Having a baby, being pregnant, the whole lot – it’s a massive learning curve. I’ve written previously about the things I will do differently with my second child than I have with my firstborn. However, I noticed that all of them were things I would do once the baby arrived, and not during the pregnancy itself. Since my pregnancy, I have watched a lot of my friends go through their various pregnancies and new baby stages and am learning a lot from them. I’ve also read a lot, between parenting blogs and books and articles, which has brought a whole lot of learning in itself. I’ve discovered things I wish I knew before my pregnancy, and so, here’s the list of what I would hope to do differently the second time around.
In my first pregnancy, I didn’t really tell people, especially in the first trimester. I didn’t mention it to my parents until after my first scan. Now, I do understand that a lot of people don’t tell anyone until the scan “just in case”, but if the last four years have taught me anything, it’s that if the shit hits the fan, I will need a support structure around me. It is impossible to have such a structure if I’m keeping information from people if the worst were to happen.
It’s not just in the morning. Prepare for nausea to potentially be all day. Prepare for things that you usually LOVE the smell of to make you want to retch. (Thank you, coffee). Make the most of having an excuse to not be in charge of the bins, by all means. Make sure to carry something with you at all times just in case you don’t make it to a bathroom to get sick – better safe than sorry. Gingernut biscuits helped me with nausea, and while I wasn’t mad on ginger tea, I’ve heard great things.
Speak Up About Mental Health
Mental health is something that can really take a hit during pregnancy, and it’s important to realise that while it’s okay not to be okay, it’s something you should mention to your doctors. While my GP knew about my history with mental illness, I brushed off the advice given to me to read up on postpartum depression. Whether that was denial, or stupidity on my own part, or simply just not coping with the pregnancy as it was, it definitely wasn’t the right thing to do. As a result, when I felt like I was sinking in the early months of my son’s life, I found myself too proud and deep in the denial to seek the help, and the services that were there to help weren’t pushing me to check everything was okay. Next time will be different. I would hope to not get another visit from the black dog, but given that it’s made up a lot of my life since then, I will promise myself to be more prepared either way.
Also, it is TOTALLY okay to not be one million per cent thrilled when that pregnancy test comes up positive. There is no shame in that. There is nothing wrong with that. It’s extremely common, even with the most wanted pregnancy in the world – your world is about to change in ways you can’t even imagine. A moment of trepidation is normal. Take it easy on yourself, and make sure to tell someone else about it. A problem shared is halved, and it may help you to get through those early hormone filled days.
During my pregnancy, my body confidence hit the floor. You’d think the whole “it’s good that I look pregnant in these clothes” thing would for once be a benefit, but my head wasn’t in the “I’m pregnant” game for a long time and as a result, I have very few pictures of any stages of my pregnancy. The photos I do have generally are under bulky clothes. If there is to be the next time, I will be photographing every stage – it’s not something you get to repeat many times in life, so I might as well capture the whole lot while I can.
Every Pregnancy Is Different, So Pay Little Attention To The Unsolicited Advice
You might be one of those people who gets no morning sickness, blooms through pregnancy and has the most pain-free labour known to man. Or you could be nauseous all day, suffering from SPD and have a labour experience that leaves you traumatised. Mostly, people are in the middle, and as a result, a lot of the stories they hear from others (unsolicited, obviously) are really not helpful. Try not to take everything on board – it’s a time of life where you’re getting a whole lot of information flung at you. What is normal for others may not be normal for you – and that’s okay. If you’re worried, check in with doctors and midwives, don’t get dragged into the threads of doom on parenting forums, or chatting to Mags-down-the-road who had the most awful pregnancy ever (trademark pending) which will scare you more.
Weight Gain And StretchMarks
Oh, the weight gain is coming whether you like it or not, and with it, most likely, the stretch marks. The timeline of my own pregnancy was as such: found out around the August Bank Holiday weekend, woke up the morning of my birthday (17th September) with my first-morning sickness, woke up Christmas morning to find HUGE stretchmarks all across my stomach. This baby certainly had his timing. While there are a million and one oils out there that people rave about to stop the stretch marks, there is a certain pride in them in saying “This is proof of the incredible power my body is using right now”.
