Is your brain exploding with unimaginable love feelings?
Here's the thing: the first few minutes, and days, and even weeks or months after giving birth, not everyone is immediately b*tch-slapped with love for their kid.
You do feel... connected. You feel a primal, biological need to feed, and protect this squishy, new water balloon of a human. But that compulsion can be uncomfortable at first. Sure, you've loved people before, but your primary obligation has heretofore been ultimately to yourself. I really don't think it's until you have a child that you actually love someone more than yourself, in a literal way. And in the beginning, before you've had a chance to get to know your baby and truly fall in love with the person they are (you will eventually, and it's f*cking grand), you still immediately know that your obligation is to them. It's intense. Personally, I dug these super big, super cosmic, ancient she-warrior protective instincts coming out in me. In the rest of my life, I feel so interested in so many things that my energy towards them can get frantically scattered. Having moments of feeling unshakable purpose and focus is refreshing and empowering. Don't convince yourself that you're a broken, dead-hearted, bad mother if you feel a lack of immediate, blinding love for this brand new person who you just f*cking met. And let's not pretend that "loving someone more than yourself" is an altogether positive thing. It can be a dangerous thing. If nothing else, it's a truly disorienting thing. Your entire emotional composition becomes reconfigured, and while I can't say that there is ultimately anything bad about having anyone -- baby or otherwise -- inspire a love that hardcore, it's not always an easy adjustment to make. That said, my baby is gorgeous and smells delicious and laughs at me and is basically a unicorn, so there's nothing sad about this huge emotional shift, even if it's weird. It's good weird.
Do you miss living alone?
Yes and no. What I came to realize is that feeling comfortable with this huge shift is dependent upon the same thing that allows me to feel comfortable with any big change in my life; it's not about feeling 100 percent sure, 100 percent of the time, about choosing one thing over another, as much as it is about accepting that there can -- and almost inevitably will -- be a balance to things. Most of life is lived in gray areas, with situations constantly evolving.
In this case, as to whether or not I miss living alone, I guess the answer begs a more specific question. When someone asks this, they usually really mean, "Does it suck having someone else in your space all the time forever?" The whole answer, as I understand it so far, is yes, that would suck. But you can't let things be like that. The trick is to realize that, contrary to the widespread notion that to parent is to martyr your entire existence in servitude to your child, your relationship with your kid is like a relationship with anyone else you love. You need balance. You need boundaries. You need to take care of yourself. Not only will that save your sanity and make you a more complete person who will undoubtedly be more positive, present, and altogether wonderful for your kid, but you'll be teaching him or her that no relationship is a one-way street. I mean, I figure my son's very first relationship, the template upon which he will base all future relationships, is with me. What kind of sh*tty disservice would I be doing him if I taught him that you should forsake yourself for someone you love, or that you should expect someone you love to surrender themselves completely to you? Some things about living alone will get left behind. And you should mourn those things. The completely unfettered freedom of pre-baby life will never stop tugging on your nostalgia bone altogether, but that doesn't mean you prefer it, or are longing for it, or regret having a kid. It just means you were awesome. You can still be awesome, you just have to do so while nurturing, and loving, and being respectful of another person sharing your space. But learning how to do those things will make you endlessly more awesome, so it works out.
Does labor hurt?
No. That's what I say when someone is ridiculous enough to ask me this question. I just say "no" and nothing else. Wallow in your confusion, fool.
Do you still have a social life?
Prepare to be surprised by your friends. Some people who you considered to be serious ride-or-die besties will suddenly disappear, while others who you never would've imagined as the down-to-diaper type will rise up as unexpected sources of solidarity during this time of change. Don't kid yourself -- your social life will never look the same. You won't be randomly deciding on a Friday afternoon to run off to the beach for the weekend with friends. New love bed death, impromptu road trips, and other such social pursuits require a wonderfully irresponsible shirking of obligations, which isn't so cool once a human life is the thing you would need to blow off. But there is a trade-off. Feeling good about swapping old pastimes for new ones is the same when you have a baby as it is when, say, you get a really great new job; you have to let go of certain things you love that conflict with your new commitment, but the commitment itself begets some incredible rewards of its own. And they're new things. The real key to escaping social withdrawal pains after entering babydom is to be brave and adventurous enough to look forward, to not need to cling to the things that are comfortable and familiar. You have to feel excited about learning, and moving forward, and evolving. But fighting against growth is going to make for a painful, friction-filled life no matter what. If a baby doesn't alter your 20s social bubble, something else eventually will.
Yeah, but you can still see people sometimes, right?
