19 in. 7lbs 10oz. Sometime around 7am. Hey cut me some slack, I was in a haze.
As soon as Sisu was whisked away to the measuring table in the corner I encouraged Joel to follow her. I don’t know why I was so intent on him following her. Call it instinct, but I wanted her watched like a hawk. I looked to my left and found the mystery woman had moved to the corner and was looking over the shoulders of the medical personnel administering tests. I suddenly realized she was from the NICU and ensuring that my baby didn’t have any complications. She never jumped into action, thank God. I vaguely remember being told that a few different tests went well, but honestly those results just wash over you unless they’re bad news.
Joel was invited to hold Sisu. He came back with her, bundled in a blanket with her eyes wide open. Big grey baby eyes, barely conscious, but with such a strong spark of life in her. She looked just like Joel.
After I was done being sewn up, glued up, and wiped down we were told we would be transferred back to our labor room for about an hour before being transferred to the maternal care unit. Nurses gathered round and heaved me onto the gurney with a sheet. Joel followed with Sisu in arms.
I feel like detailing every moment following birth would be a little bit dry, so I’m going to focus on the highlight of our hospital stay.
Once back in the labor/deliverer unit we got our first look at a clock. I couldn’t believe it was only 7am. The nurses encouraged me to feed Sisu. I was a bit surprised, I thought I would need to wait until I could feel my waist to hoist myself up, but the nurses came at me with helping hands and pillows and handy ways to hold Sisu which were quite comfortable. She ate well, and after months of reading breastfeeding horror stories I was relieved. She quickly turned into a sleepy, sleepy baby. The nurses bundled her up and passed her back to Joel so they could adjust the multiple tubes coming out of me.
As Joel cooed with the baby in the corner, the nurses helped me turn to remove the epidural catheter. That turn was the first indication of how limited I would be during my recovery time. It was all I could do to help prop my shoulder high enough to get helping hands under me. The nurses encouraged me but I couldn’t do much. I had epidural drugs weighing down my legs to just below my boobs and my arms weren’t much help. The most I could do was pull my dead weight to one side by the handles on the bed. Even then I couldn’t turn or roll because all of my side muscles were still beyond my control. The nurses got me through the turn and my epidural tube was removed; the site covered with a bandage. The nurses informed me I was being given a dose of IV morphine and that I might feel drowsy or nauseated. They ran me through a long list of side effects from the few drugs I’d been given. I nodded and just decided to tell a nurse if I felt strange at all.
By the time all of this was done it was time for Sisu to be taken for her full assessment. Staff members wheeled her out in a little plastic bassinet and I drowsily closed my eyes on the bed. Boy, I would love a nap. Joel told me he was surprised at how much her absence weighed on him after such a short time. It felt like something was missing, even though he had just met her. I didn’t feel as much of a gaping hole. I had carried her for 9 months. I was glad to pass her on to someone else for a short time. But I was glad to spend time with her as well.
I did, however, notice just how empty my belly felt. I understood the deflated feeling so many women relate following birth and why it’s so hard to communicate. See any other time when a large something is removed from your abdomen, be it a large meal passing or gas escaping your system, your body returns immediately to that which it should be. But a child is so very large that it takes a long time for your body to recover. There’s often empty skin that flops around for at least a few days with the fittest of women. In addition to having extra skin hanging around, your internal organs are also completely out of place. They hold the place they’d been pushed to until the uterus starts to shrink down and during those few days your abdomen area will feel hollow. Especially when medical personnel are pushing on your tummy to ensure everything is returning to normal.
I asked my nurses when I would be able to eat. I’d just had a baby yanked from my belly and I was ready for a large meal to fill some of that space.
There were arbitrary restrictions on eating because of the concern that the medications would create nausea and I would just vomit up whatever I got down. I pushed a little and they said if I wasn’t nauseated I could probably order food at my recovery room. I was suddenly very eager to change rooms.
