Since Fitz is my fourth baby, people assume I know what I’m doing. I ought to know what is normal and what isn’t. I should remember how long the bleeding lasts, whether that much spit up means my baby is dying, how to function on no sleep. It’s fine when most people assume that—I don’t need anything from most of them. It’s unfortunate when the people who are assuming I’m totally on top of things are doctors. My doctors. My baby’s doctors.
Tummy time? I had totally forgotten that that was a thing. Vitamin D drops? I have vague, fuzzy memories of forgetting to give those to all of my other kids too.
Here’s what I remember from the first six weeks of each of my kids:
After I had Oliver, the first six weeks were a nightmare of epic proportions. The hospital force fed him bottles against our wishes, even though I was perfectly able to breastfeed, because they said that my milk should have come in and it hadn’t yet. I didn’t get to see him until I was able to get up and walk to the NICU.
I remember cracked, bleeding nipples, and a narcoleptic baby who would only sleep if he should be eating, and pumping just to get some relief from the awfulness that was breastfeeding. I remember Kullervo calling the women from our church to ask them about cracked, bleeding nipples because I wouldn’t call anyone and I just cried all the time. I remember not sleeping at all because Oliver didn’t sleep at all, and only getting relief from the crying when Kullervo would take Oliver into the tiny bathroom of our tiny New York City apartment, turn on the shower, and we would close that door and the door to the bedroom and turn on white noise so I couldn’t hear, and maybe could get some sleep.
I also remember that I was so thirsty. All the time. And the crying.
I remember Oliver being somewhere between one and two weeks old, and we decided to go for a walk. So we packed a diaper bag, buckled him into his car seat that would snap into the stroller. Kullervo carried the car seat, the stroller, and the diaper bag down 49 stairs (4th floor apartment). We didn’t even make it fully around the city block before I was tired and in tears and sat on a bus bench to recover, because it turns out that recovering from a near vaginal delivery and a c-section takes a lot out of you.
And I remember visitors—my sister, my brother and sister-in-law, my dad and stepmother, friends from church. People brought us gifts and meals. I felt loved, and taken care of, and terrified because I was totally out of my league with this awful tiny human who clearly came out broken because he only ever cried and it may never end.
Hazel’s delivery was so much easier than Oliver’s. By a factor of a zillion. The people in the hospital were nicer. Hazel got to stay in my room with me, and that made breastfeeding so much easier. I remember the second night in the hospital when she wanted to nurse all. night. long. And I let her (much to my boobs’ dismay). I remember Kullervo’s aunt and cousin visiting us in the hospital, our dear friends and neighbors (who brought Oliver two new trains—Bill and Ben), and everything being easier. I also remember calling both my mother and my mother-in-law one evening from the hospital, and both of them were busy, and I cried and cried and felt so alone. For that, I blame hormones, not them.
I remember the breastfeeding pain. Oh, the pain! I had to get a refill on my narcotics post c-section to deal with the nursing pain.
I remember my mother coming to visit, and Oliver squashed his fingers where the elevator doors opened and closed. Because my cleaning is not up to par for my mother, she cleaned our apartment and criticized my weight (and my inability to stop eating Cadbury Crème Eggs).
And I remember it just being nice—Hazel was a dream baby, Kullervo was in law school, so he was able to be around a lot. Oliver still went to his nanny’s house every morning, so his routine was stable, and life was good.
Henry was supposed to be about the same size as Oliver and Hazel, who both hovered close to 8 pounds (8lb3oz for Oliver, 7lb13oz for Hazel). His delivery was the first time that I was really hesitant about the surgery. It turns out that having a baby yanked out of your belly sort of takes a lot out of you, and I said to Kullervo before we went into the operating room that I didn’t want to have another baby—if we had another, I wanted to adopt (whoops).
Henry was a big baby—9lb6oz, and because he was so big, the hospital staff was anal retentive about his blood sugar levels. Now, this being my third baby, I knew that it takes a few days for milk to come in, and that colostrum is awesome, and that babies are born full and tired. Being born is exhausting, and warrants some extra naps. The doctors, even with their fancy medical degrees, did not agree with me and kept poking him to test his blood sugar levels. The morning after Henry was born, the pediatrician came into my room. I had refused to give Henry formula, choosing instead to stick my boobs in his face every time he woke up. The first words that this pediatrician said to me were, “You are making a big mistake.”
I firmly told her that she could leave my room until she was ready to come back in and say, “Congratulations! Your baby is beautiful! How are you feeling, new mama?” and that I wasn’t going to listen to any of her medical advice or admonishments until she treated me like I had just had a baby. Then I burst into tears when she left the room. When she came back in and tried to scare me with ‘possible brain damage’, I retorted that she should maybe specify which part of the brain was going to be damaged because if it was the part that would turn him into a sociopath, I would be okay if that part was damaged.
