Let’s start at the very beginning. I was blissfully unaware of what had just happened to me when Madeline quite literally burst into the world at 2:59am on Sunday, December 15, 2002. You know when you’re too tired to be tired? That’s what I was, and had been for about the last five hours of her labour (three of which were spent pushing). If I can sometime I’ll upload a bit of the video of the minutes after Madeline’s birth. I was excited and aware. But let’s be honest, I was mostly relieved. I’d done it. She was here. (Read: She was out!) She was healthy. I’m a mother!
And. Boom. Motherhood is there in an instant to stay from that moment until the day you die. Sometimes that reality hits you right away. Sometimes it takes days, months, years. (I still don’t think I’ve fully figured it out yet.) But, when it hits you it’s, well… pretty damn scary.
It starts with these new feelings of love that you have. Then you are in awe of the fact that you have made a person, an actual person. Then you get a bit scared, because you have to take care of this person. Then you remember the love and realize that you have also just birthed this super-power called “Mommy Love” and you feel empowered to take on anything that will harm this baby: man, beast, political ideology, school bullies, and complex carbohydrates. (It usually takes until you’re home from the hospital for the “Mommy Guilt” to kick in. We’ll get there in a few days.)
For now, let’s get back to the total exhilaration and the feeling of impending doom that comes with having just brought forth your first born. You’re kind of scared and kind of amazed at what has just happened. If you could bottle up that feeling and take a swig of it once a day for the rest of your life, you’d probably be good.
But you can’t.
And after those first few minutes pass, the life in this baby hits you. Pooping. Screaming. Hungry. Life.
The bad thing about having your first baby? You don’t know what to expect. The good thing about having your first baby? You don’t know what to expect. To that end, let me give you a brief account of the first hours and weeks of Madeline’s life:
Within minutes of the doctor checking Madeline over and telling me everything looked good on her, he told me he’d be calling a specialist (at three in the morning, keep in mind) about some of the damage done after birthing that baby with (what I would later learn was) a 15.5″ head circumference. Shortly thereafter I was taken to the operating room, given a spinal anesthetic (after just having given birth without anesthetic!), and had a handful of doctors and nurses going to town on my undercarriage.
I think it was about 6am when I got back to the recovery room. I remember very distinctly them moving me onto the bed in that room and seeing that my legs were being moved by them but I could not feel it. It was very weird. They brought Madeline in to nurse. It didn’t work. One of the nurses said bluntly and matter-of-factly, “She’s got inverted nipples. We’ll try this later.” and then they took Madeline away and said I should try and sleep.
Well, I tried. But I couldn’t. How could I? All of those hormones whirling around, knowing my little girl was out of my tummy and into the world, thinking about all that had just happened, wondering what on earth “inverted nipples” were? I could not sleep. Wish I could’ve, but I couldn’t.
I stayed in the hospital for two and half days after that. I could not get out of the bed without five or six very careful, very painful maneuvers. (You think rolling over at nine months pregnant is hard? Try rolling over with fourth degree tears, stitches front to back and way up inside, and a partridge in a pear tree.) I could not go to the bathroom on my own, I was so shaky when I walked (if you call it walking — taking those baby steps because of the stitches). I always needed a nurse there to help Madeline latch on. I had to use one of those plastic nipple things and could only ever nurse without it when the head nurse was there to help me. I was told by a nurse standing six inches away from my bum that she could not find the place to put the suppository. (That’s as nice as I can say it. When I went back 2.5 years later to have Luke, the nurse said she still remembered what my bum looked like after having Madeline! Do you know how many bottom ends these nurses see in a day, and she remembered mine 2.5 years later?!)
When I went home I was scared but excited. It was also the day that my milk came in. Now that is a humorous, horrendous experience. We captured some of it on video. And it still makes me laugh. It also made me laugh then, which is why I said “Ouch” — because the laughing hurt my stitches. Luckily, the sleeping and the nursing went pretty well. I still needed my Madonna-esque nursing nipple, but at least she was eating (Madeline, not Madonna. Wasn’t that about the time that Madonna started looking freakishly thin?).
But when the Public Health nurse came to visit after that first night, she just shook her head in deep, deep pity at how I hobbled over to her. My undercarriage was seriously in rough shape. I never realized how bad it was until I had another baby and realized that sitting on a donut and limping for a month was not the customary result of childbirth. And then, when about a week later (on the day after Christmas), I got mastitis (and the fever and chills and red, hot boobs that go with that), I didn’t realize that things could possibly be different or should be better.
You see, it wasn’t until I had Luke and then Olivia that I realized just how horrible things were after Madeline was born. Sure, I was completely overwhelmed. But I didn’t realize, or maybe stop to think, that this was not how it normally went. The good side of not knowing what to expect your first time around? When this new life slaps you in the face and kicks you in the crotch (so-to-speak), you don’t really know what’s hit you. The bad side? You really have no idea what’s hitting you.
And it can really, really wear you down. So you have to be careful. And, for the first time in your life, when you have no time to take care of yourself, you must. Absolutely. Unquestionably. Take care of yourself. Listen to me. I am the voice of flat-nippled, swollen-bummed, red-hot-boobed motherhood: “You must take care of yourself.” It is the only way any of you will survive.