If you didn’t read part one, I suggest you go back and read the disclaimer first and then decide how you’d like to proceed with this one…only make sure you add the words breasts, breastfeeding, boobs, nipples, and lactation to the list of words you might find offensive. If you’re good with all that, then feel free to read on…
Before I go on with the post, I want to be clear about why I wrote about any of this in the first place. I realize that everyone’s birth experience is different, from the choices we make before, during and after, to how we process (and perhaps even share) each experience. We’re all different people with different stories. And mine is no better or worse than anyone else’s. I am not a hero. I am not the only one who has ever experienced pain. Or difficulty. Or challenges. Or pure, unadulterated joy. I’m just a mom. And just like every other mom, I have a story about how I became one.
My main motive for sharing Colby’s birth story is because I want to have a record of it. I want to be able to share the details of his first days of life with him when he’s ready to understand how he came into the world. I didn’t write these posts to be anybody’s hero, example, or impress anyone with my mom superpowers; I wrote these posts so that I could someday recount this story to Colby with as much detail (and as few errors and memory lapses) as possible. I hope that Colby will someday read these posts, ask us questions about them, and realize just how much he is loved. I also hope that it will help him realize how strong amazing women are, what their bodies are capable of, what I (his mom!) am capable of, and hopefully teach him to respect me so that he can then go on to respect all women (and people) in his life.
So without further adieu…here we go.
My first post took me 7 weeks to write so it’s probably no surprise that this second post took me another 10 or so weeks to write. But then again, who cares if it’s timely? With a newborn, a business to run, classes to teach (and attend!), miles to run, laundry to be done, and an attempt to maintain some kind of life, what is time? Seriously you guys, WHAT IS TIME?
As they say, good things come to those who wait….
Anyway, after having Colby, I discovered that this whole childbirth thing is a lot more involved than just pushing a baby out. As we all know, there’s that pesky placenta. And sometimes a visit to the OR. And in my case, a loss of 2.5+ liters of blood.
BLACK OUTS AND BLOOD LOSS.
I’ll be honest, I was either blacked out at the time and didn’t hear them say anything about blood loss (though I vaguely remember them asking if they had my consent for a blood transfusion if we got to that point), or I blocked it from my memory as soon as Colby was in my arms.
In fact, it didn’t really register just how much blood I had lost even when the nurses told me repeatedly as they checked and monitored my blood pressure every hour. It really wasn’t until later that first day – after I had slept for a little while when Casey recounted (with a very pale face) how there was a lot of blood. So much blood that the doctor wouldn’t even examine me until the nurses had mopped it up. Of course, I never saw any of the blood; I was deep in my Fentanyl blackout while they were discussing and mopping so it didn’t really seem real to me. Come to think of it, nothing really seemed very real at the time.
But the expression on Casey’s face when he retold the story was the thing that really made me understand just how much blood I had lost. And just how scary the experience had been.
MECONIUM AND ALL THE SHIT I CAN’T REMEMBER.
It’s weird to try and recount our first days and nights in the hospital with Colby (we spent a total of 2.5 days and 3 nights in the hospital). Part of the experience is a total blur, while other parts are very memorable for me.
I remember very clearly getting to hold him in my arms for the first time.
I can remember the way he looked in his little footprint swaddle and pink and blue striped beanie, and how his little body curled up into my body, resembling a little peanut. I can remember dad talking to him so sweetly in the hospital room.
And grandma snuggling him close (and taking him for walks up and down the hallways).
I remember him sleeping so very peacefully in his little glass box (aka hospital bassinet). I remember the weird (ahem, overwhelming) experience of trying to breastfeed him for the first time. I remember how I struggled to hold him the proper way, awkwardly trying to prop his little body and fragile neck against my body, and coax him on to my nipple. I remember once he finally did latch, what a strange sensation it was. And how uncomfortable it was. And how I felt like a failure for not yet feeling like the whole breastfeeding experience was beautiful. I remember feeling like it was just plain awkward, difficult, and a little uncomfortable (not to mention, stressful!). I remember that I couldn’t stop staring at him, or filling with emotion every time he was placed in my arms.
