Dear Pregnant BFF,
This whole making-a-baby thing is pretty intense. Having gone through all of this not long ago, I want to share a few things with you that I hope will help...
1. It's not you, it's the hormones.
"Hello, hormones! I'm wondering if I could speak to [INSERT NAME OF PREGNANT WOMAN] for a minute? I know she's home, I see her car in the driveway..." I know this is really, really, really hard, nearly impossible, but sometimes you need to call yourself out on your own crazy. Pregnancy can be like what I imagine a bad acid trip to be. Even if it's just for a second, try to see through the hormonal fog and remind yourself of your altered state. You might also consider appointing a trusted loved one to be your voice of reason and to talk you down when needed (at their own peril).
2. Stay the hell away from the Internet/trust your health care provider.
Don't Google anything. Just don't do it. No matter how hard you try to stay on reputable sites, the pull of the message board is too strong, and before you know it, you'll be down the rabbit hole of, "My friend's DD has 14 toes because she sat on a cold cement bench while drinking a PSL." Being pregnant is serious business, no doubt. Everything that goes into your body, everything you do, could affect your baby in some way, and that's a heavy burden to bear. Throw in some irrational thinking brought on by the aforementioned mind-altering hormones, and you can find yourself in the throes of all-consuming anxiety, worrying about crazy stuff and wanting to Google all of it. The very best thing you can do -- unless you are an OB or midwife yourself -- is accept that you and your amateur Internet research are not the expert on any of this. Find a health care provider you feel good about and make the conscious decision to trust them. When you're freaking out about that time you used the seat warmer in your friend's car for 30 minutes, go ahead, call your provider, and then accept their assertion that you have nothing to worry about as the truth.
3. Baby stores and registries are overwhelming and terrifying right now. Everyone feels that way.
The first time we went to Buy Buy Baby, my husband and I both nearly lost it. It wasn't the fear of impending parenthood that did us in -- it was a store full of crap that we were being told our baby needs, and we didn't know what 80 percent of it was. (It was the breast pump accessory aisle that pushed me over the edge.) The truth is, there are only a handful of things you actually need before your baby arrives, and the rest will make a lot more sense when you are living day-to-day with your new little human. Get a car seat, bassinet, diapers, wipes, some onesies with hand covers (they scratch their sweet little faces), swaddling cloths -- and ask for gift cards on your registry so you can buy the stuff you need when the time comes for you to know what you need! Note: Hospitals give you a lot of supplies, and the Internet will deliver everything straight to your door faster than you think.
4. Have quality pre-baby alone time with your partner.
I remember that in the last month of pregnancy, all I could think about was finally getting to meet my baby. In retrospect, I wish I had focused a bit more on making the most of the alone time that my husband and I had left together. When your baby is born and you fall in love with him/her, your heart reshuffles itself, and it's very likely your baby will become numero uno immediately. The dynamic between you and your partner will be forever changed. In many ways, your relationship will deepen because of the shared experience of parenting. But your priorities shift, and you have less time and energy for each other. As ecstatic as I was/am to have our baby in our lives (and don't get me wrong, I love him more than anything, but that's kind of the point), I went through a brief "mourning period" for the relationship we had before, when it was just us. I wasn't really prepared for that. So yeah, bottom line: Do lots of pre-baby snuggling.
5. Write out your birth plan if you really want to. Then, be ready to scrap it.
I never actually wrote out a plan. I had a few ideas of things that were important to me, and they happened to line up with the standard operating procedure at my hospital. Beyond that, I had a general vision of how things might go down and how I would pass the time in labor. Of course, it didn't go the way I thought it would. I never had time to watch Forgetting Sarah Marshall (my happy place movie) or carefully-selected episodes of The Sopranos, or listen to the '90s nostalgia playlist my friend made for me. In the middle of it, the last thing I was worried about was whether the lighting in the delivery room was cozy. When you're pregnant, you have the curse of time spent thinking about what labor will be like. Before you know it, it's actually happening, it's nothing like you planned, and then it's over and your sweet baby is in your arms.
