Every three hours feels like every three minutes. I am exhausted. I am itchy. I am filthy. I am filled with fluid, from my ankles to my breasts. And no one will let me sleep. For there is no resting in the hospital, despite the exhortations by all to “get some rest”.
It started well enough. I woke up to elegant little contractions at 5:30 in the morning. We grabbed our bag and hailed a cab, speeding through Manhattan as dawn broke. It was like being in a dream, speeding uptown in the taxi as the iconic buildings blurred past. Give a little wave to Grand Central. Hello Lever House. Soon, I was safe and sound in the labor room at Lenox Hill , epidural administered. Water broken? Yes. Dilated? Yes. Pushing? Yes. The baby could be out by noon!
But it wasn’t and we realized that the baby was facing the wrong way- it was sunny side up. My doctor compares this to trying to push a car up hill with no air in the tires. Out of your vagina. Ouch. And- no thanks. When, after six more hours of pushing, two more shots of painkillers, four more doctors peering up my gown, and yet the baby still sits happily in the place where my pelvic bone meets my vaginal canal, we opt for the C-section. The baby’s heart rate has started to get strange. This is a risk I will not take. (We don’t yet know that moving rapidly forward and then stopping in his tracks to look around is an actual personality trait of Edward’s.)
My anesthesiologist is a kindly, ancient Indian man with a very warm smile. I feel ever so relaxed as he holds my hand on one side, Rob on the other. This will all be over soon and I will finally get to meet the other person who has been living and wreaking havoc in my body all these long ten months.
“A boy!” Dr Sanghvi cries, though I weirdly hear her say “A girl!” I guess that’s from twelve hours of painkillers topped off by more painkillers. She hands the wriggling bundle to Rob, who immediately bursts into tears. “Nora,” I whisper, as he shows me “our beautiful Edward!” I am strapped to the table, so I can only turn my head to see him. He looks terrible; his head completely misshapen from all that pushing. “Ew,” I think “He looks like Dan Ackroyd in Coneheads.”
“There’s a lot more blood here than I was expecting.” I hear my doctor say. “Can someone call Dr Name-Lost-To-Fog-Of-Memory? And can someone show dad out?” A nurse comes and helps Rob up. His lips turn white- never a good sign- as he and the baby leave the room. The anesthesiologist smiles down again. “You’re going to go to sleep for a little bit now,” He tells me. “Yes, please, thank you, please.” I say, drifting away.
In no time and three hours later, I am wheeled into the recovery room, where my dad, my mom, my sister, Rob’s brother and sister-in-law, and Rob are all waiting. It is 9 pm. Rob immediately bursts into tears. I guess he thought I was going to die? It’s true, it’s harder on those who are waiting. I had no idea. I went to sleep, and woke up and now I am still really tired and kind of excited to see the baby, only what am I supposed to do with him, this new freaky bundle of Edward? I can hardly hold my head up. All I am is a deflated abdomen with some unruly hair. Rob goes to get him, wheeling him back in his little clear box. I hold him, perplexed that this is the creature lived inside my body (still am, to this day!) and hand him over. A pediatric nurse comes by to ask if I plan to breastfeed, to which I say “yes, I think so” in a dazed and uncertain way. I don’t realize this is an either/or question. I don’t realize there are nurses for the baby, and nurses for me, and never the twain shall meet.
Soon, everyone leaves to go home, except for me and the baby. I start to nod out, in a condition akin to that of a junkie coming off dope, shakes and all, when a nurse comes by. There are no more free rooms- not singles, not shared- tonight. I’ll have to overnight in the recovery area. Is that ok? I’m itchy but can really move to scratch and I’m thirsty beyond belief. Sounds good! A different nurse comes and wheels Edward away, to the nursery. He will be taken care of there, I think.
