The Secret Life of Mothers

Carla: A friend of mine just had her first baby. Her pregnancy, labor, and delivery didn’t go at all the way she had hoped–plenty of sickness and a hard labor that ended with a c-section. Like so many women, she has found herself grieving the birth experience she didn’t get to have. And we could spend a whole post talking about that subject alone–the mythology around childbirth and the intense pressure to have some kind of perfect delivery, as if we have control over it.

But her experience has me thinking about all of the unspoken secrets of motherhood–from the hemorrhoids and mesh underwear of childbirth, to the probing home visits and painful adjustments of adoption, to the complete lack of privacy and the TMI conversations of infertility.

So let’s hear it friends. What are the secrets you wish someone had told you before you had children? What maternal mysteries have you uncovered? And how can we help each other deal with the disappointments, the surprises, and the sometimes-stunning realities of motherhood?

Caryn: Ah, the mesh underwear. I have you, Carla, to thank for alerting me to those. (One of the many conversations held in the hallowed halls of Christianity Today International, where some dared to suggest we weren’t actually working!) But I did NOT realize that the nurses would fill a newborn-size Pamper with ice and include that bit of numbing loveliness with the mesh underwear. Though to be fair this may be the sole domain of those of us who deliver giant babies who leave us needing a few stitches (as long as I’m TMI’ing here, I’ll quote my OB, “Geez It woulda been fewer stitches if she’d had a c-section.” Now my nurse: “If this would’ve been 100 years ago, sweetie, you’d have bled to death.”)

My other favorite secret-spoiler was my mom who told me not to feel bad if I didn’t feel the “rush” of instant love so many women talk about when they first hold their babies. I’m forever grateful to her for sparing me that bit of guilt. Because I didn’t feel that instant-rush love (see above paragraph if you want to know why).

And that’s just the beginning of the surprises–as you say. Who knew children could be so hard to wean? Or so hard to get to sleep? Or so difficult to keep in a time-out? Or be so strong when they flail about in the midst of a tantrum (something I just wondered five seconds ago with my youngest!).

But wow does it feel good when we realize we’re not crazy or alone. So back to Carla’s questions, Revolutionaries: “What are the secrets you wish someone had told you before you had children? What maternal mysteries have you uncovered? And how can we help each other deal with the disappointments, the surprises, and the sometimes-stunning realities of motherhood?”

Carla: I’m glad you didn’t bleed to death. And I’m glad I got to be the one to tell you about the mesh underwear. That might be my favorite mom secret of all. Okay friends, hit us with your best stuff!

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36 responses to this post.

  1. Wow! I just remember the most freeing advice coming from my labor and delivery nurse when I was having our first daughter. She told me, “Honey, no one leaves her with a gold medal for having babies without pain meds. Do yourself a favor, and get that epidural.” I did, and I did it with my last 3 births as well. I actually felt just fine with it, and I encourage women to get one if they can’t stand the pain, telling them the same thing my nurse told me, “Sorry. No gold medals”. I know everyone has their opinion about epidurals and pain meds, but I loved mine and would do it again if I had to!

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  2. Posted by Carol on March 30, 2009 at 6:13 pm

    How much I would worry. And how the worries would change as they got older.
    (Though I don’t think that knowing this would have stopped me from worrying! Just to know that it was a common thing for moms to do.)

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  3. Posted by Heather on March 30, 2009 at 6:13 pm

    The mesh underwear are fab, and I tell all my new-mom-to-be friends about them. I even got them before I had kids when I had some “lady surgery.” Oh, and I didn’t really believe that you’d poop right after delivery. Maybe everyone doesn’t…two for two here. (C&C – you opened this up for too much TMI a bit ago.)

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  4. Posted by Lori on March 30, 2009 at 6:43 pm

    A secret I’ve learned: how important and what a thrill it is to follow your gut in motherhood. Like the epidural vs no meds debate, there are a zillion books and opinions out there. It’s great to get as informed as possible and then do what your gut is telling you.

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  5. I wish someone had told me that I would often feel overpowered by my small but mighty toddlers. I’m on the third time around and I’m still shocked by it at times – though less often than the first two times around.

