated rockstar with my unwashed hair and spit-up covered shirt as I walked into the kitchen for some reason, but couldn't remember what.
The repeated cycle of diaper change, feeding, diaper change again, rocking baby to sleep, pumping, then finally sleep for maybe an hour will not be your life for the next 18 years (even though it may seem that way at 3:30 am). Your baby will eventually allow you to get more than three hours total and your body will adjust to the exhaustion. But, don't get too comfortable when baby sleeps a full night; a growth spurt or teething or something else will pop up just to keep you on your toes!
5. Believe in yourself—you’ve got this!
I have made lots of rookie mistakes and had moments when I felt like a complete failure. New mistakes will be made and moments of doubt will occur in the future. That time I tried to roll his shirt down his body like a onesie and it got stuck, or the panic I felt being stuck in rush hour traffic on the Verrazano Bridge with a screaming baby, just to name a few.
You have survived some tough times by succeeding when people try to knock you down. Believe in yourself the way your husband, parents and friends believe in you. Baby boy will thrive because your love for him will be more powerful than the silly mishaps and doubts that get in the way.
*If the sadness intensifies and worsens, seek professional help. No one should suffer in silence.
Antonia Dennis is a High School English teacher who works in New York City. She lives with her husband, 6-month-old son, dog, and cat in Staten Island, New York