PART FIVE: POSTPARTUM
While I had been finishing up in surgery, Shaun had gone with our daughter back to the birth center. While Kristin stayed in surgery with me, Nurse K helped Shaun to do some skin-to-skin of his own with our daughter Ariadne in a quiet room. He sang to her and held her all alone for a good fifteen minutes, and I’m so grateful he got to have that time as well. Skin-to-skin promotes bonding between baby and parents, and it was important to us that both Shaun and I got to experience that.
After his alone time, he and Nurse K took her to the nursery, and my mama, Laureny, Jeannie, and Emi got to see her for the first time. Everyone was both in tears but also couldn’t stop smiling, watching Shaun bring her close to the windows so everyone could see her. He sang to her as he held her, then they got her a cap and a blanket before returning her to me in the recovery area.
When I returned from the recovery room with Ariadne, they had moved us into a different birth suite for some reason – I’m not really sure why. I don’t know if that’s standard procedure for after C-sections when rooms are available, or what. (There had been a lot of construction in a hallway just outside my room too, drapes and drills and ladders, maybe that had something to do with it too.) For whatever reason, when they wheeled me back to a new room, the change felt nice. The other room had become a place of strain and worry, and this new room was a place of joy and ease.
One of my biggest regrets about how my birth ended up was this time back in the room. Not that it was bad – but at this point, I was exhausted and doped up on pain medicines. I wish I had been a bit more clear-headed for my daughter’s first few hours earthside, I wish I had had that rush of adrenaline that comes with a natural birth.
As it was, I was pretty out of it. Yet again, I kept passing out, often in the middle of sentences. I had my daughter on my chest, with my friends and family gathered around, glowing, beaming, looking at her – I remember Laureny’s face in particular, the sunlight from the window framed her face in a sort of halo, and she beamed at my daughter and me – and I kept ordering myself to stay awake, but was drifting in and out. Still, Laureny and Emi and Jeannie and Mama all cooed and awed over my daughter’s little pointed elf ears, her head of hair, her dark serious eyes. Even from her first few minutes and hours on earth, Ariadne was such an alert and aware baby, looking at everyone, taking them all in, seeing and learning her grandmother and her aunties, her mama and papa.
Kristin helped me breastfeed for the first time – and when I say helped, I mean, literally latched my baby to my breast for the first time. I simply could not stay completely awake. I remember telling myself, pay attention, this is important – but then blacking out for a minute before swimming back in.
Emi told me later she could see what was happening, and knew I would need help later on. After an hour or so of visiting time, a lot of my support team began to disperse with plans to be back later that night, or the next day. As the room emptied slowly, I believe my daughter and I got some much needed rest, her sleeping on my chest as I dozed, at least for a little while.
Emi’s family came by, Jeannie led them to our room, and Travis, Jack, Norah, and Jude all got to meet Ariadne. I was fairly out of it – even telling Jeannie later on, the Hensels came by to visit, it was so nice! Laughing, she reminded me she had been there, in the room when it happened.
That evening is largely a blur – I felt that same relief that it was over, and that same joy and astonishment at my beautiful daughter. I know when I was finally ready to give her up, the nurses came in to do her newborn exam. I’m so grateful we were given the option of waiting, it must have been at least a few hours before we told them we were ready for a bath and weighing and foot prints, and that was another reason to love the birth center and the staff who respected our wishes.
My mama and Jeannie were both present for the bath and weighing, along with Shaun, and I remember feeling happy, that it was the perfect collection of people. My sweet girl hollered the whole time as she was measured – 19 inches – and weighed – 6 lbs and 6 oz – a little girl. They did her footprints, and let Shaun do a symbolic trimming of the cord.
This was another area we were both disappointed, a little. In the grand scheme of things, it matters little – but due to the C-section, Shaun didn’t get to cut the cord in fatherly tradition. Emi told me at some point during the evening that my placenta had been ruined as well. I know to some, saving a placenta seems gross and unnatural – but my hippie-self wanted to keep it – at least to plant symbolically under a tree in a celebration of Ariadne’s life, or perhaps to encapsulate, as placenta encapsulation can lead to a better milk supply, as well as decrease the risk for postpartum depression. At the time, I was so shell-shocked from the experience that when Emi told me my placenta was ruined, it didn’t matter that much. But later, as I was processing my birth, I was deeply saddened by this. My placenta was ruined whether I’d had a C-section or not – it was so pumped full of magnesium after being on it for over 24 hours that it was useless, it had to be thrown out. It made me so sad to realize it was ruined regardless of how Ariadne came into the world.
