On the Nurtured blog, the gals have made a couple of posts about "Things I Wish I Had Known" that is definitely worth a read. One of the wonderful things about motherhood is the camaraderie it brings. Knowing that someone else is going through (or went through) the same things you are brings about strength to get through the rough patches. Sharing knowledge about motherhood and parenting is an essential part of the support a new mother needs. Of course there are often people that provide unsolicited advice (these people are everywhere and say things not only to moms/parents, but to anyone, and most of the time their words are not advice or knowledge-sharing, but judgement). But when it's good-willed, non-judgemental, plain old caring, supportive knowledge-advice, it can mean a lot.
Their post got me thinking about things I wish I had known or done differently and I thought I would share them...
During Pregnancy: When I was pregnant with Maddie I was in heaven. Since I was a little girl I looked forward to the day I would get to be a mommy and my time was finally here. I just loved every minute of being pregnant. I read up on everything I could get my hands on. My favorite book was "The Pregnancy Bible" (I even got a copy from the library when I was pregnant with Isaac because I just loved it and all the info in it about fetal development). I was lucky to come across Dr. Sears and his books during my pregnancy. One of my favorite parenting books is the "The Baby Book". Looking back I am so grateful I read that book before Maddie was born because it introduced me to Attachment Parenting. Because she was a preemie and her needs were magnified because of it, I would not have survived without being an attached mommy. Anyways, going back to being pregnant. Looking back I think the only thing I would have liked to do differently during Maddie's pregnancy was to take more belly pictures and to have read more about what came once the baby was born. But because I had no idea what was going to happen and that I would deliver 7 weeks early I didn't get that far in my books. During Isaac's pregnancy things were totally different. Although I enjoyed being pregnant, I worried pretty much the whole pregnancy (I was terrified of having another preterm birth, perhaps even earlier than Maddie's). And I also read a lot more about labour, delivery and I became more knowledgeable about my options during the delivery. I had a midwife and doula and made a birth plan. I got the chance to do things the way I wanted during his pregnancy. One of the many blessings of having a second child is that you also get a second try at the whole experience. But as I found out, things don't always turn out the way you think they will. So I guess I would say that if I could give my past self some advice I would say try to relax more and just enjoy the pregnancy. Because even though at 36 weeks and beyond you swear you would do anything to NOT be pregnant anymore, you will one day miss it and wish to be pregnant again! I could have sworn this would not happen to me, but yet here I am, barely 6 months after and I miss being pregnant!
During labour and delivery: One night at 32 weeks and 6 days gestation, my water broke and 12 hours later, despite being told she would not be born that day and given medications to stop labour, Maddie arrived into this world. If I could go back in time and give myself advice, I would have said to try to give birth without pain medication. I made it to 8-9cm without anything, when I finally got my epidural in, it was time for me to push, so it really did not do much. Looking back (and after having another labour) my labour and delivery with Maddie was so easy and uncomplicated that it would have been nice to have got through it without drugs. That is why with Isaac, I opted to try (but as it happened, I ended up with all the pain meds in the world!). Anyways, when Maddie was born she was whisked away from me almost immediately. I got to hold her for barely a minute. Ken wanted to stay with me, but I sent him to the NICU so he could be with her and tell me everything later. I am glad I did that, but it was hard being alone with just the doctor for the 3rd stage of labour. That was another thing I had no idea about. Nobody really talks about the delivery of the placenta so I had no clue what was going on, except that the doctor was telling me to push when a contraction happened (my epidural had kicked in by this point). One thing I would also tell my past self is to get a doula. If she had been there she could have kept me company and provided support during that time. I had a doula for Isaac's labour and delivery and she was wonderful and in addition to my midwife and Ken, supported me during a very difficult, long labour. She was good, not just for me, but for Ken too. One of the things I liked best about having a doula was that she was my voice for when I couldn't speak for myself. She knew (because of our pre-delivery meetings) what my wishes were and what I wanted my labour and delivery experience to be. So when I was in full blown pain and focusing on getting through contractions and the nurse or doctor wanted to ask me something she could be there to help out. Also, I needed someone to look after Maddie when I went to the hospital and I wanted my mom to be that person. But that left me without one of my strongest support persons, so Shannon, my doula, was there for me. All in all, she was a great resource and support to have.
