The 48-ish hours we were there are kind of a blur, but I definitely took away some pretty firm impressions that ran the gambit from the good, the bad, and the mesh pantied.
1. After having a baby, you briefly become a baby. As I have mentioned on this blog I am an RN, and I happily help kids and teenagers use bedpans. I stand cheerily in the bathroom while a child tries to have his or her first BM in days. I catheterize people and place suppositories. None of that embarrasses me or grosses me out in the slightest. I have always felt though, that on the other end of the equation, I would be hugely embarrassed. Turns out, not the case. For the first few hours after Ryland was born in particular, when my legs were still mostly numb from the epidural and I was dizzy and weak from the labor process, I completely relied on my wonderful L&D RN (seriously she was the BEST, for the next child I may request an induction specifically for when she is there). The first time I got out of bed she half carried me to the bathroom while still managing to hold an absorbent bed pad under me for the walk (not to overshare, let’s just say there is a LOT of blood that comes out after baby, particularly if you had an episiotomy/tore). She helped me sit on the toilet to try and pee and when that didn’t work she did a catheter with ease. She knew we had visitors arriving and she sweetly cleaned up my bed and me so it didn’t look like a crime scene in front of family. Later before we were transferred to Mother/Infant she helped me get in the shower (one of the best showers of my life, even if I had to take it sitting down). I was during this period a physical train wreck to put it mildly, and totally dependent on my nurse for a lot of things I haven’t been dependent on a person for since I was a baby. The best thing you can hope for in this scenario is to have a nurse like mine who takes total care of you quietly, efficiently, and sweetly and lets you focus on the new baby in your arms.
2. Perineal care. We just have to get this one out of the way, so if talk of perineums makes you uncomfortable, you are probably in the wrong place. I won’t go into serious detail but I will say that a whole new world of products opened up to me that became ridiculously essential in the week after childbirth. Among them, giant burrito size maxi pads that double as ice packs, mesh boy short style underwear that in addition to being unbelievably attractive allow you to wear said pads that are nearly the size of an adult diaper, little pads soaked in witch hazel (available at your nearest Target in the hemorrhoid section, which is the coolest and not at all humiliating section you can possibly shop in at a Target), and a little plastic squirt bottle that you fill with warm water to use instead of toilet paper for obvious reasons. Oh that little plastic squirt bottle. If I had the wherewithal and mental capacity to write a poem about it that first week I would have. I know there are some women who bring a full on glam squad’s worth of makeup and hair products to the hospital, and that’s all fine and good if it’s your thing. But after the baby makes it way out of you, the only “products” you will truly need are the ones you would normally order online because you’d be too embarrassed to buy them at the store.
3. Part of your brain stops working. I am a pediatric RN. I work with kids of all ages including newborns. Occasionally I even float to work in the same Mother/Infant unit where I stayed after the baby came. And yet, I found myself constantly asking the following: “Is that normal?” “Do all newborns do that?” “Is her poop okay?” “What in sweet holy moses was THAT?” Okay fine, the last one I may not have said out loud but I certainly thought it when on the first night Ryland started to gag and then spit up what felt like an exorcist level of clear fluid. If my brain had been working I would have drawn from my work and school experience and known 100% that it was just amniotic fluid and totally normal, but the part of my brain that knew that was on vacation. I think childbirth is a great equalizer, because no matter who you are or what you do, no matter how much medical knowledge you have (my husband is a physician for God’s sake, and he also had similar WTF moments) you can’t help but wonder if every little hiccup or symptom (or alarmingly large, black poo) means something ominous when it’s your own child.
