Usually, when I read articles with titles like this I’m astounded at how the writer of said article avoided being told the things she claims she wasn’t told. Sleep deprivation, the loss of autonomy over your own body, how difficult labour is – these are invariably at the top of the ‘no one ever told me’ list.
This is baffling to me because being pregnant seemed to be an open invitation for other parents to verbal diarrhea all the shit parts of procreation at me. I couldn’t have avoided being told these things if I tried… and believe me, I tried. Not because I didn’t want to know these things, it’s because I already knew these things. Literally, not a day passed in my pregnancy where I wasn’t reminded of how my life was about to implode.
‘Oh you’re pregnant? Say goodbye to sleep! Ha ha ha!’
‘Oh you’re pregnant? Your body is no longer your own so get used to that!’
‘Oh you’re pregnant? Giving birth is the most pain you will ever experience. Ever.’
Since the arrival of our sweet baby girl three weeks ago, I can confirm that all of this stuff is true but none of it has been remotely surprising. I knew I wasn’t going to get much sleep, that I’d be a milk-slave to my growing girl and that pushing a turkey-sized baby out my nostril sized cervix was going to be pretty bloody horrific. To be fair, it’s important information and I’m grateful people are honest because going into parenthood in blissful ignorance would be an extremely rude shock. It was the relentless repetition of said information that really wore me down, especially at the end when I finally looked pregnant and became fair game for any stranger on the street who’d birthed a child. So when someone says ‘No one ever told me how little sleep I would get after having a baby!’ I’m like ‘Seriously? Have you even met a parent?’
In the first few weeks of being a parent, there have certainly been many surprises. Mostly lovely, some difficult, many hilarious surprises too. Here’s a list of things that no one actually told me about having a baby…
1. There’s a lot more nakedness than I anticipated
For the first two weeks between having skin to skin time, learning to breastfeed and pumping milk, I pretty much didn’t wear clothes unless I knew someone was coming over. It was like Tits Out McGraw 24-7. Putting my bra and clothes back on after feeding when I was just going to pump and then do some skin to skin seemed pointless. I’ve never been a hugely naked person and I’ve especially never liked my boobs to be unbridled but I really dug those first few weeks of wearing nothing but a pair of black cottontails while I got to know this tiny creature who relied solely on my breast milk to survive. It was weirdly comfortable and primal. Also before a feed, my boobs look amazing. Huge and pert. Under normal circumstances, my boobs are on the small/pointy side (which I honestly quite like – they’re very manageable) but I can’t say I hate copping an eyeful of these big round hooters every time I walk past a mirror. They look like porn star boobs and I find them endlessly entertaining.
2. Baby poos can be audible
And they often are. It’s hilarious and also convenient because we can usually hear when our girl needs a nappy change. We’ve also come to enjoy the phenomenon that we’ve dubbed the ‘live stream’ – a wee which occurs in the three seconds between nappy changes. Hats is a master of the live stream and bless her freaking adorable cotton socks, always seems to save them for when daddy changes her nappy. We’re yet to experience a live dump but I’ll be sure to let you know when we do.
3. Breastfeeding sucks for almost everyone in the beginning but in totally different ways
Harriet was an amazing latcher and good feeder from the get go but I still ended up in a world of engorgement pain and nipple trauma because although her latch started off well she’d get lazy and let my nipple slip to the front of her mouth where she’d sluggishly chew on it for a while. I was told repeatedly that it’s ‘not normal’ for breastfeeding to hurt but what everyone meant was that it IS normal for it to hurt in the beginning, just not forever. Every woman I know who has breastfed has had some kind of pain or transition period they had to get used to. I’m sure there are a few women who had no issues at all with breastfeeding but for the most part, there’s at least a week, sometimes two, of hell before it starts working itself out. I had an awful week of sobbing through feeds because it hurt so much – I’m not 100% there yet but I no longer dread feeding my girl and it’s getting better every day. I’d been told so much about nipple pain and mastitis but I hadn’t heard anything about engorgement pain, which ended up being my biggest issue. Weird right?
4. You can experience contractions when you’re breastfeeding
I’m not sure if this happens to everyone and I’d never heard of this until I was breastfeeding Harri in the hospital and I had what felt like contractions when I was feeding her. I panicked a little and told one of the midwives and it turns out it’s totally normal. It’s the body expelling the excess uterus gunk that’s left over from giving birth. I’m sure it’s more scientific and specific than that but I wasn’t expecting it and it’s definitely not something I’d been told before. I also bled more heavily during breastfeeding sessions for the first week or so which is apparently very common but again, I had never heard of it. So I’m popping that information out there for anyone who is breastfeeding their new baby and freaking out that their uterus is trying to come to the party. FOMO uterus = totally normal.
