While it's always good to have a base of information to go on, these books aren't gospel, and health professionals don't always give you the whole truth either.
With each pregnancy, birth and baby I've learnt things that I've never been told or read about, that, now, in hindsight I can laugh at. Mainly because I'll never have to do them again. If you're reading this about to go through it, honestly it probably isn't as bad as it sounds. Or if it is, it's all totally worth it and you will be able to laugh about it in years to come. Promise.
1. Pregnancy Nipples Are A Thing
So, let me paint a picture here. I'm 17 years old, just found out I'm with a beautiful grape-sized mini me inside my tummy. I catch a glimpse of my naked changing body in the mirror and tilt my head to the side adoringly, imagining who could be inside. I sigh, smiling. Then- WHAT. THE. FUCK.
I had read Pregnancy & Birth about pregnancy changes, and this was definitely not there. Why the fuck have my nipples gone 4 shades darker and increased diameter by a few centimetres? Not only was my waist fast disappearing, but my boobs looked nothing like their former selves.
After a quick google, turns out it's totally normal, and there's actually quite a sweet reason for this; babies are born with limited vision and can only easily distinguish contrast. So your nipples get darker, so the baby can find them for food. Very cool. A bit weird, but eventually they do go back to normal afterwards so no need to panic (like I did).
2. You Need Some Kind Of Birth Plan
There seems to be a mixed bag about this, while most health professionals don't seem to really push you to make a birth plan, books and mags have quite a bit on it, though I see a lot of mums laugh at making a birth plan as they say it will all go to shit anyway.
Well, in totally honesty, there is a middle ground somewhere. Birth does go how it goes, it's out of anyone's hands. But it's good to have a plan with every scenario-with the ins and outs of anything that's important and how you'd like to deal with certain turns of events. Research is key. If you're an easy, go-with-the-flow sort of person then maybe just write down the basics, what you want, what you don't want.
I wrote an "ideal" birth plan, then a back up of what I would like to happen for example, if I had a Caesarian, how I would like that to go, what I would like, and what I really wanted to avoid. Even if you're having a planned Caesarian, you can still have it your way.
You're meeting the people that will be delivering your baby for (probably) the first time. You want them to get a full picture of what's important to you. It may not go how you plan it either, so it's good to keep that in mind too. At the end of the day, it's about getting your baby here safely, but it's also about YOU. So pen down your ideals, drill it into your birth partner, but also remember not to beat yourself up if it wasn't exactly how you imagined it would be.
3. Contractions don't "hurt"
OK, OK bear with me here. Everyone reading that has been through labour is probably laughing in sheer disbelief that I've just said this but honestly, hear me out.
When I was pregnant with my first, up until 6 weeks before I gave birth, I didn't know what a contraction was. TV didn't really give an accurate portrayal of a painful labour, and the books told me to expect "period type" pains.
So, what does labour feel like? Anyone you ask will describe it as painful. But no one can describe what sort of pain it is, and until you feel it yourself, you can't imagine it.
A contraction is heavy pressure, it's intense, strong, tight. But I feel pain is the wrong word.
When pregnant with baby number 5, I read a book called Ina Mays Guide To Childbirth, written by a spiritual midwife who delivered thousands of babies in America, and is full of these women's positive birth stories. It doesn't refer to "pain" and speaks about trusting your body and speaks about techniques and your body. It has quite a hippy undertone, but if that's not your thing it's still worth a read if you're wondering what sort of experience to expect, or if you're worried about the pain. All about turning negatives into positives.
I read it before delivering baby number 5, and I can say that taking the word "pain" out of my mind, really helped me cope, and I remember in between contractions, whilst pushing, thinking to myself how it wasn't that bad. Don't knock it!
4. The Breast Crawl
No one ever mentioned this to me, and it's only recently I've ever seen any mention of it thanks to the Internet. Not knowing about this maybe made it a little bit more special but had I prepared myself for it, maybe I would have soaked it up a little bit more or taken more pictures. When my first baby was born, I didn't know what the hell I was doing so was basically letting her lead me. We were laying in bed straight after delivery, having skin to skin when all of a sudden she started wriggling from side to side and pushing up with her feet. I had literally never even held a baby before so I didn't know what to do and the midwife was just standing watching. She wriggled and rooted until she found my nipple and latched on perfectly, she herself initiated the start of our breastfeeding journey and what an amazing moment that was. The midwife joked that it's a good job I had planned to breastfeed, because she just helped herself. Turns out the "breast crawl" is a thing, just like a newborn cat or dog, a human baby instinctually smells for milk and tries to look for them huge dark nipples. Very cool and very special.