But – at the time, we enjoyed Ariadne’s newborn examination, and at the end, she was brought straight back to me and put on my chest.
At this point, enough time had passed that I was slowly coming back into myself. I remember having a weird irrational fear that the needle from my spinal was still in my back, which doesn’t really make any sense – but I still made Shaun check, even though he assured me it was not. I began to take stock of myself, as Mama and Jeannie held Ariadne and loved on her.
The nurses informed me that I was in for another rather rough 24 hours. Despite my delivery, I was not going to be freed from my tangle of cords and tubes. The standard practice for preeclampsia was to keep me on the magnesium for another 24 hours, so the IV of it and fluids would stay in. Both because of that and because of the spinal still wearing off, the catheter would stay in. The compression cuffs on my legs would stay on. I still wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything. I realized, suddenly, at one point, that I was completely naked under my sheet. No hospital gown, no robe. Just me on sheet and chux pads. The blood pressure cuff remained on, along with some heart monitoring, and the cuff still went off for a reading every 20 minutes. I was still a tangle of tubes and wires, with compression cuffs and blood pressure cuffs squeezing me constantly.
I didn’t care. I couldn’t care about much besides my daughter, and sleep.
Emi returned around 8:30 that night, and thank God she did. I don’t know what we would have done without her. I was exhausted, and so very, very weak. Shaun was inexperienced, but very willing to help however he could. Emi gently taught him how to change diapers, and he was the first person to change Ariadne. Emi reminded us that all the magnesium would make Ariadne rather sluggish too, and so we’d need to help her eat every 2 hours even if she didn’t wake on her own.
The night, with Emi’s help, went smoothly. This night was not my crash-and-burn mothering moment (stay tuned) – and it was completely because of Emi. I’d all but slept through Kristin’s breastfeeding lessons, and I was so weak I could barely hold Ariadne up. She and I dozed together through the night, and every two hours, either Emi and Shaun woke me up to nurse her, or Ariadne woke us up. Emi and Shaun had to continue literally helping me latch Ariadne onto my breast. But with their help, Ariadne and I managed, and the night passed quickly and relatively smoothly.
But around 4 AM, Emi went home to her family. She had put in a marathon session both as my doula and friend, and she deserved some time at home. My mama returned not long after that, and let Shaun get some good sleep.
But this Wednesday morning was some of the hardest time of my stay at the birth center, and definitely the hardest of my postpartum time.
With Emi gone, I found I couldn’t really breastfeed. I understood what she had told me, but I couldn’t seem to make myself and Ariadne manage the latch the same way I had with her and Shaun’s help. Shaun and Mama kept trying to help me, but between Ariadne’s magnesium lethargy, my less-than-deal nipple shape, and our combined lack of experience – we struggled in the early morning. I had been told to switch breasts every feeding, but for some reason, Ariadne didn’t like my right side. She’d cry and cry when I tried to latch her there, and then I’d cry, certain I was starving her. My mom and Shaun did their best to help, but they were neither the mother or the baby, there wasn’t much they could do – Ariadne and I had to learn it ourselves, only we could figure it out.
At some point fairly early on in the morning, I called Emi nearly sobbing. I can’t do it, I can’t make her latch, I don’t know what to do, she doesn’t like my right side, she’s probably starving, I don’t know what to do!
Emi reassured me that Ariadne was not starving. She assured me everything would be OK and we would figure it out. She made a phone call herself, and then told me if my mom was good to watch her kids and Kristin’s for a little bit, she and Kristin would come back to the birth center and work with me again.
I am so incredibly grateful they did. I don’t know what I would have done if they hadn’t. Not breastfeed is probably honestly the answer. I saw, in those early days, why so many women quit breastfeeding. It’s incredibly hard to learn and get the rhythm of. There’s so little support for moms who wish to breastfeed, and I was lucky to have experienced breastfeeding moms and doulas and lactation consultant friends in Emi and Kristin.
