For months, I had planned out nearly everything in my hospital bag, leaving nothing to chance. There would be no quick jaunt to the hospital gift shop to pick up some rando toothpaste for me. I was going to have my Sensodyne Whitening there with me at the ready.
Hair elastic? It had to be the non-snag kind in the specific shade of brown that complemented my freshly done pre-childbirth highlights.
I was going to lounge in and receive guests with the pretty, lace robe I'd packed with me and when it came time to shower, I would have my favorite peppermint body wash waiting in my hospital bathroom.
Yes, I had all of these things and more at my disposal. Yet none of them ended up mattering as much as the thing that I did NOT pack: sensible full-coverage underwear to wear home from the hospital and for the weeks following birth.
Why was sensible full-coverage underwear so important? Well. For the uninitiated or uninformed, let me tell you something about postpartum bleeding. I have said it before, and honestly, I don't think I can say it enough: much like the movie, There Will Be Blood. Yes, even with a C-section. And it will require a doggie wee-wee pad folded several times lengthwise, plus TWO extra-long, waddle-inducing maxi pads to stem the tide. And those babies will only last you a good hour, if you are lucky.
The standard-issued mesh underwear they'd provided me with at the hospital was not great. It ended up giving me such an awful, itchy rash that after I'd attempted to fashion a makeshift loin cloth out of wee wee pads (a devastating failure), I considered eschewing underwear altogether in favor of sitting in a puddle of my own leaky filth until the bleeding subsided. I really needed full-coverage underwear.
When I realized my packing mishap, I called my mother and sobbed to her about my predicament. I didn't even have full coverage underwear from home that she could grab for me. I had thrown every bikini brief with their telltale seams out long ago in favor of thongs (I'm a masochist, I know.)
Could I have asked my husband to go to a local Duane Reade and pick up some underwear? Sure. But frankly, he had already seen things and had done things for me that I never would have imagined him seeing or doing back in our courtship days. He'd bought me my favorite magazines to help relax me as I attempted to go number two in the hospital bathroom for the first time. At one point, he'd run through the halls, panicked, looking for my doctor after I'd had him confirm that my vagina had indeed swollen to five times its normal size (long story).
One very dark night, when I had a major postpartum freakout and refused to nurse, he fed our newborn son via a tiny tube of Similac taped to his finger. So no, I did not want my husband going to the drugstore nearest to 61st and York, to search for the one package of Hanes Her Ways that wasn't XXXL (although did I need that?) for me to wear home. That was where I drew the line.
My mom rushed to a nearby store in Jersey and snatched up some Days of the Week women's underwear in size large to accommodate my very swollen, postpartum lower body. And oh! What relief! What joy I felt in tearing open that package.
I didn't care that the underwear was unwashed or that the first pair I put on said “Wednesday" and it was a Friday. I had never felt something so luxurious in my life as this ample piece of cotton against my skin. And then, two hours later, after I'd bled through that pair, I felt the joy anew, as I slipped on Friday, and later (but not late enough so that the day was actually correct) the Saturday pair.
And now, nearly four years later, here is my confession: I still have these pairs of underwear in my drawer. I keep meaning to throw them out. The elastic is frayed, there are blood stains on nearly every one. In short, each pair is a horror show. And I haven't worn them since those first few months after my first son was born.
But every time I go to throw them away, I feel a pang of guilt. This underwear saved my life. Okay, maybe it wasn't that extreme, but it did bring me comfort. This package of underwear was the first step towards regaining some semblance of dignity and normalcy after giving birth. This underwear propelled me into motherhood.
Whenever I go through an anxiety-driven burst of a cleaning frenzy, instead of throwing them out, I bury them deeper and deeper in my drawer, behind their favored sisters, the brightly-colored, lace thongs. I push them next to the sad socks that have long ago lost their other halves but that I keep hoping to one day reunite them with, and underneath the sexy lingerie that I never, ever, get around to wearing but that I hope to one day reunite with.
I think of each pair burrowed deep in the recesses of my underwear drawer—Sunday, which used to be red but is now a well-worn shade of pink, blue Tuesday with the finger-sized hole (not from me) in the crotch, and even good ol' Friday with its bleach stain that resembles a ferret.
I imagine them murmuring softly in the way I guess underwear must talk to each other, saying that the reason they are still around is because they are a testament, a reminder that they were there and they saw it all. They were with me, from the beginning of my life as a mother, marching along the days of those very chaotic weeks, as I graduated from a superlong maxi pad, to regular sized pad, to a light day, and then, finally, nothing at all. Maybe they will be with me forever.
Or at least, until my husband discovers them, screams and sprints to the garbage to light them on fire.