The past four weeks have been amazing, overwhelming, and very different from anything I had pictures in my head about what having second daughter 15 years later would be like. It’s funny how the things you worry and stress about the most end up being the things that really matter the least, and it’s the things you didn’t expect or anticipate that throw you for a loop and shake up your little world. I’ve been dying to explain and express myself in depth since this whole thing started, but where do you find time to write when your arms are always full of a baby hungry for yet another meal that only you can provide? I’ve been regulated to quick one-handed status updates over social media while Kes is busily snacking, but even that is difficult since I often have to use both hands with her — one to hold her, and one to push the breast back from her nose so she can breathe while she is eating. Now, at four weeks, we’ve developed a sort of rhythm, so I will try to get down my thoughts as well as I can whenever I can — but I apologize if this entry is a little disjointed and lacks the natural flow of my usual writings. It has taken three weeks to complete, after all.
Kes’s Birth Story
As I explained in my last entry, the thing I had the most anxiety about beforehand was the surgery itself. I was terrified about the c-section — scared that something would go wrong, frightened about major surgery in general, worried about making the wrong decision. Writing everything out in my last blog entry made me feel a lot better; the amazing amount of support and outpouring of love from everyone in the social media universe only added to that feeling of warmth and comfort. I was able to spend the next few days really preparing for the surgery — engaging in a lot of meditation the day before, getting plenty of rest and sleep, going easy on what I ate the day before. I also did a lot of research online about scheduled c-sections — what they generally entailed, and what I needed to be aware of from a psychological perspective. One of these readings suggested that when you have a scheduled c-section, one of the things you miss out on is the period of transition from pregnancy to parenthood, that this is essentially what labor is. It suggested you may want to take a little time to mark the passage — burn a candle, say a prayer, meditate. I had requested the Labor/Delivery/Recovery suite at the hospital, which we obviously only used for prep and recovery, but I’m glad I had such a big and peaceful room to prepare. I listened to the “Welcome Baby Kes!” playlist I had created on Spotify in the advent that I might actually go into labor, I set up a little hospital altar, and I meditated and breathed and spent time with my husband, with my daughter, with my mom, and with the pre-born baby. We were left alone for the majority of the hour before the surgery, and it was really nice to have that time to sit and contemplate this transition, to continue to calm myself, and to get as prepared as I possibly could for the upcoming event of birth.
In the meantime, Kes kicked and flailed and dodged close to and away from the heartbeat monitors, that crazy bundle of activity I’d been used to watching in my belly for the past several months.
When it finally came time for the surgery, my doctor quickly came in and checked on me, and they took Thomas to get outfitted in scrubs while they wheeled me into the operating room to do my spinal. The anesthesiologist was this really nice, sarcastic, playful lady who did have to poke and prod a bit to get everything correct with my spinal, but who was very sensitive to the fact that I was so very frightened. She asked me if I was prone to panic attacks and offered to get me something for my nerves; I told her I was, but I didn’t think it would come to that. She was so very good about telling me everything — she pinched my belly to see if I could feel pain in all these different areas, and the only place I could feel a little pain was right beneath my breastbone. She asked if I thought I needed more there, and explained that this was for when the doctor was preparing the uterus, that I would feel pain up there. I didn’t want any more pain medication than absolutely necessary, so I said it would be fine — and, true to her word, that was the only part of the process that hurt. My fear was having a bad reaction to the medication, that too much would make me loopy and out of it, and I wanted to be fully conscious and aware of the whole process. Plus, I had a weird sort of paranoia about making an area so close to my lungs so numb. She didn’t pressure me, and she explained that the trembling and shaking that was happening to me was perfectly normal, that it was part of the process. I explained that yeah, I guessed that from the first time around — I should have said, I wish that someone had told me that the first time around, that the massive amount of uncontrollable shaking was one of the things that frightened me so much when Aisling was born. With Kes, I knew and understood that it was part of the process, so it was annoying, and kind of funny to try to talk through, but not frightening at all. They gave me oxygen, but it was in one of those nose tubes and not in a mask, so I didn’t freak out about that, either.
They brought Thomas in then, and he grabbed my hand and didn’t let go until they let him hold Kes. He was my focal point. I told him how funny he looked, because all I could see of him was his eyes over the surgical mask and under the cap. To distract me from my fear, Thomas and I started making guesses about the baby — and the anesthesiologist got in on it, too. What the hair color would be, what the eye color would be. The anesthesiologist kept looking over the curtain and letting me know what was going on, almost giving me a play-by-play. She let me know when they were about to get started. She let me know when I would feel intense pressure. She let me know when they started pulling the baby out. And I could feel it. I couldn’t feel the pain of it at all, but I could feel the tug, the suction, the fact that there was something actively being pulled from my body. Thomas said it was funny to watch the anesthesiologist go from looking at us and giving us comforting words, to looking over the curtain and almost wincing. The doctor himself made an audible grunt of exertion, and he may have said something about the baby being huge — I’m not sure. I just had this picture in my head of the doctor pulling the baby out of my belly in a very cartoon-like manner, pushing against my stomach with his shoe — which I’m sure is not what it was like at all. As soon as they got her head out, I could feel the suction give way, I could feel the release from my body, and I could hear Kes’s strangled first cry — and it was such a tremendous experience. “Kes! My Kes!” I cried out, and started sobbing — tears streaming from my face, so relieved that she was here in the world, that she was calling out to me. Thomas said it was amazing to watch my face, that had been so twisted with anxiety just a moment before, and then to see the immediate joy and relief as soon as she took her first cry. The doctor brought her around right away for me to get a quick look at her — red and screaming, lip trembling, still covered in vernix and goo, and mad as hell — before they started doing the initial cleaning and bundling her up for Thomas to hold.
The nurse took her to the scale, and said, “Okay, so — bets on how much this baby weighs?”
“Eight pounds?” I guessed.
“Eight and a half?” offered Thomas.
“Keep going,” the nurse said.
“How much does she weigh?!” I asked.
“Nine pounds, Eight point six ounces,” the nurse announced.
“You have GOT to be kidding me!” I exclaimed. I then turned my head towards the ceiling, meaning to include everyone in the operating room in the conversation. “This was a GOOD PLAN. This was a GOOD PLAN.” Because I could not in a million years have imagined trying to give vaginal birth to an ALMOST TEN POUND BABY.
I’m pretty sure everyone in the operating room was convinced I was crazy at this point, however.
They bundled Kes up and stuck a hat on her head and gave her to Thomas, who cradled her in his arms and brought her down to my hand so that I could gently stroke her face with my trembling, strapped down fingers. This was the part where they started putting me all back together again, and I could definitely feel a lot of pain and pressure right beneath my breastbone from where he was repairing the uterus.
“This is what I was talking about earlier,” the anesthesiologist said, and I understood what she meant.
“It’s okay,” I said. “I can handle it.”
The pain was unpleasant, but it wasn’t unbearable. I kept my ears open for anything going wrong, kept a watch on my own mood and level of consciousness, but everything seemed five by five. I listened to the nurses go through a series of counting items — as much as I can tell, they were counting all of the instruments they use during an operation, maybe to make sure that they hadn’t left anything inside me. Kes remained bundled up in her daddy’s arms, and I watched the two of them, grateful that I was awake, alert, and okay, and that I had such a beautiful memory to carry with me of Kes’s birth.
After the operation, they wheeled me into the recovery room, and I was able to set about trying to breastfeed — “trying to” being the operative word, here, since Kes was just not really interested in doing anything but snuggling up with us and drifting off to sleep. I guess she’d had a rough morning! While I was still shaking, I had enough control to be able to hold Kes, and Thomas went to bring A. into the room with us so that we could have a few minutes of bonding time as a new family. A. described Kes as being “a little bundle of adorableness” and told her to not ever change — completely the opposite of what I was expecting. Once we had a few minutes to hug and snuggle as a new family, we brought the rest of our extended family in — and everyone got to delight in our brand new baby. They did take her to the nursery for a while, but they brought her back very quickly, and Thomas and I spent the next three days trying to get Kes to breastfeed, trying to recover from surgery, and trying to get what little sleep we could.
It’s Completely Different This Time
The birth story and surgery itself was not the only thing that was dramatically different from the first time I brought a creature into existence. The biggest difference was that I had a partner this time around — a co-pilot equally responsible for the parenting and care of this newborn. Don’t get me wrong — the first time around, I was definitely not lacking for support with the help of friends and family that really made all of that possible. Still, there’s something to be said about sharing those moments with the person who helped you create this creature, to look at the eyes and ears and toes together and discuss who contributed which feature to this tiny dandelion seed of your shared genetic codes. There’s something to be said about watching the man you love fall madly in love with a tiny bundle of baby, about watching him care for, comfort, help with feedings, change diapers, and slip into the role of “father” so easily and effortlessly, just like you always knew he would. After all, he’d already slipped so easily into the role of “stepfather” without even really trying. There’s a lot to be said in knowing that you share responsibility, that somebody else is just as invested in this child as you are. I think that’s been my favorite part, watching Thomas fall in love with Kes, and watching him revel and delight in everything about her.
The other major difference was being prepared and well-equipped for the arrival of wee baby Kes. We had everything planned, arranged, organized, and put together, from our financial status, to the nursery, to the items to bring to the hospital, to all of my items at work for my extended maternity leave. With the scheduled c-section, we even knew what day and time Kes would be arriving. I had a moment, in the hazy weeks when Kes was first home, when I was just overwhelmed by how hard we had both worked to make this happen, how badly we had wanted to bring her into the world, how much effort we put into each step along the way. It was so humbling to have wanted something so badly, to have worked so hard at it, and to finally reap the reward of all that hard work — which, of course, resulted in even more hard work, but that’s for the next section of this entry. There were still items that we didn’t know we really needed — we ended up investing in a co-sleeper bassinet, for example, which has been one of the best purchases we’ve made so far, and a relative donated a Boppy pillow to the cause (I have no idea how I managed to breastfeed my first child *without* one of these) — but it made me feel so much at ease to have everything prepared, together, and ready for her as soon as we walked in the door.
Finally, it was really different to move into the space of mothering and tending to a newborn this time around. With A., I was so young, and I really had no routine or life to speak of. I didn’t have any other responsibilities besides schoolwork, which I could do whenever, and I didn’t have anyone else I needed to tend to or care for. My entire life became centered around my newborn, and I had no problem doing so — I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything, or letting anything else go, because she really was the only important thing in my life. I pretty much let my first child give my life direction and meaning, which meant that slipping into that period of being at the baby’s beck and call was a lot easier. This time around, I have another daughter who does occasionally at least need my time and attention (even if, as a teenager, she likes to pretend otherwise) and I have a life-mate that I want to spend time with, that I miss cuddling up to, taking showers with, having long conversations and debates with. Not only that, but years of therapy have shown me that I have my own needs that I should not ignore. In short, I understand that my new daughter is not the absolute center of the universe. However, during the first few weeks of life, any newborn takes center stage and makes pretty incredible demands of their parents, so it has been a difficult balance which, thankfully, gets a little easier each day.
The Hardest Part
When Thomas and I decided to have a baby, the thing I had the most anxiety about was labor and childbirth. In fact, I told Thomas that I would be facing my absolute biggest fear to bring a new life into the world, but that it was well worth it to face that fear. This time around, however, there was no labor, and childbirth was a lot easier and less frightening than I expected. What I wasn’t expecting, however, was for the recovery process to be so difficult.
