There are many kinds of birth labor. Whether your baby arrives from your own body or by other means, the longest labor you will endure is the process of becoming a mother or parent. It's a major shift in your identity--who you know yourself to be. It can be rattling, disorienting, and exhilarating. So here are four things to expect the first year after you have a baby:
1. You will discover new things about yourself. Becoming a parent will stretch you beyond your known borders, and you will become more than you were before you had a baby. Your baby will grow at an astonishing rate in its first year of life, and so will your heart.
2. It will suck sometimes. There will be moments when you will want to quit. This is normal, and it is healthy to admit how much of a drag it can sometimes be to take care of a small human being. You'll hear people say, "being a mother/parent is the hardest job in the world." But this isn't a "job." You cannot quit, and you will always be your baby's parent, every hour of every day, for the rest of their life, and there really aren't any vacations. Expect that there will be moments when you will feel totally overwhelmed. In those moments of sleep deprivation, frustration, or anxiety, what will you do? That's the question, and that's where you will discover your edge--where you will begin to grow as a parent. In our culture we so often think we have to or should be able to do everything on our own, and that asking for help is a sign of weakness. We may even tell ourselves we don't deserve help and support. If that's a common theme in your life, you'll come up against that internal script over and over again during your baby's first year. Your baby relies on you entirely. We like to think we have an endless supply of energy and love, but we don't. We need other people. In your baby's first year, you will probably need to rely on other people more than you ever imagined. It's not weakness, it's biology.
3. You will need to lower your expectations. Preparing for a baby involves a lot of dreaming about what you want most for your child. Of course you want the best for him. Of course you want to give him everything, and BE everything he needs. And of course you want to keep doing the things you love, too. Before baby comes, it's hard to imagine exactly how much your life will change, but it will. And if you can allow some flexibility with your expectations going into it, you'll have a much easier time adjusting to the way things really are. Whether it's the way your house looks, the amount of time you'll have to spend doing the things you enjoy, or simply taking care of your body and eating well, things will change with the baby's arrival. Again, people say, "being a mom/parent is a full-time job," and in reality, it requires much more of you than a 40-hour-per-week job does.
4. You will parent your own way. You'll probably read some parenting books. You will find the "experts" that you are drawn to, and you will agree with a lot of what they have to say. You will reflect on how you were raised and decide how you want to do things differently with your child. You will notice other parents whom you admire, and you will notice parents doing things you know you don't want to do with your own child. Your parenting will not look like anyone else's, even if you are inspired to emulate someone else's parenting style. There is absolutely no "right way" to parent. Every family is unique, and you will find your own way. Trust yourself. You can do it!