Another nurse comes by and introduces herself. She is my personal nurse, there to take care of me and only me. This is not usually her job; she is the recovery room nurse, but since they are full, she gets me too. She is so nice and so warm, and I can tell she is my friend. She makes me feel good. It is hard to sleep in the recovery room; there are beeps and clicks and alarms. I mentally toss and turn, since I can’t physically do a thing. I just lay there, shaking. Alone. Shake. Alone. Shake. The minutes tick by, click, clack, click, clack. I’m desperately thirsty.
Suddenly someone wakes me up. It is 3 in the morning.
“I have your baby here for you to feed.”
There he is, in his little box, tightly bundled like a small gift. I cannot sit up. I cannot move my arms. I burst into tears. She presents him to me anyway.
Like a small tornado, my nurse storms over. “Can’t you see she’s in no shape to feed him right now? Take him back to the nursery.”
“She has to feed him, if she’s going to breastfeed. He needs to be trained.”
“Look at her. Do you think she can do it right now?” They both regard me, flat in the bed.
Edward’s nurse turns to me, her expression one of judgement masked as concern. “Is that what you want? For him to be fed formula?”
“Take him back, and feed that baby.” My nurse interjects. “Let the poor woman alone.”
For, I am poor. Very poor indeed. Crying and crying and crying, I shake my head “yes.” It is what I want and what I don’t want. But really, I do want it. I am not much more than a sock- a wooly vessel for a foot. His nurse wheels him away. I am bereft and grateful, a puddle on the bed. My nurse nurses me. Noticing the beeps and alarms, she turns things off. She gives me water. She stays until I sort of drift off again. She is my hero, my best friend, my savior.
I wake up in the bustle of the recovery room coming back to life. Let’s say it’s three hours later, about six am. Doctors have arrived. Nurses are switching shifts. Babies have gone back to being born. My nurse comes to check my vitals. She asks how I feel. I tell her the catheter in my, ahem, urethra is very uncomfortable, but otherwise I’m sort of ok. She takes it out. It hurts like a motherfucker and then it’s such a relief. Little do I know, this will be a very, very, very bad idea. The right answer is “here’s some more Oxy” not “let me remove this thing.” But I won’t understand this until later, and I was insistent and so she did it. I realize too I am incredibly hungry. I haven’t eaten in more than 24 hours- since dinnertime the night before I went into labor. Tuesday night. She brings me a tray. On it are: a cup of tepid broth, a cup of apple sauce, a cup of jello, a cup of tepid tea, ice water. I can’t remember what I do with it. Maybe I try to eat it. I get wheeled away in my bed to a room, a tiny, tiny, tiny room, that I share with another woman who also had a C-Section.
If I hold my arms out, I can touch the curtain divider on ones side and the wall on the other. I don’t though. I am scrunched up in a ball of misery, though only kind of scrunched, because real scrunching is not an option. I’m more beached whale on its side, waiting on a beach to either be rescued or die. This is the reality of giving birth in New York City, where real estate is a precious commodity and private pre-reserved birthing suites go for 10K/night. (See: The Beyonce Suite, just a few floors from where I am, at this very same moment occupied by Chelsea Clinton.) The other woman is nursing- I can hear her oohing and ahhing at her bundle of joy on the other side of the curtain. Soon, a clown car of her relatives show up, her mom, her dad, her mother-in-law, her father-in-law, her husband, her brothers, her sisters, her parents friends, her parents friends friends, her husband’s siblings, their spouses… I weep quietly as they stream pass me. They pretend I’m not there. Who can face such misery when there is champagne to pop?
Edward was two weeks early. Rob is at home struggling to put the crib together. He’ll be up as soon as he can. My parents too, are on their way, but they are exhausted from the day before. I am still alone, which is fine because I am so miserable. They wheel the baby in in his box. I just lay there and look at him and cry and cry and cry and cry some more. It doesn’t occur to me to try to feed him. Especially not with my actual breast.I can’t even sit up. I have no fucking clue what to do! I’ve never done this before! He is cute now though. A tiny little pickle vendor with his little grey hat and scrunched up face. He sleeps in his tight swaddle and that’s nice for both of us.
