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5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Having My Baby - Confessions of a New Mom

grief support mental health motherhood Sep 22, 2023
motherhood challenges labor nursing

Possible content/trigger warning: NO mention of child loss. Mentions of traumatic labor.

By Ilana Shapiro Yahdav

So far in our blogs, we’ve discussed the grief and joy of birth and the many many changes to one’s life that result from having a baby: change in relationships, mental state, and body autonomy, to name a few. There are so many seemingly conflicting emotions that go along with having and raising tiny humans. 

Now, I’m going to share some misconceptions - through a grief lens - that I wish I knew more about prior to giving birth: 

Not all babies cry when they are born.

I had no idea about this one. To me: 

Baby Crying = Baby Alive/Breathing
Baby Not Crying = Baby Not Alive/Not Breathing

Many babies do cry, but not all. Who the heck knows why? The doctors certainly did not know why she did not cry. 

My little peanut was in a huge rush to get out. But, once she got out, she realized all the things she’d have to do on her own (i.e. breathe) and then I think she realized that she wanted to go back in. Too late, little one…. I wanted her in there another month, too, and would have been happy to be breathing for her a bit longer. She was certainly impatient like her momma.

I have never been more scared in my life when I did not hear her cry. I wish I knew that not all babies cry and that not crying does not always mean not breathing. I remember trying to negotiate with G-d that if He would just make her cry (aka be okay), I would be so grateful (not sure what my promise was…. ) I should have specified to G-d that I wanted her to cry in that moment. She did not. I did not hear her cry for a few days. But, once she started, she has since made up for it. (Though to be honest, in the early days, even when her crying was deafening and I wanted to hide under her crib without her, part of me was still comforted hearing her cry because it soothed my heart from those moments when I didn’t know she was okay).

It took a while to work through that trauma and grief and all the naive ideas I had about giving birth to my first daughter. It took a while to come to terms with the fact that it was not my body’s fault she came early, and that I did not let her down. 

Latching does not happen automatically for everyone.

I learned this one the hard way. Not everyone is able to nurse. Not everyone wants or chooses to nurse. Choosing to breastfeed/nurse/exclusively pump/give formula is an incredibly personal choice. The only thing, and I repeat, the only things important are to do what works for you and to feed your baby. Fed is best. Mental health is imperative. Full stop there. 

Not everyone produces enough milk. Building up the milk supply is hard both emotionally and physically. Weaning is equally hard. Both create huge hormonal imbalances.

Nursing does not happen automatically. It’s actually pretty hard for some of us. I mean, I knew there technically could be nursing difficulties, but having never tried it before, I really had no idea. I just always assumed I’d nurse. Hadn’t really put too much thought into it. I got a pump because my doctor and insurance told me to. 

Well, let’s just say latching did not come naturally for us (with both my girls). With my first, in the beginning, the nurse suggested that it was because she was too small and I didn’t have enough milk. We tried in the NICU. We tried at home. Three different lactation specialists on the hospital staff tried to help. I even hired a private lactation specialist in hopes she could share some magic not previously known to the other specialists. After this, my husband wisely encouraged me to stop seeking lactation specialists to avoid getting more conflicting guidance.

I started pumping around the clock to build my supply. There was definitely plenty of milk. I still tried to nurse sporadically but it was so stressful - she’d scream, I’d inwardly scream. It got to a point where I stopped trying and fell into exclusive pumping. 

She was fully breastfed for the first 8 months of her life. I had enough frozen milk to get her to her first birthday. However, my opinionated child did not take to my frozen milk and I ended up donating close to 500 ounces of my frozen milk to 5 different preemie babies. I have so many conflicting emotions about this. I’m so proud to be able to help other babies; and sad for how much stress, energy, and time I spent with my pump and not my baby. I’m grieving what I missed in those first few months due to pumping and being completely depleted. I'm grieving not being able to have the experience of nursing my first and having that sacred time together. I'm grieving how fixated I was on how many ounces I pumped and not always being able to be the one to feed it to her. 

Another huge lesson and this is a total ‘duh’ obvious one, but bears being repeated: fed is best. Fed is best. I want to scream it from the rooftops. 

Sometimes we don’t produce enough milk, or the baby doesn’t tolerate the milk, or the baby won’t latch, whatever the issue. But, if the baby is hungry, the baby must eat. Formula. Breastmilk. Bottle. Breast. The bottom line: make sure the baby is satiated. Ego or whatever has no place here. This is a reminder that I had to constantly give myself. Fed is best. An emotionally healthy mama is best. 

Pumping was hard, painful at times, and cost a lot of time, energy, and money. But, it was a choice that I made.  I wanted her to have my milk and part of me felt so guilty about my body failing her in not carrying her to term. (In retrospect, I know it was not my fault that she came early, but I still grieve it nonetheless). It was my choice to pump and mine alone. It’s sooo important to make that choice for you and your family. No one gets to tell you what to do.

