Living Happily Ever After
Norma Ritter, IBCLC, RLC, LLLL
From New Beginnings, Vol. 31 No. 1, 2010, pp. 29-30
Do you believe in fairy tales?
Fairy tales often end with the hero and heroine falling in love and getting married. "And they lived happily ever after. The end."
That is enough for most children, but surely it is only the beginning of the story? Didn't you ever wonder about what happened afterwards? Did they find their dream house? Did they have interfering mothers-in-law? Did they have children?
In many ways, pregnancy is like a fairy tale. It is very common for pregnant women to believe that they need to prepare only for the actual birth of their babies, and everything after that will fall into place by itself. Indeed, most women find it very difficult to even conceive (pardon the pun!) of what life will be like after their baby arrives, except in the most general terms. Even when women have friends or family with newborns, have been reading books, and taking courses in baby care, the actual birth remains the focus.
The excitement of having a pregnancy confirmed is followed by sharing the news with friends and relatives and buying new clothes for both mother and baby. Pregnancy also means visits to a health care provider and dealing perhaps with nausea, swollen ankles, and the other discomforts that often arise.
When a pregnant woman does seek postpartum information, no matter whether she looks online, in magazines, or in books, there is a heavy emphasis on the things she will need in order to be prepared for her baby's arrival -- clothing, cribs, car seats, and "accessories." Bottles and formula are almost always listed as essentials, even for women who are planning to breastfeed. Pumps are a prominent feature in the breastfeeding lists. Decorating a separate nursery is also a major topic, despite the AAP's recommendation that babies sleep in the same room as their mothers as a way of lowering the risk of SIDS.
Most women today go to some kind of childbirth preparation classes, six to eight sessions almost entirely concerned with pregnancy, labor, and delivery issues. Infant feeding is often a separate, optional class. The common wisdom is you need to take a whole course of classes to learn how to give birth, an event that takes a matter of hours, but that breastfeeding and other baby care, which last for years, come naturally.
It is not surprising that mothers are rarely prepared for the realities of life after the baby has been born. Everything changes to a new "normal." Life will never be the same again. The two most common complaints from newly delivered mothers are:
"Nobody told me that taking care of a baby would be so exhausting!"
"I thought that breastfeeding was instinctive. I didn't understand why I needed to learn about it."
With this in mind, I asked some experienced mothers what they wished they had known before their babies were born. Not surprisingly, the only things they mentioned needing were those that brought them closer to their babies.
Kathy Waldow wrote that she now considers a sling-type baby carrier to be essential equipment and would suggest, if possible, having several in different fabric styles.
Diane Michel was not able to shop during her first pregnancy because she was on bed rest.
"I remember people telling me not to worry because all I needed were my breasts and diapers. I remember thinking, 'Yeah, right!' It was somewhat true, although I did need some basic baby clothes and a plan for where the baby would sleep."
Kathy also wrote:
"What would have made the first baby easier? If someone would have forewarned me about the drastic lifestyle change to come and the hard work of mothering."
This sentiment was echoed by Rosetta Bartels, whose first baby has just turned 40! Rosetta still remembers those days.
"My first four months would have been easier if I had known that there was a La Leche League Group 15 miles away. I did have a copy of the old blue Womanly Art of Breastfeeding but it was just a book. Diane cried all the time and nursed all the time and had a miserable beginning. At four months she had an umbilical repair surgery at the hospital. While she was healing I got to talking with another mother who was also keeping her hospitalized child company. She told me about the La Leche League Group. I called and learned that there was a meeting in a few days. I screwed up my courage and went to the meeting. Those ladies made sense and I felt at home."
Like many of us, Rosetta concluded:
"I know my first weeks of learning about mothering would have been easier if I had been attending meetings before and immediately after the birth."
Mary Wagner-Davis wrote about receiving a very special gift, a postpartum doula, after her fourth baby was born.
"She gave me the chance to have a shower if I wanted, fixed snacks for the girls, and often got dinner started for us. I realize that those are things anyone could do for a friend and that many mothers have family nearby who can help; I didn't. Knowing someone was there who understood my postpartum needs, understood babies, and was just generally helpful and supportive was fabulous."
Mary also wrote a wish list that came from her heart. It may inspire you to make one, too.
- A partner who is there for the long haul, with whom you share common beliefs, values, and philosophy.
- Supportive friends and family, people who will support both you and your children as you grow and develop.
- Good, readily available health care, along with provider(s) who listen, understand, and know that you are the one who is ultimately responsible.
- Wisdom to trust yourself, and to know when you're in over your head and need to ask for help.
All available from the LLLI online store:
Bolster, A. Motherwise and Fatherwise Gift Set, Schaumburg, IL: La Leche League International, 2000.
Goldberg, L. Pea in a Pod: Your Complete Guide to Pregnancy, Childbirth & Beyond, Square One Publishers, 2008.
Hicks, J., ed. Hirkani's Daughters: Women Who Scale Modern Mountains to Combine Breastfeeding and Working, Schaumburg, IL: La Leche League International, 2004.
Lowman, K. Of Cradles and Careers: A Guide to Reshaping Your Job to Include a Baby in Your Life, Of Cradles and Careers, Schaumburg, IL: La Leche League International, 1984.
Smith, L. J. Impact of Birthing Practices on Breastfeeding, Jones and Bartlett Publishers, Inc., 2010.
McKenna, J. PhD. Sleeping with Your Baby, Platypus Media, 2007.
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, 7th revised edition. Schaumburg, IL: La Leche League International, 2003.