Henry, like Hazel, spent the second night in the hospital wanting to nurse all night long. And I let him. I think it stimulates milk production and comforts the baby. Unfortunately, it does that at the expense of the new mama, but considering that I was going to have a brain damaged baby because I had the audacity to trust my body to keep this kid alive—which it had done marvelously up until this point, I might add, I was scared not to. I remember falling asleep breastfeeding, and the horrifically mean night nurse yelling at me that I was not allowed to sleep with the baby in my bed. I just couldn’t win.
The first six weeks with Henry were a blur. It was close to Thanksgiving, and we had endless company and no time to recuperate. We had wonderful friends nearby who knew that I would push myself too hard, and who, as a result, wouldn’t let me walk my kids to school or take on too much. I remember it being a magical time, as three year old Hazel decided that she needed to perfect her cartwheel, so I would watch her do hundreds of cartwheels in our living room while I breastfed the baby. I remember thinking that we could have another kid; that this was just perfect. And I remember getting more narcotics because the breastfeeding pain was excruciating again.
Fitz’s first six weeks aren’t over yet—he’ll be six weeks old on Thursday. His delivery was different—I could smell them cauterizing (I assume) the scar tissue; I could smell my own burning flesh. It made me want to throw up. The doctors were talking about how they couldn’t see anything because of all the scarring; they were worried they were going to cut my bladder.
They don’t tell you how cold it is in the operating room, or how bright. Grey’s Anatomy lies with its mood lighting; those rooms are BRIGHT. The spinal block makes me shake, and the cold makes me shake, so I spend the entire time just shivering; it’s exhausting. Being naked and exposed on a table is not a great feeling either. I forget that after each baby—how vulnerable-making the whole delivery of a baby is.
Fitz wasn’t a giant; he was 8lb1oz, so nobody freaked out about blood sugar. He did have some breathing issues, so they took him away and I didn’t get to meet him for five or six hours. It’s still weird to have a baby and go to the recovery room and the maternity rooms and not have said baby.
The thing that really set apart the recovery from Fitz’s birth, though, was the spinal headache. It started a couple of days after the surgery, and progressively got worse. I didn’t know what was wrong with me; why getting up gave me such a headache and so much nausea that I didn’t keep down any solid food the entire time I was in the hospital. There were a ton of births when I was in the hospital, so I wound up with nurses who weren’t labor and delivery nurses, and that might be why they didn’t catch the headache and tell me how to manage the pain sooner (lie down! If you ever get one, LIE DOWN!). My cousin came for the last two days that I was in the hospital, and thank God for her because it meant that Kullervo could stay with me in the hospital that night, and I was so overwhelmed and felt so awful that I needed him there. We played gin rummy and read and it was a sweet time, holding our sweet, sleeping son while we spent time together.
I had forgotten the sleepless nights. I knew about them academically—‘oh, yeah, you don’t get a lot of sleep’—but that’s different from living it. Fitz isn’t a terrible sleeper-if he cosleeps with me, he’ll only get up once or twice a night (usually) to eat. But still, the amount of tired is crushing. The amount of mess building up—the dog hair inhabiting the corners of rooms (and all of our clothes), the laundry that is done but hasn’t been put away, the toys that are out and all over the floor… all of that adds to the fatigue, and the fatigue means that I’m too tired to deal with it. It’s a messy cycle.
I had also forgotten the bills. It isn’t enough that I am in the midst of shoving a boob into someone’s mouth every few hours, changing incessant diapers and cackling maniacally over each cloth diaper that gets peed on mid-change, and hallucinogenic throwbacks to the 70s from the lack of sleep. So, of course, the hospital, the doctor, the anesthesiologist, the person who walked into the room on accident all send bills. Vague bills (one of the line items: miscellaneous charges—seriously). I have to weed through, figure out if there are mistakes, pay what needs to get paid, argue what is incorrect, and hash some details out with the insurance company.
Then there was the stomach flu. Let’s face it—there is no good time to spend 24 hours upchucking your insides. But it seems especially cruel when you also are breastfeeding a tiny human every three hours. I went an entire day where I did not eat or drink anything—I tried taking sips of water when I’d gone thirty minutes or so without throwing up, but it would just come right back up, so violently that it felt as though my stomach was actually turning inside out. The upside to my wretched day of sick was that we got a foot of snow that day, which mean that Kullervo’s office was closed and the kids were off school. There is no way that I could have picked them up from school or been a parent at all—I slept almost all day. I woke up to feed the baby and stress about whether I was going to run out of milk, or whether the breastfeeding would actually make me more dehydrated.
The first six weeks of a new baby are so hard. It gets marginally easier with every baby—you become more and more confident that it’s really hard to accidentally kill a baby—but it is still challenging. Finding the new normal is critical—juggling four kids and all of their individual needs is going to be an ongoing balancing act. I’m sure that some days I will get it right and manage to spend time with each kid individually, respond with love to their struggles, give them all healthy meals and even get some of them clean. Some days I will fail, and my kids will go to bed dirty, after a meal of leftover frozen pizza, freezer burned corn, and chocolate chips, all crying because I suck. Most days I’ll probably fall somewhere in the middle.
Now, the important question: which of my one week old babies look the most similar?