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To Expectant Mom From New Mom, With Love

Pregnancy can be an isolating experience, if only because it's your own. No one can know how you feel, because they aren't you. Andhave no idea how to feel, because it's not something you've ever done before. Every day, every feeling, is new.
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It was news that I'd been expecting, sooner or later: one of my best friends was pregnant. She was thrilled, scared, curious and as she talked about her experience, I thought back to my own -- not yet two years ago, far enough away that I'd blocked out some of the rougher parts, but not so distant that the memories had faded. I remember feeling terrified, deliriously happy, and oddly, sometimes, alone.

Pregnancy can be an isolating experience, if only because it's your own. No one can know how you feel, because they aren't you. And you have no idea how to feel, because it's not something you've ever done before. Every day, every feeling, is new.

Thankfully, though, there can be common ground, and it's in those shared experiences that I found comfort. Many pregnant women have felt constantly nauseated; we had cravings, but couldn't force ourselves to eat (or cravings, and ate way too much); we Googled "can I ____ while pregnant " one too many times. So many of us worried, on a daily basis: can a baby survive on ginger snaps/french fries/milkshakes alone? Is it normal to feel these twinges? Like countless women before me, I thought: When will I feel the twins move? How will I know when baby is hungry/tired/wet/sick? Will I be a good mom? Selfishly, but at least not uniquely, I wondered about stretch marks and widened hips and all that weight and whether I would ever "get my body back." Whether I could survive on little to no sleep. Whether it was really as good, or as bad, as everyone told me.

To my dear friend: All of it -- pregnancy, childbirth, motherhood -- really is as good, and as bad, as I heard. But not every day, and not always in the same way as it was or is for my friends and family.

You will get so much advice, whether from friends, your mom, well-meaning (but oh-so-off-base) strangers. Listen, carefully, to all of it, because experience can be a great teacher, because there is so much common ground and in that, you may find solace. But remember that, just like your pregnancy, your experience as a mother will be unique. Only you (along with your husband and doctors) can decide what is right for your family. Try to be confident in your decisions. There will always be someone who doesn't agree with one (or all) of your choices. Forge on anyway.

With that said... here is my best advice.

Pregnancy can be hard, and it's not like the movies. At some point, you might feel like a whale, even though everyone will tell you that you look beautiful. Believe them. Take pictures of your growing belly. There's always a "delete" option, but no way to go back in time and capture these moments.

If you feel scared, every day, that you're doing something wrong, that you didn't eat the right things, that your baby could have a medical issue: Welcome to motherhood. That's not to say you shouldn't worry, just that it's normal. For many mothers, worry is a daily part of life.

Childbirth may not be what you're expecting. For me, it came over six weeks early on a Friday when I had a to-do list a mile long. I hope, for you, that it is exactly what you expect: That you have that happy yet hectic drive to the hospital; that the birth goes as you've imagined; that you're not in too much pain postpartum and that you immediately bond with your baby. If things don't go as planned -- if you are hurting or feel cheated or sad or you don't feel like mom when you hold your baby -- you are not alone. Don't be afraid to tell someone.

If you're anything like me, you'll get home and put the baby down in his or her crib and look at your husband and think: What now? What next?

Maybe breastfeeding will come easily, and you won't have to deal with poor latch or suck or low supply. Maybe you'll have to fight through those things. Heck, maybe you won't want to breastfeed at all. Though it feels like a monumental decision, like the fate of the world rests on whether you supplement with formula, I promise that it will be OK.

Gosh, I hope your baby sleeps. When we first brought the twins home, I marveled at how much they slept. I thought we were the luckiest parents ever. And then they decided to be typical babies. We struggled to get them to recognize that "night" was a thing, and that "day" was not the time to keep their eyes closed. My husband and I slept in shifts and sometimes had stupid fights at 2:00 a.m. and sometimes held each other close for comfort. I cried, cried, cried right along with the babies more times than I care to admit. I wondered whether I would ever sleep more than an hour and a half straight again. Sleep deprivation and its effects are real. All I can say is that it will pass. If you're in the midst of it, I hope you'll remember: everything baby, each phase, is so temporary. It feels like forever and then it's over, and some night you'll find yourself wide awake wishing to cuddle your child close to your chest. (Go back to sleep.)