Taking Care of Baby in the NICU: After Maddie was born we were thrust into the world of the NICU. As two educated, involved parents we wanted to know EVERYTHING that was part of Maddie's care. I wanted so much to hold her all the time as it felt natural and I had also read that it was beneficial for the preemie baby to be held as much as possible. But because of her jaundice and other medical issues she had to be in her incubator for most of the time. I also wanted to start breastfeeding her right away, but was discouraged from trying by the NICU staff. I completely understand why (preemies tend to not be able to suck, they get tired and need their energy for other bodily functions like growing and breathing...), but it didn't make the instinct to want to do so go away. One of the things I really regret about our time in the NICU is that I was not more proactive about starting my breastfeeding relationship with Maddie. But this was not due to me not wanting to breastfeed, it was due to the lack of support and encouragement from the NICU staff. I was pumping like a crazy woman, every 3 hours 24/7, so at least I had pumped milk to give Maddie. However, they were giving it to her via a bottle with a nipple. I was so innocent and ignorant to the whole thing, that I didn't question this at all. Why couldn't I be the nipple she drank from? I know they had to give her measured amounts, but still, I am sure she would only have nursed until she was full or got tired. I was so desperate to feel that bond that one day, when it was just me and her behind the curtain I latched her on and to my amazement she latched on perfectly. I let her suck for a few seconds and then because I was actually scared I would be harming her (I could kick myself now about this!!!) I unlatched her. I had been made to feel afraid that she was not ready to breastfeed and that doing so could harm her in some way. How ridiculous is that!? A baby is born with the most powerful, natural instinct to feed and there is nothing harmful about that. If I had persisted and told someone about how well she had latched maybe she could have started to breastfeed sooner than she did. But it wasn't until she was 10 days that finally her nurse (who to this day I am so grateful to!) asked me if I wanted to try to breastfeed. So we did and since that day she breastfed like a champ! She started growing so well and a week later (after 18 days in the NICU) she was home, despite us being told she would be there for at least 2 months. So after that experience I swore that if I ever had another baby, and if we ended up the NICU again I would be a better advocate for myself and my baby. Well, 3 years later Isaac came along and lo and behold, he also ended up in the NICU. We were their worst nightmare I am sure. Again, they would not let me breastfeed him right away because they wanted to make sure he was not going to have any complications after having some oxygen deprivation during the labour. But I persisted and persisted and I had my midwife there too persisting as well. Finally, they relented. If I was to pump first I could try latching him to that side. Luckily, I only had to do that once because he was doing well and after about 24 hours after being born was discharged from the NICU. I relished our first breastfeeding moment. After being through all that I came out with the the experience to always trust myself and my maternal instincts. They are there for a reason.
Taking Care of Baby at Home: Once we were home things took on a rhythm of each baby's accord. Maddie needed to eat every 1-2 hours, slept a lot and needed to be held almost always. Isaac on the other hand wanted to eat every 2-3 hours, didn't sleep a lot, but also wanted to be held all the time. After having 2 children I now know how different they can be, even from day one of their lives. There are times when I have had a hard time accepting this. I sometimes wish that Isaac would sleep well like Maddie did. Maddie never took a soother, my breasts were her soother, but Isaac likes his soother and I get a bit of a break. So we take some and lose some and in the end we have 2 wonderful children who we have come to accept for exactly who they are. If I could tell myself back in the days of Maddie's infancy something to do differently would be to relax about diaper changing at night. I would religiously change her diaper every time she would wake up even if she wasn't super wet or poopy. Also having a baby carrier has saved my sanity with Isaac. I think in the early days with Maddie it would have also been good to have one. Some things that I did to keep me sane in the early days with Maddie was to watch DVD's and movies as I fed her. She could feed for up to an hour or more at a time, so I would get a bit restless and bored. With Isaac I put audio books on my iPod and listened to them as I fed him and settled him to sleep at night (he would take an hour or more to finally fall asleep and stay asleep when put down). Knowing that all these moments are but a minute part of the whole picture helps to keep you present in the Now and to enjoy them. Never again will your baby be exactly 1 week old, or 3 months old, or 5 1/2 months old. I know sometimes it's easier said than done, but remind yourself to stay present and instead of wishing away the moment enjoy it for what it is. I constantly find myself thinking, "Oh I wish Isaac would just stop crying to be picked up..." or "I wish he would just sleep and not need to eat so much at night..." or "I wish he didn't need to be held and rocked to sleep..." or a whole bunch of other things. But then I realize that right now I am everything he needs, and that's a nice thing to be. Never again will he need me this much. One day I will look back at these times and I would like to be able to say I don't regret anything, that I enjoyed these moments of my children's young lives to the fullest...But, that is not to say that you will not experience frustration, anger and sheer desperation. It's OK to feel that and it will pass. Just remember to not let it take over and that things will get better. I am living this right now. I am not sleeping well and I am always tired. But I am holding on because I know that one day soon, I will have a wondrous stretch of uninterrupted sleep!
Taking Care of Mommy: I'm sure everyone has heard the saying, "A happy, mommy makes a happy baby" and it's true. If you are happy, feel good about yourself and are taken care of, it makes taking care of your baby the pleasant experience it should be (most of the time! That good old sleep deprivation will still take it's toll, but there are things you can do to help). Before having your baby, when you know it's getting close to delivery day (but not too close!), go to the salon and pamper yourself to a haircut, manicure and pedicure, eyebrow shaping and if you want, a waxing of the legs (and whatever else you wish to wax!). If you can't go to the salon get your friends or partner to help you do it at home. It will be well worth it once you are home with baby and don't have the time or energy to shave and prune. If you are able to, get a massage (heck, get regular massages during pregnancy!). Being relaxed and muscle-ache free will feel nice when you are suffering from sleep deprivation. In the early days after bringing your baby home, don't do anything besides be with your baby, sleep (sleep whenever you can!), eat, and shower. Get family and friends to help with meals, cleaning, laundry etc. If you find yourself needing extra support and/or advice and help, don't hesitate to get it. Contact your local Public Health nurse for questions about baby care, breastfeeding, post-partum healing and mental health. There are also many support groups for breastfeeding. These moms are there to help and no question is ever not worth asking! And the most important thing you can do (well, besides sleeping when baby does), is to remind yourself constantly that it will get better, it will get easier and to enjoy your baby because before you know it your kiddo will be all grown-up...