4. It takes a while to accept that you are 100% in charge of another human, particularly when it comes to healthcare related decisions. On our last day in the hospital, the pediatrician who saw Ryland told us she had a “tongue tie.” Basically it means her top and bottom frenulums (a little piece of tissue that connects your tongue to the bottom and top of your mouth) were thicker than normal. (Fun trivia fact that the doctor quizzed us on and that my husband actually knew, Moses is probably the most famous “tongue tied” personality, I had no idea this was the case despite 13 years of Catholic education, so fail on my part ) The main problem with a tongue tie is that it can cause issues with breastfeeding (poor latch, pain, etc). It can also cause speech problems later in childhood. For newborns it can be fixed by “clipping” it in the hospital, a procedure with almost zero risk that takes a minute. If you wait and it ends up needing to be fixed when a kid is older you have to do it in an OR with anesthesia. We were literally packing our bags when this was presented to us, and I remember just having a total freak out moment. We had to make a choice for another human being. This was a fairly low consequence choice and I still felt like I needed several days of research and second opinions. This was not possible so we furiously researched on our phones and I texted my wonderful OB (who texted back right away with her recommendation that it was the right choice). I didn’t witness the procedure but per my husband it was very quick and Ryland took it like a champ. I know this is just one in a series of these choices I will make over the next 18 years and good Lord is it a lot of responsibility and stress. I feel like we did the right thing in this case, but I will know otherwise if I receive her therapy bill in a couple decades.
5. Lactation nurses are terrifying. First let me be clear. I have a LOT of respect for lactation nurses. They are really smart about all things breastfeeding and they help so many women breastfeed successfully. However, let’s be real, they are milk Nazis. Whenever one came to see me in the hospital I felt like I was thrust into a super stressful job interview that I was woefully unprepared for. Only in this case the person who interviews you grabs a hold of your boob and shoves a baby into it. So make that a REALLY stressful job interview. Like I said, I know they mean well and know a lot, but one of these nurses came into my room after our first night (when we ended up giving ONE TINY bottle of formula because I was sleep deprived, hormonal new mom who had been breastfeeding for 6 hours straight and needed just like one hour of sleep without a baby attached to my boob) and basically talked to me like I had given Ryland a shot of whiskey. If I hadn’t been half naked I may have gotten a little uppity, but I just kind of meekly nodded and agreed with what she said (it’s hard to defend yourself eloquently when you’re topless, I imagine strippers would agree with me on this point). We also had to start hiding our pacifiers (btw, Ryland took a pacifier from like hour 2 of life and that has never even slightly interfered with her ravenous desire for boob). Basically lactation nurses are great for a lot of things, but I think they can also be a little harsh on a first time mom. And no matter how many times I tried to replicate the extremely complicated (or at least complicated when you’ve just birthed a human) choreography they showed me for getting a good latch (something about my boob being a sandwich?) I never could. However I figured out a system, which while probably not textbook, works for us.
6. Am I bad person if I miss the days of a good old-fashioned hospital nursery? The hospital where I had Ryland is “baby friendly”, a kind of confusing phrase (are there any hospitals that are openly hostile to babies), but which basically means that they are extremely pro-breastfeeding and do everything to encourage breastfeeding. Which, great. I am totally on board with encouraging breastfeeding. I’m a nurse. I know breast is best (if a woman is able and willing to do this, and if she’s not, that’s totally her choice too and her baby is not doomed to be a serial killer or aggressive mime because they were formula fed). However, I feel like it can go a little overboard, and some well meaning initiatives can end up being baby friendly but really hard on moms. One such initiative at this hospital is that babies do not go to the nursery except on very rare occasions. “Rooming in” is not only encouraged but basically mandated. Babies get their vaccines and blood tests and hearing tests all in the room. And again, I get the upside of this, I really do. It’s supposed to make mom more able to breastfeed on demand and bond with the baby and all that really great stuff. But it also means that you don’t get any kind of break at a time when you really kind of need one. Here’s why it’s hard. You go through one of the, if not the most, physically draining and painful experiences of your life. You don’t sleep. You are bleeding and in pain. A lot of women have just had major surgery. And you are so in love with your baby and want them close of course. But if a nurse has to take the baby out for like an hour or two to do the bath and various procedures and what not, that gives mom just like a second to become a human and sleep or shower or do something that she can’t really do with the baby in the room. That first night I was so physically just DONE. I hadn’t slept in 36 hours. Ryland would not stop crying and would only sleep for like 15 minutes before waking up and signaling she wanted to eat. I know now that she was doing this cluster feeding to get the colostrum and stimulate my milk to come in and that it’s all good and healthy, but at the time I just felt like she was starving and I couldn’t give her what she needed. Because I was sleep deprived and hormonal and exhausted. And if a nurse could have taken her to the nursery for just like the tiniest fraction of time to let me sleep, I probably would not have asked for formula (and gotten scolded by the lactation nurse as a result). So ultimately I’m not sure if this is as “baby friendly” as hospitals like to think. I get the point and the intentions are good, but shouldn’t hospitals be baby and mama friendly? I think there might be a middle ground that isn’t quite so stringent.