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  6. P.S. I’m so glad they grow up a little and become more in control of their emotions and might. I’ve come to understand that I’m not a baby person and that’s perfectly okay and that being overwhelmed by an immature but mighty temper tantrum is not a reflection of my ability to be a good mother. In fact, my understanding that the toddler years are not my strongest mothering years has helped me be more patient with my third child as well as more patient with myself.

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  7. Posted by Steve B. on March 30, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    So where can a dude get a pair of these mesh underwear? All right, here’s my perspective on this. My wife told me that labor pain was the worst pain she has ever experienced. Since she is a cancer survivor, who had to undergo mastectomies and breast reconstruction, I asked her “are you sure?” She then crushed my hand and swore at me until the epidural kicked in and I believed her. So ladies, my hat’s off to you for enduring something that we dudes would surely die attempting. The one thing I wish someone had told me about childbirth is to look “down there” earlier than I did. I finally managed the nerve to sneak a peak just as the top of my daughter’s head appeared and then could simply not look away. It was truly the most awesome thing I have ever seen.

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  8. I wish someone had told me that I would get all kinds of conflicting information but I should trust my instincts anyway. That if I felt my baby would survive without a hat, I shouldn’t worry what other people think. That’s the message I try to give new moms. No one knows what your baby needs more than you, but it’s always okay to ask for help.
    I think that no matter what, it’s hard for a new pregnant mom to hear the nitty gritty of infancy, because we’re so obsessed with the fear of labor and delivery.
    Or we forget the things we don’t want to remember–I HAD forgotten about the mesh underwear and ice packs! I feel sore just thinking about it.
    Thanks for this wonderful, brutally honest place to share and support each other.

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  9. Posted by Heather on March 30, 2009 at 7:57 pm

    More thoughts:

    It’s okay to scream when the baby does.

    Friends who don’t hesitate to grad your boob to show you a new way to try to get the baby to latch on are a god-send.

    My husband is a better dad than I am a mom (and that’s okay).

    Instinct (like Lori said) is the key. If it feels weird or bad or uncomfortable – stop. If it feels good and right and it’s working – keep it up.

    You really do take less photos of the second kid than the first.

    I really do love them more each day. My heart almost bursts sometimes with my four year old, but I’m not there yet with the one year old…except when she flashes those HUGE blue eyes at me that are so sharp and bright that they light up any room she’s in.

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  10. Posted by Anonymous on March 30, 2009 at 8:29 pm

    I had my last babe nearly 18 years ago. Are mesh underwear a new invention? I didn’t get any!

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  11. Posted by cat on March 30, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    hi, long time reader, first time commenter.

    maternal mysteries…In my mind I had John 1:1 all tied up with birth. I didn’t realized it until afterwards but I refused to tell anyone my son’s name until a few minutes after he was born… and then I realized I had been waiting so I could tell *him* first. Almost as if in this small way I acted in the image of God by calling the word into creation. Into my son’s beginning. It was very big and very intuitive and hard even now for me to talk about. I have no idea how not to trivialized this when telling other expectant mothers…so I was really happy that you had this topic. 🙂

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  12. Posted by kimwj on March 30, 2009 at 9:53 pm

    Mommy secret no one told me — it’s 3 years after the birth of my 3rd child and I’m still in danger of wetting my pants if I have a full bladder and an unexpected sneeze… I have a bad feeling this only gets worse rather than better.

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  13. omg, i am laughing out loud at all of these! what a fun thing to read on a day when i am trying to fend off a migraine…

    anyway, to heather: YES! thank you for sharing that thought about screaming when the baby does. i had so much guilt about doing that (specifically, putting my head in a pillow and screaming the worst curse words i could think of…made me feel way better and no one could hear me), but every time i hesitantly admit this to another mother, she says she has done the very same thing.

    crying is hard to handle, especially in those moments when we can’t figure out how to “fix” it.

    which brings me to something no one told me: that we would have LOTS of moments where we just don’t know how to fix things, and we just have to shut up and trust that God has a bigger plan, knows our kids even better than we do, and will help us get through this…

    and those mesh underwear are AWESOME! 😉

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  14. The nurse handed me the squirt bottle and said, “This is your new best friend.” I had no idea what she meant, but she was so, so right.

