Amy is a member of our community and recently had her first baby. She wants to share her experience so others can know they're not alone if everything isn't going just as expected...
"I really wanted to be a mom. Everyday during my lunch break at work I saw these moms together, and it just looked so wonderful. I thought: That is the life. But after my son James arrived, those first couple months were the hardest thing I had ever been through. There were times when I thought: I've made a terrible (and irreversible) mistake. I can't do this.
Having your first baby does complete renovation on every part of your life. Socially, you might face a lot more isolation than you're used to as you spend a lot of your time alone at home caring for your baby. Physically, your body has gone through an incredible feat and is now charged with feeding your very hungry baby around the clock, all while getting very sub-par sleep. Emotionally, your hormones are making sweeping marks on the Richter scale and the sleep deprivation is not helping. And then you and your spouse are trying to negotiate your new normal and stay afloat for one (or both) of you to work, and often that means a temporarily time-deprived relationship.
So there's all of that, none of which I really anticipated. But in addition, James had a tongue and lip tie, where his tongue was basically stapled to the bottom of his mouth, prohibiting him from nursing. But we didn't learn this until a month later, and that first month felt like hell. Because James wasn't getting enough food, he would cry all the time and rarely sleep, and I was basically nursing around the clock in an effort to help him gain weight. The doctors were very worried about his weight, and I felt guilty, as if it were all my fault. I would eat heaping spoons of almond butter, hoping it would help me make enough milk, only to stare for hours at his protruding rib cage, while we ineffectively tried to nurse hours upon hours.
After weeks of no sleep, tons of stress, and a chronically underfed and unhappy baby, I started to lose my mind. It was then that our doctor suggested James might have a tongue tie and referred us to a specialist. He did indeed have a severe case and we went to have it clipped, hoping that would remedy the problem. I sat there, on Valentines' Day, watching two strangers cut the under part of my son's tongue, then hand him to me screaming with blood pouring out of his mouth saying, "Nurse him! He's in pain!"
It was so traumatic. Then for the next 3 weeks, every time he nursed, I had to go in with my finger and re-open the wound so it wouldn't close back up. He would scream and scream. It was then my responsibility to help him learn to nurse correctly (he never learned the right way) and get my milk supply back. I was thoroughly encouraged to not use any formula and to pump all throughout the day. So basically, I had to nurse him around the clock, keep opening his wound, try to create a peaceful environment for him to enjoy feeding, and quickly put him down to sleep (which I didn't know how to do) so I could then pump for 20 minutes. All this about 10 times a day. My husband would take James after he got home from work and bounce him for 2 hours to give me a break, but since I was exclusively nursing around the clock and he was working full-time, he couldn't do much more than that.
I started to go crazy. I called my mom finally, who lived in another state, and said: "I don't think I can do this. I don't know if I love my son." It was a terrible breaking point but it felt so good to get it off my chest. You see, no sleep, a vulnerable baby who depends so much on you, and an intense change in your social, physical and emotional life, coupled with not enough help, is just enough to push one over the edge. I'm surprised so many pull through. She told me that I did love James but was going through so much and needed support. It made me feel a lot better.
Around the 2 month mark, James still wasn't gaining proper weight and so finally his pediatrician told us to give him formula. I was so relieved because I felt such pressure to exclusively nurse him ("Breast is best"--and indeed it is!) but I wasn't able to successfully and I felt like such a failure. But I was done with seeing his little rib cage and was so happy to have an authority figure give me the directive to put him on formula.
Immediately he gulped down the bottle, and over the next 2 months, he went from the 5th percentile to the 90th. His sleep began to normalize, and I began to get more sleep, as my husband could feed him and take longer shifts with him. Now James smiles all the time and sleeps much longer at night, and my husband and I are definitely in a place where we can feel sane, thought we are certainly still learning a new normal.
There are so many smiling baby pictures put out there on social media and I want people to hear from another voice that it's not all pretty pictures and coos. Certainly there are sweet moments, but there are also many very hard moments. And if you only see the sweet ones being projected, you might feel that your hard moments are unusual and even "wrong." Nothing could be further from the truth.
Here are 5 things I wish I knew or did before I had James (but will now know for hypothetical child #2!):
1) Get around other young moms as much as possible: Not only will they become life rafts for you as you go through hard times--telling you "You're normal" or "Here's what helped me...", they will also give you a realistic look at what life with a baby is like! Babies cry a lot, have trouble sleeping, and motherhood isn't this magic thing that you just innately know how to do. Getting an accurate picture of your new life is so, so helpful, because part of the hard part of being a new parent is just wrong expectations and getting used to your new normal.
2) Go to breastfeeding classes beforehand: I had no idea just how hard it can be! The pain, the learning curve, the particularities of you and your baby: maybe if I had seen more nursing done and had a better support group, I might've a) had James' tongue tie diagnosed much more quickly and b) had more knowledge to work through it. It still saddens me from time to time that I had to wean so quickly; I hope that next time for me is quite different. But it will also let you see that if you do choose to use formula, that is ok! Many mothers do for so many reasons, and their babies are perfectly healthy! It's helpful to have the most caring support and the least amount of pressure surrounding the whole issue.
3) Get used to asking for and receiving help: I didn't have the support system in place that I needed--both emotional (like having other mom friends) and material (like help with food or cleaning). And what's worse is sometimes when people would offer help, I'd turn it down! Ugh, so cringe-worthy in hindsight! Like this one time, a friend offered to clean my bathroom, and I said "No", even though I really needed it! I just didn't want to be a burden to anyone, and so I ended up taking on way to much myself and getting under the emotional pile because of it. GET THE HELP. SAY YES. People want to help, and your load will be so much lighter!
4) Understand that your relationship with your spouse is going to change: I didn't know that it's common for a couple to sleep separately for the first weeks/months to help everyone get the most sleep. So when my husband was on the couch for 2 months and me in the bed, I felt a) like it was never going to change back and b) like a failure for not having some "perfect" system in place that got us in the same bed with adequate sleep. Now we are back together, but it took a while! I didn't anticipate it, and that kind of loneliness was hard! Also, our "free time" is spent totally different now: instead of long hours at the coffee shop and leisurely walks and our biggest decision being what to eat, now one of us is playing with (read: trying to keep happy) James and the other is close by, doing something either fun or necessary, like eating. Everything's different, from dinner to bedtimes to how we spend our weekends. It's just a new normal, and it takes time getting used to.
5) Try to appreciate each season for its good and accept its bad: Nursing all the time isn't fun! But it does have a sweetness as your cuddle your baby. Likewise, every phase of your child's life will have unique hardships and blessings. Try to dwell in the good parts and realize that the bad ones will change. You WILL sleep again! Your body WILL return (mostly) to normal! You WILL get out of stretchy pants and have date nights again! But in the meantime, I would suggest NOT trying to fight it as much as possible. I did that too much, and it didn't do me any good. Just enjoy what you got to the best of your ability.
In summary, life ain't like the movies, and having a baby isn't like Instagram. They're messy; you're emotional; and the whole thing is a brand new circus show that you have to figure out how to ring lead. Motherhood is wonderfully fulfilling in an inexplicable way, but it's neither clean nor easy. So just know that if you're there in the middle of the night crying with your also crying baby, you're not alone! And if you go through every step wondering if you are a good mother, you already are, because you care. So take heart mama: it gets better and it's gonna be worth it. And this I say also to myself.