What I can’t remember is whether or not he cried that first day. Or what we did in the room to entertain ourselves (besides eat terrible hospital food). Or whether I slept at all. And weirdly enough, I don’t remember his first poops. Since I had a catheter in and was constantly being monitored, poked, prodded, and analyzed (given that whole blood loss thing…), I wasn’t able to get out of my hospital bed for the first two days. And while my husband kept saying how cool it was to not have to get up and use the bathroom all the time (it’s honestly not that cool), I also feel like I missed out a little because of it. As silly as it may sound, I hate that I can’t relate when other parents talk about meconium – the first tarry black poop that your baby takes – I literally have no experience with it. I never saw any of his first poops up close, or even had a chance to attempt to wipe them off his butt. A strange thing to miss, I know.
NIGHT TWO BLUES
Unfortunately, one of my strongest memories from our hospital stay is from night number two; it’s the night we often to refer to with a slight shudder. The evening started out pretty normal. I was feeling desperate for non hospital food and after spending some time on Yelp, we realized our choices were pretty limited and settled on Baja Fresh. Because burritos. And not just any burritos….nacho burritos (whatever that actually means).
We sent my mom in search of food and Casey and I watched Colby sleeping peacefully in the bassinet. He slept for the majority of the time we were eating and it seemed to be business as usual. The nurses were coming in and out, checking my blood pressure, checking all of the various fluids being intravenously injected into my body, and of course doing the uncomfortable business of checking my catheter and palpating my tummy (ouuuuccchh).
My mom left sometime around 9 pm so that she could go back to our house and get some sleep. Casey and I talked between nurse check-ups, spent some time responding to text messages from family and friends, and used the quiet evening hours to try and just absorb our new little family. And it felt almost peaceful. Colby had been sleeping, off and on in Casey or my arms, and in his bassinet. We knew he would likely wake up hungry. Or in need of a diaper change. Or both. And we were ready for those things. But we weren’t ready for what happened next.
Around 11 pm, Colby woke up crying. And just wouldn’t stop. No matter what we did, or what we tried, he was screaming. Pink in the face. Mad as hell. Crying. He didn’t want to nurse. He didn’t respond to being rocked, swaddled, walked, or even sung to. He just wouldn’t stop crying. The nurses came in to help us. They re-swaddled him, rocked him to calm for a moment and then would hand him to me to try and feed him, and then it would just seem to start all over again. He’d get red in the face and just scream. So loudly. He’d scream while his face was practically pressed against my nipple. He seemed to be screaming at me, my milk, and my breasts. Like it was me, my milk and my breasts that he was so mad at – it was me that was failing him. And it went on and on and on. We’d try to feed. He’d scream. Casey would try and walk him around the room. He’d scream. I’d try to hold him against my chest, he’d scream.
We spent hours trying to soothe him but he just kept screaming. He was red in the face and I was just pale. I kept thinking about how hungry he must be, and kept trying to understand why he didn’t want to eat. Every time we would try and feed him, he would refuse to latch and then scream. Eventually it seemed like the entire nursing staff had come in to try and help us. At some terrible hour in the night, around 2 am (I think), I was just sitting up in bed holding a screaming mad baby. I was motionless, pale and was wearing the look of defeat. Casey took Colby from my arms and tried to rock him to calm. But Colby continued screaming. And the more he screamed, the more exhausted, overwhelmed, frustrated and confused I became. I felt like the magic of his birth, the magic of him was starting to sink into a bigger reality – a reality of this little creature being dependent on me, on us. I felt the weight of his needing me pressing down hard on me. I kept thinking I was already a failure – I couldn’t get him to stop crying, I couldn’t get him to eat. So I just sat there, motionless, and said, I can’t do this.