Cooking a person in your guts, pushing it out, and guiding it through the mindf*ck of being suddenly alive is an all-consuming project. As with any kind of all-consuming project, the more wholly you commit yourself to it, the more successful it will be. That said, things level out. Suddenly, you're not pregnant anymore, your newborn is an older baby who sleeps all night and is increasingly independent, and you find yourself able to start re-integrating your pre-baby interests. There is an upside to being taken out of your normal social routine: you figure out which parts of it really mean something to you, rather than just being sh*t you did because there wasn't anything else to do. At first, when you're pregnant or the baby is brand new, and you truly have no time or energy for anything, you miss everything. It's shocking. More time goes by, and you only keep missing a few things. You miss certain friends and activities more than others, and you realize that you don't miss a lot of things at all. When you find yourself in a position where your kid is asleep for the night and you have a few hours until you involuntarily pass out, and you have to pick the one very most special thing to do, you can't help but look at your choices in that moment, and know what is actually important to you. And you'll want to eat your baby's face in gratitude for finally helping you weed out some of the senseless activity noise that used to clutter and overwhelm your life. You have a legitimate hierarchy of priorities now! Ring the alarm! High five!
How is your vagina? Like, is it weird now?
No. Not weirder than it was before, anyway. I'm not going to pretend that the prospect of fitting a nine-pound person through my vaj-hole didn't have me convinced that it was game over for my vagina looking youthful ever again. I thought my clit would fall off and I would never have an orgasm again, or that the nerves would somehow come loose. But as it turns out, vaginas are magicians. They just do the damn thing, take a breather, snap back, and get back to business. And while I feel like mine is pretty much the same, I'm staunchly against the vagina-shaming aesthetic standards that our society brutally upholds. Vaginas are inherently weird looking, and eventually mine won't look as young as it once did, and I plan to love it anyway. And any potential sex partner who isn't entirely into the overall awesome, gross weirdness of sex organs isn't someone I want to let up in there anyway. As a whole, I'm still blown away by what my body did to make a person. It's unreal. Bodies are incredible.
This article originally appeared on Thought Catalog. If you have questions about being pregnant/giving birth/having a baby/raising a human as a 20-something while continuing to be a non-awful person who doesn't settle for a life of lameness, ask Jessica who will enthusiastically (possibly drunkenly) answer them in an upcoming column!
A study published in the journal Infant Behavior & Development revealed that the standard "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby" has little to do with reality. When 253 college students were asked to rank photos of the same individuals as infants and young adults (without being told who was who), there was no relationship between how cute the students found the babies and how attractive they found the grown-ups.
No, really, it's true. It doesn't matter how many times you've heard the shout "Mine!" -- research shows babies can sense fairness at 15 months. During one study at the University of Washington, 47 babies observed videos of an experimenter distributing milk and crackers to two people. When one recipient received more food than the other, the babies paid more attention. That means they had expected a fair distribution. The researchers also found that babies who did notice unfairness were more likely to share their own toys.
OK, so they're not exactly psychic. But a recent study from the University of Missouri found that babies just 10 months old are starting to follow the thought processes of others. Yuyan Luo, an associate professor of developmental psychology who conducted the study, tells The Huffington Post, "Babies, like adults, when they see something for the first time -- when something is surprising -- they look for a long time. It shows [they recognize] something is inconsistent." It's called the "violation of expectation," she explained. When babies are surprised by something or notice something unexpected has happened, they tend to gaze at that thing longer. In Luo's research, babies watched actors consistently choose object A (such as a block or a cylinder) over object B. When an actor then switched to object B, the babies stared for about five to six seconds longer, meaning they recognized the change in preference.
Don't judge a book by its cover. Treat all people the same. We're all equals. These are sentiments parents strive to teach their kids from a very young age. And they should. Starting, like, immediately. Researchers at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom found that babies at three months begin showing a preference for the faces of people of their own race. But not all hope for equality is lost. The same study showed that babies who are exposed to people of all different races are less likely to develop bias at such an early age.
Researchers from Brigham Young University found that five-month-old babies can identify an upbeat song as being different from a series of sad, slow songs. In other words, they are happy. They know it. They will clap their hands. Or stare longer, as the case may be. The experimenters showed babies an emotionless face while music played. When they played a new sad song, the babies looked away. When the music pepped up, the babies stared for three to four seconds longer.
Babies have a sense of morality at six months old, say Yale researchers. During the Yale study, babies watched a puppet show in which a wooden shape with eyes tried to climb a hill over and over again. Sometimes a second puppet helped him up the hill, and other times a third puppet pushed him down. After watching the act several times, the babies were presented with both puppets. They showed a clear preference for the good characters over the bad ones by reaching to play with the good puppet.
Dr. Janet Werker of the University of British Columbia, who studies how babies perceive language, found that if a mother spoke two languages while pregnant, her infant could recognize the difference between the two. And they don't even have to be spoken out loud. Werker's research found that infants four to six months old can visually discriminate two languages when watching muted videos of someone speaking both.
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