Before they made it out there, Nurse K came back on duty. She had been such a comfort the day before, and she was again on my first full day as a mother. She assured me that Ariadne was fine, and we’d figure out the nursing. She soothed me and told me everything would work out. Shaun went with Ariadne for a newborn check-up, and I was alone with my mama and Nurse K.
The night nurse had been doing checks on me every hour or so all night, and I’d had even more blood drawn, and K continued that in the morning. She discovered that my IV had come out of my hand at some point during the night, and hurried to get it back in so I could get back on the magnesium.
This was the absolutely low point of the morning – I have tiny baby veins that are hard to stick even under the best of circumstances. At this point, I’d been on an IV and had blood drawn every couple hours for 48 hours. I was out of good places to stick, my veins were shot. K tried to insert my IV again in the same arm, near the same spot, and blew a vein. She tried the other arm and blew another vein. She went and got the other nurse to help her, and together, they blew a third vein.
They kept apologizing profusely – and it was not their fault, they were very skilled, my veins were just overworked – and all I could do was laugh. I had been crying, nearly sobbing, when they’d started, so exhausted and weak and hungry and worried about nursing. Something about the three blown veins, the bruises popping up on my arms, their failed sticks – it was just too ridiculous. I laughed because I couldn’t help but laugh. The last 48 hours had been so hard, and I just was past the point of caring. I had to see the humor in the situation, or else have another meltdown – and I picked laughing, thank goodness.
Someday, I told Nurse K, I’m going to come back here and be wearing actual clothes and make up, and NOT BE CRYING, and you’re going to be like – who is this person?
I felt better, after my meltdown. Together, the nurses finally got the IV in again, in my upper right arm – they’d nearly had to go to my chest or feet instead, but finally found a spot. It required taping the IV to my arm in about six different places, but it stuck and it held. In the coming days, I would have huge, sanddollar sized bruises all over my arms that would stick around for weeks, and I think it took me nearly a full week to wash away all the surgical tape adhesive – but I was back on the magnesium.
Kristin and Emi arrived shortly after, and my mama took their combined five kids out to the tree atrium to play. Yet again, they patiently showed me how to maneuver myself into position to nurse, how to adjust Ariadne and help guide her to the breast.
There’s nothing wrong with this latch, Kristin told me, this is a good latch. She turned to Nurse K. Don’t get her a nipple shield or anything like that, she’s fine. Back to me, she added, it just takes time. You’ll get the feel for it.
I realized during that talk that I was going to have to start doing the bulk of the nursing work myself. The first 12 hours after my surgery, I had been so weak and out of it, I’d needed that physical help to get Ariadne in place. But we weren’t ever going to learn like that – as awkward as it might feel, as long as it might take – I had to take this on fully, now that I was more alert and aware.
We decided it would be best for us to have a lot of quiet, family time that day. Part of me wanted to show my beautiful daughter off to everyone, to let anyone come visit – and people can be bad about that anyway, rushing in to see a new mother and new baby when she’s just been through the hardest experience of her life. Luckily, my family and friends were very respectful, and we quietly asked for no more visitors for the rest of the day, so we could all three rest, I could recover, and Ariadne could learn to nurse.
The day went much better from that point on. Mom, Emi, and Kristin all left – but not without our immense gratitude. Shaun and I were left alone with Ariadne, and although I still found it difficult, we were getting better at nursing. Nurse K had told me if all went well, we’d be able to turn off the magnesium that evening – which meant a great big list of wonderful things – DRINKING WATER, first and foremost, maybe eating something. Taking out the catheter, taking off the compression cuffs, maybe being able to get out of bed.
My blood pressure readings had come down from the scary levels they’d been the two days before. They were still higher than normal, but improved – only in the slightly scary range, and not the terrifying. If everything stayed that way, we were told I could get off the magnesium around 6 or 7 that night. With that to look forward to, Shaun and I spent most of the afternoon sleeping and nursing, waking only when a nurse came in to check on me or Ariadne, and when the baby needed to nurse.
