My adrenaline was still pumping. I hadn’t slept since the afternoon of her birth and I was just in awe of her. She was so tiny, and I just wanted to pick her up, wake her and play with her. You do the most primal things, like smell her (can’t tell you what she smells like), count her toes, count her fingers, wonder who she looks like, etc. We requested no visitors until one week after the birth so that we could have our moment, and get ourselves together. As I had her in hospital, we were shown how to express and breastfeed, I had my vitals and iron levels checked.
We all know the benefits of breastfeeding, so I won’t state the obvious but my experience of this was that it was bloody hard. There’s a reason why they don’t show new mothers breastfeeding a 0-4 week old with such happy smiles. The really important bit for those that switch to the bottle is the colostrum, which is the first milk and it looks like oil. This coats the lining of baby’s intestines so that they can get ready for the real milk. The milk we are familiar with, comes about 3 days later. Your baby will not starve to death, they are designed to live off fat reserves for an average of 3 days. That is one of the reasons why premature babies need intensive care, as they do not have fat reserves. If you don’t believe me, read up on the story of a newborn abandoned in a drain in Australia, who was discovered after 5-7 days still alive but dehydrated. Or the baby in Hungary found in a field with ants all over her. Newborns will sooner die from exposure to the weather than lack of milk so don’t worry that they’re only drinking “fat”.
Then my thoughts turned to the real stuff – not the nappy changes and sleepless nights, etc – all that is easy. The real stuff is how you are going to raise your little one so that they turn out better than you or co-parenting. What was our stance on food, bedtime, bath time, music, TV, and iPad usage – it matters that we agree in advance. What kind of school do we want her to go to? How do we make sure she turns out OK? These thoughts and more will run through your mind like a wild fire. Then you realize that she will spend a lot of time with me, so I’m the one that needs to be very aware of how I lead by example. Everything from what I eat, what I wear, the language I use, how I talk to my husband, etc. If I’m scared of spiders, she will also copy this behavior. Babies are designed to learn by copying their carer, and they do this from birth. You might think language when they are young doesn’t matter, but it does – all the words you expose them to are being stored in some memory bank until they can control their vocal chords and talk.
I wanted my baby to be awake so I could play with her and all, but the reality was she just wanted to sleep. Their eyesight ain’t all that good either, so even when awake, babies prefer to keep their eyes shut. I remember lying in bed and thinking, “this is it”,nine months have culminated in this. I loved my child, no question about that, but I was still me. I was expecting some major change in the way I see myself, but nah. I was still me with the same preferences, the only difference being that someone was depending on me for their survival. That’s the bit that took getting used to – before I never gave a second thought to my survival, and now I had someone who looked at me and felt safe.
That morning sickness and most of those aches and pains, they all disappeared as soon as she came out (adding even more drama queen claims from hubby)… I missed feeling her kick me in my ribs and her hiccups, my pregnancy bump was no more, instead, in its place was a squishy mass of flesh. I swear I even felt some phantom kicks. I was in a 3 bed recovery ward, thinking how on earth I was going to wee with them stitches then the woman in the bay next to me put things into perspective. She had gone in hoping for a natural, uneventful labor, but baby got stuck, they tried the ventouse (vacuum assisted extraction) but that didn’t work. She had an episiotomy (cut the opening to give room for the child to come out) but still no sign of baby. Then baby’s heart rate dropped, and she ended up with an emergency c-section. She was struggling to breastfeed and started baby on formula, and he was just vomiting it out. She basically had stitches in two places. In that moment, I became grateful for my speedy labor and delivery.
It also made me realize that childbirth is actually an uncertain time for both mother and baby. You can have the best pregnancy and lose your child during the birth process. I have mad respect for women that birth at home with no medical intervention, but we couldn’t. After waiting that long, we just weren’t going to take any chances. But the scariest part was when they discharged me and told me we could go home – I was like, “Go home! With her? No manual?!”, it was daunting. Then one of the nurses reminded me that no first time mother ever knew what she was doing, they just made it up as they went along, and I guess I had a lifetime of making stuff up for my baby girl. So if you see dodgy pictures on Facebook, be kind. I’m a first born and I sure know my parents made it up with me and I turned out OK. I was a mother now, and this was my little being to look after, and more importantly, I was responsible for keeping her alive.
The funny bit is when you get home and you hear your child fussing or crying – I was like who’s baby is that? Oh, it’s mine! I can’t give her back to her mother. Nothing can describe the immense sense of responsibility that slowly dawns on you. I can’t just go to sleep like that, I need to make sure she is fed, dry and comfortable. You will also spend your waking hours just staring at her, like a TV, wondering if they are real or not? You will also check to see if they are still breathing- she’s three months now and I still check. The thing no one tells you is that babies breathe funny; one minute they sound like they’ve just beat Usain Bolt, and the next you think you need a microphone to hear them. This is normal, it’s their lungs getting used to the air in their environment. Keeping myself alive and healthy became even more important – not because I’m vain, but because I realized in that moment that I wanted to be alive to see her graduate, get married, have kids, etc. I had finally found someone more important than me, and more important than I ever will be.
Do share how you felt as you grew into your new role as a parent with us in the comments below and join me next week for the final part of this Conception to Birth series.