Three years ago this week, I had my last baby. I realize there’s the “hey, you never know” factor, but she was my sixth. So, stick a fork in me: I’m done.
But what’s amazing to me is that even now, 14 years after having my first kid, I still get so pissed about how many things fall into the category Stuff People Never Tell You Before You Have a Baby.
Obviously, I have no regrets about having any of my children. But, that being said, was I in any way adequately aware of what I was getting into? Of course not! “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” my fat, pregnant ass! Despite all the books I read, I felt I wasn’t clued in even a little bit.
Yes, all those concerns about pregnancy and giving birth seem much smaller when you look at them from the rear-view mirror — especially when you find yourself having fights with your teenage son about his dating life (!). Still, no matter how many years (or decades!) you’re removed from that majorly transformative moment — having a baby — there’s no doubt that it’s a really freaking hard introduction into this madcap world of being a parent.
So, here are some of the biggest things that I really wish someone had MENTIONED before I had a baby. Please feel free to add to this list, as it is probably infinite. In no particular order:
1. “Pushing” is just like forcing out a big, fat poop. It is not just making noises and weird faces and screaming and wishing the kid out of your vagina, like Katherine Heigl did in Knocked Up (or any other birth scene you have ever seen in a movie or TV show, for that matter). The truth is you will be using the muscles that you use to force out a poop. (Why don’t we just call it “pooping out a baby?” Is “pushing” really so much classier?) Why didn’t anyone bring that up in the bullshit birthing class I took? Because that is News You Can Use.
2. The world turns upside down. Words that previously did not go together suddenly will. These new combinations of words will be puzzling, like “blood clots the size of eggplants,” or, “the baby looks a little yellow.” You will feel like Alice in Wonderland, wondering why your breasts changed overnight from being sources of erotic pleasure to sources of tremendous discomfort, and why you suddenly don’t give a shit about your father-in-law getting a full view of your tits, or the fact that there is a trail of blood from the hospital bed to your bathroom. There is a whole universe of language and feelings that you have never experienced before — like “meconium” (poop again!!) and “nipples feeling like a pincushion” — and yet you are supposed to see this as “normal.”
3. Bodily fluids. Maybe before having a baby you were interested in politics. Or film noir. Or 20th-century British literature. Or, hell, maybe US Weekly. I don’t judge. But now, most of your thoughts and conversations will revolve around bodily fluids. Did the baby poop or pee? How much? Where did said poop and pee go? Did she barf? Where did the barf go? (That one is easy: down your shirt or in your hair!). How about you? Is there enough milk coming out of your nipples? (Sometimes, blood comes from your nipples too, as a sort of bonus fluid – yay!) Will you one day pee again like a normal person or, alternatively, not live in fear of pooping? Could you be more obsessed with whether or not the breastfeeding thing is working out, and whether or not you would be a horrible person for deciding it’s not your thing? Also, it’s so hot in here – could you be any sweatier? Fluids — sooo many fluids.
4. The world turns upside down — people edition. Your relationships can get a bit screwed up. Your spouse can fill you with fury by doing just about anything, even something as simple as leaving the house unencumbered. You cry with the regularity of a broken sprinkler — actually, didn’t someone say something like “cry when the baby cries?” (Or maybe it was “sleep when the baby sleeps.” Who can remember?) You might even occasionally wonder, “Why don’t I LIKE this baby more?” All of that is OK, and yet there is no one you can talk to about these feelings. Sure, there are “new mom” groups, but other than happening to give birth in a proximate week to them, what makes you think you want to be your most vulnerable among these people? No one told you about any of these feelings – are they really OK? (Answer: YES!)
5. So. Much. Touching. From the act of having a baby – pretty freaking intimate – to caring for one, there is a lot of touching. Skin on skin, holding the kid through the night, wiping of genitals, washing, rubbing stuff on skin, etc. In fact, the person who touches you most, physically (and maybe even emotionally?) suddenly becomes the New Kid — and not your spouse or partner. That transition is oddly intimate and carries with it new feelings, both good and bad. Yes, there is nothing like that delicious, new baby smell — but, like that new car smell, it rapidly gets subsumed beneath the smell of poo and/or crushed Goldfish. Maybe you will miss more “adult” interaction; maybe you won’t. It’s all completely normal.
6. You’ll be “woke” about gender. Maybe you never thought about the disjunct between the male and female experience before, but the first thing I said to my mother after giving birth to my first kid was, “If ANY MAN went through a QUARTER of what I went through last night, they would give him a ticker tape parade. Why didn’t you tell me?” Little did I know that that was only the introduction into the whole new/old world of gender relations. My mind boiled over breastfeeding — it kept me tethered at home, while my husband could cruise in and out as he wished. That feeling has since blossomed into a daily — if not hourly — contemplation of the division of parenting labor and how that will translate to the next generation through our actions. Gotta give it to Heather Havrilesky – she nails it all here.
Is this upsetting? If so, I apologize — but I honestly believe that knowledge is power. Because at least if you KNOW this crap is coming at you, my hope is that you will feel better about it and less alone. Remember: Even though at times it may not feel that way, we are all in this together.