It's the warning to all first-time parents: life will change after you have your baby. Ubiquitous advice, but people fail to tell you what, exactly, changes. Pregnant with our first, I expected to get less sleep after delivery, but other than that, I was out of the loop. Even though having children is the oldest process in human history, the transition to parenthood doesn't come naturally. It's all about finding your new normal, and that starts by preparing yourself for these five huge changes.
1. Your body
Pregnancy does a number on a woman's body, and some of those changes stay with her for life. Just because you finally have that newborn in your arms does not mean the days of wild hormonal fluctuations are over, either. During pregnancy, it was "all about mom." Don't forget mom when the baby is born. Pregnancy and delivery are traumatic events for the body, and new moms need time to heal.
After baby, moms should expect extra skin, looser abdominal muscles, a few stretch marks and maybe even a bigger shoe size as permanent reminders of bringing life into the world. It's not all bad news, however. You'll feel a new appreciation for the female body and its amazing abilities.
2. Your marriage
Every major life change impacts your marriage, and nothing will rock your relationship more than welcoming a new baby. If you've been married for a while, you're probably well established in your spousal roles, and you have clear expectations for each other. Get ready for all that to change. Who changes dirty diapers or paces the floor at 2AM? How do you teach your kids about bullies? What are your plans for schooling?
Having kids means making a ton of relationship decisions. On top of figuring out your new romantic relationship, you now have to figure out how you and your spouse relate to each other as parents. Give it time, and keep an open dialogue.
3. Your social circle
Expect more than just your marriage relationship to change after bringing baby home. It doesn't matter if you've had the same circle of friends since junior high, having kids when some of your friends remain childless changes the entire landscape of your social life. You'll make new friends and rediscover old ones, but you may also lose friends as well.
Being friends with any parent is hard because parents' lives are not their own. No more spontaneous girls' weekends or late night hamburger runs. Being a parent decreases impulsivity, but it can also bring a new layer of intimacy to your closest friendships. Keep reaching out to friends — even when you're too tired or harried to function. Even when a new baby consumes your world, good friends are always worth keeping close.
When you welcome a newborn for the first time, you'll want to grasp backward at normal. Sometimes, it feels like a race to get back to sleeping through the night and going out unencumbered, but you're better off looking for a new normal instead of fighting to fit your baby into your previous routine. Get ready for your sleep habits, work schedule and "free time" to look drastically different.
The key here is to embrace the wrench thrown into your formerly orderly life, and see the joy in the new program. Babies blow things up for a while — but in the best possible way.
5. Your heart
All those clichés are true — you will love your own child. You will find a depth of strength you never knew you had. Your heart will grow. What no one tells you, however, is that some of this growth can feel uncomfortable. Change is hard, especially huge personal change. When a child completely infiltrates your heart, it can leave you feeling vulnerable and scared.
Raising a child is scary. Bad things can happen to good kids, and you do risk losing your child to a thousand scary things. Focus on the day at hand instead of worrying about all the "what-ifs." Enjoy every day you get with your baby, and let the change happen. It's for the better.
There is nothing that compares to having kids. It turns boys and girls into men and women. Parenthood touches every aspect of your life. Let it. Go with the flow and embrace parenthood as one grand adventure waiting to happen.