After all the breath work and birth balls, practicing kegels and eating kale, you've watched the movies, read the books and taken the classes and are now prepared to give birth. Baby comes out. Mission accomplished. You congratulate yourself and as you pat yourself on the back for a job well done, you gasp in horror because in that instant you realize: what the hell happens now? Birth class prepares you for the main event, but no one prepares you for the instant after.
You used all your might to squeeze the little critter out of you, perhaps tearing your perineum along the way. You think the pain is over but, alas, it has only just begun. At least during the birth you had a hormone cocktail to numb the, um, "sensation," but now you feel every piercing stitch as a sharp needle is inserted into your beautiful O'Keefian orchid. Why don't they warn you in birth class that after the petals are sewn together they resemble ground up hamburger meat that hangs down to your knees?
Speaking of hamburgers, up above someone is looking for food. If you had brought Mozart to listen to during the birth, now is the time to turn on the Jaws soundtrack as your little love monkey searches for a place try out her new found chops. What was once a sacred land of titillation (pun intended) has now become a dairy farm with chomping crocodiles.
Meanwhile your head is swimming because you haven't slept in 24+ hours and your partner pulls out the tripod to set up the camera and you wonder out loud if you shouldn't have gotten your hair done, since this first photo of you and your baby will live on in perpetuity. You currently resemble a wet otter who surfaced on a dirty shore with Brillo pads on her head. Certainly in the birth class they could have taken a moment to tell you to pack a hairbrush or a lipstick. Even though your partner tells you you look beautiful, you snap viciously at the person you once vowed to love in sickness and in health but don't remember any vows about being nice with needles in your delicate flower and a piranha on your breast.
Just then the hospital orderly brings you a plate of scrambled eggs to which you normally would turn up your nose, insisting on organic-free-range blah blah blah. But at this moment you gladly lap them up because you realize you are famished. Guess they just forgot to tell you this part in the birth class.
They didn't tell you that you can't leave the delivery room until you urinate and if you can't urinate on command you get a catheter inserted in you that feels about as comfortable as sitting on top of a pineapple. When you finally do urinate on your own it feels about as good as pouring salt, or urine, into an open wound—which is exactly what you are doing. No, they left that part out of the birth class.
Even though women have been breastfeeding since the beginning of time, unless you grew up in a tribe where the elders pass down the tricks of the breastfeeding trade, this instinctual art is its not as easy as it looks. The instant your baby comes out, feeding him or her is your most important job. Do yourself a favor and have a lactation consultant lined up to help you so you don't end up crying over spilled milk.
They might forget to tell you when you go home that you need to feed your baby on demand—which usually means every two hours, 24 hours a day. The clock starts from the beginning of a feed and if your little one averages 20 minutes a boob with a burp and change in between, that means you get one hour between feeds to do something for yourself which can include one of these five things:
1. Going to the bathroom. May sound simple, but urinating on hamburger meat hurts. To mitigate this feeling and to help you feel better quicker, a warm sitz bath is recommend. This is basically a shallow bath with a few inches of water that you sit in while the rest of you shivers out of the water. It’s not perfect, but you take what you can get. Just when you start to close your eyes and relax, your partner charges in with the screaming baby and insists she's hungry. "But I just fed her," you squeak. Overnight your partner has become a newborn expert, and he/she knows for certain the baby is hungry because she is crying (he or she reasons that she has been changed and burped and therefore there could be no other possible explanation), and your udders are once again in demand.
2. Eating (or rather, wolfing down anything that resembles food in a two-foot radius.) Breastfeeding makes you ravenous. Hopefully you've set up a meal train or have a friend or relative helping out in the first few days because you would eat a frozen pork chop if you found it in your freezer, even if you are a vegan. You don't really have time to cook anything because just as you've taken one bite of your meal, your friendly partner shows up with a smile. "Guess who's hungry again?" Me? Sorry, sister, no one cares anymore if you are hungry.
3. Taking a shower. Its best to resign yourself to the life of an ascetic hermit or more precisely a homeless bum who wears the same spit-up covered pajamas and eschews worldly things such as personal hygiene. This way you won't be disappointed when, after breastfeeding, you finally do escape into the warm arms of hot running water and coconut smelling shampoo that reminds you of the folly of your youth and exotic travel. But then your partner opens the door holding your little love-nugget and sweetly intones "The princess is hungry." Princess? Since you met your partner there has only been one princess on the block and that is you. You now realize that your title has just been confiscated.
4. Sleeping. This is more accurately described as passing out in any position or drooling a little with your eyes closed. You no longer need such luxuries as a horizontal position or a dark room or the sounds of silence. Leaning against the kitchen counter on a bright sunny day with Metallica blaring from the radio and your in-laws hovering around you will do just fine as a place to rest. Anyway, it won't be long before you are awakened by your dear sweet partner passing you the "hungry" baby (you really did just feed her) before he or she retires to the bedroom to produce several hours worth of snores.
(photo: jen d. cox)
5. Brushing your teeth. Why bother? Since morning and evening have all become one blur of boobs, poop, pee and spit up, "brushing before bed" or "brushing in the morning" become meaningless expressions. You really don't have any food stuck in your teeth since you never get past the first bite (see #2 above). No one is kissing you on the mouth these days, your baby doesn't mind, and anyone you do run into will more likely be repelled by your overall scent (see #3 the shower manifesto above) to notice that oral hygiene fell by the wayside.
Perhaps they don't tell you this in birth class because this all passes faster than a wipe on your baby's bottom. Maybe they don't bother to tell you any of this because as soon as you think you are going to lose your mind from the lack of sleep or hunger, just a few weeks later you find yourself well rested, freshly showered smelling of coconut shampoo, and eating a tasty breakfast of buckwheat pancakes and berries. You look down to see your little one who no longer looks so little and who hasn't demanded your boob in a few hours and there's a part of your heart that just breaks.
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(photo: Gary Paul Lewis / Shutterstock)