    Here is what I like to say to others:

    1) Sometimes your contractions never get “regular”

    2) Some women never get the urge to push

    3) Mean nurses are not just in the movies or on TV. If you get one, demand a new one early on. You don’t need that women helping you when it’s time to push. Trust me.

    4) When the Nubain (sp) wears off, a) you will be at a more difficult (more progressed) part of labor so the shock of the sudden and worse pain won’t really be worth the temporary relief; or b) it will have slowed down or even stopped your contractions, creating the need for Pitocin (sp?) which is just so awful I can’t express it.

    5) As far as I am aware, one of the only two things God promises about childbirth is that it will hurt. I was told by other women that I would feel God there and I would know He was helping me. I waited for it, the way you wait for a sleep aid to take effect; it never happened. I felt tons of pain and zero peace, and I felt gypped, bigtime. Not God’s fault; not even my well-meaning friends; it was mine for not checking the Word for confirmation instead of trusting their anecdotes.

    6) Epidurals are the most wonderful thing in the entire world! They are WONDERFUL and anyone who speaks ill of them should be given Pitocin. 😉

    Oh, and the mesh undies are to hold the maxi-maxi pad (and ice pack) in place after deliver. They’re more comfy than tighter fitting undies would be and very stretchy. I don’t think it’s the mesh that is bugging anyone, but more likely the memory of the post-delivery soreness.

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  15. Posted by Robyn on March 31, 2009 at 8:20 am

    Yes, to the incontinence. Ugh. I have actually “wet” my pants during a coughing fit in the grocery store and had to hurry out and go home leaving a full cart, all the while hoping and praying that no one noticed and that I wouldn’t see anyone I knew.

    That was NOT a surprise I enjoyed.

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  16. Guys, you are cracking me up! Have we talked about leaking boobs? Trying to get a shirt that doesn’t show the breast pads tucked in the bra…?

    And Cat, that was AWESOME. I love that you had John 1:1 connected with naming your child. A beautiful, wonderful exampe of another way we get to reflect God’s image. Cool.

    You guys are the most thoughtful, funny commenters around.

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  17. Posted by Carla on March 31, 2009 at 10:13 am

    I was at an all-day meeting about four months after my son was born. Let’s just say it was a good thing I had on a black shirt and had a cardigan to throw over the big wet spots.

    Also, my fellow pants pee-ers, there is a miracle cure. It’s called a sling procedure and you need to ask your doctor about it. It’s outpatient surgery, involves some nice pain meds but not much actual pain, and gets you a couple of days of laying around. You can’t lift anything over 20 lbs or have sex for 6 weeks (you can decide if these go in the “pro” or “con” column), but other than that there’s not much in the way of recovery after the first day or two. It is absolutely miraculous. I can now walk and sneeze at the same time.

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  18. Posted by Carla on March 31, 2009 at 10:15 am

    And Steve, I’m sorry. We understand if you need to poke sticks in your eyes now that you’ve read all of this.

    Reply

  19. Posted by Kaydi Johnson on March 31, 2009 at 10:55 am

    This is bringing back lots of memories. My youngest is 14. Here are a few of the surprises to add to the many that I totally relate to; telling my 14 year old why I can’t jump much on his trampoline. “Just go to the bathroom before,” he says. It just makes no difference. Maybe if I wore the mesh underwear with a big pad. Lovely thought. My favorite surprise- the joy I feel when my children are getting along and making one another laugh and the deep awe I experience when they go out of their way for one another to help each other out. This doesn’t happen alot, but it does happen and I think that God must feel the same way I do when he sees his children encouraging one another and laughing and hugging, etc…

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  20. Posted by Kaydi Johnson on March 31, 2009 at 11:48 am

    I remembered a few more surprises:
    1. They say the cutest things and you will forget them. If you want to remember them later, write them down. Even when you go back to look, you might not remember.
    2. Talking about sex is hard. It’s easier if you start when they are young and talk about it in the car. You are in a “private” place, so it is less embarrassing, yet, you aren’t face to face, so it’s easier to talk. I find it best if they are behind me in their car seat and I am driving, looking forward. Then they can’t see me turning red.
    3. When they are really little, you get tired of them hanging out with you and on you all day, and when they are older, you wish they would hang out with you a little more and give you a hug once in a while. Wow, I’m only 40 and feeling old.
    4. They make you feel old. They tell you you’re old. They can’t believe you were ever their age or that you understand what’s it’s like to be a kid.
    5. They even think you are dumb and that you make too many rules and that you are too strict and so uncool.
    6. I am hoping that in 5-10 years, they will tell me the opposite of #5, except for the cool part. They will always think I’m so dorky.

