I don’t remember having “the talk” with my mom. The closest thing was sitting in on my older sister’s talk as my mom read a book on puberty. I giggled at an illustration of a girl whose breasts sagged over her desk. My mom said that the book was more for my sister and that I needed to stay quiet.
Conversations about puberty didn’t take place in our household nor did they seem to in the households of my Asian American friends. I didn’t tell anyone when I started my period or began using deodorant. When my husband and I first tried to conceive, I was clueless about fertility and ovulation. I never thought to call my mom and instead learned from a book.
During my pregnancy, only a handful of friends spoke candidly about their experiences. I couldn’t fathom some of the things they mentioned. “Witch hazel? Why do you need it?” “You gave birth in what position?!” “Your boobs got how big from being engorged?” There was so little I knew about pregnancy and surviving the newborn stage.
I chatted with several moms about what surprised us about pregnancy (and beyond), both the lovely and the awkward. So grab a cup of tea and get cozy as we share our stories.
The Mochi Mamas
Beauty of the Bump
In Amy Schumer’s Netflix special, “Amy Schumer Growing,” the pregnant comedian talks about how pregnancy doesn’t change who you are. “I hate women who start to act, like, really precious,” she says, mocking women who cradle and caress their belly bumps. But oddly enough, the new affection for one’s belly—and not just the human growing inside it—is real.
After giving birth, I mourned giving up my maternity pants, which didn’t have the restrictions of a waistband. The flap that extended from my pant legs and hugged my belly made me feel like I was wearing a cozy romper. Because I was supposed to have a large belly, the line between my food baby and my real baby was blurred. There was no need to suck anything in after a large meal.
Michelle Yang, a Mochi editor and writer, never expected that she’d love her pregnancy body. “My mid-section was always a part of my body I felt most self-conscious about, so to be able to flaunt a beautiful baby bump was incredibly empowering. I loved all the flowing maxi dresses I wore during pregnancy. It was actually a time in my life I felt most beautiful!”
It’s not just pregnant women who love their bellies — strangers in stores or on the street begin smiling at you once you’re showing. Once in awhile, you may get the bold grocery clerk who reaches out to rub your belly, but in my experience, most people refrained or at least asked first.
“I loved never having to stand in line for food,” remembers Yang. “People also let me cut in front of them if I was sporting my baby bump. It just made me feel good to see the good in people.”
It’s also okay not to love being pregnant, whether or not you have medical complications. “Feeling my baby move and kick was fun for… maybe the first month or two, and then I was like, ‘Can you get out of my rib cage please?!’” says Mochi editor-in-chief Jennifer Duann Fultz. “It was honestly difficult to feel like my body wasn’t just mine anymore. And that feeling doesn’t go away once you become a parent. If anything, it often gets worse for quite awhile before it gets better.”
Pickles and Ice Cream
Before I was pregnant, a friend told me about how she sent her husband to the store for a loaf of sourdough bread to satisfy one of her pregnancy cravings. He returned with a loaf of French bread. Irritated, my friend sent her husband back to the store.
While I vowed never to be that demanding as a pregnant woman, I secretly looked forward to having pregnancy cravings so that I’d have an excuse to indulge in whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. The cravings never hit. Instead, I had an aversion to anything with tomato sauce or paste.
Yang, on the other hand, bought cases and cases of jarred peaches from Costco to satisfy her pregnancy craving for peaches. Six years later, her family is still using those jars as drinking glasses. “I think it’s amazing that my son loves some of the foods I craved the most when I was pregnant,” she says. “He loves peaches, too, and will choose stone fruits over candy!”
Even her husband’s food preferences played a role in her pregnancy. “As soon as I became pregnant, I started hating the smell of green peppers,” Yang says. “I had no issue with them before, but my husband always hated them, and it somehow got passed to the baby and me during pregnancy. … Once, [when I was pregnant], we had to suddenly leave a food court because of the overwhelming aroma of cooking peppers.” Now, Yang is able to eat green peppers once again. But her son? Not a fan.
During labor and delivery, your body is doing what it needs to do to deliver your baby. Although it’s your body, you no longer have complete control. There will be fluids. There will be vomit. There will be poop. Modesty does not belong in the delivery room.
Did you know many women often push so hard that they evacuate their bowels during labor? It does not happen to everyone, but it’s not a myth. “For my fourth baby,” confides Virginia Duan, a Mochi editor and writer, “my L&D nurse squeezed poop out of my rectum before I went into active labor. Since I was numb from the waist down, all I could feel was pressure and I vaguely acknowledged what was happening. It took months before I could ask my husband if he saw the nurse do this. He reluctantly nodded.”
Many of us expect our water to break as a dramatic signal that labor is starting. Thanks to Hollywood, we picture a humiliating gush in the pickle aisle at the grocery store. But that may not be the case. Sometimes it’s a quiet trickle in the middle of the night. For all three pregnancies, my water broke during the transition stage of labor. One of those times, my husband was behind me, placing pressure on my lower back as I hunched over the bed. My water broke and splashed on the floor between my legs. My husband jumped back and whined, “That almost got on my shoe!” Being in the throes of labor, I had no sympathy.