It was a dark hour. A dark moment.
Pretty soon, I had nurse after nurse trying to help me manually express my breasts (which is a special form of torture, imo). They would come in and start pressing on my breasts, squeezing them, fondling them, as they demonstrated how to squeeze more mustardy yellow liquid (colostrum) out of them. They tried to encourage me to express more on my own so that Casey could try feeding him with the finger syringe. But the more I tried, the more frustrated I became. My breasts were swollen, sore, and inflamed. It hurt every time someone touched me. And I started to feel inadequate. And angry. And overly emotional.
And Colby was still crying.
Finally, one of the night nurses gave us what we needed: a break. She offered to take him out of our room for a couple of hours so that we could sleep. And at some strange hour in the early morning, the kind night nurse wheeled our screaming baby out of our room, and we finally got some sleep.
They brought him back in just after sunrise. He was calm. I was calm. And we tried to feed again. And magically, he latched. The night nurse who had so graciously taken him out of the room for us suggested that maybe the incessant crying was a result of bad gas, which she guessed could have been caused by the antibiotics I had been given for my retained placenta. But I guess we’ll never know.
What I do know is how inadequate it made me feel, and how emotional and difficult it was to feel like I couldn’t feed my baby. And I think to myself, this is the stuff that they should tell you in your new parent classes. This is what your doctor should really prepare you for. This is the hard stuff.
BACK AWAY FROM MY NIPPLES.
I’m pretty sure that I’m on a lactation consultant blacklist; I imagine they have my name on file and when I walk into any hospital or doctor’s office, they issue a mass text alert to all lactation consultants to not talk to, touch, or give me any advice, under any circumstance. To put it mildly, I wasn’t that nice to the lactation consultants who visited my hospital room. In fact, I was downright kind of evil to one of them, and pretty much anyone else who even uttered the words (or any variation of the words), “manual expression…”.
The first lactation consultant was helpful. She was calm and soothing. She spoke softly and gently, and listened to me. And watched me nurse my baby without too much judgment. She didn’t force any corrections on me but rather provided me with easy to follow tips for holding the baby. She provided insight on how to deal with my forceful letdown, and how to avoid spraying Colby in the face, or worse making him choke on my milk. She even gave Casey a list of different things he could be doing to help me be more successful with nursing – like holding Colby’s hands, massaging my very engorged and sensitive breasts, and giving me shoulder and back rubs (come to think of it, he did everything but this part….). What she didn’t do was repeat the words manual expression. What she didn’t do was ask me to manually express my breasts in front of her. What she didn’t do is suggest torture – aka manual expression.
When she left the room, I found myself wishing she would just stay by my side to help me nurse until Colby and I were in perfect harmony; I was so enamored with her that when the nurses mentioned I would receive a visit from a second lactation consultant later that evening, I was overjoyed.
However, when the next lactation consultant arrived, things were very different. One of the first things she said to me included the words manual expression and had it not been for my catheter and various IVs chaining me to the bed, I might have jumped out of it and pummeled her. Instantly – just by using those words in my presence – I decided she was of no use. And I tuned her out.
She asked me to go ahead and nurse so she could observe. Colby was hungry and he latched almost instantly. And then mid meal, with Colby on my boob, she swooped in and shifted him into another position which sent him into a screaming fit (and me into a silent rage). I said, it was working just fine. And she gave me a list of reasons why my positioning was no good. Again, I tuned her out.
When she was finally satisfied that she had done her job, she left the room and nobody got hurt. I continued nursing my boy in a way that felt right and seemed to be working for us. I tried not to get worked up about my form, or the contradicting advice we were receiving about not allowing him / allowing him to use his hands in the feeding process.
On our very last day in the hospital – which was a Monday – I was basically bouncing off the walls to get out. They had finally removed my catheter in the early morning hours and allowed me to go the bathroom on my own (after three assisted trips). I had been granted the freedom to move around – as long as I was slow and careful about it – and I felt so good. On our discharge checklist, I saw that we had yet another visit with a lactation consultant, and I told myself it would be fine. Colby was eating well enough. My milk had been coming in. And my breasts were full (much too full, actually).