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  21. Posted by Cindy on March 31, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    Being an adoptive mom, I can’t chime in on the mesh underwear thing–and that’s not a bad thing, I think. And my kids are older–the youngest is 16. The thing I was totally surprised by (and I can’t think why I didn’t expect it) was how soon they were their own people. And how quickly they figured out there was a limit to what I could make them do or not do. When he was 3, my oldest and I had a long discussion about being “the boss” in the family. He thought he should be the boss, and I, of course, thought I’d earned the right. Finally he wanted to know who was the “big boss”–that’s what he wanted to be. I told him that was God, and that he wasn’t God. Tough luck.

    The other thing that surprised me (beside the unimagined joy of being their mom), was the anger I could have! Never knew I had it in me. Guess that’s a confession–just between us.

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  22. Posted by Carla on March 31, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    I think the intensity of all the kid-related emotions has been surprising for me. I never knew I could love someone so fiercely or be moved to tears just watching someone sleep. And I never knew I could feel so much frustration that I’d have to leave the room to keep from knocking a child upside the head.

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  23. Posted by Steve B. on March 31, 2009 at 6:48 pm

    I’ve glossed over most of the comments posted after mine, just so you all can continue to speak freely. Regarding Carla’s last comment, I agree and have often said that my daughter has unlocked a part of my heart that I never knew I had.

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  24. Posted by Chandelle on April 1, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    How refreshing, and funny, to take this trip down memory lane here! We women really are amazing – our bodies are amazing- and God, as creator of us, is amazing!

    I’d forgotten about some of these experiences, like too much blood, peeing on my doctor during that last push, the pressure of how to have birth, and the nasty comparisons depending on how you did it.

    I wish we (as women, as parents) could all give each other more support, especially in a way that appreciates who we are as individuals. I’ve learned (am learning) that there is no one size fits all, one answer to every question, one mold of a child- let alone parent. If I could redo the last seven years, and two children (not that I have a strong desire to do so), I would want to embody confidence in me and my parenting. There were so many nights when I felt alone and wrong because I didn’t want to let my child cry alone in his bed. Culture is so pushy towards us moms and dads with what its expectations are.

    I wish I had someone to champion me on to find my way sooner and then encourage me in that course with love, even if it looked different than their way. I wish when I shared a challenging time, that someone would not say it was because I did such and such wrong, but rather more affirmation that I could do everything as right as I know how and it can still be hard. One experience I think towards often, happened during a rather difficult nursing time with my first month and a half old, I was fortunate to have a good friend come over and show me how to pump, and tell me “it is hard”. I know I look for easy outcomes, quick and tidy solutions, but I’m learning with parenthood that there are none. It is just hard.

    I know I parent differently than I thought I would. I never set out and planned my course of action really, but I’ve done things (like cosleeping) purely as survival. I’m trying to be mindful that I’m not always reaction parenting, but that is a part of it.

    It is all about stages really. I’ve made it through some and want to be an encouragement to other ladies and guys in those stages. I long for more wisdom and confidence in current stages and the many others that lie ahead.

    I cling to those words that my friend shared with me that learning to pump day. I recently told her that, and thanked her. My friend didn’t remember or know that she had that impact on me. She thanked the Holy Spirit working inside her. Let us all follow the Spirit’s leading in how to be encouragers to other parents.

    Again, thanks for the wonderful sharing; the joys, as well as, the heartaches!

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  25. Posted by erin on April 2, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    I wish someone would have told me that it takes a long time to get over the drugs and recover from a c-section and that it is OK for my husband to be by far the better parent for the first few months (I will have my chance I suppose at some point).

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  26. As an adoptive mom of an eight week old baby boy, I’ve been surprised at how sensitive I am to what other people think of me as a mom. This is all my own insecurity, rather than anything anyone else has done or said, but I am sometimes afraid people won’t see me as a real mom, partly because I missed out on the whole experience of pregnancy and childbirth. Young moms I know seem to always end up talking about that experience, and I feel like a wimp, like I haven’t earned the right to be a mom, when I can’t commiserate with the pain.

