What No One Tells You About Giving Birth—and Beyond

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Once a woman is visibly pregnant, she suddenly becomes a receptacle for all sorts of information and comments. Often in the form of someone leaning in and saying, conspiratorially, “No one tells you that….” before launching into a juicy “secret” pregnancy or labor or newborn tidbit.

For example, you hear that “they don’t tell you” that pregnancy can cause vicious hemorrhoids; that your parts can rip during labor; that after you give birth you need to wear phonebook-thick maxi-pads for days and even weeks but it’s OK because the hospital gives you amazing mesh underwear; that you basically don’t sleep, ever; that babies sleep all the time; that babies never sleep; and that several months after giving birth, your hair starts falling out, in terrifyingly large clumps. It’s all so beautiful!!!

But I did know about that stuff; I was told by friends, or knew through books, articles or osmosis. (Though I was still NOT prepared for the magnitude of the hair thing.)

By contrast, here are some things they actually don’t tell you:

  • You should stock up on both laxatives and stool softeners for when you come home from the hospital. Email me if you’d like additional detail.
  • You can be disappointed by the sex of your baby/babies, and sometimes that feeling doesn’t go away, even as you love them wholly and completely.
  • In the early days of breastfeeding, your nipples crack and bleed, so when your baby spits up there’s often blood in the spit-up.
  • It can take up to a year – or more – to really feel like a person again, to lose baby weight, to feel like your hormones have regulated, etc. Not just until the end of the “fourth trimester.”
  • While your body is breastfeeding, your boobs leak when you have sex.

  • When you and your close friends are different kinds of mothers, it can make you less close; it can also be hard to maintain friendships with those who don’t have children once you do.
  • You might not make enough breastmilk to exclusively breastfeed your baby, or even to breastfeed them at all.
  • You can still take a shower, brush your teeth, and get dressed in real clothes, even when you have a 1-day-old. A tiny sleeping lump doesn’t magically create a whirlwind of chaotic impossibility, and also you’re allowed to let your baby cry while you do things for yourself.
  • You may sweat through your clothes, sheets and possibly even mattress in the weeks postpartum; you may be drenched again within minutes of getting out of the shower.
  • Travel is easier with a newborn and gets harder as the baby gets older; actually doing everything is easier with a newborn (restaurants, car trips, doing errands) and gets harder as the baby gets older.  (And, then, eventually easier again.)
  • You recognize traits in your children that you dislike in your husband – and you blame your husband for them.
  • You recognize traits in your children that you dislike about yourself – and you blame yourself for them.
  • At any given moment, you might have a favorite child.
  • Your bladder control may never be the same.
  • You don’t immediately feel like a mother after you have a baby. Learning to put your child’s needs and/or happiness in front of your own is an extended, often-bumpy, and not necessarily finite process.
  • People are nicer to you when you’re pregnant than when you’re lugging around a baby, and EVERYONE has a (critical) opinion about how you’re caring for (and dressing and feeding and transporting) said baby.
  • It’s not always easy to make “mom friends,” and having a newborn can sometimes be incredibly isolating and lonely.
  • You need way less baby gear than you think/are told in those “baby to-buy list” spreadsheets friends send you.
  • Taking care of a newborn can be really boring. They do nothing and yet you can’t really do anything, with or without them.
  • Your relationship with your husband changes, and not always for the better.
  • Mastitis is a thing, and it blows.
  • It can be very hard, emotionally in addition to logistically, to bring a second (or third or fourth) child home – akin to feeling you’ve been torn into parts. There’s lots of attention paid to how the older child(ren) will feel about the arrival of a new baby, and almost none paid to the potential challenges for the mother’s tender heart.

Of course there is no finite amount of information that can be conveyed to a new mother, nor could even a full-time Googler come close to being fully prepared. The variability of experience, even for the same mother across different children, is so vast that there is quite literally no such thing as prepared.

And that truly is what they don’t tell you — that one of the great, freeing delights about becoming a mother is that you do not and cannot know what is about to happen to you. So you should know that as vulnerable, worried and nervous as you feel in those early weeks… that’s par for the course; there’s nothing you “missed” in your preparation that would have made you feel otherwise.

Pregnancy calendars and mommy blogs and registry guides can help you feel calm and ready. But you should also know that from the second you find out you’re pregnant that there will be things that happen that you weren’t expecting. So expect that.

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Alice Leiter is a recovering lawyer living in Washington, D.C. with her husband and four children. Her hobbies include making fun of her family on Instagram, watching Bravo, and worrying that people are mad at her. She hates when grown women call her “Mama.” Reach her at alice@aliceleiter.com.