Unsolicited emotional forecasting is a well-known side effect of pregnancy: the unavoidable comments, questions and advice from complete strangers thirsty to tell you how your life will change for the worse. But one new mother would like you to know that the real warning for expectant women revolves around how utterly and life-changingly happy you're about to become. Uh-huh, let's watch this one play out.
In a post called "They Should've Warned Me," we hear from a woman named Jensy that perfectly well-intentioned advice about pregnancy and new parenthood can come off as pure fear-mongering. I agree—for the advice-giver, this is a hazard of trying to tell it straight, and for the advice-receiver, it's a rite of passage—and I support all reminders that everyone's response to this experience is highly individual and can't be generalized. But most importantly, Jensy teaches us about one particular type of postpartum experience: a one-dimensional happiness so powerful that the new mother literally doesn't experience any bad thoughts, feelings, frustration, moods, or major changes in a negative way worth saying out loud. They feel the opposite, in fact—so incredibly over-the-moon happy they feel like someone should've warned them about how dangerously happy they would be.
Let the love in, people. Let it in.
In the post, Jensy writes:
When I was pregnant, everyone was all about "warning" me about what was coming next. I walked around much of those ten (let's face it, pregnancy is ten, not nine, months) absolutely terrified. The warnings flew at me from every angle — in the checkout line at Target, on the street, slipping my shoes on and walking out of the yoga studio. Warnings, warnings everywhere about what was to come — from the excruciating, mind-numbing pain of childbirth to the shell of my former self I was about to become once I had her. There were times I felt like a prisoner on death row, trying to force myself to enjoy some tiny luxury despite my size and discomfort, because if you asked around, apparently my petty joys would be ending pretty soon!
"Enjoy your husband now — you'll be so consumed by the baby you won't spend any time alone together when she's here!" "Invest in a cute one-piece for next summer — your body will never be the same." Or WORSE, from one of my female doctors, when I expressed concern about staying sexy for my husband, "You'll lose the weight this time, but with the second one forget it. You'll be so tired by then, you won't care." Yikes!!!
AND you all know my personal favorite, "Sleep now while you still can!" (And its sister statements, "Enjoy the quiet now!," "Get your nails done — you won't be doing that again any time soon," and the good old, "You'll never have time to shower.") But with all these scary warnings that made me feel like the end of the world was coming, they forgot to warn me about what was really ahead.
Guys, do you know what was REALLY ahead for this person who felt that being the recipient of new-motherhood advice was akin to being "a prisoner on death row"?
The advice, it turns out, wasn't necessary! Jensy continues:
They should've warned me that after all those hours of labor (half of which with an epidural, which made things totally bearable), the first time I saw her face my heart would burst out of my chest and shatter onto the floor. They should've warned me that crying because you're happy is actually a thing, and it's a thing you can't control when you're a mommy and you behold the beauty in your arms. So you'd better keep tissues on hand at all times, and stock up on the waterproof eyeliner.
They should've warned me that I would love my husband so much more once he was the father of my bundle of perfection, that I wouldn't remember what the old love had felt like. That we'd have challenges, and arguments, mostly bickers, sure — but that we would also create goofy ways to spend time together like driving around the city with her snoozing in the backseat. That we'd come up with ridiculous names for her and laugh our asses off. That he'd finally learn to make sure there was wine in the house at all times for me and that that would be the most romantic thing ever. That I'd overhear him while he changed her diaper saying, "I'm Dada. Da-da. You'll say Dada first." And that my heart, molten lava, would melt right out of my chest and all over the floor again.
Look, I got nary a beef with anyone's happy feelings about having a baby. Having a baby is a wonderful thing. But it's also a notably complex thing. Children inspire all sorts of feelings, test all sorts of limits. They are one of the best examples of the literal and figurative messiness of life, in that they evoke your best and worst selves, sometimes simultaneously.
So obviously everyone feels differently. Obviously those feelings fit on a spectrum of possible responses ranging from utter bliss to psychosis. Obviously there's room for all possible points of view and they are welcome, and none of them should crowd each other out.
I'll never forget the moment my daughter was born. Like Jensy, I felt like my heart would burst. I was flooded with love for her, a kind I'd never felt, so deep and so all-consuming and so incredibly sweet and pure that I felt like it would swallow me. Having my daughter was still the most important thing I've ever done. But I also had really hot farts, the baby blues, a terrible time learning how to nurse, inexplicable sobbing, and a complete and utter fog for the first several months due to profound sleeplessness, hormone crashes, and a really big learning curve.
