We didn’t want any help.
I was pretty private about my pregnancy – weary of all the daily gestational updates posted by some of my Facebook friends (doesn’t everybody have that one friend?), I didn’t actually put anything online until a week or so after the wee one arrived, and I’ve rarely done so since. I also got a little cagey about what I felt were other people’s attempts to take ownership of our experience, in a way – my rational mind knows it was really just excitement, but we hadn’t even met our daughter yet and the more people talked about coming over to help, the more I envisioned eager hands snatching her away to “give us a break” when all we’d been waiting for was to hold her ourselves. So we made it clear to family and friends: no visitors at the hospital, and no coming over (even to “help”) until we gave them the okay. We wanted those first weeks to be about getting to know this new person, and figuring things out on our own without any unsolicited advice from well-meaning family members.
I say “we”, but if I’m being honest it was mostly me. I get the sense that my husband would have been happy either way, but he (very astutely) let me call the shots on this one. My resolve lasted until Day 3 – one of the hardest and best days of my life so far.
I’m not sure what made me think I’d have an easy labour, but I honestly thought I would sail through it. I’d relax, breathe, go with the flow, and a few hours later I’d be ready to go home with our healthy baby girl. Instead, I had 27 hours of back labour with contractions less than 2 minutes apart throughout, an epidural (which was MAGICAL), a vacuum, and so many stitches. At one of the more interesting points, I was so delirious that I believed Bruce Jenner* was going to deliver the baby while Danny Trejo gave me the laughing gas. We did go home mere hours after the birth, which in hindsight may not have been the right call.
When people talk about having a new baby, they talk about how tough it is. How nobody gets any sleep. How some babies cry all. the. time. How breastfeeding can be challenging. How sometimes you get postpartum depression and everything is horrible. What they don’t talk about as much (or maybe they do, but maybe I just didn’t listen closely enough) is the physical recovery – or, more specifically, how closely intertwined the physical recovery is with the difficulty of taking care of a newborn. How the lack of sleep and is exacerbated by the fact that you’re bleeding and in pain. How the challenges of breastfeeding are intensified by the fact that you can’t sit down properly. How the difficulty of hearing your baby cry is amplified by the fact that you’re trying to find two 15-minute increments each day to do a sitz bath, and the fear that you’re going to pop a stitch while getting in and out of the tub.
Looking back, I’m surprised we made it to Day 3 postpartum without a breakdown. Maybe it was the adrenaline, and the excitement of finally having her on the outside. In the end, it was a scoop of cat food that brought everything crashing down.
We were headed to yet another postpartum appointment – the wee one had lost more weight than is considered normal, so the nurses were watching us pretty closely. We were on a strict feeding schedule (breastfeeding every two to three hours, and supplementing with pumped milk from a feeding tube to make sure she was getting enough), so we’d had about an hour of sleep each of the previous two nights. Nobody tells you it takes at least 40 minutes to feed a newborn, and that the intervals between feedings are measured from the start of each one – this meant that by the time we finished one feeding it was often nearly time for the next.
I’ll admit that I was a little exasperated to see the cat dish empty when I came downstairs – didn’t I have enough to worry about? Shouldn’t my husband have taken care of this?** Supporting myself with one arm on the cat tree, I bent down, scooped some kibbles from the bag and dropped them in her dish.
That’s when I peed myself. Something else they don’t tell you about.
What followed can only be described as a full-on meltdown. My poor husband hugged me, concerned and a little mystified, while I sobbed. “Every time I try to do something normal like put on pants or feed the cat I pee myself! What’s happening to me? I don’t even know whose FEET these are!” I’d only been able to wear flip-flops since we came home.
Later that day, my milk came in and I didn’t know whose boobs these were either. Seriously, Day 3 was the worst.
Thank goodness for my mum. I felt so overwhelmed I’d stopped responding to her check-in texts, so she called my husband to ask if everything was okay. She offered to come by the next day if we needed help. Never one to mess with my boundaries, he said he’d check with me and get back to her. I immediately called her after our appointment, so upset and relieved that I could barely get the words out: “Mum … can you come today?”
My parents are two of the best people on the planet. They got to our house about 5 minutes after we did, fed us lunch, put us both to bed and watched the baby while we napped. Then they ordered us all pizza for dinner, and stayed to clean up afterwards. Of course they were thrilled to meet their granddaughter, but it meant so much that they were there for us as new parents – for the daughter who said she didn’t want visitors for at least the first week, and for the son-in-law who backed her up even if he didn’t fully understand this desire to be alone. And although they held her while we slept, they didn’t take her from us while we were awake – instead, they held us up with their company, food and support. There was no advice, and no judgment – they only said what a great job we were doing; how bright she was; how she was thriving.
My mum came back the next day, the day after that, and the day after that. Always with lunch to eat together and dinner to heat up after she left. Always ready to help with household chores and words of encouragement. She kept coming weekly for most of the summer, and her visits became more social as the months passed. And I realized that accepting help didn’t make me weak or a failure; it made me stronger. It also brought me so much closer to my mum. I love that my daughter has a Grammie that she’ll know and be close with as she grows up, and I can only hope that one day I can be that Grammie to her children if she chooses to have any.
Seriously, Day 3 was the best.
A couple of Fridays ago, a friend texted me to let me know she’d had her baby that Tuesday. Reading her words – “Have been trying to settle down, learning how to breastfeed, so tired and exhausted, hopefully things will get better soon” – took me right back to my own Day 3 and how hard everything was. I immediately texted her back to say congratulations, and to promise that it would get better. I also got to work cooking and freezing some food for her, so that I can drop it off as soon as she’s ready.
* I went into labour the day after the Diane Sawyer interview in which Bruce came out as transgender. I’d recorded the interview to watch with a friend later, so Caitlyn was still Bruce to me at that point.
**Just to be clear, he was taking care of a lot of things. It is 100% okay that he did not feed the cat this particular meal on this particular day. I was just feeling some feelings, is all.