    I was also really surprised at how sensitive I became to people referring to my son’s birthmother as his mother. Many people have asked, “So how old is the mother?” or “Will you have much contact with his mother?”. I have a great respect and gratitude that my son’s birthmother made the choice to give him life and a loving family, and we plan to let our son know from the beginning how much she loved and loves him. In a way I know she will always think of him as her son. But I get really uncomfortable when people refer to her as his mother, and that surprised me.

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  27. Posted by Chandelle on April 3, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    Mindy, I am thankful for adoptive moms/parents. I think you are able to love more fully and unconditionally. May you truly be blessed and your security as your son’s mom strengthen daily.

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  28. Posted by Bonnie M on April 3, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    I LOVE this! I have a daughter who is 10 weeks old (my first), so I am freshly remembering the joys labor and delivery (yeah…I remember thinking, “What’s this water bottle for?”) and living in many of these lovely realities. Nobody told me I would hate nursing for the first few weeks. My husband told me watching me breastfeed my little girl those first few days was harder than watching me in labor.

    I think the biggest lesson for me has been humility. We can’t do this on our own, and I don’t think God designed us to be isolated–that seems to be a cultural lie we tell ourselves as mothers. While I was pregnant, I was determined to get through the first few postpartum weeks without help. Yeah…stupid. I realized my mind had changed when I was begging my mother-in-law to stay with us for the second time in 3 weeks. It’s okay to accept help. And stop the presses…it’s even okay to ask for it.

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  29. Posted by Cindy on April 3, 2009 at 3:00 pm

    Mindy, as an adoptive mom of three, I sure do understand. And people say such thoughtless and stupid things. My kids are 16, 19 and 21 now. I had to build a pretty thick skin, but it still bugs me when someone asks about their “real” mom. Excuse me, I’m the one that’s done all the work since birth–illness, up at night, dealing with schools and police, paid the babysitter, loved, snuggled. So I use their carelessness, most of which is based in ignorance about everything that goes with adoption, as a chance to educate. I say kindly that I am their real mother, but that I’m grateful that their birth mother gave them life. I try to guard my kids’ dignity by being careful what I reveal to the curious about their life before adoption by simply saying that’s something I’d rather not discuss. People are curious about the experience of adoption, and giving them permission to ask questions helps them say less stupid things to others. It’s funny now that my kids get really mad when someone asks about their “real” mother because they know that’s me.

    Blessings! you’ve put in the hard work to be a mom, and it probably took more than 9 months of blood, sweat and tears. You are a real mom. Have fun!!

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  30. Posted by HMC on April 5, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    My nurse told me that “my new best friends” were the stool softeners she gave me at regular intervals, and I have to say I think she was right. I was so terrified of how much it would hurt my poor torn body when I finally pooped, I think I held it for four days. And ladies, you are correct, the mesh underwear with the ice pack in it–very nice.

    I was also so incredibly thankful for two friends who had struggled to nurse their children. Both of them eventually were able to breastfeed for a year, but it took them both six weeks or so to get their kids to latch on. I had always assumed it would be easy to breastfeed. What’s more natural than that, right? Well, my son was a month early and had zero interest in eating. God bless these two friends who listened to me sob in frustration when, yet again, my son failed to latch on; who encouraged me to keep trying when I wanted to give up; and who rejoiced with me when, at five weeks, my son nursed for the first time. That’s one of those myths I’d like to debunk for all new mothers: breastfeeding isn’t easy, it doesn’t come naturally, and if you can’t do it, you’re not a failure.

    As far as birth experience is concerned… My first child, my daughter, died in my arms fifteen minutes after she was born. When I went into labor with her brother seven months ago, the doctors could have told me that what I needed to do to bring him safely into the world was hang from my ankles from the ceiling while circus performers juggled poodles around my bed, and I would have said, “strap me up, and send in the clowns.” I was so desperate to walk out of that hospital with a live baby, my whole perspective on the “perfect” birthing experience changed drastically, It also changed my perspective on my pregnancy. I cherished every second I had my son inside of me, not knowing if one of those moments might be my last. I was also worried all of my pregnancy. Amongst the many many things I lost when my daughter died, I lost the innocence I might have had during any future pregnancies, Now, the “ideal” pregnancy is the one where I get to bring home a baby at the end. Nothing else much matters.