The type of exhaustion new parents, especially mothers, have in the first 48 hours after giving birth is unbelievable. It was a kind of exhaustion I have never felt before in my life. Anytime I fell asleep, it was within an instant, as soon as I gave myself permission to close my eyes, I was OUT – completely unconscious within a second. I’d snap back into consciousness anytime the baby cried or an alarm went off or a nurse came to check on me – and even if I’d slept a full hour, it felt like it really had been a literal blink of the eye before I was awake again. I felt delirious and drunk with exhaustion – and yet somehow, it was strangely manageable. I know Shaun and I, like many first time parents, had been worried about the lack of sleep, how much we’d hate it – but we found even in the first days that the exhaustion is totally different from how we’d felt childless and tired after a long day. We had to take care of Ariadne, we didn’t want her to suffer for even an instant – so we didn’t find it frustrating not to sleep. It was our duty and responsibility to care for her, and we cherished it even as we struggled to stay awake.
We did manage a few longer naps (by which I mean an hour at a time) that afternoon, and I woke to the dim half-light of early evening in our room. We had been told they’d turn the magnesium off somewhere around 5, and it was now after six PM. Waking feeling as close to rested as I had in a couple days, I was eager to have that magnesium turned off, and to start getting some of the crap off of me, to be granted some more freedom.
Ariadne had been sleeping on my chest, and Shaun in the arm chair near my bed, and I softly called to him to wake him and have him take Ariadne so I could call for the nurse.
We were pleased to hear from Nurse K that she’d actually come in and turned off the magnesium while we had been sleeping. I felt a little astonished – we’d woken any other time a nurse had come in to check on me, and yet we’d slept through this. K must have seen how exhausted we were, because she didn’t wake us and let us rest.
At seven, the nurses changed shifts again, and K passed me off to a new nurse – but not without me thanking her yet again for all her support and kindness in the past 24 hours. Of all my nurses, she happened to be with us for the longest chunk of time (besides Kristin, who counts first and foremost as a friend) and had been with me through the hardest parts – the decision to C-section, the C-section itself, the bewildered attempts at nursing and my breakdown over it – and I felt sad to see her go. I asked her if I could hug her before she left, because she was the epitome of what a nurse should be, and I felt so lucky to have had her.
But after K came another nurse that we loved almost as much. Earlier in the day, Kristin had told us that nurse L was a lot like herself, and that we would like her – and we did. This Wednesday night oddly turned out to be some of the best time we had at the birth center. The fear and stress were over, we were slowly, slowly getting the hang of nursing – and when Nurse L came on duty, she was able to free me from so much of the restriction that had tied me to the bed for the last 2 and a half days.
Nurse L did indeed have a great sense of humor, and we felt very at home with her. All of our nurses had been friendly and kind, but we definitely felt like we were hanging out with a nurse friend – much like Kristin – on our night with her.
Off the magnesium, I was finally able to have the catheter removed, and that was an incredible feeling. It felt like a long time ago that I had hated the catheter so strongly and thought it was the worst thing to happen to me – certainly things had gotten worse since then – but it was still a huge relief to have it out. I was almost as grateful to have the compression cuffs come off – they had been annoying the fire out of me ever since I’d come out of surgery. They were SO loud, making this big puff of an exhale of air that I kept waking up to with a start, thinking it was the baby — and just obnoxious squeezing my legs constantly.
Since the magnesium was off, L unhooked the IV from the stand at least for a while, explaining they had to keep the port in my arm, just in case, but that was one less cord I was hooked up to. The blood pressure cuff could come off for a short time, although they would continue to monitor me every so often and make sure all remained well.
Suddenly, I felt so much freer than I had in days! I could actually move my arms and legs, I could scootch around on the bed without getting caught or yanked painfully.
Now, I’m going to let you up, L said, and we can keep all this off you, and if you’re good about moving around, it can all stay off – if you’re walking the halls and stuff, you’re fine. But if you’re staying in bed, stuck, I’m going to have to put some of it back on you.
I vowed that I would walk the halls as much as I could. I did not want a single machine to be hooked back up to me if I could help it.
