It’s been almost five months out from having our son, Elias, and there are some things about about our experience that I want to record before the tides of time washed clean the sand of memory.
Firstly, I’d like to talk about pubic hair.
One of the many indignities you suffer as a laboring woman is the unceremonious shaving of the pubes. It was suggested I go in for a pubic wax before my time came to prevent having it done at the hospital. I, however, clung to the hope that with a scheduled C-section I could avoid the process entirely. As far as pubic hair goes, to each their own, and personally the last thing I wanted to contemplate was getting my enormous and swollen body to lie flat (completely and totally impossible at 8 months) while someone poured hot wax on my nether region. I decided to chance it, thinking they probably wouldn’t bother. Unfortunately for me, practically the first stop in L&D is an appointment with Sargent Vaginald Buzzcut.
It would be months before the itching stopped.
Was all that really necessary? I gasped between contractions. They were clearing out a doorway my baby wouldn’t even use! Yes, the nurses assured me, and for an important reason: pube fire. How wrong does your labor have to go before “pubic hair catches fire” is a possibility, you may ask? My labor with Isobel went about as wrong as I thought it could go and never once did I think that “pube fire” was a possibility. But it happens, or can happen, I should say. Surgical equipment, including the use of cauterization, is used during surgery, and there always exists the possibility of sparks or other conditions that could cause a literal inflammation of the genitals. As bad as my labor with Isobel was, I can always look back fondly and say, “Well, at least my pubic hair didn’t catch on fire.”
I was asked to remove my nose ring due to the risk of electrocution.
After the surgery, from the moment I awoke in the recovery room, I spent the entire energy of my being trying to nurse Elias. It was not easy for me. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of times I wondered if I would ever get it right and be able to feed him successfully without hurting myself. I had these same struggles with Isobel, combined with the fact that due to Crohn’s disease I hard time making enough milk to sustain a baby. In the beginning with Elias my nursing situation was tenuous, and he seemed to hate every position the nurses suggested.
Anthony and I kept at it, and I say we both worked at it because he was there for me each and every time. Every attempt was like a prayer, and we went at it with the full intensity of a ritual. First, I would will myself to sit up as much as my post C-section body would allow while Anthony gathered every pillow in the room. I required a platoon of pillows, behind me, in front of me, surrounding me, in order to nurse. We would recite the steps out loud, together, checking them off our mental list, and then, we’d attempt the latch. It hurt, and it hurt bad. I’d gasp from the pain. I’d tense every muscle in my body and developed terrible spasms until I learned to relax. We repeated this process, every two hours, for days.
It was awful and we kept at it, even when the nurse told us the doctor had ordered I supplement with formula because pumping wasn’t yielding enough milk and Elias had lost too much weight. Finally a lactation consultant told us about the remarkable ability of newborn babies. Lay them on their stomach on your stomach, skin-to-skin, and your baby, even only one day old, will maneuver themselves around your belly and chest, until, all on their own, they discover your nipple, and just like that, they will nurse. We had nothing to lose, so we took off his clothes and laid him on my stomach.
To our complete amazement, it worked. And it was easy–all that fighting and pain to get him to establish a proper latch was over. He had done it on his own. From there we worked our way to the football hold and I was beginning to wonder if maybe, just maybe, I could get this nursing thing to work.
Since I was spending my life nursing I didn’t bother wearing more than a light kimino-style shirt that I left open all the time, and a pair of those weird hospital-issued mesh underwear. Plenty of times, I didn’t even wear a top. I was recovering from surgery and trying nearly constantly to nurse. Clothes were not a priority, and I felt so terrible I didn’t really care. All of my nurses were unfazed by it, but on more than one occasion doctors came in and reacted awkwardly. I just didn’t have time for their discomfort. It was annoying. I had just had surgery and was trying to care for a newborn, and so if you walk into my hospital room unannounced you are going to see what you are going to see and I hope you brought your big boy pants because I’m not going to go out of my way to make you comfortable. At this point Anthony has been with me 16 years and he’s seen it all, including me giving orders from my hospital bed wearing nothing but some mesh fabric on my butt. That’s called love.
On the third day of our stay the hospital photographer came announced and she was lucky I was even wearing a shirt at all. Earlier in the day I wore only underwear. She arrived with professional camera gear and a media cart full of albums, frames, and a laptop–the whole nine yards. She took dozens of different photos of the baby in different styles and poses. She even had us pose for a picture with him, even though I wasn’t wearing a bra, and Anthony had been sleeping on the couch two minutes prior. She took a charming closeup shot of the two of us holding the baby, so you could very clearly see the details of people killing zombies on Anthony’s tee shirt. It was a treasured family moment.