Maternity Jeans Are The Best Thing Ever
With the weight gain comes new clothes. Maternity jeans. Oh my god, I don’t know if it’s the vanity sizing (I fitted into SIZE TEN maternity jeans having not breached a size 10 in years) or the sheer comfort, but if I could get away with wearing them forever, I totally would. Embrace them for the glorious things they are. Maternity ranges seem to have grown much bigger since I was pregnant five years ago, and there are some gorgeous stylish clothes of all types, so totally embrace it! (For more expensive stuff, there is a good resale value afterwards if it isn’t something you feel you’ll get to use again).
Be My Own Advocate
As with most things medical, it’s easy to just go along with what the doctor or the public health nurse tells you. I was disappointed at my 20-week “scan” to barely get a brush over with an ultrasound – so barely looked at that they got the gender wrong because they assumed “Oh I don’t see anything, it’s a girl”. I didn’t speak up when I had questions or queries because I assumed they knew best. I was hospitalised for a lot of the end of my pregnancy and felt imprisoned while not being told anything about why I was in there (yes, high blood pressure, but WHY? Turns out pre-eclampsia and stress don’t combine well and they were trying to reduce the risk, but I never asked until too late). These doctors are treating you, their patient, and you have the right to know what is going on with your body. Not only that, but informed consent is an essential part of the process of childbirth – I found the AIMS website extremely helpful in learning about this but needed to find the confidence to put that voice into action. I didn’t quite get there, but I think if I’d known earlier, I might have.
Ask The Doctor, Not Google
While saying that you shouldn’t just follow what the doctors are telling you as gospel, google and parenting forums are probably not the finest place to find yourself at 3 am when you’re wondering why your baby is kicking what feels like your pancreas and headbutting a lung at the same time. Try not to give yourself minor heart attacks and raise the questions in your appointments with nurses and doctors – they’ll be able to give you the actual answers backed up by science instead of woo.
Find. Your. Village.
Pregnancy can be a lonely time, in particular, if you don’t know anyone who is pregnant or has small children. That was certainly my experience as a “younger mother” and the first of my friends to have a baby at 22. Your priorities and general lifestyle can go through changes which can pull you apart from others you previously hung out with. It’s important to find a group of people who understand what you’re going through. For me, I found my village online. In Facebook groups and online forums during my pregnancy, I spoke to women who knew exactly where I was coming from and had suggestions and knew when to tell me I wasn’t over-reacting.
Stock up on the antacids NOW. You may not need them, but if the heartburn hits like it did in my first pregnancy, you’ll be living on them. You’ll get lots and lots of comments about how it means the baby has hair. While Eliott was born with a full head of hair, I was expecting Chewbacca to come out of me given the heartburn levels I was having in the later days.
Pack The Bag Early
You’ll hear a lot about the hospital bag in the third trimester. Even if you’re not planning to have a hospital stay (and thanks to early release programmes in various hospitals this is a possibility for lots of new mothers), it’s best to prepare for the worst and pack for a few days of whatever life can throw at you. It’s also a good idea to get this done earlier rather than later – in my case I was hospitalised at 32 weeks with NOTHING packed and had to do it via illicit escapes to the Penneys across the road from the hospital and himself picking up things under instruction. Not ideal.
Plan For The Plan To Get Thrown Out
While it’s all well and good to have a birth plan that’s colour coded and planned down to the second, unfortunately, the baby in utero really doesn’t care for plans. Things happen and situations change, and it may just be that the natural birth you wanted simply isn’t happening. Babies are overdue, early, born on the side of a road, need help in the delivery room. Sometimes it’s scary. Sometimes it’s just overwhelming. Placing guilt on yourself for not managing to have the birth as planned is not only unnecessary but also so damaging. You’re already at a delicate stage of your life. You’ve just gotten a human out of your body and into the world. No matter what, you’re already a rockstar. Just because it didn’t go according to your plan doesn’t take from the incredible job you’ve done.