But with all of that off of me, I faced the prospect of climbing out of bed for the first time, and really gauging how bad I did or didn’t feel. For the first 24 hours after my surgery, I’d been on the remnants of the spinal, and then pain medication through my IV. Starting now, I’d be reduced to Motrin and Percoset to manage my pain. I’d felt so fine just lying in bed that the idea of the surgical pain didn’t really occur to me until I was about to get up. I remembered hearing about all the pain some women had recovering from C-section had – and now I was about to find out how bad it was.
Postpartum real talk time from here on out y’all. Having a baby – whether vaginally or C-section – is crazy, and does crazy things to your body. All I could do during this next hour or so was laugh at myself with humility. I’ve said before and I’ll say again – I think it’s incredibly important to talk about postpartum recovery with mothers and mamas-to-be. I know a lot of women – myself included, at one point – are shocked to find out how much goes on with your body after you give birth – the birth itself seems like the premier event, that the struggle and recovery afterwards sometimes are neglected.
I was really lucky in that my C-section recovery was really great – I’m not saying it was fun, but I’d heard some awful stories about recovering from major abdominal surgery, and happily, my experience wasn’t so dire. That first time I climbed out of bed with Nurse L’s assistance, I felt wobbly and woozy, like a colt trying to hobble along for the first time. As I stood, I definitely felt pain in my lower stomach – but it was deadened by pain medicines. I was able to stumble to the bathroom with L’s assistance, and although I felt trembling, I wasn’t in as much pain as I’d feared.
I did feel like I was rediscovering the lower half of my body at this point, though. I hadn’t realized what kind of condition I was in until I was able to get out of bed and survey myself. L had to check my C-section incision, which was terrifying to me. The hardest part of the C-section for me was dealing, mentally, with what had happened to my body – being cut open and my guts all disturbed. I felt so fearful of myself for many days and even weeks afterwards – I refused to look at or touch my incision sight for a long time. I know this will seem silly, laughable – but I had this irrational fear that all my guts would come spilling out. The idea that the incision was still healing over, not completely closed up terrified me. I don’t know what I thought I was going to see or touch – but I refused to do either.
L helped me switch out a pad on my incision site to keep it clean and dry. She helped me to use the toilet for the first time since Monday morning, although I still had to pee in what she called the top hat, so she could continue to monitor my urine output for another day. I was still kind of shocked at the amount of blood leaving my body. With a C-section, there was less bleeding than there would have been at a vaginal birth – and I’d heard someone say my doctor was a very skilled, “efficient” surgeon, and Shaun shuddered as he told me he’d heard the sound of her moving blood out of my body – but it was still a lot. I was helped into my first pair of those mesh underwear, with pads underneath.
I was disappointed to learn, after I got changed and headed back to bed, that I still wasn’t allowed to eat that night – at least, not a real meal. I was famished beyond all reckoning at this point – but I was at least allowed apple juice and a popsicle that night – and to me, that was as good as manna from heaven. No one has ever been more excited about a little tin of apple juice than I was that night – and water! I could drink water again, and happily gulped down bottles full.
Emi did return to check on us again that evening, bringing me some healing green juice, and helping me to take my first postpartum shower. We laughed so much during this time – when I attended her last birth, with Jude, I had told her, we’re special friends now, I’ve seen a baby come out of you. As Emi helped me shower, literally holding me up and helping me keep my wobbly balance, helping me shampoo my hair and wash my body and my butt and my downstairs, I couldn’t help but add, we’re special friends now.
Shaun and I had some renewed energy, that evening. The night before, we had been dead with exhaustion, but the progress I was making in my recovery on Wednesday night cheered us both. We took a couple laps around the birth center halls after Emi left, the nurses watching Ariadne for us. I felt weak and trembling, exhausted and in pain – but I was so happy to be walking. I was surprised by how much my body felt heavy and leaden, almost mechanical and creaky – but at the same time, I was relieved how decent I felt. I was happy to get my pain pills every 4 and 8 hours, but I at no point felt in agony beyond what I could bear. As long as I was careful, as long as I took it slow, as long as I asked for help – the pain was manageable.