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  31. Posted by Becky on April 7, 2009 at 7:26 am

    Yes, to what Carla last posted. I could not believe the fierceness of the love I felt looking at my son from my hospital bed. Just about blew me over. And similarly, I couldn’t believe the depth of my anger at him or my husband at times! Where did that anger come from? I am a sweet, nice, non-angry person 🙂 (Enter child). Wow, talk about getting you in touch with the depth of your depravity. There’s nothing better than intense anger at an innocent baby for that.

    Also, why don’t they talk about the mesh underwear in the pregnancy books? (or the need for them… I think I thought you didn’t bleed past the first day or two!!) I remember wishing I could wear them forever. And saving some (and a squirt bottle) for my sister for her birth center birth since I didn’t know what kind of supplies they would provide.

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  32. Posted by Molly on April 7, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    I never thought I’d end up parenting in ways I had never even considered and/or heard of. I always thought I’d do things how I saw or heard while growing up, but there are different (and better) ways to do some things! Thanks to the wonderful parenting examples of my older siblings, I’ve been able to do what feels good and right, rather than what feels bad and wrong, and I’ve learned to research research research!

    And Becky, thanks for saving me those mesh undies – the birth center did provide me with some, but I was glad for the extra!

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  33. Posted by April's Sister on April 7, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    HMC, I am so, so, SO sorry about your baby girl. I know the heartbreak of losing a child and my heart goes out to you.

    I think that for me, there were many things that made me say, “Why didn’t anyone at least warn me about these things?!?”

    The worst was after my C-section when I became completely bloated and distended with gas. I was actually bigger than I was before I had my son! I have never wanted to pass gas so much in my whole life. When I had to go to the potty, I would pray for just one little toot. And when it finally came, I could actually hear my hubby and friend cheering in the room. LOL

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  34. Posted by Jennifer on April 20, 2009 at 7:21 am

    As an adoptive mom, there are a lot of things that I can’t comment on as well. The pregnancy, labor and delivery for an adoptive mom may be missing, but the paperwork, questions, exams, worry and wonder take on a life of their own. I do, at times, feel left out of conversations with other moms. While I have a story of my own, it seems so strange and different that when I do share I feel pittied and not really part of the group. I’m thankful for those that seem interested in my story just because it’s a part of me.

    I’ve also had many moms tell me that adoption is the same as being pregnant. The only way it’s the same is that you become a mom in the end and, I suppose, that it’s a strange and wonderful experience.

    I have two beautiful boys and we are expecting another in a few days. If God will’s it, I will be the mom of 3 boys any time. This wonderful young woman that I barely know is going to an ultrasound appointment today. She will see her son and I hope to see him soon. When I met her I had to fight with everything in me not to grab her belly and start talking to him. I sometimes instinctively reach for my belly and then realize that he’s not really there. I pray for him and his birth family every spare minute I have. That God’s will would be done in this situation. That she will be able to let go when the time comes and that I will be able to do the same if he is meant to stay with her.

    I’ve really enjoyed reading everyone’s posts today.

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  35. Posted by Mindy on April 20, 2009 at 8:12 am

    Jennifer–I know what you mean about grabbing your belly and realizing he’s not there. Right after we were matched I had this intense feeling of…I’m not sure the emotion, but I felt like my baby was supposed to be with me, and he wasn’t. It almost felt like I had let go of his hand in a crowded store and lost him. It was very strange.

    Reply

  36. Posted by Toni on May 7, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    I wish I had known that although I’d taken care of so many babies: cousins, neighbors, etc. I would feel totally inadequate in mothering my first (and 2nd, and 3rd, and 4th).

    I had a hard time nursing my first. I gave it up much sooner than I wanted to. I nursed my others for a year each. Here’s my favorite advice I now give to new moms who want to nurse. Once the two of you get the latch-on situation figured out, it’s smooth sailing. Until then, grip the edge of the chair you’re sitting in, grit your teeth and don’t throw the baby across the room. Those first few days are TOUGH. And the gel pads they make now are great to relieve soreness.

    Reply

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