I’m admitted to the hospital at 2:15 on a Sunday afternoon, and half an hour later, baby Auguste makes his dramatic entry into the world. As painful as the delivery was, as soon as he and the placenta are out, the pain almost completely vanishes and is replaced by a rush of head-spinning adrenaline. Auguste, crying and wrinkly and damp, is placed in my stunned embrace just long enough for my husband to be called in to cut the cord (he’d been outside with our toddler), and then I’ve handed him off to a nurse while the OB quickly numbs and stitches up a couple small vaginal tears. (If you haven’t had a baby yet, I know “vaginal tear” sounds horrifying,” but I’m lucky to have only small ones and they’re really not that bad.) “Hi, April!” one nurse says cheerfully, and I realize that an acquaintance of mine -- an L&D nurse -- has been present throughout the whole ordeal without my noticing. Now that calm has been restored in this bright Sunday room, I am a little sheepish about my delivery hysterics, especially when I learn that the doctor had been called away from another delivery-in-progress (she had an epidural) to attend to mine. Yet it was without a doubt the most physically painful experience of my life, and it unfolded in such a flurry that I now keep trying to play back the event moment-by-moment in my mind.
While the baby is being attended to - measured, vaccinated, bathed - we are transferred to a tiny recovery room (one of over 60 in this hospital) with a glum view of rooftop pipes and vents. I couldn’t care less - while some moms can’t wait to get home, the hospital feels like a hotel to me, and I am relieved to take up residence in this little cocoon. From when we move in to our discharge two days later, there is a constant flow of traffic in the room: doctors, nurses, aides, janitors, food service, visitors. It makes real rest elusive, but I don’t mind: there is comfort in knowing that all of these people are here to support baby’s and my recovery. This will also be the longest stretch of time I’ve been away from my active older son since he was born - a vacation in itself.
I had worried that I wouldn’t take to breastfeeding this time around, as my boobs have gotten so much attention in the past two and a half years that I now recoil at them being touched. (I nursed my first son for only a year, but he has retained an unshakeable, often annoying attachment to my breasts.) Luckily, this is not the case: nourishing this tiny creature whose needs are so simple and pure, I once again feel delighted to be able to provide what he needs from the miraculous mechanism of my own body. I’m not even dreading the anticipated late-night nursing sessions themselves -- just the resulting daytime fatigue and fogginess.
nourishing this tiny creature whose needs are so simple and pure, I once again feel delighted to be able to provide what he needs from the miraculous mechanism of my own body.
I let the nurses wheel baby’s bassinet to the nursery at night, and am awakened every three hours to feed him and have my vital signs checked. Having been through this before, I know that three-hour stretches of sleep are a relative luxury in the first few months with a newborn, and I relish our little nursing sessions in the dark as well as the quiet, solitary intervals when Auguste is carted away.
Perhaps because it happened so fast or maybe just because it’s the second time around, this birth experience feels less existential. I am loving my sweet little treasure, but spending less time in awe of his existence and of the stupefying, spectacular cycle of life and our place in it. I suppose there is nothing like having a toddler in the wings to shut down awed reflections and ground you in the quotidian minutiae of life. Or perhaps it’s the fact that the world has changed since my first was born in 2016, when I’d watched Hillary Clinton accept the democratic presidential nomination as I lay waiting for the induction meds to take effect. It is a less hopeful time to be bringing a new human into the fold.
As the initial shock of delivery subsides for both me and baby, he begins to spend longer stretches of time awake, and I find myself asking: what do you do with a newborn?? Funny that I can’t remember from the first time around. If he is awake and fussy and offered a boob, he will inevitably take it - but should I be offering that as a panacea, or already trying to find other ways to distract and entertain him? I know they say you can’t spoil a newborn -- as in, all of their demands are legitimate at this point -- but I wonder if I should already be coaxing him away from dependence on the breast. I usually end up opting to just let him nurse.
My husband picks up our son after preschool and brings him to visit -- he’d had a brief glimpse of the baby immediately post-delivery, but was a little spooked by the setting (and perhaps my screams heard from the hallway) and wanted to leave. We have planned this first “official” meeting strategically: taking the advice of a friend, I’ve placed Auguste in his bassinet (not in my arms), and we have gift-wrapped a present “from” the baby to Marcel. The encounter goes better than I had even hoped: entering the room, Marcel’s face lights up and he keeps whispering “Baby! Baby!” He leans over the bassinet edge excitedly and says “I want to touch!” It’s the first time I hear him say touch, a word he must’ve learned at preschool, since we speak French at home. Five minutes after this sweet meeting unfolds, Marcel has more or less lost interest, and turns his attention to his present and the snacks stashed around the room.
We are due to check out today, and I’m wishing that, like in Japan, post-partum was sanctified, and mothers were encouraged to enjoy longer hospital stays and an extended home-bound period of rest and recuperation. I haven’t stepped a foot outside this little room for the last 48 hours, and am sad to say goodbye to what feels like the first stage of my relationship with Auguste, in a space where our nascent relationship was the only priority. Re-entering the world feels like sensory overload.