Shaun and I had a fairly pleasant night, that night. L did Ariadne’s hearing test, and we learned more about how to best soothe her as we tried to get her to hold still long enough for L to get the reading. After our walks and apple juice, we settled in for another night of nursing and diaper changes, with naps snatched in between. I honestly can’t recall a lot of details from that night – so we must have managed, well enough. L brought us preemie sized diapers, as even the newborn diapers swam on our tiny girl. I was realizing just how little she was!
But by morning, we were exhausted again. I think we both really hoped we could go home that day. At this point – Thursday morning – we’d been trapped in the hospital for days. We were so limited as to what we could do, where we could go or eat, limited on space, constantly interrupted to have Ariadne looked at, or my blood pressure taken or urine levels examined. Early in the morning, my IV site was hurting me so badly, pulling at my skin and burning every time I moved my arm – which, with nursing, was happening a lot. I begged L to take it out. I wasn’t receiving medicine or fluids anymore, but my arms were purple and green with bruises, black and gummy with surgical tape. She agreed, but told me we’d have to reinsert it quickly if they decided we had to restart medicines.
We bid L a reluctant goodbye at seven AM – another nurse shift change. Whoever we had on Thursday was nice, but I can’t remember who it was or anything particular about them. We were left in relative peace that day, although I did get to eat my first actual meal since Monday morning. It was incredible – I mean, it wasn’t, it was terrible, terrible hospital cafeteria food, bland soggy eggs with no flavor, limp bacon, lumpy grits – but to me, it was a feast.
Shaun was wearing down by Thursday morning. He’d been so strong and so helpful, but he was so tired and a little grumpy. I told him to sleep while I snuggled Ariadne, because I knew I’d need his help later on in the day. I’m used to having early mornings from my work schedule, and the night times were when I struggled more. I remember texting people and asking if they could come out and keep us company – but everyone was back at work or spending time with family after such a busy few days earlier in the week. I wasn’t upset, at that point – just a little lonely and fairly bored. Ariadne snoozed in my arms most of the time, and woke occasionally to feed or be changed. It was a very soft and gentle time, just her and I together in bed, her naked but for a diaper and hat, both of us curled up under my blanket, skin-to-skin. I felt like I was getting to know her, that we were coming to depend on each other, find comfort in each other, and I loved how both of us would drift off to sleep together.
The afternoon and evening passed with little more excitement. My blood pressures were better, and if nothing changed overnight, my doctor told us – finally – that we should be able to go home some time Friday. Shaun and I were both incredibly relieved to hear it – the birth center staff had been so lovely, but we were ready for peace and quiet. We were ready to get back to our own house and our own space, ready for privacy and to actually learn how to be parents, in the safety of our own home, with our own things and our Kitty girl. We had asked for no visitors on Wednesday, in order to rest and recuperate, but on Thursday, we were dying for company – but of course, most everyone was busy that day. We couldn’t blame them, considering our closest loved ones had paused their lives for a couple days already that week – but we were going stir crazy in the birth center after four days.
After another sleepless yet otherwise uneventful night, we finally reached Friday. The promise of going home hung over our heads all morning, and after final visits with both Ariadne’s doctor and mine, we were given the all clear to leave that afternoon. Shaun and I ate our “steak dinner” – a very sweet gift the birth center does for new parents, giving them an extra special meal as congratulations before they leave to go home. I don’t think Shaun was too impressed – but again, I didn’t eat any real food for three days, every bite of food was welcome.
I beyond exhausted at this point, and a little nervous and overwhelmed about going home – even though I desperately wanted to. My emotions were all over the place, like most new moms, I’m sure. Physically I felt – well, not as bad as I maybe could have, after everything I’d been through – but I felt pretty wretched. There was the obvious C-section incision still healing, my weak and trembling legs I’d barely stood on for days, my body covered in bruises from quarter sized to whole dollar bills. I was sleep and food deprived, and still learning how to breastfeed. The idea of packing up our entire life that we’d stashed about the room honestly scared me a little – I wasn’t able to do it, and Shaun was nearly as exhausted as I was. Plus, we had to install the carseat into our car. We’d made sure it was IN the car on our way down to the birth center, but unsure whether we’d be coming back with or without baby, we hadn’t taken the time to install it.
