As if it weren’t enough to come home with a tiny, needy, screaming human for the first time, I was also apparently a newly minted social media manager, tasked immediately with setting boundaries for well-intentioned friends and family about what was and wasn’t OK to post online of my daughter, all while simultaneously figuring out how to roll out of bed after a C-section.
Another unexpected battlefield: Scheduling a calendar of eager visitors without offending anyone. I had no idea that so much of my maternity leave would revolve around wrangling other adults — who could come over when, for how long, would I be able to nap or did I have to entertain you? Did you wash your hands? Are you sure? Can I nurse in front of you?
Maternity leave was anything but leisurely. Baby clothes, of all things, were a full-time job — doing laundry, sorting them for the right age or season, changing outfits multiple times a day, boxing up the outgrown stuff. Keeping track of gifts, sending thank-you notes and birth announcements in any spare minute. All the hours spent sterilizing bottles and pump parts…!
Not only was I getting to know my daughter, I was constantly setting and then breaking new rules for getting through those first touch-and-go days intact. At a time when we least have the bandwidth to deal with these new minefields, we have to quickly figure out how best to get by. Forget what you read in “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” — here’s the real lessons parents learned early on:
"I was completely shocked the first night our daughter didn’t want to sleep anywhere but on one of us — we were terrified it would set some horrible, no-sleeping pattern if she didn’t get into her crib right away, which in retrospect was dumb. She finally agreed, after two weeks, to sleep in her car seat only, where she slept for the next seven months. But, hello, she slept, and so did we. When you’re registering for gear you just assume, ‘This is what the baby will do!’ But actually, they have a lot of opinions." —Virginia S.
"I remember two simple bits of advice that I thought about again and again: Be at peace with the fact that your life revolves around feedings. And when it comes to your partner: Don’t take anything personally for at least six months. If he snaps, forgive him. No talking about it, no ‘why the tone?’ Forgive and move on." —Gina H.
"My major issue was breastfeeding. I took a class and read about it, but nothing prepared me for the difficulties and all the questions I would have. Then I had to find a lactation consultant and deal with figuring out what was covered by insurance." —April C.
"Breastfeeding was more difficult for me than childbirth. I tell moms now to take a class before the baby comes." —Lauren G.
"My husband and I had to figure out a sleep schedule for ourselves. He has a long drive to get to work. When we’d put the baby down, he’d take the 7-12 p.m. shift so I could get a couple hours. I took midnight on so he was rested before driving. If the baby didn’t wake up, we both got to sleep. But if he did, at least we each got a chunk of uninterrupted hours." —Stacy F.
"I had a son in NICU. Because of our situation, I declared a quarantine of our house and only close family could visit the first 10 weeks. And the hardest thing to deal with was visitors to the hospital while I was trying to recover. Moms should communicate a game plan in advance.
"I also went from being an overconfident left-lane driver to thinking everyone is driving too fast. I’m a right-lane, many-car-lengths between us kind of driver now. The first time on the road after having my son, every five minutes I’d say to my friend, ‘Did you see that? What psychos! That person is going 100 MPH!’ And she laughed and said everyone was driving normally." —Angela S.
"Maternity leave is funny. If you had asked me to go back to work two days after having my son, I would’ve said heck yes. I hated that my husband was just going on with his life, and I was kind of bored. But just as it’s coming to an end, your baby starts being awesome and you don’t want to leave.
"I also wasn’t prepared to come home to my in-laws. I found myself trying to host and be a new mom. My son was born during a hurricane, so we had no power, but I found myself planning meals, doing laundry, and things for my in-laws. This is partially my fault, but let’s just say that if there is a baby number two, they aren’t staying for a week. Women want to do right by their families but it’s like, please get the hell out of my house." —Liz C.
"Don’t freak out if your baby doesn’t seem to follow any of the rules in the books you’ve read. They’re all different. Sometimes you have to throw everything you’ve read out the window. I read a ton of books when I was pregnant. I’m very much a Type A person, so the idea of being on a schedule appealed to me. Then when we got home, nothing went as planned. We couldn’t follow the schedules in the books because we were having issues with breastfeeding and sleeping. As first-time parents, going with your gut is scary but when we did, we were all happier." —Ashley Z.
"My twins were preemies. I wish I’d known beforehand was how much I would hate leaving them to go back to work. I was in tears for months. If we had saved more, we could’ve made a plan for me to stay home with them. I got lucky and was eventually able to cut my hours, but it’s still a struggle to make ends meet." —Torrie R.
"There are post-partum depression medications out there that don’t affect your milk; you don’t have to suffer." —Jessica W.
"My baby would be miserable at times and it wasn’t my fault—or at least it wasn’t always my fault! There was an emotional toll for not realizing that early on." —Amy P.
"I’d had C-section complications that left me completely exhausted. The one thing I really wish I had done differently was gotten a baby nurse/doula/reliable, knowledgeable help. I just didn’t know how much I didn’t know." —Tyreen R.