Just like the sadistic types will tell a woman that she’ll forget the pain of childbirth (they lie, women of the world. THEY LIE. Because even if you can’t remember every single excruciating contraction, or the moment you threw up cherry popsicles all over the nurse holding your leg, or that pesky time your water broke on the triage floor and your husband almost fainted, you don’t forget the experience. Do you hear me?! You will never forget), there are three issues no one, and I mean no one, feels the need to mention to a pregnant woman. Let’s list these three shocking realities in the order they will appear, shall we?
(Pregnant women, and one-day-to-be-pregnant women: consider yourself warned.)
1. The night sweats. I don’t understand how I missed the memo on these. In not one baby-prep book, nor website, nor casual conversation with another women (the cruelty!) did anyone mention how a new mom will dissolve into a disgusting, crumbled-up, wet tissue of sweaty glop every night for weeks after her baby is born. The first time around, I thought I was dying of malaria. Every night, I’d wake to feed the baby and find myself in a pool of my own water. If that sounds absolutely gross, it is. Sheets, clothes, all drenched. Hair actually soaked from root to ends like you’ve just gone swimming. No one warns you, and it’s absolutely horrifying. Add that to the common problem of not finding time to shower as often as you’d like post-baby, and well…yeah. Your husband may want to move into the guest room for a few weeks.
2. The belly flop. At first you’re too busy toweling yourself off every morning to notice this, but eventually–and if you have a mirror/self-esteem/eyes, you will–you’ll notice the belly flop. Don’t know what I mean? It’s when, weeks after the baby is born, you’re feeling pretty decent about yourself (“Hey, I know I won’t get my pre-pregnant body back right away, but this is natural! This is expected! I made a baby!!”), and then you sit down–at the table, or to go to the bathroom, or to feed the baby. You’re all nice and comfortable, and then you feel it. You try to deny it it, to pretend it’s not there, but you feel it all the same, and the unmistakable friction collides with reality and you realize…your belly is resting on your lap. Yeah, I said it. No one else will: your belly will sit on your lap like a kid visiting Santa at Christmas, and don’t even think it’s as cute. I gained a ton of weight when I was pregnant with Saoirse (what can I say? I like brownies), so maybe this was worse for me, but I distinctly remember the first time I noticed it…my belly and all that loose deflated-balloon skin resting on my legs. It was just sitting there, like it had ownership of my thighs, using them like they were a couch and my belly was just relaxing on it, hanging out and watching a little TV. So that was fun. It snapped back, more or less, the “elephant skin,” as my friend Molly called it, thanks to the joys of breastfeeding and the once-every-three-months cardio class, and the belly flop didn’t happen the other two times I gave birth (less weight gained? denial?), but…yeah. Everyone always says, “don’t forget, your belly will look like you’re still five months pregnant when you leave the hospital!”, but no one, and I mean, no one, will tell you how long you’ll be able to pick up that extra skin with your hands and carry it around with you like a sack of potatoes from the grocery store. So, you’re welcome.
3. Hair loss. Ah, the final stage, and the one that will take you by surprise, even if this is your third baby and you know it’s coming. Imagine this: you’re eating healthfully, except for the slight frozen yogurt addiction you’ve developed since three froyo places opened within a mile of your house while you were in the hospital. You take your vitamins. But then one day, you’re getting out of the shower, and you notice there’s a bit more hair in the drain than usual. The next, you notice you have to clean out your brush more often. And all of a sudden, in a matter of a week, you look down and the sink you just cleaned is filled with it. You wash your hair, and the shower stall afterward looks like you got into a tussle with Chewbacca and lost. You run your hand through your hair to work out a tangle, and without one tug, you find yourself, in horror, holding an entire (and I mean entire) handful of the stuff, strands hanging like the silk from a thousand corn husks. I used to teach high school, and whenever there was a fight between girls, one of them always ended up holding a fistful of hair she’d pulled out of the other’s scalp by the roots (good times, teaching high school!). This is worse than that. This is the first time I’ve ever had long hair postpartum, and I could knit a coat with all the stuff I’m sweeping off the bathroom floor (pretty!). Usually I go into a bit of a hormonal rage and get my hair all hacked off two weeks before or after I give birth (do you like how I said “usually” there? Like I’m Angelina Jolie with a tribe of small children, rather than my little trio? I’m feeling DRAMATIC). Can I give you some advice, oh woman I’ve just scared? Don’t cut your hair, because your ponytail will be your best friend when you haven’t had time to wash your head in three days or forget how to use the blowdryer. Don’t cut the hair. But be warned: you’re going to want to buy some hats. And an extra vacuum. Just in case.
So, dear pregnant woman (or never-going-to-get-pregnant woman because holy crap Leah why did you even have to go and scare me like that?!), there you go. I, out of the goodness of my heart, have created the visual of myself as an unshowered, sweaty bald lady with a belly flop just so you can march into these early stages of parenthood prepared. Because pregnancy and parenthood are hard enough without the surprises you can avoid. Maybe people keep these evils quiet to ensure the perpetuation of the species. Maybe it truly doesn’t seem so bad to them months and years after the fact. But you should know. You should be able to charge into motherly combat armed with all the tools (and fans and vacuums and blinders) you’ll need. And if I can help you in any way by letting you know about these issues, I will. It’s my duty, I feel, as a fellow female.
But childbirth? Eh, you don’t have to worry about a thing. The pain is over before you know it.
You can trust me. I’m a mom.