I have a new nurse now. She is Russian, and no nonsense. She helps me up to go to the bathroom. I can’t see much, and it feels like something comes out. But apparently nothing comes out. She sucks her breath in between her teeth. She and the other nurse had had an under-the-breath talk about the catheter earlier.
“I’m really hungry.” I tell her. She nods. “Do you pass wind?” She asks. I am startled by the question; does it mean what I think it means? Is she asking me about farting? Or is it something else? Some medical term I’m not yet aware of? “I don’t know. I don’t think so.” More broth, more tea, more apple sauce. It is then that I learn I can’t eat solid food until I fart. When they come to ask for my menu selections, they look at their list and say “She’s still on The Clears.”
The best way to get air moving in your body it to walk around. And I love to walk. I can walk for hours and hours; from Tribeca to the Upper East Side and down to the Village. But I find now that I can hardly walk at all. Everyone urges and coaxes me. Get up! Walk! Walk! Walk! Then, you’ll fart. Then, you’ll eat. The good news is that I get moved to a private room (I was probably too depressing to be around. Just kidding. We’re paying for it… It’s worth every penny of the five star hotel price tag.) I can just about make it to the bathroom, where I collapse into the arms of my nurse. Listening to my doctor, who comes by regularly to check on me, I insist on having my pain killers as they come due.
A day passes. I get as far as the door next to mine. I can hold Edward now, and I love his tiny warm snuggly body. He already has a little boy face. I forget about breastfeeding, and I am not even sure I want to do it. But I endure the lactation specialist and her milking hands, who also coaxes me to pump. I dislike all of it immensely, and he, Edward, doesn’t seem to like it much either. I also don’t know to write down when he’s been fed on the chart; I’m in a fog of pain and strangeness. I also don’t know that his nurses assume he eats when he’s with me; that the default is fed. People come to visit. I feel like the dying tiger at the zoo. I’m too tired to participate or raise my head very high. I’m a spectacle on the floor of my cage, or in this case, hospital bed. On the second night, we keep Edward in the room with us. He starts crying and will not stop. We don’t realize that this means he’s hungry. We know actual nothing. After hours and hours, Rob gives him formula. He stops crying, sucks it down, and falls right asleep in Rob’s arms. They sleep together, Edward in a little nest in Rob’s bed, Rob’s arms encircling him, completely against hospital rules and regulations. The next morning, the overnight nurse kindly turns a blind eye. “I did the same thing,” She sighs. “It’s natural.” She takes Edward away, and comes back not long after. His bilirubin numbers are off.
“What does that mean?” I ask.
“Well, we don’t really know. It could mean nothing, or it could sometimes mean brain damage.” Um, what-the-fuck?
I know that jaundice is extremely common in babies. I knew- my sister had it. And, I know. Friends’s babies had it. But when it’s your baby, your first baby, and everything seems to have turned left since the start, well, a fair amount of freaking out is the result. Suddenly a word we hardly know how to say becomes the most important word in our vocabulary.
The pediatrician comes by in the afternoon. Edward is 100% normal and fine.
I try to walk. I don’t stop crying. I see the girl I shared a room with checking out, glowing and pretty in her brand new loungewear, her husband gently rocking the baby, ensconced like a pearl in its infant car seat besides him. In the evening, Rob runs out to get Shake Shack for himself and when they deliver The Clears to me, I want to die. I’m so hungry. But at least that night we know what to do. We feed the kid- oh, do we feed him. Maybe we feed him too much. We don’t care. He is greedy and the formula goes down fine. He also drinks the bottle of “expressed breast milk”.
It is Saturday. I am still on the clears. My last real meal was on Tuesday evening. All I want in the world is a cheeseburger from Veselka, the venerated Ukrainian diner on Second Avenue.
At six PM, I fart. We immediately call for food. And for the life of me, I can’t remember what I ate.
And on Sunday, after watching a video telling us not to shake the baby, we finally take Edward and go home.