I can’t tell if I’m missing being pregnant, or overwhelmed thinking about the next year, or just sad that my brand new baby’s life, having begun, is already unspooling too fast towards the future
I’m also feeling emotional in a directionless way, on the brink of tears but without any satisfying place to direct the sadness. I can’t tell if I’m missing being pregnant, or overwhelmed thinking about the next year, or just sad that my brand new baby’s life, having begun, is already unspooling too fast towards the future - a sense of regret I remember having with my first in the days after he was born.
Big brother Marcel is adapting well, and I get the greatest sense of relief and joy when he beams at the baby and leans over to give him a kiss. I know we are not out of the woods yet as far as his adjusting to big-brotherhood and being dethroned from a privileged role in our family, but I feel secure that my two babies will eventually love and be there for each other.
During our first night back home, I wake with hot and cold flashes, and my out-of-whack inner thermometer makes it hard to judge if I’m keeping baby at the right temperature. I have my first lactation dream/nightmare in which milk spurts forth uncontrollably only to be set upon by a swarm of ants (living in a tropical jungle setting, we have a serious bug problem, so this is not far-fetched).
The snoozy honeymoon period is winding down as Auguste becomes more aware of his surroundings, and less willing to surrender to sleep outside of my arms; overnight I’m up at almost hourly intervals and then jolted awake by my toddler, and as a result, I’m irritable today. As I struggle to maintain patience with my older son, my husband becomes the most convenient target for my ire. I truly am grateful that he’s assumed responsibility for our eldest, but am cranky nonetheless, and become annoyed by the smallest things: misplaced laundry, his heavy footfalls on our wooden floor, and basically anything that falls under the category of “I would’ve done it slightly differently.” I’m reminded of a book a friend told me about, How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids. I’m not feeling rage, just annoyance, and I remind myself that we need to be on the same team. We are not quite outnumbered, but it feels as if we were.
I am wanting to spend all my resources nurturing this frail, brand-new little being, and as a result, my beloved toddler has become something of a pest.
Before Auguste’s arrival, I had felt practically no emotional attachment towards the amorphous creature in my belly; if anything, I feared that his presence would be an intrusion on our content little family of three. Now I see that I had everything upside down: I am wanting to spend all my resources nurturing this frail, brand-new little being, and as a result, my beloved toddler has become something of a pest. He seems huge all of a sudden, and with my renewed assessment of his size comes the unrealistic expectation, or at least desire, that he behave reasonably and unselfishly. I have to remind myself to be patient and loving with him when he jumps on the bed next to the baby, or makes a racket, or throws a fit about not immediately getting what he wants. I am surprised by my own betrayal; I would like some time for just the two of us to be together, but that seems impossible. I decide to pick him up from preschool today, and am disappointed by his ambivalence upon seeing me and his mounting grouchiness during the car -- is it resentment? When we get home, I exchange a wailing toddler for the wailing newborn in my husband’s arms.
We welcome a string of well-meaning visitors; their presence is fun at first, and then overwhelming. My milk has come in and it feels like I’m smuggling rocks in my boobs. I Google “mastitis signs” and “why do babies spit up” and “postpartum headaches.” I should probably be making more of an effort to eat well right now, but it’s a low priority and I’m ravenous for sweet, fatty foods - my go-to is English Muffins slathered in butter and honey. So much for a rapid return to my pre-pregnancy body.
Sleep was a little better last night, by which I mean I had one glorious stretch of three hours...followed by about four hours of Auguste falling asleep while nursing, only to stir awake after being placed gingerly in his bassinet. As he builds up energy, he’s more alert and, unfortunately, sensitive to the transition from boob/arms to bed, so I end up putting him down and taking him up again countless times. I’d forgotten that this is really the culprit of sleepless nights. I want to enjoy the sweet moments of cradling my baby in my arms, but am also impatient for him to adapt to the feeling of sleeping alone. Maybe you can't spoil a newborn, but I wonder if can you exhaust a new parent beyond repair?
When it comes to childbirth and baby sleep, there is always someone who has it worse.
We finally settle back into a longer stretch, but my toddler comes in again around 5:30 to start his day. I’m grateful for how well he’s been taking the adjustment so far — he’s had outbursts of frustration for sure, but overall, he’s been loving towards the baby and accepting that mommy is less available. He still totally expects to be picked up and held, and I am relieved to not have a C-section scar, episiotomy or other difficult surgery to recover from. When it comes to childbirth and baby sleep, there is always someone who has it worse.
I love their foggy gaze, the intensity with which they nurse, the expressions from despair to joy that pass across their faces, unprompted, as if they are simply trying on all the emotions.
I’m still feeling a low-grade melancholy, and it seems pointless to identify a single culprit when there are so many possibilities: sleeplessness; feeling torn between my two babies; being physically mushy and achy; the weight of the lifelong commitment my husband and I have made to care for these two human beings; how unbearably sad it is that everything changes so fast. Despite its downsides, I do love the newborn phase. I love how tiny and sweet and guileless they are. I love how their whole bodily energy goes into each thing they do, their entire selves scrunching up to stretch or yawn or fart. I love their spindly little fingers, crunched up in fists or delicately splayed, framing their sweet sleeping heads. I love their foggy gaze, the intensity with which they nurse, the expressions from despair to joy that pass across their faces, unprompted, as if they are simply trying on all the emotions. I love their pillowy-soft skin, their silky hair, their smell. We had always planned to have three children, and -- ridiculously, I know -- I am already feeling forlorn that this is my second-to-last.