After I found out I was pregnant, it didn’t take long before I began reading, researching, and preparing myself physically, intellectually, and emotionally for this seemingly far-off notion called parenthood. But it wasn’t until I became a mother to Lila Sky nine months ago that I realized just how much is left out of those books: about being pregnant, what actually happens at the hospital, and the epic highs and sometimes lows that accompany that six pound, eight ounce little human.
Would I have believed it if someone else told me I would be inconsolable on my first day back to work? Probably not. But becoming a mother is full of surprises. Here are the 11 things I would tell myself if I could go back in time.
1. The Days Before You Give Birth Are Very Weird
There aren’t many times in your life that you are hyper aware of a huge, life-altering event—normally the big stuff takes you by surprise. I knew the change was coming, but I didn’t know exactly what it would be like or how I’d feel, or even who I would be when it was all said and done. And waiting for the narrative to play out takes patience.
Only 1 in 30 women give birth on their actual due date, so when you’re pregnant, there is about one month when it’s “most likely” you’ll go into labor. In my case, that meant sometime in July. That’s prime summer. Manhattan is an odd place to be during a normal summer weekend, let alone during major holidays like the 4th of July, when most people ship off to somewhere with less concrete. The weather was beautiful, but the vibe was quiet in an almost eerie way. My husband and I did a lot of walks in various parks in our neighborhood, talking through what we were feeling, taking it all in and trying to enjoy our last days of sleeping.
2. A Baby’s Going to Do What a Baby’s Going to Do
I nearly had my pinky toe burned off with mugwort during acupuncture sessions, and had a yoga instructor/doula talking me through 30 positions twice a week, all in the name of trying to flip my baby girl.
She had her little head up by my rib, and that’s where she was staying. I was convinced she would flip, up until the very end—the end being my water breaking at 4 a.m. on her due date. When I arrived at the hospital I refused an IV because I was convinced I would not need to go into surgery.
Needless to say, that last ultrasound revealed a baby exactly where she’d been all along. I was in surgery five hours later. Lying on an operating table knowing that, without the presence of your own pushing, a human will very shortly come out of your body and you will feel generally awful (but also elated!) is, in a word, surreal.
3. You Can’t Really Plan Your Birth Experience
I was not a woman who wanted to have a C-section. I was laser-focused on having a natural birth, reading books like Birth As Nature Intended. I had my pelvic floor in VS Angel shape, I did birthing meditations in the bath to prepare myself to remain calm during labor, and I had my different breathing exercises rehearsed and ready to go in order to use my mind and body to mitigate pain.
During the birth, I wanted to skip the drugs; I wanted to wait to clamp the chord so that my baby could receive important blood back into her body; I wanted to not bathe her for a few days to help her build her micro-biome; I wanted to let her latch immediately and leave the hospital ASAP. Instead, I got a spinal and had to beg the anesthesiologist to allow me to let her latch while I was still in the surgery room (only to have a nurse pull her off moments later). The hospital told me I had to bathe her mere hours after her birth, and I had to stay for two nights. I did insist on keeping my baby in the room with me the whole time, which was met with more push-back than I would have expected. Babies are generally taken to the nursery at night to help mom recuperate, but I wanted to keep her with me. Although this was technically allowed, every time a new nurse came on duty I was told they had to “check” to see if she could stay with me.
I felt I had very little control over the entire process, but I suppose it taught me that there is little we can control in this life—and that hopefully it’s a VBAC (vaginal birth after C-section) for me or bust next time.
4. Other Women Love to Say, “But It’s All Worth It” to New Moms
Here’s my disclaimer: I would most definitely give my life for my baby. But when you ask how I’m feeling and I say I’m in pain or uncomfortable after a major surgery, I don’t necessarily want to hear, “but it’s all worth it.”
I know it’s all worth it, I chose this and I’d do it again—but my sister’s friend’s mom at the grocery store doesn’t need to tell me that.
A fellow new mom recently told me her birth story, in which she nearly bled out and almost died while giving birth. The harrowing tale was quickly followed up with the always-present, sunny addendum, “but it’s all worth it.” I wanted to say, it’s okay that you were scared or were in pain and you are commenting on it, it doesn’t take away from who you are as a mother or how much you’re willing to withstand for your child.The follow-up makes it feel like new moms aren’t allowed to issue any grievances, lest they appear ungrateful.
Maternal mortality rates, especially for black women, are sadly and terrifyingly the highest in the U.S. compared to every other country in the developed world. We need to stop making women feel like their pain is something they need to apologize for.
