Apr 062011

Birth stories are understandably popular — they give expecting women a peek into one potential future, and they offer everyone else a dramatic story of a big event. But birth stories all share one serious flaw: they end just when the story gets really┬áinteresting. The parents were just handed a brand-new human … now what??!?

My own “after the birth story” suffers pretty badly from the two-year erosion of memory. I refer you to this post of Mandy’s for the definitive version (and second her recommendation to pilfer everything you can get your hands on!). Still, as with birth itself, everyone’s story is different. (I was reminded of that recently with this post and its comments — several women had very different experiences even at the same hospital.) So, here’s what I remember of our hospital stay:

This baby is a miracle. Now everyone please leave so I can sleep.

Nurses – There were nurses? Maybe it’s because we were there over a weekend, but we barely saw anyone. Except of course at 6 a.m., when they suddenly felt an urgent need to wake me up and take my temperature.

Breastfeeding – For a first-time mother who breastfeeds, getting the process working properly is usually an all-consuming task for the first few days. No exception here. Vera was sleepy from her big ordeal, and she would drop off to sleep the moment she started to suckle. Of course she had to eat, so the nurses told us to strip her, poke her, and basically keep her awake by any means necessary. Not a good way to start our relationship!

Part of the problem was that my body wasn’t producing milk (actually colostrum at that stage), so there was nothing for her to drink. But I didn’t find that out till much later.

And yes, the constant attempts to breastfeed meant I had to whip out a boob many, many times a day and often in front of visitors. One of Mr T’s friends came by to visit as I was breastfeeding and was mortified that, despite his wife’s clear directions beforehand, he’d walked in without knocking. I actually found that far less disturbing than having to breastfeed in front of my mother-in-law.

Baby – She didn’t open her eyes much the first day or two, so we got really excited whenever she did. “We can see you!!!!” They took her out of our room a couple of times for first check-up and vaccinations, and then they rolled her away for an ultrasound to follow up on some unspecified health problem. Seriously, we could get no one to tell us anything — we didn’t find out until at check-out we refused to leave until they explained what was going on. (Turns out to be a heart murmur, fairly common and closed on its own in her first year.)

She also developed jaundice, which meant they had to keep her for an extra night under a special lamp in the nursery. The hospital was 45 miles from our house, so luckily they let us stay the night for free in an unused room. It was heartbreaking to see our tiny beloved alone under the bright nursery light.

Sleep – Wasn’t going to happen. The beds are uncomfortable, the baby needed to be fed every couple of hours (which would take at least an hour each time, thanks to the sleep / poke / drink / sleep / poke process), and hospitals are loud. Mr T had to sleep in the world’s least comfortable armchair, but I forced him to stay. He couldn’t exactly complain about discomfort, given what I’d just been through and the ongoing state of my ladybits.

By the morning of the third day, I was so exhausted that at one point Vera started to cry and I broke down and bawled along with her. She immediately stopped crying and eyed me suspiciously, like “I didn’t know the Big Ones could do that too! Did I break her?” They wheeled her to the nursery shortly after for her time under the jaundice lights, and I slept many blessed hours in a row.

Food – I was given hospital meals for all but our unofficial last day. I actually don’t mind hospital food, but it never seemed enough and I was starving. And Mr T was on his own. This meant lots of trips to the hospital basement for cafeteria provisions, but somehow (weekend hours?) Subway was always the only thing open. Afterward, I couldn’t look at a Subway sandwich for a long, long time!

Pain – Thanks to the joys of narcotics, I didn’t have much trouble on the pain front. Though, given our lack of nurses, I learned to ring for more drugs an hour or so before they were next needed. You definitely don’t want the drugs to wear off.

Visitors – Babies bind extended family together in new and special ways, and it’s deeply meaningful to share your joy on such a momentous occasion. But visitors can bring their own brand of headache. Any time extended families get together there can be family dramas. And everyone really wants to help the new parents with advice, but this can translate into a lot of bossing just when you’re trying to find your own way as a parent.

Also not helpful: the fact that every imaginable practice has changed since our parents raised us. Either we’re way too worried about unimportant dangers nowadays, or it’s a miracle any of us survived our own deathtrap babyhoods! Luckily my mother was able to say “wow, a lot has changed since the 70s” rather than insisting on the outdated practices. Not all grandparents can do the same.

Then again, maybe we needed more help than we realized. Despite 38 years of formal schooling between us, the first time Mr T and I tried to change a diaper, it took us 10 minutes and we still got it backwards!

Other parents, was your hospital experience similar or different? Any advice for the parents-to-be out there?

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