Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Something Is Not Right

Two hours after the best birth imaginable, my baby and I were transferred to a postpartum room in the bougie hospital. It was around 1 a.m. Gone was the euphoria (and the drugs) flooding my system at delivery. Cue the beginning of the letdown. 

The room was cheerless and dark. The nurses were curt. We had zero privacy. There were so many interruptions by a parade of hospital personnel – a pediatrician, a baby bather, a hearing tester, nurses and OBs on rotation, nutrition services employees, janitorial staff – that I didn’t get any sleep. (As one nurse noted when she saw my husband snoozing soundly in a chair as the baby wailed, men can sleep through anything.) The couple of times I did doze off garnered me the side-eye from nurses because I did so with the baby in the bed. 

Breastfeeding had always been tricky for me, but the baby was doing pretty well. I, however, wasn’t. I had intense cramping while nursing and the nurses only offered hot packs to help. One nurse kept insisting I shower. (“Why does she keep saying that?” I asked my husband. “Do I stink?”) In the grand tradition of me not advocating for myself, I didn't bother to ask for pain relief, as I'd done with both of my previous births.

We hadn’t packed well for a hospital stay, in part because we thought we might be at the birth center (which was just a four-hour postpartum stay, as opposed to as many as 48 hours in the hospital) and in part because we thought we'd have a couple more days to pack for the induction (which turned out to be unnecessary). We hadn't brought our laptops and our cell phones soon ran out of batteries because we forgot our chargers.

When the baby slept, we were dumbfounded on what to do. The TV options were terrible (though my husband seemed satisfied with a few old episodes of The Simpsons). There was nothing to read except the infant care handouts the nurses brought in. The food was either too greasy or overcooked to the consistency of rubber but we didn’t want to waste money ordering in.

I started to feel stir crazy. Since I knew I wasn’t going to sleep anyway, I wanted to go home. I wanted my own bed and my healthy food and no interruptions. Outside the windows (which didn’t open), the sun was shining, the breeze was blowing, and the trees were lush and verdant. I longed to go for a slow walk outside.

The soonest the hospital would discharge us was 24 hours after delivery. That would put us at a discharge time of around 11 p.m. Because of shift change, it was almost midnight when a male nurse (which I didn’t even know was a thing on a postpartum floor – and which, honestly, I don’t think should be a thing) popped into our room and went through the discharge instructions.

This was my third birth, so I really didn’t appreciate having perineal care, breastfeeding, and postpartum depression mansplained to me. Finally, we gathered up our belongings and attempted to dress the baby in her newborn unicorn pajamas – which, as predicted, did not fit because her legs were so long.

The male nurse pushed me in a wheelchair to the exit door of the hospital. We waited while my husband went to fetch the car from the parking lot.

“What number baby is this for you?” the male nurse asked.

“My third,” I said. “And my last!” I added, because that always got a laugh out of people.

“Have you thought about how you’re going to make sure she’s your last?” he said.

Now I regretted my tried-and-true punchline. Ugh. He was going to make this into a lecture, wasn’t he?

“I’m sure we’ll think of something,” I said.

Leave it to a man to be thinking about sex one day after a woman gives birth! It was going to be six weeks before my body would even be healed enough to have sex again. Given that it was impossible for me and my husband to conceive on our own a year prior, I doubted we would have any luck now. But of course I wasn’t going to get into all of that with Mr. Nosy. People really don’t think about how rude their comments about reproduction might be to people experiencing infertility. I should have lectured him.

“My wife is on her third year of Mirena and she loves it,” the male nurse said.

I was taken aback by this TMI and so grateful that my husband pulled up in the car so I could escape this creepy conversation.

After a struggle with the car seat (I swear, the people who make baby stuff have never had babies), we got situated and drove home. My mom, who’d been staying over with my teens, was waiting up. She fawned over the baby.

“You did good,” she said.