When we went home I was confidently nursing, but I didn’t know how I would ever leave the house. I required a minimum of five pillows and two receiving blankets to nurse, and that’s not even counting the fact that I needed to be completely topless. We still chanted out the breast feeding steps and followed our elaborate plan for nursing success each time. The breakthrough came when I sat him on my lap for a just a second while Anthony and I adjusted the pillow army. Instead of sitting there politely, waiting his turn to nurse, he simply turned his head to the side, latched on to the nipple, and started nursing right there in a sitting position. Anthony and I laughed, and from there I quickly progressed to nursing like a normal woman.
One of the moments I had dreamed of, ever since we found out I was pregnant, was introducing Isobel to her new sibling in the hospital. My sister and I are two and a half years apart in age, and although I don’t remember going to the hospital to meet her, my Dad captured the moment in photographs and they are some of my most treasured family pictures. My mom looked beautiful in the floral bathrobe that I always remembered her wearing, and we look so tiny and new. To prepare for this event I scoured etsy and bought a handful of floral, vintage bathrobes in an attempt to channel my mother and my photographer friend Jenn cleared her schedule to be on hand for photographs. Everything was going according to plan until the nurses told us the hospital was under flu lockdown, and no child under 16 was allowed into the hospital at all. This was a huge blow to us because in addition to putting off the meeting of the siblings moment, this meant I wouldn’t be allowed to see Isobel until I checked out of the hospital. I had never been apart from her this long, and it was soul-crushing. I was a hormonal, sleep-deprived mess, and having to say goodbye to her over the phone and hear her cry for me was almost more than I could bear. She stayed with Anthony’s parents, who live only about a mile down the road from the hospital, but she never felt so far away from me as she did then.
All throughout my pregnancy she had worried about where she would go while I was in the hospital, and we always had said she could come an visit right away, stay all day if she wanted, and we felt awful about going back on that. I was allowed to see Anthony and my Mom and that was it. No one else was allowed. Jenn, practically my sister, tried her hardest to get in. She called the front desk and tried to convince them she was a hired photographer and legitimately needed to come in for just an hour only. No dice. Through the magic of technology we got to FaceTime Isobel and the grandparents each night, so they saw us through the looking glass of the phone. It broke my heart each night to hear Isobel cry for me as we said goodbye. My doctor, ever the optimist, was sympathetic and told us we can always “Facebook your daughter!”
Overall our memories from the hospital are disjointed and blurred as day ran into night into day again. We were up all hours feeding the baby and never left alone for longer than forty minutes before someone or other came in to ask us questions or do something to or for us. Several times we each fell asleep while talking to each other, sometimes in mid-sentence. One time I fell asleep and started dreaming while we were talking and I remember telling him, very distinctly What were we doing? It was pizza time!
The first time my Mom came into the hospital to see us and the baby, were weren’t even awake. I knew, though, the minute I had woken up, that she had been there because she left a hair brush on my hospital tray in a small ziploc baggie–her signature move. What we didn’t know is that when she came in the room, all of us, Mama, Dada, and new baby boy, were all sound asleep and snoring. All of us. She kept saying. All of us. Including you, Carrie Anne. She commemorated the event by taking a photo of each of us snoring in our sleep.
Curious friends and family have asked us if we will have more children, and the answer is no. This pregnancy was nothing if not proof of that. It was so hard on my body that I don’t think I could willingly put myself in that position again. During labor, after about the tenth hour, when things really got dicey, what kept me going was the fact that in a few hours I’d be wheeled into the OR, never to experience labor pains again. Ever. A lot of thought went into our decision to have two children, besides my health there’s the financial aspect, the fact that our time and attention is limited, and my dicey health. Ultimately, we decided that after Elias was pulled from my womb my doctor would be tying my tubes, “since he was in there anyway and it would take only two minutes.” Originally we’d planned for Anthony to get snip snipped, but my doctor assured me this was a more convenient option. Anthony dodged a bullet on that one, as many of our friends had already gone in for the most unkindest cut. I apparently also had a ton of varicose veins from being so enormously, gigantically huge this pregnancy, so removed those, too, “since he was in the neighborhood.” Here’s an instructive diagram of how my uterus looks now, written helpfully on the hospital whiteboard under “diet.”
I have never felt more lucky than I do now, with two healthy, gorgeous, perfect children. It seems impossible that they could come from me, with all my flaws and issues. They are more than the sum of their parts, and much more than the sum of their parents.