Turns out, the most important teachings weren’t found in those books or classes (or Us Weeklys, but hey, a mom-to-be needs the comfort of knowing Stars Are Just Like Her). What I really needed was a wise old know-it-all like the post-partum me to impart some simple wisdom:
1. You will still look pregnant when you leave the hospital. Congratulations! You just had a baby! But no one told your enormous uterus. I don’t know why this surprised me considering I didn’t look five months pregnant when I was five months pregnant. Yet there I was, shocked and horrified, stumbling out of the hospital with a bottle of Oxycodone, a baby, and about 13 pounds of back fat oozing from the armpits of my Heidi Klum maternity tank top. What the hell?
Be realistic. When you leave the hospital you will look 148 months pregnant. 167 if you have a C-section. Even if you were one of those oddities whose weight gain was within the “healthy” window (you missed some really delicious opportunities), the amount of bloating you’ll be toting makes PMS with a hangover in the Australian outback in the dead of summer feel like a 15-day colon cleanse.
2. It’s OK—no, mandatory—to steal as much from the hospital as you can. Doesn’t matter how good your insurance plan is or how much gripe water and washcloths you scored at your baby shower. What you need, I mean really need, is not found at the Land of Nod. You need to take action into your own hands—and by “action” I mean everything from the nurses’ station, and by “hands” I mean your hands. Then stuff everything into that oversized steamer trunk you’ve dragged in for your 32 hours in the hospital.
Get chummy with your nurses because they have the key to the good stuff. Literally, they have a key. This includes but is not limited to: gargantuan maxi pads, nipple cream, breast pump accoutrements, bagels, soft cotton nursing gowns, swaddle blankets, chocolate pudding, formula, and underwear. Especially the underwear! Those blessed, meshy, granny panties that pull up to your sore, broken nipples are as warm and comforting as a real grandma. Most importantly, they’re disposable, which is awesome news for your favorite pair of Hanky Pankys.
3. You will continue to give birth for weeks after giving birth. What I’m about to tell you might constitute TMI, but I don’t have a better analogy. When I was in seventh grade, I had periods so severe I had to wear a super-sized tampon and a maxi pad. On a humid June day, I destroyed both in the middle of Spanish class. Seriously, my desk chair looked like a prop from Dexter. Instead of turning in my homework, I used it to cover up the stain spreading across the back of my acid wash Bongo jeans until I could run the eight blocks home. What happens between your legs post-birth is like a seventh grade period. Every six seconds.
Someone probably did warn you about this, right? I learned about it while heating up a bowl of pasta puttanesca (which I will not eat ever again, thank you) in my company’s kitchen. But it was worse than even my coworker’s great, graphic, colorful detail described. We’re talking serious sci-fi ooze that can soak a pad the size of sheepdog.
This is why you’re filching pads and granny panties from the hospital, ladies! Your run-of-the-mill drug store variety can’t handle this. May Al Gore forgive us new moms for what we are sending to landfills.
4. Visitors are welcome. Especially if they come bearing food! Quit being coy, little mama! Those four calzones you made and stashed in the freezer for a few sumptuous life-with-baby dinners? Yeah, they’re still frozen. Just like your ability to perform simple life-sustaining tasks. And newsflash—no one cares if you haven’t showered. That’s what you do while guests are visiting so they can watch the baby and feel like they’re helping. Visitors are like boarder collies. They have to do something or they’ll get bored and chew the furniture. They want to hold your baby. They want to put dishes in the dishwasher. They don’t want to see you eat homemade lasagna out of the palm of your hand though, so … just try to curb that until they leave, OK?
5. Newborns are moody little assholes. It’s not you, it’s them. Babies are cute and clueless and more scheduled than a group date on The Bachelorette one day and the next they are flakey, blotchy, maniacal oppressors prone to more emotional tirades than Kayne West’s Twitter feed. Try not to take it personally. But do try to write down all the times that baby made you feel like shit so you can use it as leverage when debating what nursing home they send you to.
6. Breastfeeding is a lie. OK, it’s not a lie in the sense that it doesn’t exist. It does. But it’s not the “most natural thing in the world.”
I never heard about the challenges of breastfeeding because everyone was too busy touting the benefits and boons and bonus Weight Watcher points it generates. All true, of course, but breastfeeding is also really freakin’ hard. If it weren’t, there wouldn’t be lactation consultants or cranium sacrum specialists or occupational therapists or tongue-tie authorities or any of the other experts dedicated to helping new mothers figure out the natural nuances.
Breastfeeding, for many, is not something that happens naturally. Peeing and pooping happen naturally. Body odor happens naturally. Sustaining the life of a tiny human with a precious elixir that will only exit your body through precise, secure sucking movements from an infant? Not always so natural.
Get help if you want to. Switch to formula if you need to. But remember, whatever you choose is exactly the right thing for you and your baby, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
7. You don’t have to know what you’re doing. This may be the simplest truth, yet the hardest to master. The right way to love and care for your baby is just to love and care for your baby. The best part—your baby doesn’t know anything but you, so as far as they know, you’re perfect.