My nurses laid me flat so I wouldn’t get nauseated on the way to the new room and assured me Sisu would follow us shortly. They wheeled us to the recovery suite and announced to my nurses that I was a good patient because I had no complications. No diabetes, no hypertension, no trouble. The recovery nurses were thrilled. My husband and I asked if that was really common or if they were joking. They said complications in pregnant women are terribly common these days. They were sincerely glad to have an easy patient.
My new nurses settled me, gave me the pain medication run down, and then Sisu was back. She was also ready for another meal. I wasn’t expecting so much poking and prodding surrounding breastfeeding. Other accounts I had read made it sound like no one touched you while you nursed unless you hunted down a lactation consultant and begged them to help you.
Everyone will touch your boobs. Everyone. Nurses. Doctors. Techs. If they have a medical badge and have entered your room, expect there to be boob touchage going on. Ironically, the only person who didn’t touch my boobs during my stay was the lactation consultant. Go figure.
Next we got the rundown on baby security. During our hospital stay, Sisu was wearing an ankle bracelet so that no one could remove her from a certain perimeter without setting off a ton of alarms. That’s right, they keep the babies lo-jacked.
There’s also an extra wrist band for mom and dad and staff allowed to take your baby to/from your room all wear special identifying badges. They tell you to check everyone who comes in your room to take the baby to x, y, or z, and you may think you’d be half asleep but man, I’ll tell you, I checked every single badge.
The nurses then hooked me up to the most obnoxious breathing machine ever. It wasn’t oxygen, though it looked like oxygen. It was a tube that ran under my nose and ensured I was breathing. The epidural drugs apparently run a small risk for paralyzing your lungs. No biggie. The obnoxious part was that if I talked for more than 30 seconds or so, the machine thought I was dying and let everyone know. Plus I had to explain to every visitor that no, it wasn’t oxygen, it was a breathing machine that BEEP BEEP BEEP THE PATIENT IS DYING! BEEP BEEP! You see my point.
We made our round of phone calls once settled in the room. All family members were either called or messaged and I made sure to order my breakfast and one for Joel too. We munched grahm crackers in the mean time. I sipped some caffeinated soda, I knew I’d need it. We relaxed a bit, Joel swapped into a fresh shirt, we dug out chargers, I played with my bed a little bit.
I couldn’t believe how small of an amount of pain I was in. The epidural was starting to wear off (I knew because my legs were feeling cold and tingly), but my incision didn’t hurt. In fact, I couldn’t even tell where it was. There was a dressing over it so I had some idea, but there was no pain to indicate exactly where or how large it was. I suppose I have the morphine to thank for such a painless transition into the lower dosage drugs. I had been prepared to zip up my amazon woman suit and suffer through the pain, but there was absolutely no need. In fact, the nurses told me to let them know when I started feeling any pain because it was easier to maintain low pain than to bring down pain which had escalated. I was going to be positively pampered.
Around this time I fell asleep. The next four days in the hospital were a blurr of cat naps, breastfeeding, and visiting. I could only tell which day it was by who was visiting and if the nurses had changed. I wasn’t disoriented in a dizzying sort of way, but it wasn’t as important to me to remember the day of the week. It was only by numbers I remembered my days. First day of recovery, second day of recovery, etc.
I actually felt a bit like a narcoleptic during my stay. See, when you breastfeed your baby, even those short early feeds, your body releases a happy hormone cocktail which makes both you and baby drowsy. I was so unaccustomed to this sudden rush of hormones that I just passed out while breastfeeding at almost every feed. Even if I was in the middle of a sentence, if I had visitors, it didn’t matter. Baby was eating and I was probably dozing off. Because of this I had to pile pillows all around both of us in the bed so that when I inevitably konked out she didn’t slide off the bed.
Ironically, almost every family member was available for a visit. My father in law was off work, my mother in law and her husband just happened to be in town from out of state, my parents weren’t busy for the only day that weekend and my brother was even available to drive them. Sisu met most of her blood relations on her first day.
