March 22, 2006
Looking Back at Peter's First Week
In my birth fantasy, I labored at home then popped into the hospital just in time to push. After my med-free delivery, the baby remained in my room, never to see the nursery. The next day we'd bring home our exclusively breastfed, uncircumcised baby who effortlessly slept 16 hours a day.
An induced, 31-hour labor followed by a c-section wasn't in the picture. Nor was waiting several hours before attempting to breastfeed, not because of hospital policy but because all I could think about was sleeping for the first time in two days. Nor was watching everyone but me hold the baby for the next two days, as I was in too much pain to do much more than hold Peter in a football clutch to feed him.
What else wasn't in the picture?
Both the lactation consultant and in-house pediatrician told me to nurse frequently and don't supplement to hasten the arrival of my milk. That is, until Peter's third day in the hospital, when he became inconsolable even with hourly "feedings," quit producing dirty or wet diapers, and had peeling lips. He had lost well over a pound and was becoming dehydrated.
On day four, with no sign of my milk, the pediatrician had us supplement Peter's feedings (while continuing to nurse) until he produced a wet diaper. Demoralized as I felt, watching him gnaw his fist in hunger was too much for me not to follow orders.
As I lamented my inability to feed my newborn like women have done for thousands of years, one nurse told me she sees it all the time with the c-section moms. "You don't hear about women in developing countries with milk problems, but they're not having c-sections." For an almost 10-pound boy born ready for a steak dinner, the colostrum of his c-sectioned, first-time mother was leaving him hanging.
When did my milk come in? I'm still not sure. I never became engorged, never felt full or heavy, never had any of those textbook signs...
The pediatrician, though, ordered me to quit supplementing as soon as that wet diaper came through, less than 24 hours after we started. She assured me that my colostrum would increase until my milk came in. Sometime since then, without ceremony, it has surreptiously arrived.
My Friends, the Nurses
Even aside from the feeding fiasco, my feelings of ineptitude surged.
I've learned dead languages in their original alphabets. So I can learn how to swaddle a baby, right? Wrong. Each time I saw a new nurse, I'd have her give me a lesson, not letting on that a nurse from a previous shift had already shown me. Then she'd leave the room, I'd try it again on my own, and Peter would kick his way out.
Every sneeze, every hiccup, every fuss Peter made had me frantically unsure of myself. I started calling the nursery for advice. Next thing you know, I was asking them to take the baby so I could have a one-hour catnap. Then another. Within a couple of days, I was sending Peter for overnight visits to his new aunts in the nursery. They still brought him back every two hours for me to feed him.
When discussing discharge dates with the doctor, Tom and I opted to take a fifth day in the hospital. I just wasn't ready to go it alone yet.
Given how everything else played out, I guess it's only fitting that my last remaining principle was out the door too.
Months earlier, my husband and I had discussed circumcision. Tom had said there was no compelling medical reason to do it, and that he'd probably opt against it if we had a son. His saying that gave me the generosity to say, "I'll let you make the final call on that one."
Well, Tom still says there's no medical reason to do it. But we did, based on the whole like-father, like-son argument. It was done by a pediatrician using local anesthetic.
So much for the fantasies. My first week of motherhood wasn't the love fest I'd imagined. It was survival. I lived the week in a fog, vulnerable to the whims of everyone around me.
When I (reluctantly) left the hospital, I told myself that one week later-- certainly within two weeks-- I'd have things under control enough for me to start enjoying my new role.