Rethinking the way we talk about our baby's birth day.
Maybe you and I have different ideas of what qualifies as a “good” day. For you, perhaps a good day includes unbearable pain, bloodletting, strangers in surgical gloves poking and prodding you, and visits from your relatives while your boobs hang out as you attempt breastfeeding for the very first time. For me, well, I’m a simple gal. If someone tells me my hair looks nice, it has been a good day. But please, nothing involving blood. This is why I don’t understand why so many women carry on this notion of the day that they gave birth as having been one of the best of their lives.
The day I gave birth to my son was definitely not the best day of my life. Not even close. It happened on a Monday morning, when my wonderful and gifted OBGYN expertly pulled my son out of me via cesarean section. My baby was placed on my chest for a quick family photo, before being wheeled away along with my proud but dazed husband. My doctor then proceeded to put my guts back into my body and sew me back into a whole human again. I still swear to this day that I could feel everything she was doing, down to the burning sensation of when she was cauterizing my insides. My body shook for a full hour after the surgery, from all the adrenaline and the drugs running through my system. I passed out and was wheeled to a recovery area where after an hour or so I woke up groggy and confused to see my father in law standing uncertainly at the foot of my bed. Does this sound like the best day ever yet to you? Me neither.
By late morning, I had hosted about 20 members of my extended family in the small partitioned area of the hospital room that I shared with another mom who had just given birth to her second baby and who was already packing to go home (I’m sure she appreciated all the extra company). My mom visited and, as usual, complained of the traffic. She was hungry and wondered what kind of snacks I might have on hand for her to nibble on, as if we were home and in my own kitchen and she had been expecting me to have prepared a nice spread. I had to explain multiple times, to multiple family members, the importance of hand washing before holding my newborn child who, just hours before, had been protected in my womb by mucus membranes. And no, a squirt of Purell did not count.
Bringing a new baby into the family is as much about other people’s egos as it is about a major life change of your own. Did you know that? I didn’t. You will find that some family members will ponder, often aloud, “How does your new baby affect ME?” In the hospital room, I found some family members openly wondering not only, “How does this baby resemble me?” but also, “What does the baby’s name have to do with me?” and even better, “How can I somehow impart some wisdom onto you and also tell you a funny baby story about me?” It is all very exhausting when you’ve just gone through major surgery and haven’t slept since your water broke, 24 hours before.
My family, though generally decent when it comes to reading social cues, looked puzzled when the nurses came to check on “the surgery site.” This sounded very proper and hygienic when a medical professional was saying it to a roomful of cousins and grandparents, but the nurse was essentially trying to say: “We need to look at this here lady’s vagina and also at the gaping wound above it. So could y’all step out a sec please, thanks?”
And when it came time to breastfeed, I had to endure the very uncomfortable looks on my mother’s face – as if I had just jumped onto my hospital bed to perform a sexy burlesque routine instead of struggling to feed my hungry newborn.
By the afternoon, a Facebook photo that my aunt had posted of me sitting topless in the hospital bed while awkwardly trying to nurse the baby for the first time had nearly gone viral. After my sister alerted me, my husband had to catch my aunt before she left for San Francisco to ask her to kindly take the photo (which I know she only posted with love and pride) down from the Interwebs.
So all this time, a new mother is supposed to rest and get some sleep, but that is fucking impossible with visitors coming round the clock to see the baby; plus all the nurses checking on the wounds and the catheter; plus my topless photo situation (FML!). Then, I attended a breastfeeding class, where I sat in a cold hospital chair in some kind of meeting room with other weary postpartum women. I was wearing my husband’s oversize sweatshirt over my hospital gown, bleeding buckets of post-surgery slash post-labor blood into what was basically an adult diaper. This day was still not going down as one of my best.
After the last visitor said goodbye, my husband spent some time with the baby and me before going home. This was the deal we made: he would go home and recharge so that he had the energy to help me and the baby during the days at the hospital (and with a c-section, there were many). So after he left, it was just me and this little new guy.
This part of the day – or evening rather – was actually good. Great, even. I stared at my baby’s face, amazed that he was here, that I had something to do with shaping him. The day of his actual birth had been so busy, I hadn’t had a moment to process his arrival, to even look at his face, or to take it in.
“Oh, hey you,” I whispered to him. “When did you get here?” I nursed him in the quiet hospital room, alone for the first time, and closed my eyes, focusing on the feeling of this little life in my arms tugging on my breast and on the little whimper sounds he was making. It was all so new and wonderful, and I had almost let it all pass me by without a moment of being present. I felt like a bride who had been so swept up in all the things that had been going wrong or right on her wedding day that she had forgotten to look at her husband and listen to the music and just feel the good and the love of being there together.
That little newborn boy just turned five years old, and we have had so many awesome days since that first day together. And though the day he was born was special and one I will never forget, there have been far better ones, full of wonderful memories where I was much more present (and much more clothed!) and more engaged. A lot of our best days happen in the quieter moments and on much smaller scales than one might expect: sitting on the curb eating a snack from a vending machine talking about a weird dream he had the night before, watching him enjoy the thrill of jumping over the waves at the beach for the first time this past summer, or seeing him smile with satisfaction at the end of a particularly good bedtime story that I’ve just told him on the fly. Best days don’t always have to be epic ones.
And, call me weird, but my best days most often do not include trips to the hospital or peeing through a catheter. Maybe yours do. And if that’s the case, that’s cool. I won’t judge. You do you.