5. You might get night sweats
In the first two weeks after giving birth, I was waking up in the middle of night in a puddle of my own sweat, regardless of whether I was hot or cold. Turns out, it’s totally normal and it’s just excess estrogen leaving my body. Good to know and nice to be able to strike ‘bird flu’ off the list of possible causes.
6. You might not hate your post-birth body
I had someone comment on a post I wrote when I was pregnant telling me to smash all my mirrors because I wouldn’t want to look at myself for at least the first 6 weeks after giving birth. I want to hug that person and tell her how beautiful she is because I’m heartbroken that anyone would feel that way about their miraculous body after doing something so incredible. Post-birth, I don’t hate my body at all, I think it’s totally brilliant. I also must have a very short memory but (to me) my body looks really similar to the way it did before I got pregnant. My tummy is soft but it’s always been soft so I’m not exactly crying myself to sleep over the loss of my non-existent Victoria’s Secret model-esque waistline. My boobs (currently enormous) are going to be a watch-this-space situation for at least another year but they’re just boobs – a good bra can fix them right up. I’m aware that I’m not ‘done’ with my potential body changes yet but with pregnancy and birth behind me, I reckon the hardest bit is done and I feel even better about my body than I ever have. It did a really, really cool thing last year. It grew, birthed and fed my gorgeous daughter. My body rocks.
7. When/if your waters break, it’s nothing like the movies
When I was pregnant, I asked lots of my friends about their births. I was most interested in the waters breaking part as this seems to be a pivotal moment in the birthing process according to most romcoms and hospital dramas. Disappointingly, most of my friends have no recollection of their waters breaking at all and if they do, it was during labour at the hospital when they had more important things to worry about, so most of them barely noticed. I had dinner with my best mate a few days before I went into labour and she told me about her waters breaking and how it’s pretty rare for it to happen before anything else happens. Only about 15% of women have their waters break before going into labour. Hollywood would have you believe that it happens to everyone. So thanks to that conversation, I wasn’t expecting my waters to break. Naturally, I was extremely shocked when my waters broke at 3am, three days before Harriet was born. It didn’t happen in an almighty splash, it was more like a constant trickle. And I mean constant – your waters keep replenishing themselves the whole time you’re in labour. No one ever told me that. I thought it was like emptying a container of water but it’s more like a tap – it just keeps on flowing. I spent a good 16 hours with a towel wedged between my legs before my contractions started. Ah the miracle of childbirth!
8. You might feel fine after giving birth
I had an extremely long labour (41 hours from first contractions to when our girl was born) but the actual birth was great. I had minimal damage and was up having a shower and walking to the recovering suite within two hours of Harriet’s arrival and we got to take our girl home the very next day. I’m certainly not trying to discount the experiences of women who have traumatic births and long recoveries (they’re my heros – my long but uncomplicated birth was still really hard work!) but I actually didn’t know you could feel almost normal shortly after giving birth. Honestly, the worst part for me was that in my labour-pain induced haze I thought I was getting ‘relief’ from scratching my thighs with my fingernails through contractions, so post-birth my legs looked like I’d fought a pack of feral cats in a rose bush but that was really the worst of it and my self inflicted wounds have totally healed now. We went to cafes, shops, the supermarket, the city and the park within a few days of Harriet’s arrival and all because I felt totally fine. I was expecting to be couch bound for a while so it was actually a very pleasant surprise.
9. Midwives are angel humans
My epic labour spanned across three shift changes at the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne so I ended up with about eight different midwives throughout my birth. I was there so long that the first midwife that was monitoring my birth was rostered on again at the end of my birth and when she walked in the room she said ‘Carly! How are you still here???’. All the midwives we had were incredible. Each one was totally different but they all had this magical air about them. I felt so supported and safe throughout my birthing experience and I don’t take that for granted for a moment. I was sad every time one of the midwives would go off shift but she’d quickly be replaced by another amazing midwife who made the whole experience totally glorious. Every single one of them stopped by the postnatal ward on their own time to check on us and meet Harriet on their next shift. They were all totally calm, very friendly, very professional and unbelievably supportive. It was also fascinating how varied their jobs are. They’re supervising births, visiting people in their homes, doing pregnancy check-ups – the skills set these people have is extraordinary. My birth experience was wonderful and I’m so grateful to the extraordinary staff at the Royal Women’s for that.
The best surprise of all is how much I love being a parent. Harriet is such a delicious bundle of joy, we’re just so in love with her. She’s funny and goofy and brings so much laughter and light to our lives. She’s also made me a lot calmer which sounds crazy (who the hell is calm when they have a newborn?) but I’m finding that I take things slower, I breathe more deeply and I’m more comfortable with stillness and silence than I’ve ever been. She’s a very chilled baby and it’s definitely rubbing off on me.