I all but begged Jeannie to come down and help us out, and she was happy to, along with Rachael to do some fresh baby pictures. The original plan had been to have her present when I first went into labor, to get some laboring at home pictures, and then head out to the birth center when I was close, so she could capture the moment of birth or just after – clearly that didn’t happen. But having her come down when Ariadne was two days old helped make up for it – she captured so many sweet pictures of our first few days as new parents, of Ariadne fresh in this world. She captured the beautiful – me crying with emotion as I held Ariadne and Shaun held me – along with the painful, my messy hair, our exhausted faces. When I look at those pictures of myself now, I am immesnely humbled. I look, to put it bluntly, like hell. I’d hoped to be one of those women who glow with peace and inner joy after birth – but the evidence of all I’d been through was clear in each of those pictures.
Between the two of them, Jeannie and Rachael packed the room out to the car so quickly and efficiently. Jeannie helped Shaun get the carseat installed, while Rachael packed up literally every single thing we could possibly taken home. Take this too, she’d said, grabbing the suction bulb and the little grey tub we’d been given to hold diapers and wipes in, take the diapers, take the wipes, they have tons of it!
While the three of them hustled, I moved every so slowly to get into real clothes – or at least, real postpartum clothes. I’d lived either naked or in my robe ever since giving birth, and only slipped on a button-down nightie for Rachael’s pictures. I dressed myself in a loose, flowing sundress, a sports bra and some giant postpartum panties, and slid my pregnancy flip-flops on my swollen feet. My feet were absolutely disgusting – every pregnant woman’s feet swell, mine swelled worse due to the preeclampsia, and swelled even more from three days of magnesium and fluids. They were unrecognizable, little short fat sausage feet near to bursting – even my fat pregnancy feet flip-flops were a bit too snug. But I managed to braid my own hair for the first time in days, and even brush a touch of mascara on my face for the Going Home as a Family picture Rachael would take.
The day nurse came to check us out with paper work as Shaun, Rachael, and Jeannie started to change Ariadne into her going home outfit. I’d brought along a dress for her, a sweet little grey dressed sprigged with red and blue flowers – but we realized there was no way she’d be wearing it. Anything newborn sized swam on her, and Emi had found a couple preemie sleepers and brought them out to us.
The on-duty nurse that day was very sweet and kind, but I remember feeling very baffled and almost giddy as she went through the paperwork and instructions with me. She had a long list of care, do’s and don’ts for me and my healing, as well as for Ariadne. She explained very patiently, but kept stopping to ask if I understood. I’d kind of grin, and shrug my shoulders, and say, sure. My brain was so foggy, exhausted from the week of little rest, from giving birth, from the pain medicine in my system – this was my first time out of bed, dressed almost normal, as people swirled around the room, changing my brand new baby, packing up the last minute things. I was completely overwhelmed and while I knew I understood what the nurse was saying, I doubted I’d remember much of it later on. But she gave me a big stack of papers to take home, and I resolved to read it all later, when things were calmer.
And then – after Rachael snapped a picture of the three of us – Shaun, Ariadne, and I got to leave as a family of three. Shaun and Jeannie put Ariadne into her carseat for the first time, as I bid farewell to my nurses and thanked them for the thousandth time for their care. There was something bittersweet about leaving the birth center – it had been such a monumental week, I had felt literally the highest emotional highs and the lowest emotional lows there. We had spent a full five days there, we seemed trapped in a bubble of time, a spell had fallen over us – and leaving the birth center to rejoin the world felt surreal.
I walked out of the birth center into the bright sun and blazing summer heat. Shaun had pulled the car up right outside, and Jeannie told us goodbye before heading home herself. I slid carefully into the backseat, to ride home right next to my daughter. Shaun cranked up the AC, the sky was blue-blue-blue, and I felt such incredible joy. The drive home was so beautiful – I had been scared that Ariadne would cry the whole 30-minute drive home, anxious that we wouldn’t know what to do or how to handle her so soon, on a longer car ride – but she was a perfect angel. She fell asleep as soon as Jeannie and Shaun had taken her outside in the heat, and she stayed that way the whole way.