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You might feel like you don't know anything. You may wonder how long the baby should be breastfeeding or how much he or she should be eating. You might examine diaper contents like you're on an archaeological dig (even if, like me, you have no clue what's normal and what isn't). You'll worry about every rash. You'll be petrified about fever and will take baby's temperature way too many times. You'll debate whether to call the doctor (again) about a runny nose or a little cough; whether to sleep train; whether to let your kid watch any TV.

You'll find your way.

Pregnancy, parenthood, it can be messy, and not always easy, and you may not always be happy or grateful or feel the way you think you should.

But it can also be magical.

How you felt hearing that first heartbeat, seeing those little legs kick? It's how you'll feel so often: watching your baby's eyes open for the very first time. Witnessing a coo, smile, giggle, roll, crawl; seeing those first halting steps.

You are just beginning the adventure of a lifetime.

1
They Can Tell Good From Evil
Using puppets that act out good and bad behaviors, Yale's Baby Lab has been studying infant ethics for decades. In one experiment, a cat puppet was struggling to open a box when a bunny puppet in a green t-shirt came along and helped him. The puppet masters then re-did the scenario with a bunny puppet in an orange t-shirt who cruelly slammed the box shut and ran away. The lab's studies revealedthat over 80 percent of babies under 24 months showed a preference for the puppet that demonstrates good behavior -- the helpful bunny in the green shirt. With 3-month-olds, the number increased to 87%.
2
They Have A Sense Of Self-Control
A 2014 study published in the journal Cognitive Development looked at 150 15-month-olds. The babies watched an adult demonstrate how to use several noise-making toys. Then, a second adult entered the room and angrily scolded the first for making so much noise. After the demonstration, the babies were welcome to play with the toys, but for half of them, the angry second adult left the room or turned away, while the latter half remained under that adult's gaze. Babies in the former group did not hesitate to start playing with the toys, but the ones in the second group generally waited a little bit and then played with the toys differently than they'd seen in the demonstration. This indicated that they were trying to adjust their actions to avoid the anger of the second adult -- therefore, they are able to resist their impulses and show self-control.
3
Foreign Languages Sound … Well, Foreign To Them
Mere hours after their birth, babies can sense the difference between sounds in their native language and a foreign one. Researchers in Sweden and Washington state studied 40 newborns wearing pacifiers that were wired to a computer. When the babies heard sounds from foreign languages, they sucked the pacifiers for much longer than when they heard their native tongue -- this indicates that they could differentiate between the two. According to researcher Patricia Kuhl, "The vowel sounds in [the mother's] speech are the loudest units and the fetus locks onto them."
4
They’re Tuned In To Each Other’s Emotions
By the time they reach 5 months, babies are able to sense each other's feelings. In a BYU 2013 study, 20 5-month-old babies and 20 3.5-month-old babies sat in front of two monitors, which showed a video of a smiling baby and a video of a frowning baby. Then the scientists played two audio recordings: one of happy baby and one of a sad baby. Upon hearing the the sounds of the happy baby, the 5-month-olds looked at the monitor with the smiling baby, and when they heard the sad baby audio, they turned to the frowning baby video. The 3.5-month old babies were less successful in matching these sounds and images.
5
Their Ears Register More Words From Mom Than Dad
A recent study published in Pediatrics found that infants react more to words from moms than from dads. All 33 babies in the study wore sound-recording vests which revealed that they heard three times more words from moms than from dads. A researcher from the study, Dr. Betty Vohr, told Time that "a possible explanation is that the pitch of mother’s voice or its proximity is more stimulating for babies."
6
They Have The Ability To Learn Sign Language
Although babies generally don't start speaking their first few words until 12 months old and still have a limited vocabulary by age 2, they have the ability to develop an impressive mastery of sign language from the age of 6 months. After noticing that the children of his deaf friends were communicating with their families with sign language from a very early age, Dr. Joseph Garcia founded the "Sign With Your Baby" program in which instructors teach parents and babies American Sign Language.
7
And, They Can Read Lips
A 2012 study showed that babies read people's lips when they're learning to talk. Researchers at Florida Atlantic University observed almost 180 babies at ages 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12 months and studied their behavior when they saw videos of adults speaking. The experiment showed that when babies are about 6 months old, they stop looking into adults’ eyes and start focusing on their lips to learn how to make sounds. So next time you’re in the presence of a lip-reading baby, you might want to be a little more mindful about what you say.