The Post-Birth Experience: expectations vs. reality

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“First is the worst, second is the best…” Having school-aged children, I hear that rhyme often. And for me, it has a bit of truth in it when related to my four postpartum experiences.

After my first birth, I had to share a room. It borders on barbaric, forcing a woman who just had a baby to share her room with another woman who just had a baby. Miss E was born a little after 9:30pm, so by the time they wheeled me into the double room (unoccupied–YES!), it was close to midnight. Significant others were supposed to leave at 10pm, but they made an exception since, you know, I had just given birth and Daddy barely got a chance to meet his new daughter.

E newborn
This hospital had a nursery, which is no longer an option at most hospitals now. (This was less than 10 years ago, despite sounding as if it was 1950.) So when E wouldn’t settle and I needed sleep after being awake for over 24 hours, I sent her to the nursery and asked the nurse to bring her back to me in 4 hours. She didn’t.

I woke with a start at 5:40am as some nurses were pushing my roommate into the room. Strike 1: not bringing my baby back on time. Strike 2: waking me up at 5:40am the morning after I gave birth for the first time to give me a ROOMMATE.

I frantically called the nurse to bring E back, and I never sent her to the nursery again. After I finished freaking out about my baby going 5 hours without eating, I chatted with my new roomie,  and was wearily annoyed to hear after my 19 hour unmedicated birth that she had only arrived 40 minutes before giving birth. And now here she was, waking me up.

As a first time mom, it was also hard to have my husband leave at 10pm the following night. I needed him, if not to rock baby E after I fed her, then just to be next to me for support. Strike 3: making my support person leave at 10pm. Because I had a ROOMMATE. After GIVING BIRTH.

Bud
Thankfully, I had a much better experience the second time around. For one thing, the room was enormous (different hospital). It was the model of L-D-R: Labor, Delivery, and Recovery all in one room. They are phasing out that practice already, but it was wonderful not to move to a different room after giving birth, if just once.

Yes, Bud was as big as he looks: 9lbs, 2oz. I bought a big sister shirt/baby brother onesie set, and he was too big for it. We had to tuck it in like a shirt because the snaps couldn’t reach.

Both E and Bud had jaundice and went home with photo-therapy lights. It stinks bringing home your first baby and having her tied to a machine for the first three days at home, not to mention the way it interferes with breastfeeding. Because Bud was born at around 1:30am, we had the option of staying an extra night. I was eager to get home since it was the first night I had ever spent away from E, so we declined. Once home amid guests, commotion, bili lights, and a needy toddler, I sat feeding Bud in his room and cried. I wished so much I was back in the simple, relaxing hospital environment.

Third time’s a charm, right? Not exactly. After Kyle’s superfast birth, I was moved to a different floor. They were renovating the entire postpartum wing, so they were temporarily sending mothers to various other wards. I was at the end of a tiny hallway in an isolated location.

My parents were scheduled to watch the older kids, but since I only went two or three days early with my other births, they planned a trip for a week before my due date. I was very anxious about them possibly not making it, and it turned out I went into labor two weeks early and they hadn’t even left for their trip yet. Kyle was born in the morning, so they kept E and Bud the first night and left for their trip the next day. Because of that, Daddy spent more time at home taking care of the kids than he did at the hospital. This time, it was okay with me. I actually enjoyed the quiet and solitude.

newborn
Whether because of it being my third child, or because it wasn’t even a maternity ward, or because they were giving me space to process Kyle’s Down syndrome diagnosis, I had a lot of time to myself. The room was small and not designed for postpartum, so it wasn’t conducive to groups of guests. Mostly I remember reclining for long periods of time on the bed, holding a sleepy Kyle, and listening to the world’s most relaxing music, Secret Garden.

One concern for babies with Down syndrome is how effectively they will be able to breastfeed. Most children with Down syndrome have low muscle tone, which can cause them to get tired easily when feeding, or to not have an effective latch or suck. We were lucky that Kyle was able to latch just fine and we never had to supplement. He also didn’t have to spend any time in the NICU.

The nurses were very helpful, and one in particular went out of her way to help me. Funny thing was, she was the night nurse. I am sure it must be hard to be so excited about your job, but for the most part your patients are trying to sleep. She came in shortly after I had settled myself and Kyle to sleep, toting a stack of articles she had printed out about breastfeeding infants with Down syndrome. It was so kind of her. I could tell she wanted to chat, but I was so darn tired…

Aside from the time I spent relaxing in the hospital, I also spent many exhausting, frustrating hours trying to keep Kyle awake through his feedings. As much as I hoped this would only last until we got home, his sleepiness went on for months. I tried every single possible trick in the book to keep him awake while he nursed. It got to the point where I would undress him to his diaper in the beginning of each feeding because I knew I was going to have to anyways at some point. The lactation nurses were invaluable.

S3
Lastly, we have Mr. S. I was so excited to stay in a newly renovated room that I visited the ward months before my due date. It was so lovely. He was born around 11pm, so I got settled into the room after 2am. First thing in the morning, cardiology came in to do an echo-cardiogram. Kyle’s cardiologist recommended we get everyone in the family tested for Kyle’s heart defect because it runs in families. Mostly, I was trying to save myself a trip to the clinic later on. I was expecting them to find nothing, but that was not the case.

A nurse came into my heavenly postpartum room in the early afternoon and told me they needed to bring Mr. S up to the NICU right away to get him on monitors. You can imagine my surprise, I am sure. Within an hour or two I had them discharge me so I could stay in his private NICU room. After I got up there, I found out that private room does not mean private bathroom. The rest of my postpartum experience with Mr. S was spent sleeping on a flat pull out platform couch and making trips to the bathroom down the hall with my bag-o-goodies. That, plus taking showers in a communal bathroom. Instead of relaxing, I felt like I was camping. The day after having a baby.

It also meant the end of one of my favorite parts of the hospital stay: food service. I love choosing my food! And in the NICU, it’s “no food for you.” Seriously, you can’t even eat your own food in the room. So I had to walk the equivalent of one mile each way to get to the cafeteria to purchase my meals.

I wasn’t used to leaving the baby alone either, so I usually waited until he was asleep and ate as fast as I could. Once I said to the nurse, “what if he wakes up and cries when I am gone?” She gave me a funny look and told me they only have two babies each to take care of, and that’s what she’s there for. Oh! Well, I hurried anyway. I was especially glad I’d had a water birth because there was no way after my first birth I would have been able to walk that far and that often two days postpartum.

So, why did Mr. S have to go to the NICU anyway? Well folks, stay tuned, because that is a story for another day.

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About Katie

Katie Bee is the author of for Elysium blog: a site about family, Down syndrome, home, art, and writing.

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