A C-Section Isn’t The End Of The World
While the general focus of an antenatal class is based around natural childbirth (ie a vaginal birth), some births end in a caesarean section. Mine did. There is a certain amount of shaming out there of women who don’t give birth vaginally, as if it has made them less of a woman or as if it isn’t as much of an achievement as expelling your child out of your vagina. This. Is. BULLSHIT. While you might escape childbirth with a c-section with an intact vagina and slightly less fear about the first time you need to pee, you’re recovering from MAJOR surgery and being handed a tiny human to look after. There is NOTHING lesser about the birth of your child just because a surgeon had to get involved.
The Baby Essentials Are Mostly Unessential
Baby Essentials are a marketing dream and a first time parent’s bank account nightmare. Absolutely anything can be framed in a way to make it seem like an “essential” – and believe me, they try to pin that term on ANYTHING. Top and Tail tubs which are basically buckets? Not essential. Manual breast pumps? The easiest way to wreck your head and give you a dead hand. Special nappy disposal bins? An expensive waste. I found this list from Sinead at Bumbles of Rice to fit in the actual essentials and leave out the rubbish.
Get Breastfeeding Ready
This is something I really regret not doing before having my first baby. It’s not something that struck me as essential before having the baby in arms. To be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure how a breastfeeding lesson sans suckling baby would work. So I left it off, assuming that if all those women around the world could do it and it was THE NATURAL WAY that OF COURSE, I would manage it just fine. As a result, I was underprepared. I didn’t know anything about latch, about holds, about letdowns. I hadn’t a clue about the cluster feeding nightmare that was Night Two. It was after a few weeks of the baby not gaining weight, feeling guilty, feeling like I had to supplement with formula later that I wound up going to see the hospital lactation consultant. We found that nipple shields helped us a lot, but with such a hard start wound up leaving our breastfeeding journey behind after 9 weeks. If there’s a next time, I’ll be so much more prepared. I’ve done more research and surrounded myself with breastfeeding positive ladies who have advice and support in plentiful amounts. I hope that with those supports in place the journey would be much easier next time around.
Prepare For The Aftermath
No matter how you get that baby out of you, the aftermath is going to be one of recovery. Warning: Do NOT look on celebrities/other women who seem to “bounce back” within weeks and feel terrible about yourself – this was something which really impacted me in the early weeks when I watched another much higher profile Irish blogger bounce back to her tiny figure in TWO WEEKS when I was struggling with my jiggly belly covered in stretch marks, the exhaustion, the crying. With a c-section birth, you have to keep in mind that it is MAJOR surgery you’re recovering from while being entrusted with this tiny little person. Make sure to have supports set up around you for things like getting around, as your insurance company likely won’t cover you to drive for a number of weeks. For natural births, while everything will hopefully be hunky-dory, often it won’t be and there will be stitches and wounds to heal. PREPARE TO NEED TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. You will be surprised just how low on the totem pole that will feel once baby is here and you’re trying to be SuperMom. So gather the troops. Get in the ready meals, prepare the freezer dinners, grab the takeaway menus. Invest in comfy bedding and tell yourself that you’ll be making the most of the time you get in that bed. Set boundaries with others, especially visitors for after the birth – some will be great, sure, but not the ones who sit and wait for you to hand them tea and biscuits and overstay their welcome. And it is perfectly okay to see nobody, do nothing and just BE with your baby. Whatever works for you, that is what works.
Take A Breath
You are almost there. Almost at the finishing point. Sit back and relax – take the time while you can. You deserve it.
Those are just some of the main things I wish I knew before my pregnancy – I’m sure there’s lots I’ve left out and that others would put in there. The years since then have been a major learning curve, which I’ve also written about, like c-sections, lessons that I’ve learned being a mother, even more lessons that my son has taught me, what the toddler years have brought and so much more.