“I don’t want him,” I whisper to the wall. On the bed in front of me is my first-born, swaddled in his going home clothes. We’d waited years to have a baby, and now that I am a new mother, something feels terribly wrong. Alone in my hospital room, I’m asking myself if babies really supposed to be born this way, under these conditions?
Last night I asked for help for the third day in a row. Please, please – I haven’t slept in days and my baby won’t latch on to my breasts, and my husband is, well, kinda worthless himself with fatigue and weariness.
“I’ll keep him until 4 am in the NICU,” the night nurse said reluctantly. I think she scowled at me, just another crybaby new mom. I looked at the clock in the shadows. It was midnight. At four am sharp she wheeled him back to our room. I hadn’t slept.
Now I’m sitting on the utilitarian hospital chair in my fifth floor room that overlooks a complex of medical offices. My husband has gone to bring the car up to the front of the hospital. What I am wearing, or what I’d ate that morning, or even the events of the previous three days are a blur: the 22 hours of induced labor followed by a semi-urgent c-section, the brief moment my doctor said, “you gave birth to a 10 lb healthy baby boy!” or the breasting-feeding consultant squeezing my nipples, which somehow along with my breasts have become public property and enemy number one for being inadequate milk makers, are three memories with any clarity to them.
The rest is a hazy mish mash of waking dreams and nightmares.
They are shipping us home this morning. Times up! Insurance company’s orders. Without looking at the nurse whose come into my room to help me walk out, I repeat myself.
“Something is wrong. I don’t want my baby. I mean I can’t take care of him. I look at him and I don’t know what to do because. I. don’t. want. him. I. don’t. want. myself. I don’t. want. anything. Please. Something’s wrong.”
Baby boy is quiet for now. The restlessness that’s plagued us both is lurking below his closed eyelids. This I know for sure somehow, like wacked out mother’s ESP.
To get my labor along, the doctors pumped drugs in my body now exiting my virgin liver and kidneys, with a detour to my wrecked brain. Hormones crashing, baby screaming, nipples too short, palate too arched, nausea, vomiting, weak from surgery – I’m past spent.
But it’s the hallucinations that do me in. Every night – oh, who am I kidding, they occur during the daytime too – when I close my eyes, I see awful things. One reoccurring vision is of dead cats marching through the lightless forest of dead trees, both of them howling. I suspecct my brain is withdrawing from the maternity ward drug cocktail.
Finally, there’s a posse of hospital workers in my room. My baby starts to cry, and a nurse picks him up and feeds him. The social worker is asking me questions. I know what she wants to find out. Am I suicidal? Will I hurt my baby? No and No, I assure her. I’m not violent, I say. I’m ill. I’ve been trying to tell them that for days now.
“This is how we do it now,” one nurse had explained. I looked at her cross-eyed and confused. Someone has just give birth via c-section after an induced labor, she’s complaining of waking hallucinations, unable to sleep and your answer is: 24/7 in-room nursery care?
“We don’t have a well-baby nursery anymore,” the hospital brochure boasted.
Because thrusting a screaming newborn on an exhausted mother’s dry breast is going to facilitate bonding. All I can think is kudos to the marketing departments nationwide for convincing a generation of women that despite historical precedence and the laws of nature we really can do it all and alone when we’ve just had a baby in the most unnatural of circumstances.
I went home that afternoon. The social worker called and visited me a few days later, and I told her what she needed to hear. Afterwards, I stayed with my mother for six weeks, till I could re-learn how to sleep demon-free. The diagnosis was post-partum depression. That’s the label the medical community prefers. I called it torture.
What I went through was medically accepted sleep deprivation. Haven’t we banned its utilization for prisoners of war, hardened criminals, the unsavory and violent amongst us with knowledge so cruel it must be lodged out of them in the name of national security?
But for women in hospitals who’ve just given birth, it’s par for the course in many parts of our land. The people we trust the most to take care of us during this time aren’t given the resources to do their job. Doctors and nurses are cogs in a corporate wheel that wants to squeeze the last dime out of our spent uteruses.
It’s about the money, a doctor confirmed to me months later. They can’t afford the nursing staff with diminishing ‘capitation’ and ‘compensation’ from insurance companies. These are terms I understood after years in the pharma business. What can we do about it, I asked enraged?
“Nothing,” she said. “Nothing at all.” Her voice echoed my frustration.
She’s not the only one to whisper this to me, in confidence, mind you. Doctors and nurses who still give a damn, know how wrecked our healthcare system is. We are all helpless against the mega complex of insurance companies and big pharma.
I had another baby five years later. My doctor delivered at the only hospital in San Diego that had a well-baby nursery. We schedule my delivery – a VBAC wasn’t a good option given my advanced maternal age and history of making big babies. Baby girl weighed in an ounce less than big brother. The moment I delivered, a village of support surrounded me.
Husband ‘number last,’ a man made from an entirely different mold, said to me: “You carried her for nine months. I’ll do the nights for the next nine months.” And he meant it.
The nurses knew my history, and made sure baby girl was held and cuddled, and placed her on my breast for bonding, and gently took her away when my body needed sleep. My sister parked herself in our guest room, and friends rallied with cooked meals delivered in hushed and silent visits, so that I, the new mother, could know a different side of those early days.
Was it still difficult? You bet. Normal newborn challenges, the ones we can expect with a baby in the cradle: exhaustion and breastfeeding snafus, wondering when I’ll have a regular poop again or if my muffin top will ever shrink down to something akin to a flat belly.
Women are starting to imagine another of birthing – orgasmically. Pleasure and pain travel along the same brain pathways, and with the right guidance and support, mom can be screaming “Oh My God!” and really mean it. Ecstatic birthing, they call it.
Me? I had my tubes tied – there’s no way I was going to press my luck.
©2010-2011 www.TinamarieBernard.com; PARTIAL reposts only permitted with link back to original article.