My watermelon-size belly had become a comfortable night table. Every night around 11:00 I would sneak into the kitchen to grab a bowl of Honey Bunches and crawl back to bed to finish watching my show.
I had an overall easy pregnancy but it was almost time. So as the weeks went by, my fear started to increase. Fear of the hospital, fear of the birth, fear of the pain… I could barely sleep. I looked at my belly and then at my husband and simply said, “How?! How am I going to push this gigantic baby out?” It felt unreal, impossible, like the laws of physics would clearly work against me.
The day came to check in at the hospital for my induced delivery. My parents and my in-laws came with us and it felt more like a party than a hospital visit. I was guided to the delivery room and scheduled to receive Pitocin the next morning, but by 6:30 a.m. my baby was already in my arms.
Not long after they put me in my room and I was given Cervidol to soften my cervix, the contractions started. I was connected to monitors, I had an IV in my left hand, and I had the hospital nightgown with my naked butt sticking out. The contractions were intense. I remember not being able to process intelligible thoughts and Spanish was the only language that came out of my mouth.
“Embrace the pain.” That’s the first thing I would love to say to myself if I were able to go back. I was kicking and screaming, rolling from one side of the bed to the other side like a captive injured animal that couldn’t control itself.
But thankfully my delivery nurse, Jamie, held me close to her face and brought me back to my senses. “If you don’t hold still, I can’t give you the epidural,” she calmly said.
So with all the courage I could muster, I sat up close to the edge of the bed. “Now cross your legs,” Jamie said. I looked at her in disbelief and completely defeated. With tears running down my cheeks I managed to say, “I can’t.”
“Yes you can,” she said calmly.
“You are stronger than you think.” That’s the second thing I would say to myself.
I brought my legs to a criss-cross position and a big contraction hit me. It was excruciating pain, but when it passed I knew I could handle it. I dug my forehead into Jamie’s left shoulder. I remember her scrubs smelled like Gain or Tide, clean and fresh, so I focused on that. Another contraction. I don’t remember how long it took, but after two or three more contractions I had the epidural placed and was told to settle back in bed.
Hours after experiencing the worst physical pain of my life, I was inundated with overwhelming joy. Such strong emotions in such a short amount of time. Ambivalent feelings of frustration, surrender, fear, hope, pain, joy, exhaustion, adrenaline, peace, and chaos encompass the surreal experience of giving birth.
“It’s ok to feel everything.”
The good, the bad, and everything in between. Alone in my hospital room and later in my own bed holding my newborn baby close to my chest and feeling her breathing, I felt like my heart was about to explode from all the love I felt for this tiny human and at the same time, fear would take its place just as fast.
Seeing my postpartum body took me by surprise. A saggy pouch of flesh had replaced the watermelon-size belly. Its weight made my body bend forward and I looked like an ancient pregnant woman. I don’t know why I thought that my abdomen would just be flat the next day. I felt weak and tender. I had a second-degree tear and everything hurt.
“This is just temporary; be gentle with yourself. Your body just accomplished an incredible thing. Don’t rush the healing process. Be patient. Nurture and love yourself and your beautiful postpartum body. You did it! Don’t feel sorry for yourself. I am proud of you. You are amazing.”
Breastfeeding was hard to establish and it was another kind of pain that I wasn’t expecting. It was sharp and it stung. My nipples bled. My breasts were hard and sore. But the pain of hearing your child cry from hunger and the helplessness that came with it stung my heart even deeper. She wouldn’t even take a bottle, she would only take the ready-to-drink Similac bottles that they give in the hospital. So I fed her those.
“Ask for help; get help.”
I knew this already, and I still give myself this advice.
Together with my mom, my husband, and the lactation consultants from the hospital, I got the help I needed and I felt supported to continue my breastfeeding journey. I could not have done it alone. A week after leaving the hospital, my baby finally latched on.
Somewhere along the way in those first weeks, I felt like I was losing myself. I had a sudden realization that my life would never be the same. The sleepless nights, the three-hour feeding routine, and the tired look on my face were constant companions. I am doomed, I thought.
And then just as quickly, feelings of guilt flooded my being as I looked at my precious baby girl. She was everything I had ever wanted. I loved being her mom. I am blessed, I thought.
How I wish I could go back and tell myself that those feelings are normal. That you feel like your life is over and that you are never going to be yourself again.
“You’ll get through this. It will get better and better—you’ll see.”
In the beginning, motherhood hits you like an asteroid of hormones, feelings, and pain. So much pain. It shocks you with such intensity that you feel like your whole being has been brutally impacted and drastically transformed. And in some ways, it has.
But the impact will eventually fade into smoother waves and you will begin to enjoy this new phase of your life.
Being a mother will forever be a part of you. But as the years go by, you will discover that you never really lost yourself. You will still laugh at the same jokes and love the same music, you will return to your hobbies or find new ones, you will go out with your friends again, and, yes, you will sleep again.
“It is not a competition. You don’t have to rush yourself to get back into shape.”
I started wearing bandages and wrapping myself every morning.
It felt great that my clothes started to fit and that people looked at me and said things like, “Wow, you look great. I can’t believe you just had a baby.”
What I didn’t tell anyone is that my bladder hurt all the time and that I was really uncomfortable.
There are belly wraps that are soft and comfortable that help with posture and don’t harm your bladder. I would recommend those instead now.
But you know something? Going back, I would tell myself this: “It is ok to look like $h!t. You just had a baby.”
What is not ok is to feel like $h!t for long periods of time. That’s where your focus should be. Pain management, eating well, resting, showering, wearing comfortable clothes, going for short walks to get fresh air, wearing makeup because you want to, not because you have to, etc.
“I am so proud of you for taking the time to find resources.” That is another thing I would definitely say to myself back then.
I took all the classes the hospital offered for free: Childbirth, Breastfeeding, and Baby Care. I had my pregnancy week-by-week book. I learned a lot and it truly better prepared me for what was coming. I also recommend getting your partner involved in everything.
I have never experienced postpartum depression, but it’s important to check yourself for signs and to get help as soon as possible. I learned in these classes that “baby blues” are normal but they are different from PPD.
“Find your people, and rely on them.”
I remember looking at my mom with different eyes. She went through this. She felt how I felt. I had never felt closer to her, and I was beyond thankful for her presence.
For the first month, I had my family from Mexico stay with us. Between them and my husband, I felt so supported. But then my family left and my husband went back to work.
It took me almost six months to find a mom friend. And I still tell her that she saved me from insanity. It felt really lonely to have a tiny baby to care for and no one to speak to for most of the day. I was new in this country and I wanted so badly to get on a plane and fly back to Mexico.
Finding mom friends made all the difference.
I am now 25 weeks pregnant with my fifth child. People say, “Oh, you must be an expert,” but the truth is that with motherhood you are always learning and growing. You have to. You are never an expert. I can pass along my knowledge from my past birthing experiences but every pregnancy and delivery has been different. I am sure your experience will be different as well. I love hearing birth stories. I feel connected to them because we share a lot of the same feelings.
I am a firm believer that motherhood, especially birth and postpartum, shouldn’t be done alone.
Ultimately, if I could go ten years back in time and see myself delivering my first baby, I would honestly just cry and stare in awe.
And then I would repeat these words I’ve written. The same words that I would repeat to you, and to all new moms. I am in awe of you.
“Welcome to motherhood. You are not alone.”