“They had to break my water for me about eight hours after I got to the hospital, which was two days after contractions started,” remembers Fultz. “The OB resident reached in there with what I swear was a crochet hook, then commented, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of hair!’ For his sake I hope he was talking about the baby.”
But you’re dealing with pros who have seen and heard it all, who are familiar with all the odors, sounds and sights of delivery. This means they won’t leave you laying in your poo or reeking like vomit. Before you even realize what has happened, they’ve whisked away dirty sheets and cleaned up puddles, destroying any evidence that your delivery was anything less than pristine.
The Unwelcome Visitor
We’ve all heard of them, but how many of us really know what they are? According to Mayo Clinic, hemorrhoids are swollen veins in your anus and lower rectum and can develop inside the rectum or under the skin around the anus. During pregnancy, your growing uterus, constipation, and increased levels of progesterone are a trifecta for causing hemorrhoids.
In my experience, a hemorrhoid feels like your anus has inflated a tiny balloon. If you have a severe case, if feels like the balloon is covered in thumbtacks. To best prevent these unpleasant visitors during pregnancy, try to avoid sitting or standing for too long, which puts pressure on the veins in your lower body. Also, eat high-fiber foods and drink plenty of water to avoid constipation and excessive pushing.
Watch out for hemorrhoids during labor, too. I developed one the size of a golf ball while delivering my first child. While waddling to the bathroom, I yelled, “Is that the baby?!” Nope, just a large hemorrhoid.
The True Shit
Slightly scarred from my golf ball experience, I wholeheartedly heeded my midwife’s suggestion to take stool softeners after the delivery. I was sore and swollen from being stitched up, and a bit scarred (in the literal and figurative sense) from pushing during delivery. So when given the option to soften things up a bit and avoid disrupting the sutures in my perineal area, I was all for it.
Being a stool softener newbie, the force of the pill surprised me. Glutes pinched together, I shuffled quickly to my bedroom, newborn babe in my arms. I’d read that babies should never be placed unattended on the couch, bed, changing table, etc., so being the rule follower I am, I yelled for my husband to take the baby.
What began as a gentle call morphed into a frantic cry of desperation. Just as my husband entered the room, all restraint was lost. Yup, right in my underwear, about 10 feet from the bathroom. I couldn’t even blame the stench on my son, who was asleep in my arms. So, friends, watch out for those stool softeners.
Holding Plans Loosely
When Susan Yee Kearns, a mother in Sacramento, prepared for the birth of her firstborn, she envisioned a peaceful natural water birth, aided by hypnobirthing techniques. But her birth plan couldn’t have been further from her actual experience: severe preeclampsia, Pitocin, more than 80 hours without food or water, exhaustion, epidural, and fever — all of which led to a C-section.
Post-op, she was connected to tubes, and the anesthesia kept her immobile. Skin-to-skin cuddle time with her newborn son didn’t come until the following day. In total, she spent four days in labor and three days in recovery.
“A big thing for me [now] is to try to tell expecting moms that you might have a birth plan, but be flexible because you never know,” Kearns says. “And whatever happens isn’t because you failed at birthing naturally or something like that. Sometimes God or the universe just has a totally different plan than you. But it’s hard not to feel like a failure in a way.”
Morodak Meas, M.D. a family medicine physician in Los Angeles, says most providers are happy and open to discussing birth plans. Some patient requests, such as immediate skin-to-skin contact with the newborn and delayed cord clamping, are standard care in some hospitals. However, Meas reminds patients that while they may firmly desire a natural labor — as in, opting out of any interventions — active management of labor leads to fewer complications and lower C-section rates.
“Labor progress can be unpredictable,” Meas says. “Complications can arise at any time. … Preventing your provider from performing interventions is like tying their hands behind their back. It prevents them from using the tools they were trained to use in providing the best patient care. The advice I would give patients who want an ‘all-natural birth’ [is to] be open to your provider’s recommendations. Ask them to explain why certain interventions are being recommended. Their goal, as well as yours, is to provide you and your baby the safest delivery mode. Hopefully, that is a vaginal delivery. But sometimes, a C-section is the safest option for both mom and baby.”
An Unexpected Outcome
If you have medical leave, you’ll likely get extra time off for having a C-section. But what does recovery really look like, especially when you’re also figuring out how to care for a newborn?
“I wish I had known how hard it was to recover from a C-section,” says Kearns. After her surgery, she could barely walk and struggled to get out of bed. When it was time to nurse her son, Declan, someone else needed to carry him to her. “Plus, the scar itself has left a ‘shelf’ that makes me feel so self-conscious about my body now,” Kearns admits. “It makes my body semi-unrecognizable to me.”
