Tuesday, July 14, 2009

First-time mothers, I speak the truth to you.

One of my younger sisters, Colette, is due with her first baby in November. I couldn’t be happier for her, and I am ecstatic to meet my newest little nephew in a few short months. I'm looking forward to sniffing a baby head once again, but without actually having to deliver said baby myself.

As I have previously mentioned, I have five sisters. I am the second oldest, and I was the first of my sisters to have children. Colette is number four in the sister line-up, and her baby will be the ninth grandchild in our family. Of course, the other sisters and I are throwing a baby shower for her soon, which has been on my mind a lot lately.

I love baby showers. It’s like an initiation into this new club called Motherhood. And first-time mothers are great. I love to hear how they have every little detail planned, from the nursery to the actual delivery. They’re happy, excited, and glowing.

And so very, very delusional.

Before the first-time mothers reading this get offended, please hear me out. Every one of us mothers was a first-time mother at some point, so we were all just as delusional as you are. And some day, after you give birth, and start raising that baby (or babies) and you are fully ensconced in motherhood, then you too will have the pleasure of sitting on your haughty little mommy throne and chuckling to yourself as you think, “She has NO idea what the hell she’s getting into. Just wait.”

When I was pregnant with Charlie, my first child, I would say things like, “Yeah, I think I’m going to try labor drug-free. I don’t think I want the epidural. I don’t want to harm my baby.”

You know, crazy talk like that.

Or I would think delirious thoughts like how I was going to fit back into my pre-pregnancy jeans at about 6 weeks postpartum. The celebrities do it, so I could too, right?

I gave birth to Charlie two months after I turned 26 years old, and Bill and I were the first of our close friends and siblings to have a baby. During my whole pregnancy I worried about the birth. That’s what it’s all about in the movies, isn’t it? The birth? The woman gets a cramp, grabs her belly and yelps, “Oh honey! It's time! Let’s go to the hospital!” After what seems like 10 minutes of labor, screaming, and profuse sweating, she pushes out a baby that looks like a 3-month old, chubby and with a full head of hair.

Just like real life, right?

Riiiiiiight.

Our mothers' generation never really talks about the details of before and after their childbirths. But baby showers always bring out birth stories. They are womens' versions of war stories. At my own baby shower, my mom and aunts told me that childbirth would hurt. (Duh, as if I couldn’t figure out that pushing something the size of a watermelon out of my lady parts might sting just a little bit. And by “sting” I mean hurt like the bejesus.) They also lamented about the lack of drugs during childbirth, and how "lucky" we moms are today. But no one, and I mean NO ONE, ever talked to me about what happens AFTER you have a baby.

I was stunned after I had Charlie. Totally gobsmacked.

Yes, childbirth hurt. But they have drugs for that. Which I happily took, thank you very much. And I didn’t feel an ounce of guilt for doing so. Not an ounce.

After I delivered Charlie and my beautiful boy was laying on my chest, I had a moment when I thought, “Phew. Good thing that’s all over. Back to normal.”

See how delusional I was?

Now if you’re reading this and you’ve never had a baby, then my intention is not to turn you off from doing so. It’s a wonderful, beautiful thing. But let’s get real here.

For the men reading this, the ones who got us into this situation in the first place, I can almost feel you starting to get nervous and sweating a little bit. (Ahem…Bill.) You’re wondering to yourself, “Is she going to go THERE?”

Yes, I am going to go THERE. Well, maybe not all the way THERE. But I’ll go THERE in a somewhat tasteful way. I’ll skate around the edge of THERE without actually explicitly going THERE.

Sound good?

Okay. Back to being gobsmacked after the birth of Charlie. (I can thank our British friends for this wonderfully descriptive word.)

Since I was so stunned at the things that had happened and were happening to my body because of childbirth, I thought I was a freak. After all, nobody warned me about these things, so I must have been different. I must have been that one freakish woman in the history of the universe that had a childbirth and postpartum experience like THAT.

So I asked around. Slowly, I discovered that yeah, it’s totally normal to feel like complete and total crap after having a baby. It’s totally normal for those "things" on your chest to be rock hard and feel like they are on FIRE. It’s totally normal to not want to hold your precious baby every second of every day because you would rather sleep. It’s totally normal to be overjoyed at the sight of stool softeners and Tucks pads. It’s totally normal to not want your husband to touch you at all in the first few weeks because you’ve had about as much bodily contact as you can stand with a 10 pound human being attached to your chest for the better part of the day. It’s totally normal to cry during those first few weeks and think, “What did I do? Where did my life go?” and then feel horribly guilty about it a few moments later when your baby smiles and gurgles at you with that sweet little face.

And then I went from gobsmacked to mad. Why did no one warn me about this? Isn’t this what we women do for each other? Where’s the sisterhood now? Why did they leave out such important details?

I am not a huge fan of surprises, and this is one surprise I could have done without.
So I made it my personal mission to shout this information from the rooftops, so no one would have to go through what I did.

Well, I wouldn’t exactly say I shouted it from the rooftops. But I told my sisters everything in gory detail. My youngest sister Bernadette was about 15 at the time, and in retrospect, I apologize for freaking her out at such a young age. But she will thank me some day.

I told my close girlfriends too. It basically went something like, “You are never going to believe this…”

My sisters still laugh about it to this day. But I know they appreciated it. And it’s not like I would walk up to any old pregnant woman and say, “Hey, congrats on the new baby! And by the way, your lady parts are going to feel like they went through a meat grinder. And your boobs are going to leak. But good luck with that!” (Although I do think at some point I used the words “ground chuck” in reference to the aforementioned lady parts.) But when someone would ask me what it was really like, I would be honest and tell them. Without being totally crude, of course. What kind of girl do you think I am?

I am nothing if not a truth-teller. And darn proud of it.

But there are certain things you can’t tell other women. There are things that they just have to find out for themselves. You can’t explain what it’s like to love another little person so much that you would jump in front of a bus for them. Or how your heart breaks when your child is hurt or sick, and how you wish you could make their pain your own. Or the pride you feel when your little one does something very simple like crawl, or walk, or point to the butterfly and say something that sounds like "Buh." Or what it’s like to fiercely worry about someone ever bringing harm to your child. Or how much more you fall in love with your husband as he sings your baby to sleep to the tune of “Old McDonald Had a Farm”.

No, there are no words for these things.

Those are things every new mother has to find out for herself.

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