I’ve been a mother—a first-time mother, or “FTM” according to mommy forums—for four weeks now, and I’m happy to report that I haven’t lost my mind yet. Heck, I even found the time and energy to write this blog post, so I think I’m doing okay.
Adjusting to life as a parent has not been easy, though: I’ve broken down several times already, Roy (my husband) and I are constantly exhausted, and there is always something new—a ridiculously explosive diaper, sudden bouts of fussiness, a new sleeping and feeding pattern—to deal with. Knowing what I know now—which is not much, I admit—would’ve helped me prepare a little bit better for life postpartum.
Here are a few things I wish I knew before giving birth:
1. Exclusive breastfeeding is freakin’ hard, I swear.
Many women warned me that being a mom would be difficult, but they never really specified why. I eventually discovered the reason: breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is best done “on demand,” especially at the beginning. This means that whenever baby is hungry, you feed him.
Feeding on demand is okay if your baby has a set feeding pattern or only needs to feed every few hours. That is not the case, however, for newborns. Newborns have really tiny tummies, which means they can’t consume a lot of milk, and breastmilk is easily digested, which means that it’s quickly expelled from a newborn’s tiny tummy. Result? Frequent feedings. Like, every hour or so. And a feeding, especially at the beginning, lasts about thirty to forty minutes, so there’s not much room for rest.
And growth spurts! Holy shit, growth spurts. These are periods when babies need more nourishment to support them as they do more growing than usual—i.e., these are periods when babies are constantly hungry and needy. Constantly.
Growth spurts can last a few days to about a week. Our son Mio has already gone through two growth spurts: the first was when he first roomed in with us at two days old (lasted three days), the second was when he was a little over three weeks old (stretched out to five days). My breakdowns happened during Mio’s growth spurts.
Growth spurts are hell for breastfeeding moms. All advice that I read online said to simply accept that growth spurts happen and to do whatever you can to survive them. Personally, however, I think FTMs-to-be should be warned about growth spurts, as well as the difficulties of breastfeeding in general, ahead of time—not to discourage them from breastfeeding, no, but to give them time and space to mentally and emotionally get ready.
2. You will experience other sorts of postpartum pain and discomfort.
I went through over twelve hours of labor and an emergency CS. The pain and discomfort I felt afterwards, those that were directly caused by the birthing experience, were no surprise to me. It was the other sorts of pain and discomfort, which I did not expect, that surprised me.
Postpartum edema. I expected some swelling after giving birth, but I didn’t expect it to be so bad (my feet looked like balloons) or hurt so much (I couldn’t move normally) or last as long as it did (over two weeks).
My OB advised me to rest and avoid being on my feet—How? I needed to be on my feet to do stuff (we don’t have household help)—and to flush out excess fluid by drinking lots of water and peeing—Again, how? I barely had time to do anything other than feeding Mio.
Excessive sweating. I knew I’d have another round of hormonal changes after giving birth—my breakdowns are emotional proof—but I didn’t expect its bodily manifestations to be so uncomfortable.
A few days after we returned home, I began sweating much more than usual. It made me feel so gross and stinky, especially since I still had lochia (postpartum bleeding), and I wanted to bathe often. But I could only bathe once a day—thank you, demands of breastfeeding—and I usually had to rush through my showers. Ugh.
De Quervain’s tenosynovitis. I suffered through carpal tunnel syndrome during the last weeks of my pregnancy, so I wasn’t surprised when the condition didn’t completely go away postpartum. What surprised me was when I developed De Quervain’s tenosynovitis on my left hand—i.e., inflamed wrist tendons that make moving and using the thumb painful.
I had to visit an orthopedist—not easy to visit any doctor with a nursing newborn—and learned that I had to wear a splint to immobilize my left thumb for two weeks—not easy when you have a newborn to carry and care for.
To the FTMs-to-be reading this, know that you might end up with other postpartum conditions, usually unmentioned by doctors and books, that’ll cause you pain and discomfort. They’ll raise breastfeeding’s level of difficulty.
3. Somehow, you’ll power through all of the difficulty—for your baby.
This is the most important thing I wish I knew before giving birth.
There were many, many times when I thought of giving up on breastfeeding, of not being enough, of being unable to be Mio’s mom. But somehow—with the help of Roy, and with love and willpower—I’m still doing what I have to do, what I want to do—because it’s for my baby.
The most recent growth spurt is a good example. At its peak, I doubted if I was producing enough milk for Mio and felt frustrated that I was unable to respond to his needs. Even Roy, “the burp whisperer,” couldn’t calm Mio down. I was exhausted and aching all over too. So I broke down and cried, and, of course, my beloved hubby did all he can to comfort me. But afterwards, when I let it all out, when I was done crying, I just simply carried on and did all I can, with Roy’s help, to respond to Mio’s needs.
I look back on other similar moments and ask myself how I was able to power through. For sure, Roy’s presence helped. But there’s more: I chose to have a baby, I wanted to be a mother, just as how Roy chose to be father. Mio may be more than what we expected and may have brought with him many other unexpected things—but Roy and I chose to have him. We want him, we love him, and that’s all that matters.
It’s funny because our common friend and colleague, Guss, a father of two, would always say how even if, strictly speaking, his children owe him their lives, he feels that it is he who owes them everything. I used to be able to understand him only on an academic level—but now, I completely understand what he means.
So to the FTMs-to-be reading this, just know that while being a mom is extremely difficult, you’ll get through it, and it’ll all be worth it.