5. Whoa, Love Was Only a Word Before
I had no idea you could love someone this much. I have actually compared Lila to having a new toy that I never, ever get sick of. When I’m with her I get that jumpy excitement that’s usually only associated with something new, but now we’re almost 10 months in and I think I love her even more—if it’s even possible.
Every phase of her babyhood feels like peeling off a layer of consciousness, she’s a little more “person” every day. It’s mind-blowing how connected you can feel to a person that can’t communicate verbally with you. But I’m already starting to mourn the time that’s over almost immediately after it’s over. It’s a crazy whirl of embracing her growth and development and feeling sad that the days of just quietly snuggling have come to an end.
Everyone says this time goes so fast because your baby is changing so quickly and it makes everything feel like it’s in hyper-speed. But now I understand why women keep having babies. If you had asked me about number two, two months in, when breastfeeding still felt like an impossible feat to master, when I was waking up every 2 hours at night, when I was an actual walking zombie, I would have said, politely, um no. But I’m willing to get over that difficult first hump and do it all over again—maybe in a year or two. No rush. And maybe with a night nurse next time.
6. You Really Appreciate the People Worth Appreciating
I was incredibly lucky to confirm that my husband is a natural father, a total papa-bear, a hands-on rock star. My best friends show up when I need them to, my family travels hundreds of miles just to spend a few hours or days with Lila, and my mom and I are becoming closer than I ever thought possible.
Whereas I might have fixated on the negative before, I now realize that the people who didn’t rise to the occasion don’t matter. I wish them well, but man does this kid shed even more light on those who are already tops.
7. Being a “Fashion Mom” Is Not About “Aspirational Motherhood”
I was lucky enough to spend weeks at home with my husband and my family when Lila first arrived. I lived in two pairs of the exact same Aritzia sweatpants for much of that time, paired with old American Apparel tanks that made for easy nursing access. It was decidedly not chic, but of course, this time was about bonding and being a food—and comfort—source for a new human, not being aesthetically pleasing.
Because I am a person who apparently lacks the foresight to know that I would not need summer dresses and heeled sandals postpartum, I packed many, many looks for my time at home. But I will say, on the rare occasions I put on one of those dresses for some meandering walks outside, I felt like me again.
What I wear is a big part of my identity. If makeup or literature or scientific journals or reality TV or celeb weeklies make you feel like you, embrace those little things for a few minutes a day during those first months—it will help marry your past with your new present in a concrete way. Trying to look my best wasn’t about putting on a show, it was about re-finding my identity.
8. A New Baby is a Perfect Reason for a Social Media Hiatus
I didn’t pick up my phone for almost two weeks after giving birth and used it minimally for weeks after. I had no interest in sharing this time with anyone but those closest to me. I relished the quiet, I kept the television off, and read only uplifting books. My one regret is not staying in that mindset longer.
9. Something Called Cluster Feeding Exists
Why did no one tell me that a baby can basically boot camp you at the beginning of breast feeding? Not one book mentioned cluster feeding, I’m fairly certain. Basically, a baby can insist (i.e. cry without the ability to be soothed) on eating nearly constantly for hours on end intermittently for several days or weeks at a time.
I was prepared for feeding every 2-3 hours, but whoa, this was not that. Naturally, I landed on a lot of mom forums from 2012, Australian breastfeeding sites, and mommy blogs that all reiterated the same thing: settle in and just go with it. In other words, your baby is your boss at this point, and it’s best to just lean into it, take a lot of deep breaths, and read Crazy Rich Asians. My doctor assured me this is normal and to stop Googling.
10. The Guilt Is Real
I returned to work after I was lucky enough to take a few months of maternity leave. That first day back, I cried hysterically in the elevator when a colleague casually asked me how my baby was.
I also felt completely displaced the first couple of weeks. But like anything, you learn to adjust. I love what I do and the people I work with, but I also miss my baby all day. My approach is to try to be present wherever I am, working hard and efficiently at work, and then keeping my phone and computer off when I get home until Lila goes to bed.
11. You Can’t Know What Kind of Mom You’re Going To Be
Before I actually gave birth, I bought books on sleep training and had full intentions on implementing them. I told people that I was going to do my best to breastfeed, “no pressure!”
But after I had Lila the thought of letting her “cry it out” terrified me and I put all the pressure on breastfeeding—I’m currently 9 months into it and hope to get to a year. There are so many ways to be an amazing, committed mom, I just had no clue what that was going to look like for me