7. Modesty really does go out the window. I cannot over state how nervous I was pre-labor about how exposed I would be both during and after labor. I am really a pretty modest person (I don’t even like going for walks on crowded beaches just in a bikini), and thought the whole experience would be humiliating. Nope. Obviously during labor a whole army worth of people saw my lady parts, but this continued during our time in Mother Infant as well. Nurses check your bleeding, stitches, and level of swelling regularly as well as the OB resident on call. There are so many people coming in and out of the room (at a teaching hospital, this includes but is not limited to med students and residents (both pediatricians and OBs), attendings (also pediatricians and OBs), nurses, nursing students, unit secretaries to fill out birth certificate related paperwork, housekeepers, dietary services people with trays, patient care techs, etc). During the first few days of nursing (okay really the first few weeks), you are basically feeding non-stop, which means your boobs are exposed non-stop. And so this whole parade of people walked in on me nursing like 75% of the time. The old me would have been so mentally scarred by this that it would have probably taken therapy to get over it. The new mom me just shrugged and welcomed them in.
8. Visitors are awesome and very welcome. We had some really incredible visitors during our stay in the hospital. Between my husband’s family, my family, and our friends, we were very spoiled. People brought food and drinks. My mom held the baby one afternoon while I napped. My sister even brought champagne (somehow I managed to not crack open that bad boy and gulp it down due to how much I had missed alcohol). There’s not a lot of quiet, solitary time in a hospital but honestly I think that’s for the best. It keeps you going and relatively energized at a time that you might otherwise become a total zombie. Plus you want to show off your incredible baby that is absolutely the best baby every (and that’s without even a trace of bias).
9. I never would have imagined how long you can stare at a baby without getting bored. So newborns don’t do a lot besides eat and poop and sleep. Occasionally they sneeze or yawn. Oh and they hiccup. That about covers all of their tricks. And yet I could have watched Ryland endlessly those first couple of days (okay fine, I still can do that). Maybe it’s because it’s hard to believe, even with the physical evidence in your arms, that this little person who’s been in your stomach for 10 months is actually out in the world. For whatever reason I couldn’t get enough of her face, the constantly changing expressions that flashed across it like lightning when she was in light sleep, the peace of it when she was sleeping more deeply, and of course her eyes when they were open. I loved examining her little toes and fingers. Basically I couldn’t get enough of my sweet little baby. They have TVs in Mother/Infant rooms but really they’re not necessary, because all of the entertainment you need is your baby.
10. It is a little surprising when they actually let you go home with this creature. I like to think of myself as a fairly capable and responsible person. I’m a nurse. I was a nanny or babysitter for years. I pay my taxes and am never late on a bill. I have a good credit score. I’ve pretty much got it together. And yet there was still this holy crap moment when they cut off the baby security band and let us get in the car with our daughter. I’ve managed to keep our dogs alive for a few years now, but there is just an entire new level of craziness to knowing that as parents you are single handedly responsible for keeping a HUMAN alive. And not just alive but healthy and happy. Plus there’s the whole make sure they don’t turn into a sociopath or cult follower or Donald Trump supporter thing. It’s a lot of responsibility. It is shocking to me in some ways that literally anyone can do this. I guess you just do your best. Luckily there is a learning curve and in the early days all you really need to do with a baby is feed her, change her diapers, and make sure the dogs don’t eat her. So far we’ve succeeded with flying colors on all 3 of those (minus a lot of vigorous licking from the dogs, but no nibbles at least).