But birth experiences vary for everyone. Yang gave birth via emergency C-section, but her physical recovery was relatively quick and painless. “My scar is also much smaller than I expected, though I do have a numb section below the scar where I have lost sensation.” The much tougher part of recovery for Yang was the emotional recovery. She describes, “The postpartum depression took months to get over. It was a long time before I felt myself again.”
Recognizing the Unseen
Postpartum depression (PPD) and postpartum anxiety (PPA) need to be mandatory parts of conversations about pregnancy and the postpartum stage — not just the warning signs discussed by healthcare providers, but also personal testimonies among women. We read about mothers who admit to having horrifying, secret thoughts about hurting their babies, but PPD takes on all forms. It’s easy to overlook symptoms in ourselves, especially when our culture tends to shove mental health issues in the closet.
When I had my second child, I had high expectations for myself. I wanted to prove that I could not only easily transition from one to two kids, but that I’d rock it. But I didn’t expect my daughter to be a completely different baby than my son. She wasn’t colicky, but she cried a lot and needed to constantly be held — during the day, in the middle of the night, after being nursed. I resented my husband who slept blissfully while my daughter and I cried after late-night feedings. At 3 months, she already exhibited extreme separation anxiety that she still has today at age 5.
When I was with friends and their kids, I found myself on the fringes, mentally checked out, even angry at them for not understanding emotions that I couldn’t sort through or articulate. I didn’t feel like myself, but I believed that if I tried harder — or with time — I’d feel better.
Finally, both a close friend and an aunt gently suggested that maybe I had PPD, something that hadn’t even crossed my mind. Once I named it, I allowed myself to seek help. Through therapy, I recognized that PPD was real, and it wasn’t a product of weakness or inability. What I needed most was to give myself permission to commit time and energy to caring for myself; otherwise, I would be useless to care for my family.
Dr. Meas screens for depression and anxiety at the first patient visit and says that women with a history of mental health challenges prior to pregnancy are more at risk of developing PPD/PPA. She advises women with a history of depression or anxiety to talk with their provider before or as soon as they become pregnant. “Some medications for depression or anxiety can be continued during pregnancy because the benefits outweigh the risks,” Dr. Meas says. “A pregnant women on medication who can provide self-care can support a healthier pregnancy than a depressed patient not on medication who is not sleeping or eating well. Women can also gain support through therapy, their loved ones, and their physician.”
Open 24 Hours
Before I became a mom, I’d read that nursing could be one of the greatest challenges of having a newborn, but I crossed my fingers that I’d be one of the exceptions. From the start, my son had problems latching onto my nipple, and I was uncomfortable, self-conscious and clumsy.
I was put on display before a group of medical students as a nurse roughly massaged and shoved my exposed breast into my 1-day-old baby’s mouth. We also tried feeding my son from a little cup that I had filled with breastmilk. When that didn’t work, the nurse gave me a nipple shield — a flexible silicone nipple that fit over my own, to help my son latch on. It worked, but that meant nursing became a two-handed debacle. Here I was, trying to be modest, desperately trying to get nipple shield to stay put, praying that I didn’t drop my newborn baby as I strategically angled my son toward my nipple for optimum success.
As my son got older, the process did get easier. And by baby number three, I ditched the nursing cover and could nurse one-handed while grabbing a snack for my other kids.
Duan, mother of four, could breastfeed her babies while they were in a baby carrier. “I remember seeing a woman breastfeed her infant in a carrier as she walked around shopping for groceries. Until I saw it, I didn’t even know it was an option!”
Other lessons learned about nursing:
Wear nursing pads on both sides. No one told me that when you nurse on one side, milk simultaneously leaks from the other side. And no one wants milk stains (or that stench) on your clothes. You can also get silicone milk catchers that suction onto the non-nursing side. Save that liquid gold!
Choose your wardrobe wisely. Find shirts that easily unbutton, unzip, or have a neckline that can be pulled aside. I once made the mistake of wearing a dress, and the only way to nurse my baby was to pull the hem of my dress up, exposing everything underneath. Not pretty.
Stock up on nipple cream and use it liberally, because OUCH—and that’s before any teeth come in.
It’s no one’s business if you breastfeed, use formula, or do both. Each family has to decide what’s best for them, and no one can tell you otherwise. Do what makes you feel sane, because the newborn stage is stressful enough.
Labor is often compared to a marathon: We mentally and physically prepare ourselves for the feat, but can never fully anticipate what it will be like—the fatigue, the fluids, the hormones, the aches and pains. And with a marathon, there is pain with a purpose. We expect it to be brutal, but we also know there will be a finish line that we cross over, exhausted but elated.
The analogy can also be applied to pregnancy and the postpartum stage. Just as one person’s marathon completely differs from another person’s, so does the experience of pregnancy. One woman can waltz through pregnancy, unscathed by stretch marks, hemorrhoids and cankles, while another woman can bear all the scars of a brutal battle. Embrace your experience. You’ll have a great story to tell your child one day.