When I was pregnant with my first baby, I didn't understand why people talked about the newborn period being so hard.
I mean, it's not like newborn babies are crawling around getting into things or arguing with you about which color cup they want. They eat, they sleep, and they poop. How hard could it be?
Then I had my first baby — and the world turned upside down.
Photo by Philippe Huguen/Getty Images.
Having a newborn is so much more than just snuggling with your sweet-smelling infant. There's the childbirth recovery, the hormone surges, the engorged breasts leaking all over the place, the crying (yours and the baby's), and the sleep deprivation — OMG, the sleep deprivation. It's used as a form of torture for a reason.
There's also the weighty realization that this tiny person's life is literally in your hands, and you have no real idea what you're doing. It's all-consuming.
Three moms recorded their first weeks home with their newborns — and nothing was held back.
Cortney, Melissa, and Dorian all had babies this year. Melissa had her second child (she also had a toddler at the time), and Cortney and Dorian were first-time moms. They each used home security cameras to candidly document the first few postpartum weeks and shared a bit about what life has been like with a newborn.
One mom slowly eased her just-gave-birth body onto the couch and said, "Aw, f*ck." Yep. I remember that feeling. And the sound of those newborn cries is enough to make any mom's gut clench with feeling.
Of course, there is an indescribable beauty and magic to newborn babies. If someone could figure out how to bottle that baby-head smell, they'd be billionaires. There's nothing softer or silkier than baby skin, and sometimes all you want to do is just sit and stare at their perfect faces.
But that's only a fraction of the story in those early weeks.
These moms shared what surprised them about having a newborn, and it's a powerful reminder of how hard it really can be.
"Having a newborn is not what I expected," Cortney tells me. "I knew it would be tiring, but I didn't realize how exhausted I would be. It's literally a 24/7 job with no breaks."
Dorian reiterates how exhausting that period can be. "The main thing that surprised me was how serious exhaustion could be," she says. "Especially in the first two weeks. It felt like sheer willpower to put one foot in front of the other and keep going because I was so tired."
Sleep deprivation is no joke, I'm telling you. And when you add "recovering from childbirth" to the mix, it's a miracle new moms function at all.
"I wish people understood how difficult it is," Melissa says. "Being pregnant, giving birth, and the aftermath is a lot. Not only do you have to figure out how to meet the needs of a baby, but you feel worn out."
New moms need support, and that starts with acknowledging how hard they're working and how valuable that work is.
Did you know that the U.S. is the only developed nation that doesn't guarantee paid maternity leave for new moms? The only one. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Meanwhile, 36 nations offer at least a year of paid leave for parents, and dozens more offer, at minimum, 14 weeks.
Paid maternity leave following the birth of a first child appears to have positive benefits on women’s mental healt… https://t.co/w6DMkb0QRH— Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (@Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health) 1526007300
If we want our citizenry to be healthy and productive, we need to acknowledge that new mothers need time to recover from childbirth, tend to the needs of their babies, and adjust to a huge life change. New motherhood is hard — awesome and amazing, but hard. Let's all do what we can to support new moms as they adjust to their unexpectedly upside-down worlds.