5. The First Toilet Trips After Giving Birth
Three words; Take. A. Jug.
If you've had any graze, tears or stitches, a jug of warm water will be your new toilet bestie for the next few days. I don't need to go into the gory details. Just pour warm water where needed whilst peeing and thank me later.
The first poo feels like you are going to turn inside out (sorry there was no nicer way to put it) and you may need a supportive partners hand to hold. Drink plenty of water and eat plenty of fruit and veg in them first few days, and you'll be soon shitting like a professional again.
6. After Pains
Again something no one told me about, but logically after such a big change of course you're going to have some discomfort. It's your uterus and other organs going back to where they belong. It comes in waves, and although with my first I didn't really have many after pains worse than a dull ache, with my second I remember calling the midwife asking her if I was still in labour and should I expect secret twin number two, but no, turns out your body has to work extra hard the more times you've done it (so imagine my delight for the days after baby 5).
Think dealing with your most painful period on no sleep and a screaming infant. Look after yourself and make sure you get rest. It passes quickly, especially when breastfeeding, as babies suckling helps the uterus contract back. It's not the worst thing ever, but seems to be something that no one ever mentions, and an easy scenario for a new mum to think something's wrong.
7. After Birth Bleeding
Let me start by saying I HATE this word. But "lochia" is the after birth blood loss. No one told me you bleed for up to 6 weeks after giving birth. So after celebrating for 9 months of no calls from Mother Nature, it does catch up with you! Ok I was expecting some bleeding, or really I hadn't even thought about what to expect afterwards, but it's a bit excessive if you're not expecting it. And it stops and starts too. Don't get caught short, plan ahead just in case. You also can only use sanitary towels in this time, which can be frustrating these aren't usually your thing. It may be worth investing in reusable sanitary towels for cost efficiency and comfort.
The days after giving birth I bought some post partum herbal pads and these were a god send. Just wet, pop in the freezer for half an hour and then place where needed. My bits have never thanked me enough.
8. The Baby Bubble
The first few days with your baby do not seem real. I don't know if it's because of lack of sleep or because of the massive shift in circumstances, but it's all a bit "floaty", sort of like no one has ever felt the way you feel, and you're the only person that's ever given birth. It's special, and you should soak it up while you can. Before you get to day 3 which is when I cried because I liked my curtains.
Day 3 you will cry, your boobs will be rock hard whether you chose to breastfeed or not, it's something to do with hormones (isn't everything?). I was actually warned about this but wasn't prepared for it. It will pass.
9. You Will Get Shat On
Babies poo. A lot. The first few weeks it strongly resembles korma. To be fair, in the first weeks the smell isn't too repulsing, but nappies don't always contain it. The amount of next sleepsuits I've heavy heartedly thrown away due to bright yellow stains is uncountable. And it doesn't always stop at leaky nappies, kids are comfortable enough to actually poo ON you. Bonding and all that. There was once an incident, with my first (I quickly learnt my lesson), where I was letting her dad sleep, so changed her nappy with the light off, having to really lean in close to concentrate on what I was doing. You can probably guess that she swiftly did a flying liquid shit straight in my face- a story I will tell proudly at her 18th birthday party. The truth is, parenthood is filled with body fluid. Just laugh and deal with it until it passes, with the compensating thought that one day, when you're grey and old, you can liquid shit at them when they're changing your nappy.
10. There Will Be Days That You Hate It
Last but definitely not least, is the taboo subject of not enjoying being a parent. You should be grateful for the life you've been so fortunate to create and grow so you can't ever moan about not having adult conversation, not showering for 2 days and ears ringing from the sound of crying/screaming/moaning-wrong! I'm sure most parents are very very grateful, but all parents have these days. It doesn't mean you're not grateful.
If you have bad days, that's ok. Not every day is sunshine and rainbows. Although being a mum is the best thing I could have ever done with my life, there's days where I dread it. For a long time I thought if I admitted I struggled, that would mean I wasn't a good parent. And it totally doesn't.
Kids are stressful. And it's ok to admit that they're stressful. If people say they get through parenting without having days where they've thought they're not cut out for this-they're lying. It's ok to ask for help, it's ok to not find it all perfect all the time. Children will bring you the most amazing light and joy to your life, but raising another human is no mean feat. Be kind to yourself, let yourself recharge and enjoy the journey, it flies before you've even realised.
When all is said and done, parenting is beautiful and disgusting. But mostly beautiful. You never realise how much you will miss these things, until they grow up and you realise you can't remember the last time they fell asleep cuddling you/bathed with you/shit on you. You'll miss it when it's gone. Promise.