When I was pregnant with my first son, I worried. A lot. At first, I worried that I would never stop throwing up. I worried about miscarriage. I worried that I wasn’t gaining enough weight, and then that I was gaining too much. As the months went by, and the fact that there was an actual human growing inside of me became a reality, my worries shifted. By the second trimester, they took two distinct fears: surviving labor and delivery and transitioning into this new role of mama.
The first set of concerns is pretty self-explanatory. How will I deliver? When? What will it feel like? Am I prepared? Having a baby for the first time is such a completely new experience. There is no precedent. For me, the best way to tackle the unknown was to over-research, overthink, over-analyze, and over-obsess. I tried to read all the materials and take all the classes.
My second set of pregnancy concerns went a little deeper. I found myself considering the philosophical implications of bringing a little person into our family. How will I retain my independence? Will I still feel like me? How will I balance work and motherhood? How will parenthood impact my marriage? Will I ever make it out to see my friends? It felt like a bomb was about to go off, destroying my old life and leaving me to emerge from the ashes as…what?
Looking back, all of these thoughts are, and were, incredibly valid. But the vast amount of time that I put into worrying about them didn’t do me a whole lot of good.
Very little about labor and delivery is under your control. Yes, you can come in with a plan. Yes, you can and should advocate for your choices. But babies have a way of doing things according to their own agenda. Which isn’t to say that you shouldn’t prepare for the birthing process, but that it’s important to be aware that it might not go according to plan.
Similarly, all of my “big picture” worries remain important to this day. But when that new baby got buckled into his car seat for the first time on the drive home, I wasn’t worried about the trajectory of my career or how often I’d make it to yoga. Instead, my brain whirled with fragments of half-forgotten advice from the nurses and questions—is the house warm enough? why is that guy driving so fast?—and the dim realization that my boobs were leaking through my shirt.
Then we got home and hours turned into days which turned into weeks which turned into months, and there was so much to learn.
If I could travel back in time to talk to my pregnant self, I would first tell her to stop worrying, put her feet up and enjoy the peace and quiet. Then I would recommend channeling all of that worried energy into learning about the practicalities of raising a tiny human. It seems like most pregnant women, myself included, spend so much time thinking about how to bring the baby into this world that they forget to consider what will happen when it arrives.
I’m not talking about basics or broad strokes. Not how to choose the perfect stroller or whether to get that wipes warmer (the answer: no). I’m talking specifics. How often should I feed my baby? How much should he be eating? What’s the best way to treat mastitis? How and when and where do you give the first bath? How many layers should a baby wear to bed? When can I start pumping and how on earth do you use this thing? What’s the best way to heat up frozen breastmilk? If I’m sick, can the baby get it? Is nipple confusion a real thing? Should he be sleeping this much/this little/this loudly? This is the stuff that I wish my pregnant self had been thinking about.
The truest adage about parenthood is that the days are long but the years are short. Months are short, too, and before you know it, baby is 6 months old and crawling everywhere and trying to steal a bite of your pizza and suddenly you have to worry about solid foods and baby proofing and college. You think you will have endless time to research these far-away milestones and then suddenly they’re at your door—and you’re exhausted and overwhelmed and have no energy to read yet another article.
So, Pregnant Self, my advice is this: Prepare for the birth. Think about the bigger picture. But study up on the small things, too. Ask fellow moms for tips, tricks and recommendations, not just for the first days, but for the first years. Watch videos from trusted sources, like a lactation or sleep consultant, to see how to actually do this.. Take an online class you can refer back to when your brain is fried. Hang out with friends and family who have kids to learn how it’s done. Don’t be afraid of bringing up a gross topic; once you’re a mom, everything is fair game.
It’s hard to know what you don’t know so try browsing websites for new moms instead of those for pregnant people. You’ll come across a wealth of ideas and information that will open your mind to the reality of raising a little one. You won’t absorb it all right now and that’s okay, because you will feel more prepared, more knowledgeable and more confident about this whole motherhood thing.
You got this, Pregnant Self. Whether the birth goes according to plan or not, everything will work out. Try to worry less and learn more. Focus on what you can control and how you can prepare for the birth and beyond. You’re going to be an awesome mom, I know it.