I never felt visits were overwhelming. I know many women feel easily overwhelmed during the early stages of recovery, but I didn’t. Possibly because my guests usually brought food. The hospital food wasn’t terrible, but it was nice having a few choice meals delivered.
The worst thing about being in the hospital was being away from my own bed. The hospital air mattresses are terribly uncomfortable if you stay in one position for a long time and I wasn’t terribly mobile. They also have a thick metal support rod which you can feel every time they’re lifted into a seated position. Peachy. Of course I know people who have delivered at other local area hospitals and had really neat-o smart beds. So I guess they’re hit-or-miss.
Our first day with Sisu she mostly slept. She slept most of our first night too. Even if she was eating, she was sleeping. She cried and cried when she needed a diaper change or if it was too bright for her. She didn’t open her eyes unless it was mostly dark except to peek at new people holding her.
I seemed to recover more quickly than anyone expected. I ate breakfast after no nausea, I was off my IV early because it started draining into my hand rather than my veins and finding another vein wasn’t easily accomplished. Due to my fluid intake and export I was cleared to have my IV off and my catheter out the first night. Getting the catheter out was momentarily uncomfortable, but not painful. (Again, color me surprised).
And then I got to stand (!!!) and walk to the bathroom. That little trip may as well have been a day on the town. It was lovely to stretch my legs and look at the room from a different angle. Standing was difficult at first. It wasn’t hard to put weight on my legs or to stand still, but the movements required to move into standing position were difficult. I was surprised how slowly I teetered to the edge of the bed. When I began to straighten myself to stand, I found this was difficult as well. There was some pain, but mostly just a stiffness. Almost as if someone had shortened the skin and I had to coax it into stretching out again.
I relied on my arm strength to move around the bed much more than I ever have. It wasn’t that my abdomen muscles were weak, or that they were in pain. It felt like they weren’t there at all. During pregnancy the abdomen muscles stretch out of place and they take some time to get back in place. So when I tried to use them rolling onto my side they didn’t respond at all and I was forced to slowly jimmy myself up with my elbows or using the handle of the hospital bed. My progression went something like slowly shimmying to the edge of the bed using all of the strength in my arms and legs, putting bed into sitting position, swinging legs over, straightening, using pull bar on bed to help stand, straighten, strike an Olympic pose. I then happily shuffled off to the bathroom and did my business.
You will be introduced to this wonderful little water bottle called a peri bottle during your stay. It squirts a few streams out the tip so you can squirt yourself off after bathroom trips. This wasn’t as big of a deal after a cesarean (my external lady bits weren’t in pain), but I’ve heard it’s a vast chasm of difference if you deliver vaginally. It’s used after a cesarean as well as following vaginal delivery because your system is still considered “open” and susceptible to infection. They didn’t push it after the first two days, so I stopped using it around day two. Pro tip: fill it with warm water.
The second day was a lazy day. My best friend, Amy, had arrived late the previous night to stay with us for a month and a half to help me out while I was recovering. She was absolutely awesome. Even with my speedy recovery, she was more help than I can say. Just having a friend nearby to talk with those first few weeks is all the difference in the world, and it’s super bonus points if they do your dishes too. Amy has brownie points for pretty much forever.
The goal of day two was to get a shower. I knew I would be cleared as soon as the nurses had inspected my incision and once they had stocked me up on towels I couldn’t wait to scrub myself clean. There’s a sticky iodine mixture that gets rubbed all over your belly before surgery and it’s really tough to scrub off. I didn’t manage to get it all the first time, and I was scrubbing some of it pretty hard. There’s also a blue antibiotic goop that they swab over your back before the epidural. Luckily my nurse warned me about this one before I went into the bathroom to shower. It looks like a giant bruise on your back. Don’t panic, it’s not. Or probably not. Ask your nurse and don’t sue me.
After a scrub down and a visit from my ob, day two was just a lounge day. We had a few more visitors, changed a bunch of diapers, and lazed around. Then the second night hit.
The second night is when all hell breaks loose. I had no idea this was common until I stumbled upon a great article from Kelly Mom chronicling the second night and why your perfect newborn suddenly screams like a banshee.