Ariadne was tiny in her carseat. We learned after that first drive to put a swaddle around her head to help hold it in place, she was that little. But she was perfectly content, sleeping the entire drive, and I sat next to her, I couldn’t bear to be apart from her after she’d spent the last few days living on my chest. Shaun played music and sang along, and as we whizzed along the highway, I felt – a great many incredible feelings. I felt such joy, such disbelief, such shock. That surreal feeling stuck with me, I couldn’t believe that after so many months of waiting and worrying, my daughter was here with me. That we were driving home as a family of three – that we got to keep her and no one would take her away from us. I felt shell-shocked from the ordeal I’d just endured. I remember feeling, perhaps for the first time, the great weight of the insanity of the week flooding over me. Something about leaving the birth center signaled the close of that experience, and on our way home, I couldn’t believe what all had happened. But I also felt so at peace – I felt like, at that point, we’d done what we needed to do to bring Ariadne into the world safely, and to keep me safe. I felt that same relief I’d felt when Ariadne was pulled from my stomach – I felt such relief that she was safe and healthy, and I could touch her tiny fingers, pet her soft downy head, hearing her little sleeping whimpers and grunts.
We got home and somehow made it in the house, greeted Kitty. Shaun took multiple trips to drag in our bags, our medicines, all the birth center swag we’d brought home with us. I settled on the arm chair with my daughter to nurse her at home for the first time. We were getting better at it. We were still getting to know each other, after all. Later on, I took Ariadne into her nursery, told her this was her room, and about all the many hours I had worked in that room, getting it ready for her, waiting for her, praying for her to be here safely. I cried – not the first time that day, not the last time that day, nor for many days to come – at the joy and the relief to have my daughter in my arms, where she belonged, at last.
The afternoon crept into evening. Part of me only wanted quiet and solitude to settle into our home with our daughter on our own – but a great part of me wanted the exact opposite. We’d been good about resting and keeping visitors away when we were at the birth center, but being at home made me want to see everyone we loved, everyone who loved us, everyone who had prayed for us during the last week. Somehow, accidentally, the evening swelled into a small party. The Hensels had been on the meal train to bring us dinner that night and came by with caprese pasta, Lauren hadn’t seen Ariadne since the day she was born, Murph hadn’t met her at all and came by with Mike. I sat around in my robe and my glasses, and wasn’t bothered by it at all. We ate, the Hensels held Ariadne, Emi and I nursed at the same time.
I felt humbled with gratitude. I felt overwhelmed by joy and exhaustion. I could very easily sit here and write out the next week, next month of our lives after Ariadne – meeting Becky and Lucy for the first time the next day and watching our daughters lie out on the quilt together – getting Ariadne’s baby quilt from Sara, arriving early in the morning before she left town — Ariadne meeting her great-grandma – all the many visitors who checked in on us day after day bringing meals and hugs and brief breaks to nap – the late, late nights that turned into early, early mornings, Shaun and I trading shifts to snatch even 45 minutes of sleep, and yet feeling oddly fulfilled and happy watching Netflix at 3 AM as I held my daughter until she fell asleep – the little walks we took with Ari snug against my chest – her first doctor’s visits – the pride and paranoia we felt when we left the house with our itsy-bitsy baby girl – watching the Olympics together as a family as we’d dreamed about doing all summer – lying Ari on a quilt in the shade and watching her drift into sleep as the wind whistled in the tree branches overhead.
I could write about all of that, in great details, for a very long time. Instead, I will simply say, that once we got home from the birth center, even though my recovery was slow and careful, even though learning to nurse and be a parent to this tiny infant could be overwhelming and at times scary – ever since we got home, the entire twelve weeks of my maternity leave – that was the happiest I have ever been, in my entire life. I have never felt so blissful, so happy, so at peace. I have never felt so love and so cherished and so fulfilled as I did in those first few months of my life. I felt like a balm had touched my soul, and healed a great many sore spots. The ease and freedom of those days were such a magical, peaceful period of my life, and now, months later, I look back on them with such a fondness, with a physical ache to go back and be that happy in such a simple, quiet life as we were in the first few months after our daughter was born.