I seriously have no memory of the recovery process after my first c-section. I remember being in the hospital, and I remember the process of coming home from the hospital — how much it hurt to walk down the sidewalk on the hill to the front door. After that, I have no clear memory of anything until A.’s umbilical stump fell off and I panicked and rushed her to the ER, which must have been a couple of weeks later. As such, I was completely unprepared for the continual pain, for the physical and psychological drain, and for the absolute emotional wreckage that would be the first two weeks postpartum. Everything felt absolutely impossible and utterly overwhelming, despite the fact I had the amazing ongoing assistance of a husband who got to spend two weeks in recovery with me, and despite the fact that I had family members coming by to manage laundry and chores while I catered to the constant demand of caring for a newborn. I can’t remember ever feeling so completely helpless and fragile in my entire life, and even now a week after the worst is finally over, I still have moments when I feel like my life has been hijacked, where I just have to cry because I don’t know if I’ll ever get more than two hours of continuous sleep at a time again, and I don’t know when I’ll have time to write on a regular basis or when leaving the house will become less of an ordeal. I don’t know if A. was just a much easier baby, or if I’ve lost my ability to roll with the punches in my old age, or if I’ve just blocked out how difficult that first month was in my memory, but it seems like things are a lot more difficult this time around, despite the fact I have so much help and support.
Still, things get a little easier each day. I’m beginning to feel a little more like myself again. In the few hours of the day that Kes is awake and alert, she’s become more playful and more likely to smile, and she is a very cuddly and snuggly baby, all of which help improve my mood. I’ve also found different ways to cope with feedings and lack of sleep, and I’m getting out of the house more (even if it’s just to take my teen daughter places) and beginning to exercise a little. As we come upon the one month milestone, I’m finally beginning to feel like I’m getting the hang of this, and it all feels a lot less impossible. Of course, you could ask me tomorrow, and I might feel completely different about things then — that’s just how quickly things change right now.
Why I Am Sharing
Yes, part of this entry is simply having a narcissistic record of my personal reaction to childbirth and recovery. I recorded a detailed birth story of my oldest daughter’s birth, and I was amazed how valuable that became, how often I referenced it while preparing for childbirth this time around. But I had no record of the recovery process, and so the emotional tumult of those first few weeks really took me by surprise. I felt guilty that everything seemed so hard, that I wasn’t fully enjoying those moments, that where everyone else saw a beautiful, cooing newborn, I couldn’t help but see a squalling, demanding succubus that was trying to eat me alive — quite literally at times. I was sad that my life had changed so drastically, and overwhelmed that I couldn’t seem to get the hang of it. I couldn’t help but wonder if there was something wrong with me. None of the discomforts should matter, right? Why was I not floating on a white puffy cloud of absolute love for my newborn where all the pains and problems simply melted away? Did I not love this child enough? Had I made a terrible mistake in thinking I could do this again after all this time?
So I’m sharing this in case there are other new mothers out there who might be feeling the same way, who might be comforted in realizing they’re not alone. The “baby blues” is, in my opinion, a piss-poor and almost trivializing description of what can happen to a mother’s emotional state during this fragile period of time. Even if you’re not dealing with full-on postpartum depression, you can still feel completely hopeless and absolutely despondent at times. Don’t feel guilty. Reach out and talk to people. Find people you can trust, then vent and bitch your heart out. Open up to your partner and let them support you. It’s okay for you to feel how you feel. It doesn’t make you a bad person or a horrible mother. It just makes you human.
And the cooing, delighted, being-in-love-with-your-baby phase will come. First, you just have to be easier on yourself to allow that space to open up. For me, learning to breastfeed while lying in bed was the transition point. In that position, I could be completely relaxed. I could even doze off if I was too exhausted. Kes wouldn’t strangle as much from my letdown and she could relax, too. Most importantly, for night feedings, my husband could curl up beside me and I wouldn’t feel so alone and isolated. I felt much more in tune with my baby, and could spend the rest of the evening up and awake if I needed to be — I was a lot less frustrated in general. I’m sure that breakthrough moment is different for all moms, but the important thing is to know that it will happen — and if it takes a month or so to get there, you’re not alone. (That being said, if you’re having thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, you obviously want to seek help immediately.)
So, that’s the story of how we grew our crazy little family from three to four. That’s the story of how our lives were blessed and changed forever by the arrival of a Kes. That’s the story of how one mother’s heart had to open up slowly and painfully over several weeks, but finally found the room to fully bloom. And that’s a story of how no matter the preparation and forethought, you can still be blind-sighted by the unexpected.