Caring for your own mental & physical health IS NOT selfish. 

It’s imperative to care for yourself to be a good mother. Seek professional mental support, if needed. Squeeze in a nap. Do a workout with the baby. Whisper something kind to yourself. Take a deep breath. 

As the old adage says, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” You literally can’t. 

I’m still figuring out how to balance caring for myself and my kiddos. But, I am working to make my well-being a high priority as well. I know the best way to model healthy habits is to adopt them myself. I wish I had more to share on this one, but I suppose being aware of what I want to do is a good start. 

As Kim and I often say, awareness is a very powerful tool. We can only work on changing what we are aware of. I am working on my mental and physical health for me and to be a good role model for my babies.

You may not feel an immediate connection with your baby and that is totally normal. 

The bond comes, just not always right away and then you will experience a love so big that there literally are no words to describe it. My Spectra (pump) and I, on the other hand, were inseparable (literally) and bonded from the start. 

I do remember about 3-4 months in, finally really, really feeling that deep bond and connection. This was the case with both of my girls. In talking to other moms, I found out that I am not alone. This does not make me or anyone else a bad mom/parent. It makes me a mom. A human mom. Now I feel so deeply connected to both of them and that connection and love grows deeper and deeper each day. 

When it comes to parenting and being a parent, there are so many differing thoughts and opinions. But, I will say that the one thing that has pretty much been totally true across the board with all the moms that I have spoken to is that the love that you feel for this tiny human is like no other love. I love my husband. I love my family and friends. I love my fur princess. But, the love I have for these tiny adorable demanding princesses is beyond words, beyond description. My heart is swelling as I write this. I don’t have the words to express this love that is so big and just gets bigger and bigger each day.

People told me that when you have a child you experience this love that you can’t imagine otherwise. I was always like…… "yeah yeah." But, wow. That is true. It took a few months to start blossoming. But once it started, it never stopped. It grows and grows. It’s the most amazing - most terrifying - feeling in the world.

No one really knows what they are doing.

Some are just better at posting Pinterest-worthy pictures on social media and holding it together in public. You never know what is really going on with anyone, ever (this applies to pretty much all aspects of life - especially grieving and parenting). 

You can’t truly prepare to become a parent. Sure, you can take all types of classes, read all the books, plan for all types of scenarios, and meet with professionals and moms. While some of it can be helpful, it really does not fully prepare you for meeting that tiny unique human. Because the one scenario you don’t plan for is the one that will happen. At least that’s my experience. Just as every grief journey is unique, so is every parenting experience and child. 

All of these opinions are mine and mine alone. I am no doctor or pediatric expert. When I started writing this, I was a first-time mom of a 17-month-old. Now as I am finally finishing writing this and am a mom of two. My 17-month-old is now 33 months old, and my second (who was not even a glimmer in my eye when I started writing this) is 9 months old! 

I know I’m still no expert and there is a lot I don’t know. And now there is a lot I do know. I also know that a lot of the things that I write about, I WISH someone had talked to me about sooner and in more depth, therefore I feel compelled to start the conversation to help moms feel less alone. I want to talk about it as much as possible and normalize this conversation. It's okay that being a parent is not glamorous all the time. In fact most of the time, it is not. And sometimes, it is not fun. Not even a little. Other times, it is amazing. Sometimes it's everything in between.

When I was in the thick of the newborn fog, I wish I knew I was not alone. Like, really internalized it. I wish I knew that I did not need to cry alone in the dark on the bathroom floor. In fact, I was talking to another new mom friend, who months earlier was going through the same thing and we both didn’t know it. I wish we could have supported each other. Cried on the floor on the phone together. We moms need to stick together. (Dads, guardians, and all the other types of parents, too. I don’t mean to exclude anyone, I’m just focusing on my experience and using mom as a general term). 

Those of us raising tiny humans need to support one another. This is the hardest job ever. (This is also the best job ever!) It’s on us to raise kind, thoughtful, honest humans to help heal the mess that this world has started to become. Each and every one of us raising a human gets to take part in this. If we all do our bit, think about the huge impact we could have. It’s a bit daunting and so very exciting and amazing. 

Every season of parenting introduces new joys and new sorrows. As mothers, we are constantly tried in new ways. Fears, insecurities, and latent grief can be brought to the surface, just as forgotten joys and hobbies can be reintroduced. As hard it as it is, parenting gives us an opportunity to heal old wounds and process our grief. We get to grow, learn, and teach alongside our tiny humans. I really think that we can learn as much from our tiny humans as they can learn from us. We just need to be willing and able to embrace it. 


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