It was news that I'd been expecting, sooner or later: one of my best friends was pregnant. She was thrilled, scared, curious and as she talked about her experience, I thought back to my own -- not yet two years ago, far enough away that I'd blocked out some of the rougher parts, but not so distant that the memories had faded. I remember feeling terrified, deliriously happy, and oddly, sometimes, alone.
Pregnancy can be an isolating experience, if only because it's your own. No one can know how you feel, because they aren't you. And you have no idea how to feel, because it's not something you've ever done before. Every day, every feeling, is new.
Thankfully, though, there can be common ground, and it's in those shared experiences that I found comfort. Many pregnant women have felt constantly nauseated; we had cravings, but couldn't force ourselves to eat (or cravings, and ate way too much); we Googled "can I ____ while pregnant " one too many times. So many of us worried, on a daily basis: can a baby survive on ginger snaps/french fries/milkshakes alone? Is it normal to feel these twinges? Like countless women before me, I thought: When will I feel the twins move? How will I know when baby is hungry/tired/wet/sick? Will I be a good mom? Selfishly, but at least not uniquely, I wondered about stretch marks and widened hips and all that weight and whether I would ever "get my body back." Whether I could survive on little to no sleep. Whether it was really as good, or as bad, as everyone told me.
To my dear friend: All of it -- pregnancy, childbirth, motherhood -- really is as good, and as bad, as I heard. But not every day, and not always in the same way as it was or is for my friends and family.
You will get so much advice, whether from friends, your mom, well-meaning (but oh-so-off-base) strangers. Listen, carefully, to all of it, because experience can be a great teacher, because there is so much common ground and in that, you may find solace. But remember that, just like your pregnancy, your experience as a mother will be unique. Only you (along with your husband and doctors) can decide what is right for your family. Try to be confident in your decisions. There will always be someone who doesn't agree with one (or all) of your choices. Forge on anyway.
With that said... here is my best advice.
Pregnancy can be hard, and it's not like the movies. At some point, you might feel like a whale, even though everyone will tell you that you look beautiful. Believe them. Take pictures of your growing belly. There's always a "delete" option, but no way to go back in time and capture these moments.
If you feel scared, every day, that you're doing something wrong, that you didn't eat the right things, that your baby could have a medical issue: Welcome to motherhood. That's not to say you shouldn't worry, just that it's normal. For many mothers, worry is a daily part of life.
Childbirth may not be what you're expecting. For me, it came over six weeks early on a Friday when I had a to-do list a mile long. I hope, for you, that it is exactly what you expect: That you have that happy yet hectic drive to the hospital; that the birth goes as you've imagined; that you're not in too much pain postpartum and that you immediately bond with your baby. If things don't go as planned -- if you are hurting or feel cheated or sad or you don't feel like mom when you hold your baby -- you are not alone. Don't be afraid to tell someone.
If you're anything like me, you'll get home and put the baby down in his or her crib and look at your husband and think: What now? What next?
Maybe breastfeeding will come easily, and you won't have to deal with poor latch or suck or low supply. Maybe you'll have to fight through those things. Heck, maybe you won't want to breastfeed at all. Though it feels like a monumental decision, like the fate of the world rests on whether you supplement with formula, I promise that it will be OK.
Gosh, I hope your baby sleeps. When we first brought the twins home, I marveled at how much they slept. I thought we were the luckiest parents ever. And then they decided to be typical babies. We struggled to get them to recognize that "night" was a thing, and that "day" was not the time to keep their eyes closed. My husband and I slept in shifts and sometimes had stupid fights at 2:00 a.m. and sometimes held each other close for comfort. I cried, cried, cried right along with the babies more times than I care to admit. I wondered whether I would ever sleep more than an hour and a half straight again. Sleep deprivation and its effects are real. All I can say is that it will pass. If you're in the midst of it, I hope you'll remember: everything baby, each phase, is so temporary. It feels like forever and then it's over, and some night you'll find yourself wide awake wishing to cuddle your child close to your chest. (Go back to sleep.)
You might feel like you don't know anything. You may wonder how long the baby should be breastfeeding or how much he or she should be eating. You might examine diaper contents like you're on an archaeological dig (even if, like me, you have no clue what's normal and what isn't). You'll worry about every rash. You'll be petrified about fever and will take baby's temperature way too many times. You'll debate whether to call the doctor (again) about a runny nose or a little cough; whether to sleep train; whether to let your kid watch any TV.
You'll find your way.
Pregnancy, parenthood, it can be messy, and not always easy, and you may not always be happy or grateful or feel the way you think you should.
But it can also be magical.
How you felt hearing that first heartbeat, seeing those little legs kick? It's how you'll feel so often: watching your baby's eyes open for the very first time. Witnessing a coo, smile, giggle, roll, crawl; seeing those first halting steps.
You are just beginning the adventure of a lifetime.