The short version is that your precious newborn realizes that it is not returning to the happy warm belly it’s been living in, is fed up with being passed between strangers, and if it’s not on the boob or snuggled next to one, it will scream. In fact, it’ll probably scream even if it’s on or snuggled with a boob.
Being new parents we had no idea. We did have a screaming newborn, though. Sisu had been gassy from the start and wailed if she had gas stuck, so we passed her back and forth trying to burp her. No luck. We tried everything. She barely paused to eat. She kept it up for about two hours, which is when one of our awesome nursing assistants stepped in.
The nurses at Howard County General were really, really helpful. Your baby is fussing because it’s gassy? Let me burp it for you. It needs a diaper? Let me change it. I think it’s hungry, should I get you more pillows? They totally rocked. (Pro tip: get the nurses to teach you how to burp baby on your knee. It’s much more productive.)
This night was no exception. Our tech was a sassy, stocky, Latino woman named Rosa. (Roll your “r” for Rosa, she’s a classy lady.) If your baby was fussy and Rosa was within earshot, she would come burp, change, and swaddle your baby, all the while soothing it, “shhhhh, Rosa’s here.” And when Rosa came to get my vitals and the baby was screaming and screaming, Rosa went through the burp, change, swaddle process twice. She assured us we were doing a good job, and after taking a look at both of our faces, she told us she would take Sisu to the nursery for us. She wheeled Sisu out and we passed out. Because of this, I have a mental image in my head of Rosa with Rambo-style bandoliers filled with diapers and bottles, a swaddle blanket tied around her forehead, clad in combat boots, and kicking in doors where screaming babies reside, covering their ears with the necessary protection and then pulling out her M16 and lighting up some African warlords.
We got about four hours of sleep that night and then Sisu was wheeled back to us in a much better mood. I fed her, I placed her back in the bassinet, and tried to snooze a bit. And then we had the first panicked parents moment. Joel had just been asleep long enough to fall into a deep sleep (he barely stirred when she was wheeled back in). Sisu began spitting up and, being laid on her back as everybody and their grandmother recommends, she couldn’t spit out what she was spitting up and began to choke. I instinctively attempted to jump out of bed and get to her, but a searing pain shot through my abdomen (the first and only time that happened) and I realized that I wasn’t doing any fast moving at all. Sisu was turning a purpley-blue. I started yelling at Joel to wake up. I think I might have thrown a pillow. He woke up, but his body hadn’t quite gotten on track with his brain yet, so he stumbled clumsily off the hospital couch and in the direction of the bassinet. He picked her up and brought her over, sucked out the excess spit up with our handy dandy ball syringe, we propped her on her side and patted her back to ensure there wasn’t any stuck in her throat. She started screaming and turned the most beautiful shade of red I’ve ever seen. She was perfectly fine.
I didn’t sleep more than 20 minutes in a stretch after that unless she was tucked in bed next to me.
My brothers visited together that evening with their significant others and because of the crowd we took the opportunity for Joel and Amy to install the car seat, seeing as the room was pretty small and eight was definitely too many. One of my brothers brought us Wawa chicken salad. Pro tip: Bringing me Wawa chicken salad earns you top notch brownie points. The call-me-at-3am-and-I’ll-bring-you-gas-on-the-deserted-road kind of brownie points.
I don’t remember much of the third night. I believe it was a blurr of feeding and sleeping.
My last day at the hospital was a Sunday, which meant staff was either dragging their feet or incredibly busy. Unfortunately the doctor who needed to sign my discharge papers was incredibly busy and the nurses who needed to take action to get me out the door were doing a bit of feet dragging. I was told I could leave at 8am or so. We left around 5pm. The biggest part of leaving is putting baby in the car seat. Baby will probably scream. Sisu screamed no matter what we did until we started moving. swinging in the car seat, rocking on the pavement, driving in the car, all good. She wailed once we were in the car, but quickly fell asleep.
And then we were finally home. Hello, bed. I missed you.