This was a short story that I wrote a few years ago. The prompt was The Newborn and while its a "story" it's based on the true experience of our first 24 hours at home with a new baby.
Slowly, I peel my eyelids open. What’s that noise? What time is it? The room is dark. My husband stirs next to me. I feel for my phone, lodged under my pillow. It’s 3:00 am. The noise is my phone, an alarm telling me it’s time to wake up our newborn son and feed him.
“Never wake a baby to feed him” is a line I’ve heard many times. Our tiny baby boy is five days old, and jaundiced. We brought him home from the hospital yesterday, and he doesn’t wake himself for feeds. I nudge my husband.
“It’s that time” I say, and pull myself up. He gets up and trudges downstairs to make up a bottle. I pull our little bundle over to me from his next to me cot, and start the process of changing his nappy. His long, sparrow legs stretch out as I unfasten his swaddle. He does not cry, but looks around the room in wonder. A small reading light casts shadows on the wall as I work quickly.
Once back in the room, my husband takes over to feed him, and I set up my breast pump.
A newborn baby is hard work; a newborn baby that won’t latch is also frustrating, stressful. At five days old, I already feel like a failure. I’m meant to try to get him to latch at every feed, but I can’t bear the unpleasantness at this time of night. I set to work, expressing breast milk for his next feed.
Forty-Five minutes later, our son is changed, fed, burped, and back to sleep. I lie there, awake, knowing I must fall asleep soon, for it all starts again in three hours.
There it goes again, the alarm. It’s 6:00 am. I wonder how long we are going to live with this three hourly feeding, living with alarms, and not sleeping through the night. I turn over to look at our baby boy. I am sore from my stitches, and this movement is a struggle.
After his morning bottle, we all go back to sleep for a bit. A few extra hours, for which I am thankful. We start our day at 9:00 am. Porridge with strawberry’s and chocolate spread for breakfast – oats are supposed to be good for breast milk production, along with leafy greens and sweet potato. It’s not happened yet, but in a few weeks I will come out with an itchy rash all over, and blood tests will tell me I’ve gone a bit overboard on the leafy greens and consumed too many B vitamins.
The weather is awful, it’s snowing. I sit in my dressing-grown, uncomfortable, hair un-brushed, waiting for my next lot of pain relief. It’s time to feed the baby again, and this time I know I must try to get him to latch. He bobs his head against me, angrily, till he’s too distressed to even take a bottle. I cry, he cries. My husband takes him, calms him down, and feeds him. It’s time for me to express again.
I never expected that breastfeeding would involve a machine. It’s a strange feeling - draining, uncomfortable and lonely. I feel separated from my baby, but it is nice that he gets to bond with his Dad. Still, that feeling of failure overwhelms me.
I am expecting the midwife today. She will come and weigh our little bundle, check his jaundice levels and do his heel prick tests. No visitors though, not today. I don’t even know how to organize the visitors. Everyone wants to come and see us, and I can’t wait to start introducing our son to our friends and family. I need to make some lists before my mind is overwhelmed.
I finish expressing just as there is a knock at the door – the midwife. She walks in, snow boots on her feet, a big thick winter coat, and a huge bag with clinical scales. She makes herself comfortable, takes out a pen, and asks for his red book. I love his red book; a little book full of information about my precious baby and how he came into the world.
She asks me how I am feeling. I’m fine, I tell her. A touch of the baby blues, but that’s to be expected. No one tells you – actually that’s a lie, my mother-in-law told me all about the baby blues, and yet they still seemed to be a surprise, a shock – that in the days following giving birth, if you feel elated by the birth of your child, you will find yourself sobbing over little, unimportant things. Or sometimes, even for no reason at all. You will feel weepy, and for that, you will feel guilty. Why am I crying when I have my beautiful baby in my arms? You will wonder. It’s okay though, it’s perfectly normal to feel this way.
My midwife agrees with me.
How is he feeding is her next question. I explain the problems we are facing, and I expect her to tell us to stop expressing and focus on his latch, but she doesn’t. She surprises me by telling me that I should continue as we have been, by expressing and combination feeding, all the while continuing to try to get him to latch on. She is very supportive, and I feel bad for being surprised. I seem to constantly feel bad about one thing or another.
It’s time to weigh him. He is unimpressed by having his clothes and nappy taken off him. He is a very small baby, even though he was nine days late. He hasn’t regained his birth weight yet, after the expected drop that newborns experience. She will come out again in a few days to re-weigh him.
The heel prick tests are next – a very important, but upsetting test. During our stay in the hospital, he had his blood taken three times. That’s three times I watched them jab his little foot and squeeze it to fill up a tiny vial. By this point, he isn’t fazed by the sensation. I am.
A few more routine questions and a nice little chat – she has been my midwife since the start of this pregnancy – and she is off.
I feel more like we can relax now – although it’s not long till his next feed, and do I need to express again? I feel like that can’t be right. Do I really need to hook up to this noisy, isolating machine so often?
It’s not something I’ll worry about right now. For now, I snuggle my baby in, and we watch The US Office (a show that will become a huge comfort to me) on the television, we eat snacks, and I try to enjoy this moment.
Time suddenly seems precious, in a way it never had before. Each moment that passes, will never be lived again, and I will never get that time with my baby back. I think that’s why our feeding journey is so heartbreaking. My husband is doing most of his feeds and I feel I am missing out on bonding opportunities. I try to tell myself not to worry about this, that there will be plenty of time to bond, in different ways. That guilty feeling finds its way back in though.
I decide to have a bath. This might sound like a way to relax, to let go of some of the negative emotions I am feeling, but it’s not. Sitting in a bath is the last thing I want to do right now, but I have read that bathing in a certain bubble bath will help to heal the physical wounds of giving birth, quicker. I do not lie in the bath, and instead, with the help of my husband, lower myself in and sit in shallow water for a short period of time. It is not an enjoyable experience, unlike the baths, I was having leading up to my due date - baths to soothe an aching back, with scented bath bombs, candles, and a reading book. No, in this bath, I sit, I feel the cold air around me and I get out as fast as I can.
I tentatively re-dress myself, constantly fearful that I might pop a stitch open, and head back downstairs.
Before giving birth, I batch-cooked a few weeks' worths of healthy meals and froze them, so our tea is an easy, healthy meal. It was by far one of the best ideas I have had.
With that, our evening routine begins, which is very much similar to our daily routine – nappy change, feed, and express on repeat, every three hours.
Despite my feelings of guilt and failure, I can’t help but also feel that our first day at home was a success. It is not at all how I expected it would be, and it is also not like it is in films and television. Our baby does not cry for hours on end. This is of course a good thing, but it is also scary. He is so sleepy, because of the jaundice. He is so small, smaller than I expected he would be. He feels fragile in my arms.
Our bedtime is late, we want to give him his last feed as late as possible, and I of course need to express. Again. I remind myself not to wish this time away. Once it’s gone there is no getting it back.