I don't feel bad about talking about that, because the harder thing to talk about of the two experiences is not the all-encompassing love, but the hot farts, okay? The sobbing and the fog is stuff people don't seem comfortable with, and—particularly in the case of hot farts—who could blame them? That's the stuff we need to get out there (not the hot farts themselves, but rather the fact of them). That's the stuff women have historically not had the freedom and space to express without a lot of side-eye implying they don't love their baby and husband enough.
Yes, of course, there's a downside to everyone warning you relentlessly during your pregnancy about the storm cloud to come. Like Jensy, I too found it incredibly annoying. The "hoo-boy, get ready!" inevitably begins to grate, and if you're even sort of ornery like me you want to prove people wrong every chance you get. But I promise you the answer to this is not to sentimentalize parenting to the extent that you rewrite reality to omit all downsides and imply that all dissenters are treasonous.
I know it's just an article, a trope to flip the script of what you should've been warned about. But I also have a really soft spot for women and pregnancy and difficult feelings and anything that attempts to make it seem like their experience is just being negative, or that postpartum depression and the numerous complicated feelings that can come with such an enormous life change can be reframed simply by turning that frown upside down.
Worse, narratives like this are ultimately disingenuous. Absolutely no one is hiding the fact that parenting is great. No one is suppressing that story. What is only very recently being more and more talked about thanks to the Internet is all the ways in which it's really fucking hard, especially for women, but generally, for everyone. That was a necessary response to getting away from a culture that only allowed women to portray their pregnancies and parenting feelings as a Hallmark card of perfection lest they be accused of negligence.
Have we come full circle? Has the backlash against telling it straight reached peak volume? Are we back to having to pretend that pregnancy is the most fulfilling, rewarding thing you can do as a woman no matter how you actually feel inside—or else you're a gargoyle making friends feel like they're on death row?
I really fucking hope not. Because for every one woman who is pissed that she "wasn't told how happy she would be" (can there be more than one?) I guarantee that there are dozens, if not hundreds, if not thousands, struggling right now in a room with no idea how to nurse, no idea how to love their baby to pieces and who also need a fucking minute.
You can be blissfully happy and still not find time to shower and hate that. You can still be utterly transformed by the experience of caring for a child and still find some old meatloaf in a bra, the same meatloaf you had a stupid argument about because it wasn't hot enough the first time you wanted to eat it, and hate that. (And then eat it.)
They should've warned me that eating healthy, proper portions of food would create enough of the nourishing milk that my daughter needs to grow. That I wouldn't even want to diet at first, at all. That hearing at her two-week doctor appointment that she'd gained enough weight, all from my body feeding her, would make me feel prouder than anything ever had. That the weight I would now become obsessed with was hers, and it would be all about health. That my body would actually fit back into my jeans in six weeks, but that I would be way too comfy in leggings to bother with actual pants. And that my husband would tell me I'm sexy. Like, very often and with conviction.
But how would anyone have "warned" you that you'd be able to make enough milk to feed your baby, in light of the fact that many people can't? How would anyone have warned you that your body would fit in your jeans in six weeks postpartum when how long it takes to lose the baby weight is far from scientifically predictable? I don't mean to be tedious, but seriously: How exactly would we know that your husband would still tell you how sexy you are and to what degree he would actually mean it?
The thing about the leggings? That's the only thing the general public could have known.
They should've warned me that… some days I would just stare at her for hours and not care about the deadlines I was missing.
I dropped the ball on this myself, what with all the needing to get paid and eat.
They should've warned me that I would indeed get my nails done, but that I would sit in the pedicure chair texting her father compulsively because I missed them.
They should've warned me that becoming a mommy would absolutely change every single thing, but that I would never want to go back and visit the "old" me, not even for a second. They should've warned me that my life was about to become so rich and beautiful and fulfilling, that I'd look back on what it was before and think, "Poor me. I didn't know her yet."
Hey, I'm not a doctor, but does this blissful, transcendent, one-dimensional happiness in spite of any and all frustration last all day, uninterrupted? Look up mania. Or malaria? I think relentless positivity is one of the symptoms of malaria.
But hey, don't listen to me. I'm biased, having found the experience of parenting wonderful AND hard. Again, if nothing else, let's just remember that the pregnant and parenting experience is highly individual, and for every new mother who feels waylaid by the frustration and challenges, there is apparently a mom who feels waylaid by the happiness (again, more than one? Please reveal yourselves in the comments). The post is wildly popular, widely shared, and with hundreds of comments to date thanking the author for finally expressing the truth.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby.