The following is the story of Caleb’s after birth, and I do not mean of the placental type. (Although I do have a picture of Caleb’s literal afterbirth…thanks mom). I want to make it clear from the outset that I am not blogging about this to complain, seek sympathy, or to make any claim that my experience was more difficult than anyone else’s (which is also true of my pregnancy posts and Caleb’s birth post). There are three primary reasons I blog about my recovery and the period of time immediately following Caleb’s birth: 1. It was a momentous and exceptionally difficult time in my life and I find it therapeutic to write about. 2. I believe others who have had similar experiences can find fellowship in it and others who have yet to experience it can learn from my experience. 3. I wish to fight the “facebook fairytale” notion that perpetuates the facade that if you are only awesome enough or try hard enough, birth/parenthood will be a breeze (more to come on this thought in part 2).
With that said, before I delve into the details of my experience, I want to meditate on those things I am grateful for to keep myself grounded and maintain a thankful heart. First and foremost, I am thankful for Caleb and the many blessings he has brought to our family. I am thankful he was/is completely healthy and aside from feeding issues, had no medical problems. I am thankful I have an amazing husband who was involved and supportive. I am thankful for modern medicine and educated health professionals. I am thankful I had medical insurance that helped pay for some of the costs. I am thankful I was fortunate enough to give birth and recover in a relatively comfortable setting, especially when compared with a situation like Mary’s.
The time is 6:47 pm on April 26th, 2011 and I had slept four hours in the last 60, spent 19 hours in labor, and just pushed a baby out of an inappropriately small tunnel. As I was getting stitched up, I thought: “phew, I can finally relax.” HA! Hahahahaha! Little did I know that by the end of the next 48 hours of my life, I would be wishing I could trade the “recovery” stage for giving birth an extra two times. (FYI: That last statement was not meant as hyperbole).
By 7:15 pm, the buzzing room filled with six medical professionals who had converged for Caleb’s birth quickly dwindled down to just one lone nurse who I could barely understand. As the excitement of the last couple hours died down, I suddenly realized that the massive amount of fluids they had pumped into my IV were making me feel like a water balloon about to explode. Although utilizing the convenience of a bed pan appeared attractive(?) at first, it soon became evident that my bed pan was no match for the alarming quantity of pee I had amassed. (Just think “Dumb and Dumber” here. “Harry, I’m still going and this bottle’s getting full! Hurry hurry hurry hurry hurry hurry!!!”)
I wobbled as quickly as I could over to the toilet and unloaded the remainder of my bladder for what I swear was five glorious minutes of relief. I also unloaded what seemed to be several transfusions worth of blood which sort of freaked me out, but apparently this is normal. After finishing off an entire roll of toilet paper, Sean and Caleb went to the nursery and I got ready to transfer rooms. Although I had little previous experience with newborns, I had taken parenting classes and read enough to know Caleb was going to need diapers…however, I was unaware I was going to need them as well.
After my diaper was situated (which consisted of a pad, a larger pad, a larger larger pad, and elastic mesh underwear to hold it all together), I was wheeled over to my recovery room. Unfortunately, Long Beach Memorial is an incredibly busy hospital and the maternity ward was overflowing that night, so I was required to share a recovery room with another girl and her baby (and of more consequence, Sean would not be able to stay the night with me). Months later, when I received my hospital bills, this arrangement was referred to as a “semi-private” recovery room. Let’s just get one thing straight Long Beach Memorial: A room is either private or public…the end. There is no such thing as a “semi-private” room and let me assure you, there was absolutely nothing private about it. The room was teeny tiny and as the newcomer, I got the bed closest to the door and the smaller space which, when surrounded by my curtain, was approximately 8 ft by 5 ft. I had exactly enough room for a small food tray to the right side of my bed and Caleb’s bassinet to the left. Until then, I had never considered myself claustrophobic.
Upon arrival, I was introduced to the nurse who would care for me for the next 11 hours. She began explaining things to me that seemed important but she had a very thick accent, spoke extremely fast, and I was so exhausted I didn’t have the energy to ask for clarification. At 8:45 pm (just 2 hours after Caleb was born), Sean came back from the nursery to say goodbye since visiting hours ended at 9 pm. After scarfing down some hospital food (which tasted like a gourmet meal after not eating all day), a different nurse came in to help me change my diaper (oh joy?) Even with the pressure of Caleb off my pelvis, I still had a phenomenal amount of pelvic pain (which lasted three months postpartum), as well as a very sore and freshly stitched up “area.” I don’t know if this is standard, but rather than offering to help me get out of bed, the nurse just stood there and stared at me (I felt weird asking for help, because I figured if that was part of her job description, she would obviously step in). Three minutes later, I had managed to inch my butt over to the edge of the bed and then use my arms to swing my legs off and stand up. And I didn’t even get a round of applause…?
Soon thereafter, Caleb was brought into my room. My nurse said a few things to me that again seemed important – yet were undecipherable, and left. Let me attempt to describe to you what I felt at that point. It felt like I had lied about my experience on a job application, got a job on the bomb squad, was sent out on my first assignment, the rest of my squad deserted me, and I was solely responsible for disarming a highly volatile and fragile explosive device for which I had received no hands-on training. And was mauled by a bear 3 hours earlier. And was so sleep deprived I could barely remember my own name. Truly, I do not think I have ever felt less competent or less prepared for a situation in my life, and I was not expecting to face it without Sean. I knew there was always that little red button I could push for help, but I was certain I was only supposed to push it if someone were flatlining.
I slowly and painfully maneuvered myself out of bed to get Caleb, and I vividly recall feeling scared I was going to drop him because I was so unsteady. I carefully got back in bed and attempted to nurse Caleb since I figured feeding was on the approved list of things to do with a newborn (though it was not incredibly successful). He then cried for the next hour while I desperately tried to rock him and calm him down. He finally faded off to sleep, and the next thing I remember was being jolted awake at 2:30 am by my roommate who was on the phone with her boyfriend. Since she was about an arms reach from my bed, I could hear the entire heated conversation. “I JUST had a baby and you are out PARTYING!? What the bleep do you bleep bleep and you bleep bleep how could you bleep….bleep bleep bleep bleep….” So for the next 30 minutes, I found myself involuntarily tuned into what could very well have been an episode from MTV’s popular reality TV series, “Teen Mom.” While I felt for the girl and her situation, I also felt like punching her in the face.
I think I would be stretching it to say I got two hours of sleep that night (NOT consecutive). Every time I finally began drifting off to sleep, a baby would start crying, my teenage roommate would start talking on her cell, or a nurse/doctor was coming in to check on one of the four of us, give shots, or take/return a baby to/from the nursery for tests. Honestly, my most vivid memory of that entire night was staring at the clock, desperately hoping it was 8 am when visiting hours began and Sean could return. Not exactly how I pictured my first night of motherhood, but I have since learned that parenthood requires a high level of adaptability and this was my first crash course.
When Sean arrived at 8 am (in other words, the end of eternity), I was so relieved I would finally have some help. Not that he knew what he was doing any more than myself, but it was nice to have someone there who could navigate it with me (and was in much better physical shape). Poor Sean felt so bad about leaving us the night before that he got minimal sleep as well, and hadn’t been eating. Regrettably, lack of appetite was one thing Caleb and Sean shared in common (other than their cute, distinctive noses!) 🙂
While I was pregnant, I always felt more apprehensive about breastfeeding than about giving birth. This was well warranted because breastfeeding is hands down the most stressful thing I have ever done. You’d think it would be pretty easy and natural considering it’s God’s design and has been around for awhile, but it can actually become fairly complicated. Since there are two parties involved (and one is a non-talking, non-reasoning lump), there is only so much a mother can do if her baby is not catching on. Even though I was doing everything as instructed, Caleb was not latching well, could not stay awake, and was generally uninterested. Not really sure what his issue was – maybe he thought if he refused to catch on to this new method, we would just give up and reattach that convenient tube back to his belly button? Boys…so lazy 😉
I had read a lot about breastfeeding to prepare myself in advance, and one guideline that was continuously repeated was the need to be in a quiet, calm, relaxed state of mind in order to be successful. However, it was impossible to achieve this state of mind when sharing a closet-sized room with a girl who had invited her entire extended family (and extended extended family) to visit. In a steady stream, her family and friends (who curiously were mainly of the male persuasion) came in and out of our room, knocking back my flimsy curtain each time they walked by. Not to mention the nurses who continuously busted open my curtain with little regard as to what random dude was in the room at the time or whether or not my milk makers were hanging out. My blood pressure is rising just thinking about it.
Thus began a vicious cycle for the rest of that day. I just could not get in “the zone,” and this reality made me increasingly anxious each time I breastfed. Combine that with Caleb’s sleepiness, disinterest, and lack of skill, and suffice it to say that breastfeeding was going terribly. I asked to see a lactation consultant, but because the maternity ward was so busy, I was not able to see her until the next day. The nurses were also incredibly busy and came in and out long enough to check everyone’s vitals to make sure we were all still alive. They also didn’t seem to know much about breastfeeding (?), and while one attempted to help by giving me a nipple shield, I later found out she gave me the wrong size (which actually set me back a few steps).
My roommate was discharged late in the day and a new roommate was not assigned, so Sean was thankfully able to stay with me my second night. God definitely knew what He was doing because there is no way I could have made it through that night by myself without developing an ulcer or a permanent psychological disorder. As difficult as the first night was, the second night was much more grueling with Caleb. At midnight, I guess it hit Caleb that he would not be allowed back in that warm, cozy sac he came from, and decided to let us know just how angry he was about it. From midnight until 7 am, Caleb slept for *maybe* an hour, and cried for the rest. And by cried I mean screamed – much, much louder than his small lungs should have reasonably been capable of. Sean desperately tried to calm Caleb down and did not sleep all night, while I somehow managed to sleep one pathetic hour through all the crying (Caleb’s AND Sean’s that is…hahaha!)
By 7 am, both of us were exhausted beyond what we thought was physically possible, highly emotional, and I was still in a great deal of pain. I hadn’t showered or even brushed my hair since admitting to the hospital and I felt so dirty and gross, but lacked the strength to do anything about it. Our nurse finally came in and asked how our night went and after relaying the events of the night, she said nonchalantly: “ohhh, you should have called, I would have walked Caleb in the halls.” I now count this as one of the biggest missed opportunities of my life. After hearing this demoralizing news, I began pushing that little red button, but alas, it was just too little too late.
With the events of the last three days weighing on us, Sean was feeling intensely overwhelmed and suffered a panic attack. So, yeah, good times had by all.
We soon acquired a new roommate who was clearly in cahoots with my previous one, as she also came with an overbearing entourage of squealing visitors I daydreamed of tasering. Seriously LB Memorial, are there no limits on visitors? I am certain the number of people in my room standing shoulder-to-shoulder were breaking at least ten different fire codes. Originally I had planned to have a few close friends come visit us in the hospital, but after my roommates had invited enough visitors for the entire maternity ward (plus I just wanted to focus on Caleb and make sure he started feeding well), I decided to wait until we got home.
About an hour before discharge, I was finally able to see the lactation consultant who was unhelpful at best, detrimental at worst. After watching me attempt to breastfeed, she aggressively stated “well, he’s had his time to mess around…now we need to start getting serious because this is just unacceptable.” She then proceeded to give me a different sized nipple shield than the one the nurse had given me (which I also found out later, again, was the wrong size…and even more wrong than what the nurse had given me!!) What a disaster! Now, not only was I using a (very) wrong-sized nipple shield, I was now also feeling discouraged, insecure, and scared out of my mind that apparently Caleb was going to die because he was not eating well. After 20 minutes she moved on, and that was quite alright with me!
At this point in time, I had never felt so anxious to get out of anywhere in my life. I was beyond done. Sick of my confining, claustrophobic space, sick of all the strangers in my room, sick of constantly being poked and prodded, sick of no opportunities to sleep…I just wanted to go home (now I understand why home births seem so attractive!!) All I desperately wanted was to be in a familiar place with my family where I could focus on and enjoy my son. At long last, my nurse brought me the glorious discharge papers, and I could not sign them fast enough.
Ok, so to wrap up this very long post, I will impart two pieces of wisdom from this challenging experience for those of you who have not yet come to this place in life:
1. I CANNOT emphasize this enough – if it is at all within your options, deliver at a hospital with private rooms. As much as I loved my OB, if I could go back, I would have first chosen the hospital I wanted to deliver at and THEN chosen my OB based upon which OB’s were affiliates of that particular hospital. Sean would have been able to stay with me my first night, we would have gotten *much* more sleep, breastfeeding would have been much less stressful, and the general transition to parenthood would have been smoother. I don’t know about other moms, but I felt incredibly nervous, overwhelmed, and vulnerable after giving birth. You are constantly getting poked and prodded and getting naked in some fashion or another to feed your baby or change your pads. I would have felt infinitely more comfortable in a more private environment where I wasn’t forced to share every intimate moment of this significant and life-changing time with complete strangers.
2. For goodness sake, ASK FOR HELP! The entire time I was in the hospital I asked for help a maximum of five times. It wasn’t a pride thing – I just knew the maternity ward was busy and I didn’t want to be a bother or ask the nurses to do things that weren’t part of their job descriptions. However, not asking for help/bringing important needs to the attention of my nurses resulted in skipped medication, little help with Caleb when he was crying, little help with breastfeeding, and no help getting around. Next time that little red button and I are going to be BFF’s 🙂
More posts in the ‘Afterbirth’ series:
Also, read about Caleb’s birth:
And here’s the 10 ways pregnancy crushed my dignity: