The johnny was pulled down to my waste exposing my stomach. It was extra fat because my thyroid had been removed a couple of months before. The fresh scar on my abdomen burned and though the pads had just been changed, I could feel that they would quickly need it again. After a difficult 30 hour labor, I realized the expression of being hit by a ton of bricks.
Under the stark industrial lighting nothing felt natural. My baby lay in the NICU- “jaundice” they said. It was up to me to to pass the bilirubins so that we could be together- Owen needed to eat enough to excrete the things that were responsible for his yellow skin.
The nurse came into my room with two plastic cones and a piece of equipment on wheels. She hooked in some tubing and put one plastic piece on each of my breasts. I did not fully understand what this was. She flipped a switch and whooooosh, whoooooosh, whooooosh, suddenly my breasts were no longer my own- now they were commandeered by the suction of two plastic cones.
My husband looked on, trying to help. There was talk of formula and when too few drops of colostrum landed in the bottle, I feared our options were dwindling.
Every 30 minutes the lights in my hospital room turned on- dimly because it was the lonely middle of the night. The sound of suction repeated, harmonized by the ah-ooga of the pump.
“Easy” is not what this was. “Natural” did not describe this scene. “Serene, comforting…” none of the things I had associated with meeting my child were happening.
When Owen was with me, he nursed. This did not come naturally either. I did not know how to position him, it felt awkward, I could not get comfortable. His latch was not right so I had horrible blisters on my nipples. They hurt. A lot.
He was not getting enough milk. The billirubins would not vacate his tiny body. His numbers increased. “Formula” they kept saying. And I kept buying more time.
My husband helped me figure out how to pump without a nurse. Everything changes for a husband and wife when they go through birth togehter. We pumped and pumped. We were committed. Neither of us slept for more than 20 minutes at a time. I hurt. My husband was confused. My baby was spending too much time away from me.
Finally, the nurse came in with a small glass bottle containing a thick beige substance. It had a nipple on top. My heart sank.
“Not yet” I said. She was so kind, but she told me that my baby needed this glass bottle full of miracles. “Not yet” I said. “Kris go and get him please” I said. And he did.
I kept Owen with me and constantly latched on. Finally we heard it; the undeniable sound that the billirubins had passed. We had done it. His numbers rose and he was released from the NICU.
Without realizing it, Kris and I had made our first monumental parenting choice. With all that we have done wrong, this is one thing I will not be humble or quiet about.
Things did not get much easier after this, but that is a story for another day.