“What is the one thing you think all pregnant women should know?”
The one thing I think every pregnant woman should know is that she can’t control everything about her pregnancy and the postpartum period, so she shouldn’t drive herself crazy trying to make it perfect.
These days there are so many books, blogs and apps showing you how to manage your pregnancy and birth down to the last detail. How to make the nursery look perfect. How to train your baby to sleep through the night at the first possible opportunity. How to write a birth plan so that the hospital can follow your every wish. How to make delicious, homemade organic baby food. They would have us believe we can have the happiest, smartest, most well-fed and well-rested babies ever.
I loved all that stuff because, as it turns out, I’m a bit of a control freak. Pregnant at the age of 32 and in the midst of a fantastic marketing career, I thought I was master of my universe. I could manage anything: people, projects, emotions. Throw it at me and I’ll manage the heck out of it. I was ready to be the perfect mom and take advantage of every parental management concept thrown my way.
I was pretty shocked to find that having a baby doesn’t quite work that way. While there are certainly things you can do to help the experience go more smoothly, like following your doctor’s advice, taking your prenatal vitamins, educating yourself, getting rest and nutrition and the like, at some point the process can take on a life of its own. I wish every new mom knew that there is simply no way to make everything perfect, and that she’ll be able to get through bumps in the road.
For one thing, just because you have a birth plan doesn’t mean that the birth will follow it. My actual birth experience looked nothing like my plan. We could argue all day about whether I had the right doctor, or knew what to ask for, or should have had a doula or midwife, but how did I know? This was my first baby and I did the best I could to educate myself, but still …
I had an epidural that only worked on one side. The one doctor in the OB/GYN practice that I didn’t like was on call. I ended up laboring for 24 hours and being asked to push for FOUR hours until I was physically and emotionally spent. The nurses kept saying “any minute now” but it was more like “not any time soon.” I just couldn’t push my son out. Finally, he was delivered via forceps. I couldn’t control any of that.
After he was born, I learned the least controllable thing on the planet is a newborn. I never planned for my son to have jaundice that kept him in the hospital after I was discharged. I never planned for him to have colic. My sweet Jack son was going to have his own temperament and preference for feeding and sleeping schedules, and while I could certainly try to influence him, he was his own man.
I tried, though. Boy did I try. I had a schedule that I created on which I wrote down every bowel movement, feeding, every playtime and nap time. I thought if I could see it on paper I could make each day the best day possible and ensure he was being properly stimulated, fed, rested, bathed and loved. Since babies can’t read, he wasn’t particularly interested in my schedule.
I also never planned (though if you read this you’ll see that perhaps I should have seen it coming) to develop a serious case of postpartum anxiety and OCD. I wanted my baby and loved my baby, so why couldn’t I feel it? Why couldn’t I manage my emotions and get control of myself? He was so special and wonderful and yet I cried and cried. I couldn’t eat or sleep. I had horrifying intrusive thoughts that convinced me I was a terrible person. I thought my beautiful boy would never love me. I had no idea that postpartum depression and related illnesses are the most common complication of childbirth, and that I could get help. I didn’t think I should need help. I thought I should be able to manage on my own. These thoughts only served to hurt me even more because I felt I was failing as a mom.
Mamas, I want you to know that all sorts of things can happen. I also want you to know that these are things you will be able to handle as long as you don’t have expectations that you should be the perfect mom, able to create a perfect baby and a perfect environment in which to raise him or her. Don’t let the baby gurus fool you. Please don’t be too hard on yourself. Please don’t be afraid to ask for help.
It’s okay if everything doesn’t go exactly as planned. You’re still going to be a great mom.
Being a mother to my two beautiful children changed my life, and I’m happy and content doing the best I can. I’d love to hear your pregnancy stories. Please reply to the question below “what was the best or most difficult moment of your pregnancy?” By replying, you will be entered to win an exclusive Million Moms Challenge Gift Pack, which includes an all expenses paid trip to a conference on mothers hosted by the UN Foundation in DC (Jan/Feb 2012), an iPad2, a custom-made Million Moms Challenge pendant and $50 donation in your name to Global Giving.
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This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Million Moms Challenge. The opinions and text are all mine. Contest runs September 19 to October 16, 2011. A random winner will be announced by October 18, 2011.