Ask most mothers what the hardest thing they've ever done is and 90 percent of them will say labor. A few may claim their hypno-water birth made it a peaceful and pain-free experience. The others must be risk-taking thrill seekers that consider skydiving a leisurely Sunday activity.
Giving birth is scary, but it is only the initiation into multiple stressful experiences awaiting new mothers. Here are the most stressful obstacles to overcome in the 72 hours post-birth.
1. Nose to nipple
Shortly after you've endured labor, you must then master the all-important nose-to-nipple test. The quest for the "ultimate" latch can be traumatic. After the labor midwife has manually milked you to get a mere millimeter or two of colostrum, you will have to learn to master the latch on your own. Raw, cracked nipples; engorged breasts; after pains and a sharp, piercing needle type pain are just some of the things you may be experiencing. And every single midwife on duty will tell you something different. Prepare for admonishment. Ridges are bad. Visible areola is bad. Apparently, your nipple must simply look 10 times its original size, but in perfect shape. Contours and crests are unforgivable.
2. Passing your first PPP (Postpartum Poo)
Indisputably, the most traumatic experience following birth is your first bowel movement. The mere thought of exerting pressure "down there" can paralyze mothers in fear. You can barely sit, let alone push. You feel raw and the stitches throb. You think you will never be able to open your bowels again. Surely, your stitches will split. They assure you they won't. You will be offered prunes, peach juice and fiber gel things. Accept them all and make the experience as smooth (pardon the pun) as possible. You will actually feel quite proud after passing (pun again, sorry) this milestone! Not quite the elation of giving birth to a baby, but delighted nonetheless. Continue eating All Bran and prunes daily for the next month.
3. The first wail
Nothing incites more panic in first-time parents than the sounds of their baby's first wail. Sometimes parents are lulled into a false sense of security when their gorgeous little newborn sleeps beautifully the first night. Usually, babies "discover" their lungs 48 hours later, in perfect sync with the drop of your euphoric hormones when you feel depleted and still so raw you can barely sit. Again, every midwife will tell you something different. Hold the baby this way. Swaddle them tighter. "What did you eat?" (accusingly). "She can sense you're nervous" (damn straight). Try walking. Try sitting. Hold her like a football. Over your knee. It goes on and on. In my experience, the only sane thing to do is send the baby to the nursery. They may encourage you to get used to it before going home, but this is something that is better trialled once you've recovered from the earth-shattering experience that is labour.
4. The drive home from the hospital
Once you're actually confident that you've fitted the babyseat properly (having checked, and double checked and then checked again), the journey home can begin. It will be slower than a funeral hearse. If your precious cargo is not screaming, you will worry. If you precious cargo is screaming, you will worry you fastened the straps too tight. I've no official statistics on this, but I am guessing that most couples drive home with dad in the front and mum in the back.
5. The absence of the hospital buzzer
Hands down, this is the scariest of them all. It's your first night at home. You've been shackled to the couch feeding for most of the day, your engorged breasts a sign your milk is "coming in." You bathe the baby together, feed the baby again and then dress him or her in a cute little grow suit because you haven't yet figured out that nappy changes in the dead of the night are much easier with a nightie. And then you wrap them up like a souvlaki, place them in their bassinet and rock them to sleep.
You go to bed and fall fast asleep, overwhelmed with love, exhaustion, awe and terror. And then, the crying starts. And it doesn't stop. All. Night. Long. And there's no hospital buzzer. No one is coming to help you. A midwife isn't coming to whisk your baby off to the nursery where the baby will fall asleep in their experienced arms. My advice? Have a pseudo buzzer in place. You mum, MIL, sister, friend, anyone....
And congratulations, you are a mother!