When the last lactation consultant arrived, I immediately wanted her gone. I was side eyeing her right from the get go and I could feel Casey squirming around in his chair uncomfortably and trying not to meet my seething gaze. When she began to ask about manual expression, I cut her off before she could continue and said sharply, “I refuse to manually express. I tried it. I hate it. It’s not working. I’m NOT doing it….” She retreated from that line of questioning and instead tried to recommend that I not pump too much as it would stimulate more milk production for my already full and heavy breasts.
Eventually, she came over and poked, prodded, and pushed on my very tender, very engorged breasts. I told her I was in a lot of pain and she suggested a cold compress between feedings (which was in fact, great advice). After a few minutes, she asked me to nurse Colby and almost as soon as I got started, she was by my side ready to move him into a different position. I think I basically told her to leave. And she more than got the hint.
To this day, I use a lot of the tips that the first lactation consultant gave me. I try to remove Colby’s hands when he is using them too much so that he isn’t distracted. I try to stay calm and cool even when he’s agitated. And I try to anticipate my forceful letdown and take him off the boob momentarily so I don’t choke, spray or just totally piss him off. And for the most part, we’ve found our nursing rhythm – of course, just like anything in life, it has taken some practice and trial and error – but we’re a good team.
And lactation consultants – I’m sorry you had to meet me.
On the last morning in the hospital, I remember being ridiculously excited to leave. I remember receiving permission to take a shower…alone…and leaving the bathroom door open just so that Casey could feel comforted that I was OK. I don’t know if any shower has ever and will ever feel as good as that one did.
I remember feeling wobbly on my legs and unfamiliar with my now soft and squishy body as I stood there under the hot water. But I didn’t care. It was so freeing to be in that shower without anyone else watching me, or attending to me. It was so liberating to be done with the IVs in my arms, or on-the-hour blood pressure checks, and constant whirring and beeping of the hospital room. And it was amazing to be standing on my own two feet, to be up and out of the hospital bed…to be moving again.
When I finally dressed, we ate some breakfast, fed Colby and waited. We went through our discharge checklist. Watched some terrible TV. And waited. We packed up all of our belongings. And waited some more. One of the nurses came in to tell us our discharge was slightly delayed and she remarked how amazing my recovery was going. How impressed she was that I was moving around so well. And she kept saying how the nurses were so impressed with how well my heart handled all of the blood loss. How my body didn’t even seem to realize I had lost that much blood. I felt like saying, then why are we still here…??!?!?!?
We had all kinds of visitors. Nurses, lactation consultant (see above), anesthesiologist, the doctor, pediatrician, and then finally the lady who would walk us out of the building and into fresh air.
She spent some time asking us all kinds of questions about our stay, the nursing staff, and our experience in general. She took notes and I basically tapped my feet in anticipation. She got us a big cart for our things and offered me a wheelchair. I said, do I have to? I’d really just rather walk out. She said, nope. You don’t have to use a wheelchair. If my legs hadn’t been so unsteady, I probably would have just danced and leapt my way out of there.
As we walked towards the exit, with our giant cart full of things, our new baby (!!!!), and the biggest fucking grins on our faces, the reality finally set in – we were going home – and I felt like I was going to burst into happy, scared, holy shit we have a baby tears at any moment.
We strapped Colby up securely in his carseat, buckled up, and started our journey home as a family. And holy shit, it was the most magical day.
And there you have it. The rest of Colby’s birth story. Or as much of it as I can still recall over 17 weeks later.
Thanks for reading. And thanks to all the mamas who have shared their own birth stories with me. Mamas – you are all amazing, heroic, magical humans – and I am honored to be in such good company.
Stay sweaty (and try not to yell at lactation consultants)!