I couldn’t help but wonder if she noticed the baby didn’t look like either of us. We hadn't had “the conversation” about how our baby came to be yet.

I tried putting the baby to sleep in the bassinet I’d splurged on, but she was very wiggly and noisy, so I ended up just putting her in bed next to me, where she quickly fell (and stayed) asleep. I’d co-slept for months with both of my daughters and didn't mind doing so again if it meant more rest for both of us.

The next day, my mood plummeted. I wasn’t worried about postpartum depression per se, because that had never been a problem with my previous births. If anything, it was the baby blues, which I knew were temporary. Still, I had that gut-thunk sensation of sadness.

Physically, I was struggling. I was exhausted but couldn’t sleep. My cramps were so intense I had to send my husband all the way to Dr. Baby-Maker’s clinic to pick up a pain reliever prescription. I was constipated, my perineal area was sore, my feet were swollen, and my milk hadn’t come in yet. Breastfeeding was frustrating and painful; I came to dread the baby’s insistent mouth on my raw nipples.

Sitting in the rocker in the nursery, attempting to breastfeed for the umpteenth time, I felt like I was stranded on an island and no one was coming to save me.

By bedtime, I was weepy. I realized I hadn’t been very affectionate with the baby. I hadn’t told her “I love you” yet. I started to wonder if I was having trouble bonding with her, and if the fact that we had different genetic makeup was mucking up our attachment. My husband had no such doubts; he said he “over the moon” about her.

“It’s just hormones,” he reassured me.

But it wasn’t.

At 3 a.m. I woke up feeling awful. My breasts were on fire. My womb was stuffed with barbed wire. I thought maybe a shower would help, so I got out of bed, but my feet seemed to be filled with fluid. It was like walking on water balloons. By the time I lumbered to the bathroom, my body started shaking so hard I had to sit down on the toilet.

Something was not right. Something was quite wrong. (Throwback to Madeline.)

I woke my husband and asked him to take my temperature. It was 100.4. Fuck.

I didn’t retain many details from the after-care instructions given to me at the hospital, but I did remember that 100.4 was the cutoff temperature for calling the doctor, no matter what time of night. I contacted the answering service and within minutes an OB called back. Unfortunately, it was Dr. Cranky again (the totally unhelpful OB who’d answered my call in the fall when I thought I was having a miscarriage).

At this point, I was shaking so hard I could hardly describe what was happening to me.

“I feel very strange,” I said. 

“You need to go to the hospital right away,” she instructed. “It might be an infection…or it could be coronavirus.”

I asked if I should go to the bougie hospital where I delivered (a 30-minute drive) or the closest hospital to my house (a 15-minute drive).

“The closest one,” she said. “Our practice won’t be able to monitor you there, but you’ll get the care you need.”

I called the ER and explained why I was coming in. Because of coronavirus protocols, my husband would not be allowed to accompany me.

“Should I bring my baby with me or not?” I asked.

“We’d advise against it,” the nurse said. “Do you have anyone who can watch her?”

Of course I did, but I didn’t have anyone who could feed her. I nursed the baby one last time, then put on a pair of yoga pants and wrapped a bathrobe around my nightgown. My husband got the baby into the car seat while I packed a diaper bag.

When we reached the emergency room drop-off around 4:30 a.m., my husband nodded at the sleeping baby and said, “We’ll wait in the parking lot for you.” I told him not to bother, that the ER was notoriously slow and that it could take a couple of hours for them to diagnose me and prescribe me an antibiotic. I suggested he go home, wake up one of my teens, and ask her to watch the baby while he went to buy formula – just in case I wasn’t back in time for her next feeding. I hoped whatever was going on with me would be resolved before the baby’s first pediatrician appointment that morning at 8:30 a.m., which I planned to attend. Strategy session complete, I kissed my sleeping baby goodbye and headed toward the ER entrance.

I had no way of knowing that when I walked through those doors, I was entering into two-and-a-half days of hell

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