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Grace with Expectations

I’ve been thinking a lot about expectations lately: expectations that society puts on us, expectations that we put on ourselves, and how all these expectations make us feel and affect us, our relationships, our lives, etc.

For my job, I help moms. I help moms take care of themselves and their families through means of food, nutrition, breastfeeding, and general nurturing wellness. Something that I see all the time, with clients, friends, and myself as well, is the struggle with expectations. See, we all have them. Sometimes expectations are set by a professional, like your obstetrician recommending you gain 25-35 pounds during pregnancy ( if you were at a healthy weight beforehand). Sometimes expectations are set by family or friends, like when your mom tells you breastfeeding didn’t work for her so it won’t for you, or your “friend” tells you that giving birth only counts if it’s done vaginally and not via Cesarean (all true stories of things clients or friends have been told!). Sometimes we set our own expectations, like when we attend a breastfeeding class at the hospital and the nurses tell us about the “magical hour” after giving birth and how the instant your baby is delivered he or she will be placed on your chest and you can watch your baby root and find your breast and latch for the first time, and you hear all about the amazing benefits of that skin-to-skin time in that first hour and you just can’t wait to experience that for yourself.

But sometimes when you’re pregnant your weight drops at first, whether it be from losing muscle mass from dropping frequent, intense workouts or due to morning sickness or even due to cutting out things like soda and fast food from your diet and eating more fruits and veggies. Maybe your mom couldn’t breastfeed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t. Sometimes delivery doesn’t go quite as expected. Sometimes there are other variables that, for the well being of you and your baby, you’re not able to have that “magical hour” immediately after birth and that first latch happens hours later.

Here’s the deal. You’re allowed to grieve for what you lost. You weren’t able to experience a vaginal delivery? Take a moment to let yourself feel whatever you feel about that – disappointment, sadness, frustration, relief – whatever you’re feeling, you’re entitled to it. Your early days of breastfeeding weren’t as natural and effortless as some educators and books make you think it will be? That’s okay. Feel whatever you’re feeling.

Then let it go. Allow yourself to feel to acknowledge your circumstances, but then embrace a detour on your path. Maybe you thought pregnancy was going to be this beautiful time where you were just glowing and already falling in love with this new life inside of you, and instead this new life is basically a little parasite leeching the life out of you one puke session at a time and you can’t wait for pregnancy to be over. Or maybe you had to have a Cesarean. Are you and your baby alive and well? Then great – that is what matters. Are you having some troubles breastfeeding? That’s okay – actually despite breastfeeding being very instinctual, the vast majority of moms and babies need a little help getting all the dots connected. And that’s okay! And side note – I don’t care how well breastfeeding or anything else is going for you. Even if you have the world’s easiest baby, the early postpartum days are freaking hard with the sleep deprivation, the hormonal rollercoaster, a small screaming human being totally dependent on you – it’s all hard!

So what I’m proposing is that we all just extend ourselves a little grace with our expectations. Recognize when we’re potentially forming unrealistic expectations (i.e. “my toddler will eat everything and have the most sophisticated palate!”) and open ourselves a little more to avoid frustration and heartache. Loosen up a bit on the scripted “birth plan” – because it likely won’t totally go according to plan. And if you had an expectation, even if you didn’t realize it, and it didn’t go according to plan – give yourself some grace, let yourself feel, and adapt.

Also – let’s extend some grace to our fellow mamas and help each other, okay? I NEVER want to hear another woman tell me that she was told her birth experience “didn’t count” because she had to have an emergency C-section. Yeah, no thank you! Let’s stick with giving ourselves grace with our expectations and extending that same grace to our fellow mamas.

I also need to note, though, that this post is referring to adjusting expectations, not dealing with major issues like loss of life, illness, etc. Additionally, it’s utterly important to share with your physician how you’re feeling and to ask for help. The postpartum hormonal rollercoaster is messy and postpartum depression (or even PTSD after traumatic deliveries) is a very real, very scary thing. When I say adapt, that does include talking to your physician and getting whatever help you may need.

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