transitioning into parenthood: what to expect from a first time pregnancy
“All of a sudden, all these medical professionals are like, ‘Have fun with your baby, see ya!’ And the hospital door shuts behind you, and you have no idea what to do.”
This may sound familiar to a lot of first-time parents. The risks are so high, yet many new moms and dads feel like they’re missing vital information that would make adjusting to parenthood easier.
Chris and Josh Gourley had their little girl Michaela 15 months ago. Says Chris, “Having a child—especially a first child—is opening the door to a whole new world where this tiny person hands you grubby things to eat….and you eat them because you want your kid to know it’s good to share. Who knew that was going to happen?!”
“Being a parent is a huge adjustment, especially for women: If you’re a dad, your whole life just changed. If you’re a mom, yep, your life changed, but so did your body, so did your hormones. That has a huge impact. But we don’t talk about it. We talk about pregnancy and the time up to the childbirth, and we talk about going through the birth of the child, but we don’t talk about what comes after. No one prepares you for what’s coming.”
So we asked Chris what she learned that might help others in the transition to parenthood:
- Buy the biggest maxi-pads you can find, and buy them in bulk. You’re about to have the worst period of your life. “It makes sense, really; the placenta is, like, 10” in diameter, so you have this big wound in your uterus that’s going to bleed and slough for a while. You don’t want to wear tampons because you want everything to come out, and a menstrual cup won’t fit because your cervix is all wonky. Be prepared. When they send you home with those funky, one-size-fits-all stretchy panties, that’s why.”
- Vaginal dryness is a real thing. You can fix it. “After that six-week period from hell was finally over, all of a sudden it was like sandpaper between my legs. You’re walking around like, oh my god, what’s happening, because you have to figure out what’s going on. I know what a runny nose feels like, or a cold, or when I cut myself, but this…I didn’t know vaginal dryness was going to happen and that it was going to be so severe! Just sitting on the couch or stretching hurt. For the first time in my life, I used a vaginal lubricant just for personal reasons, and it made a huge difference. You hear that after a baby sex will be ‘different’ because of your hormones, but the difference is really significant.”
- Breastfeeding is hard, but it can be easier than the alternatives. “Apparently, it takes a day or two for the milk to come in, and you feel like you’re starving your baby. No one tells you that’s normal, so you just feel like a failure. Oh, and then when it does start, there’s a period known as the ‘let down’ when the milk comes extremely hard and fast. Suddenly my baby was choking and gurgling, and she cried and cried, and I didn’t know what was wrong. Now I know it’s normal and you can solve it by catching the initial flow in a rag, but you have to know what’s happening to know what to do next. I’ve never known a woman who breastfed who didn’t go through it, but no one told me it was going to happen.”Breastfeeding may be challenging, but there’s one big benefit no one really talks about: “It’s super convenient,” Chris says. “I don’t have to boil anything or prepare anything, it’s milk on-demand! A lot of women tell me they don’t breastfeed or they stopped breastfeeding because it’s so hard. And it is, but there are ways of making it easier on yourself. You can use formula during the day and nurse at bedtime, for example. You have choices, but no one tells you that. I had to just keep asking questions until I had all the information I needed.”
- Be prepared for wonky hormones. “Everyone warns you about postpartum depression, which is a real thing that really happens. But it happens differently to different women. For me, it was about four months after Michaela was born. It was pretty mild, but I went to a counselor because it helped to talk about it. For my friend, postpartum depression came out as rage. One day her husband asked, ‘Do you want me to make you some tea?’ and she screamed, ‘Of course you should make me a cup of tea, why wouldn’t I want a cup of tea, but I don’t want peppermint, I want cinnamon!’ Because I was a few months ahead of her, I had told her about my experience and the four-month mark, so she was a little more prepared. And she said she was more willing to go to a counselor because I’d told her how it helped me. That’s why talking about this stuff is so important.”
- External support matters. “I’m in a breastfeeding support group, and that’s really helpful. We share breastfeeding stuff, like how your supply can drop when you have your period or if you start back on birth control, and how you might not have that postpartum period until you stop breastfeeding, but then break out the stretchy panties! These are things you might not hear from your doctor. But other new moms will fill you in. Friends and family are great, and you’ll need them, but I also really needed people going through what I was going through.”
- Adjustment happens. “When you have a baby, everything is all out of whack for a while. Your hormones show no semblance of normalcy, maybe not until after you stop breastfeeding, but even if you don’t nurse, your body can take weeks to level out. There’s a lot going on in there, and it’ll take time to bounce back. You may never be the person you were before, and that’s OK.”
- The most important lesson she learned? Change happens daily. “The best advice I got came from my pediatrician: ‘Don’t get used to anything because tomorrow it’ll change.’ Michaela may sleep tonight, but she might not sleep tomorrow. Today she doesn’t want to eat; tomorrow she will. You just never know. But that’s what makes it fun.”
Many thanks to Chris for sharing her experience and learnings from her Adventures in Motherhood. What did you have to learn when you became a parent for the first (or second or third) time? Share your expertise with us in the comments below or on our Facebook page.