6. Giving birth is scary, but you'll get through it.
At this point, you've probably given a lot of thought to what kind of birth you want to have and where (natural, epidural, water, hospital, home, birthing center, and so on). Perhaps you already know that you will be having a C-section. No matter what, my advice is the same: Tune out the noise. There's so much judgment on all sides of this. You need to do what's right for you (and only you), and don't second-guess your choice. Your body was designed to do this. Trust yourself, you can do this. And as in No. 5., before you know it, your sweet baby will be in your arms.
7. Are you thinking of everything/asking all the right questions? Of course not.
No matter how many classes you take or don't take or books you read or don't read, 95 percent of this whole baby thing is instinct. I know people say things like this, and before I had my baby, I would roll my eyes and think, "But seriously, folks, I have never so much as changed a diaper. I don't know what I'm doing!" I had pretty much as little experience with babies as a person can have. We took a class, and by the time my due date rolled around, I'd forgotten most of it. Yet somehow as soon as I actually became a mom, it all kind of made sense. Trust in that. Plus, your nurse, midwife or doula will show you how to do the most important things on your actual baby, which is a lot more effective than those creepy baby dolls they use in class anyway.
8. Breastfeeding is not nearly as natural as you'd expect it to be/formula is not the enemy.
Seriously, I'm not sure how the human race survived our species' fickle feeding system. Pretty much every woman I've talked to has had some kind of difficulty with breastfeeding. Breastfeeding was by far the most challenging part of this whole baby thing for me at the beginning, and it took about six weeks for it to not be a "thing" and just work. I thought about quitting a lot. If you plan to breastfeed, you might get lucky and have a baby with a perfect, painless latch and ample milk supply from the start. I wish that for you -- god, do I wish that for you! But if you don't and you want to give breastfeeding a try, get the help of a lactation consultant right away. They will come to your house and work with you and your baby in your natural environment. They will help you understand how much milk your baby is getting, work with you on your latch, positioning, feeding schedules and a lot more. Join a lactation group. It's a great way to get additional support and meet other new moms. Furthermore -- and this is really important -- formula is not the enemy. Don't fret if you need to supplement with formula because your supply is slow to come in or you aren't producing enough. Be thankful that we live in an era where there's a more-than-viable alternative to breast milk. Your No. 1 priority is filling that baby's belly with nutrients. And if breastfeeding doesn't work out for you, that's OK! Give yourself permission to let it go.
9. Post-baby body (aka it's a trip, man).
I was prepared for my vagina to be a war zone post-birth. I was prepared for my stomach not to immediately flatten after my baby exited the womb (thank you, Kate Middleton). I was prepared for the weight loss to be a slow process. I was not prepared for the following: using a plastic water bottle to clean myself down there because wiping was not a thing that could happen, having to wear Poise pads for urinary incontinence for a few weeks after birth, rectal bleeding, swollen feet (again), hair loss, brittle/breaking nails, raw/cracked/bleeding nipples, going from a 36B pre-pregnancy to 38DD milk-filled jugs, not having a period for 5.5 months and counting... There's a lot of crazy stuff that happens to your body while you're pregnant. There's a lot of crazy stuff that happens afterward. The good news is that you'll probably be too tired and in love to worry too much about any of it.
10. Have a good sense of humor.
Caring for a baby is really hard, and it will test your sanity and endurance in countless ways. We try very hard to keep a good sense of humor about all of it. When our baby cries, he's obviously threatening to write a really terrible Yelp review about the service at our bed and breakfast. When he spits up on his fourth outfit of the day, we ask him about last night's bender. Yes, it's stupid. But it makes us laugh and usually takes the edge off, and that's worth a lot.
I hope this helps a bit. Of course, it only scratches the surface. If you take nothing else away, I've boiled it down to this: Tune out all the judgment, trust yourself, try not to worry so much, laugh, give yourself a break, be flexible and don't Google anything!