What is it about parenting that makes current parents try to scare the joy out of parents-to-be?
When I was pregnant with Avery, I quickly became accustomed to the inevitable series of questions that family, friends, colleagues, and even acquaintances would ask, in this order:
Is this your first? (Yes)
How are you feeling (OK, but pretty tired)
Get a lot of sleep now, because once the baby comes, you’ll never sleep again!*maniacal laugher* (….ok)
I have a dry sense of humor, and I love a good downer as a joke, but it didn’t take me long to realize that these people weren’t joking. They weren’t trying to be funny. The maniacal laughter was simply their way of trying to sugar coat the depressing piece of advice they had just bestowed upon me. As if sleep was something that I could squirrel away in a savings account and cash in when the need arose.
But of course, sleep doesn’t work that way. So why was everyone advising me to “save my sleep”?
And it didn’t stop there. As I waddled into check-out lines, or rubbed by soft, firm belly at friend’s birthday parties, women would recount their own pregnancy horror stories (“I was in a terrible car accident”), a friend’s nightmare morning sickness (“she threw up every single day for nine months”), or their mother’s traumatic birthing experience (“she wasn’t even conscious for the birth!”) and I would awkwardly stand there, attempting to be sympathetic while also not trying to not internalize any of the anxiety-inducing tales that were being regaled constantly. I am an anxious-enough person. I don’t need another person’s trauma drizzled on top.
“What’s wrong with everyone?” I thought at the time. Shouldn’t they be trying to give me confidence and encouragement in this time of transition? Why weren’t people telling me their fondest memories and success stories?
Fast forward a couple years, about a dozen gray hairs, and countless sleepless nights with an infant-turned toddler. A pregnant friend, or family member, or a coworker would strike up a conversation with me, and I would have to stop myself from sharing all the vivid details from the unexpected c-section I’d endured during Avery’s birth. It wasn’t until then that I started to understand the compulsion to share these less-than-stellar moments with women that are journeying into motherhood.
Motherhood is a complete unknown. It’s the best thing to happen in your life, and it’s also the hardest. And each woman’s experience is completely unique to her. Which is amazing. And also scary. And also completely unpredictable.
Of all the birth stories I listened to while pregnant, no one warned me that I would end up on a hospital bed, hooked up to a Pitocin drip, while worried nurses smiled in my face and then whispered their concerns to colleagues and family members outside the hospital room doors.
No one warned me that I would walk into a surgical room full of doctors and nurses whom I’d never met but who were clearly were well acquainted with each other. And that while they chatted about their kids and weekend plans, I would be getting opened up with a scalpel, and my organs literally placed outside of my body.
No one warned me that a week following the C-section, I would be sitting up in bed, consumed with pain, exhaustion, and insecurity, while my husband changed our daughter’s diaper and placed her at my breast for her 2 am feeding. (where IS all that sleep I tried to save?!)
And what comes of this experience? Outside of a beautiful baby and the limitless love that accompanies her? You walk away with a feeling of gratefulness for having survived, and a compulsion to warn others of what lies ahead. Not in a mean-spirited way, of course. Just to prepare them so they aren’t as caught off guard as you were. As scared as you were.
Think of yourself watching a stereotypical horror movie and the protagonist is heading into an old abandoned cabin in the middle of the woods, looking for someone to help her jumpstart her car. “Don’t go in there!!” you shout at the screen. But it’s no use. We all know she’s going in there. Whatever lies on the other side, she has to find out for herself.
Motherhood is definitely not a horror movie. It’s an amazing, life-changing experience. It’s just that sometimes, I wish there were things I saw coming, so I could have been better prepared. Things I could’ve predicted so I could have handled them more gracefully.
But that’s impossible, isn’t it? Because no one’s experiences are alike. And as the cliché goes: there’s no handbook on parenting.
So next time you come across a pregnant woman, stop yourself from shouting “Don’t go in there!” in her face, because she’s already opened the door and is heading inside. All she needs to hear at this point is “You look great! You’re glowing!”