My sister’s good friend recently had twin boys.
They were born at 34 weeks, at three and four pounds each. The bigger twin was allowed to go home after about ten days, but the little guy is still in the NICU until he gains more weight. This means my sister’s friend – who had a C-section and isn’t allowed to drive for another month – has to commute every day between her home in the country and the hospital in the city in order to see her other son.
She has to leave her healthier newborn (who’s still only five pounds) at home with family every day as she does this.
She asked my sister if she would pick her up and drive her home from the hospital one day when her husband had to work a 24-hour shift, and of course my sister said “yes.” When she arrived, her friend had just been told that her son was being transferred by ambulance to another hospital.
As my sister texted me the details of the ordeal – how the baby’s heart rate kept crashing during the transfer, how the mother hadn’t eaten all day despite having to pump constantly, how heartbroken she was about leaving her other son at home – I was leaving a bad review on Yelp.
“By the time my Croque Madame arrived 45 minutes later, my son was fussing because he needed a nap. I had to leave most of my sandwich behind. I’m sorry that your kitchen is understaffed but – to be frank – that’s not really my problem.”
So, basically, as another mom showed true strength in a terrible ordeal, I was flipping out over an unsatisfactory bourgeois lunch.
It’s not the first time I’ve felt as useless as my under-achieving left tit since I became a mother, and it won’t be the last. Some women seem to take to parenthood naturally – sure, everyone has their bad days, their sleepless nights, their moments of “holy shit, what did I do to my vaheen and my life?” – but, for some, everything feels like a struggle, the little things seem huge, and the huge things seem impossible.
I’m a healthy, middle-class, educated woman with an extremely supportive husband and close-knit network of family and friends. My child is happy, thriving, and appears to adore me as long as I keep the boob milk flowing, the applesauce plentiful, and the “quack” sounds coming. Yet, I still get through motherhood with the grace and ease of my attempts to fit my pre-pregnancy skinny jeans over my post-pregnancy granny panties on a humid day.
I needed help. Like, a fair amount of it.
They say it takes a village. My village just happens to include an all-star lineup of highly-trained professionals.
It started with a public health nurse. Maybe it was because my son was born a month early. Maybe it was because a resident had gone elbows-deep in my vahooey to flip him over while I was in labour, a process not dissimilar to aggressively plunging a clogged toilet, and my nethers felt and looked like the aftermath of a suicide bombing. Maybe it was because I was so shocked at how quickly it had all happened that I kept looking back and forth between the half-deflated water balloon that used to be my abdomen and the skinny baby wriggling in my arms and saying “you…were in me…all this time?”
Whatever the reason, my hospital health team thought I could use some home checks in those first harried weeks of caring for a newborn.
Most women receive two home visits to make sure everyone is eating, sleeping, and pooping. My nurse has been visiting me every two weeks for 11 months, with no end in sight.
She visits me at my lovely townhouse in a nice neighbourhood in between her standing appointments with a 17-year-old single mom and a local women’s shelter. I try not to think about what this says about my adjustment to motherhood, and instead force the nurse to take any extra diapers I have lying around the house to her other clients.
Our visits, which start with me opening the door breathlessly after manically cleaning poop out of the exer-saucer so she doesn’t call social services, go a little like this:
Nurse: *writes in her chart* The baby’s weight is perfect, he’s hit all his milestones, and he seems very happy. You’re doing a great job!
Me: COULD YOU LOOK AT HIS BIRTHMARK AND TELL ME IF IT’S CANCER?
Nurse: It wasn’t cancer the last 18 times I looked at it. *pulls up my baby’s shirt* It’s still just a birthmark.
Me: I TOOK A PHOTO OF A RASH HE HAD LAST WEEK.
Nurse: It’s not measles.
Me: I WAS READING ABOUT TICKS.
Nurse: He doesn’t have lyme disease.
Me: I’M FEELING VERY LETHARGIC.
Nurse: You don’t have lyme disease.
Me: SOMETIMES THE BABY TREMBLES WHEN HE’S COLD.
Nurse: Have you tried that postnatal support group I mentioned?
Me: LEAVING THE HOUSE IS HARD. WHY DO YOU KEEP COMING HERE?
Nurse: Just to say hello! *silently slides a postpartum anxiety pamphlet toward me*
I needed help.
My circle of support grew to include a lactation consultant when my son started consistently chugging boob until he puked when he was three weeks old. Convinced my baby was dying or that my boobs were poison, I started attending a weekly lactation drop in to get my son weighed and to work on my form.
The consultants always lowered their voices to a whisper as they noted how quickly my nugget was packing on the ounces. They didn’t want all the other moms – the women being told they had to supplement with formula, the women using nipple shields, the women whose babies had tongue ties – to gang up and stab me with shivs carved out of Medela pump tubing.
A lack of eagerness to breastfeed was never my baby’s problem. In fact, when he was a day old he mistook a raised mole on my chest for a nipple and went to town while my father watched on with horror.
The problem was my overabundant flow. I always suspected my giant cans would be A+ students. But my poor baby couldn’t keep up.
I had a beautiful glider in my nursery. I had several expensive nursing pillows. But, in the end, after the consultants determined gravity wasn’t on our side, I spent those early days breastfeeding flat on my back, topless and covered in spit-up, with my son draped across my abdomen like a baby sloth.
I needed help.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I started weekly appointments with a pelvic floor physiotherapist when my taint still felt like it had been napalmed three months postpartum. A generous friend registered me for a professional sleep consulting website after my son spent a month waking up every 20-45 minutes (the public health nurse first had to show me several studies to convince me sleep training wouldn’t turn my son into a sociopath). My husband and I started seeing a counsellor when the financial stress of having a baby (I’d lost my job when I was pregnant) put a strain on our marriage.
And I might get eyelash extensions. Does that count as help? I don’t know. I want them, though.
My point is, even with every advantage available to me, I needed help. So do a lot of moms.
And, maybe if more of us admitted that, I wouldn’t feel like such a twat every time the public health nurse leaves my house to visit a teenage refugee with triplets.