It was 11am, and it was suggested that I take a nap, but I wanted to see you. So we took the elevator up to the neonatal unit.
The male nurse, his name was Marl, saw your papa, saw me, and pronounced ‘C’est la maman de B ».
You were in a couveuse, and your name was written outside. B. In the salle de naissance, we were asked what your name was and hadn’t responded, but there you were. You were four hours old and your name was B.
I got to hold you, and it was funny because I had always heard that babies would root around immediately after birth to nurse, but I sort of didn’t believe it, but that’s precisely what you did. So I nursed you, shortly. You were given formula for almost the duration of our stay, first I would nurse you and then you would be given a “complement” of formula, by a cup. I know they say that is not good for getting breastfeeding started, but, well, we’re still doing it, so it didn’t really cause too many problems.
I had a nap that afternoon, and came up to nurse you in the evening, and then again around 1am. Thus was the schedule of our stay, every three hours. Except the nice nurses let me sleep between midnight and six and they fed you.
Oh son. What can I tell you about the eight remaining days in the hospital? About the smell of the antibacterial soap and gel we had to wash our hands with everytime we entered the neonat, a smell which, along with the smell of Weleda nursing tea, I think will always transport me back (a shame because it means I can’t drink Weleda nursing tea and I was counting on it. I now want to save it to be transported back to that time).
About the beeping of all the machinery hooked up to the baby beds in the neonatal unit.
About the sound of Beethoven’s ninth that I played you on my computer in the afternoons once we were rooming in at the end, and the sound of the Avent breast pump several times a day like an early nineties techno beat.
If I were to write everything, I don’t know, it would take so long and I already have to rewrite the first three parts. I don’t want to forget though. I’m afraid of forgetting.
I could tell you that I didn’t appreciate them enough, that I just dreamt of coming home, that I missed the dog terribly, that I cried every night when they told me we couldn’t go home until you were gaining weight, until the Saturday night when your papa said to me that it was dumb of me to be so upset about staying when we had all the support in the world, breastfeeding help, people brining meals, cleaning, and it was good to get off to a helpful start, and how afterwards, for the remaining days, I did enjoy it so much I was almost disappointed that the doctor said we could go home.
It’s true that those days were something like what they do in other cultures, when the mom is exempt from normal duties, cooking, washing, and is only expected to nurse her baby and rest, and people bring them meals and do the cleaning and care for them. I could have seen those days like that, and I wish I had, I would have appreciated it all much more. The day when I was moved up to the Mother and Child room, the doctor told me a midwife would still come up to check on me every day, there was something nice about that. The support was great.
I could tell you about how the first few days, when I was still down on the second floor, were so fumbling, and how it was only after they moved me to a Mother and Child room inside the neonatal unit that I began to get the hang of things. Before, I would have to leave notes on the table telling the staff not to take my food, but by the weekend in the neonat, I was sitting patiently on my bed, waiting for breakfast at 8am and lunch at 1pm and dinner at six (six!).
I could also tell you, though it’s not very nice to admit, that I was so afraid the first time you were in my room alone with me. That happened on the Sunday. You were unhooked from the wires and the nurse said “Il est maintenant avec vous”.
I was so afraid of being a mother, and yet, a week after we were home it was so simple.
What if I just told you in bullet form?
-there’s the cherry story, I already blogged about that.
-The Chilean nurse Dap who grabbed my boob and shoved my nipple in your mouth to get breastfeeding going, which none of the French nurses had dared to do. She also gave you your first bath on Saturday, and showed me the rugby hold nursing position.
-the nurses and midwives were so wonderful.
-The first time I pumped. That was such a weird feeling. Especially weird was how I would just be sitting in the neonatal unit, with my shirt off, pumping or nursing you, in the midst of the nurses and the other parents and just not thinking anything of it.
There really just was no privacy at all in that place, and inhibition was out on the street, in the parallel universe.
-The morning after your birth, a midwife came in to my room on the second floor to see if I had any colustrum. She said I didn’t, and said “je suis desolée”. I see now how new mothers get discouraged to give up on breastfeeding, with that kind of support. The morning after, a nice midwife, A-S, checked and was amazed at the amount of colustrum I had. She said “Ca va faire plaisir a votre bébé”, which I thought was a cute, slightly odd, and sweet thing to say. She gave me an ordonnance for a breast pump, which I didn’t end up needing because your nice papa bought me one when he was buying the stroller.
-how the day after you were born, your papa and I took a walk around Levallois. It was sunny, and we stopped at a café at the metro station, sat outside. Even though I was obviously no longer pregnant, the waiter made a joke about whose beer was this. I bought a newspaper too.
We also went to Franprix that day, and the guy asked when the baby was due, and we said you were born yesterday. He said he was amazed that I had already been discharged, and we explained that I hadn’t. We went about three times during my stay, to buy things like tea and dried fruit and handsoap and creamer and instant decaf and fresh fruit and juice, and then he always said to say hello to you whenever we came in.
-Your papa having to buy everything at Sauvel Natal, because I hadn’t had time to. The stroller, the baby bjorn. He even bought me a nursing bra. He also thoughtfully bought a breast pump so I didn’t have to rely on the one that the hospital had (only one for each floor).
-Afternoons, once I finally calmed down, pumping and listening to Beethoven and napping with the window open, towards the end with you in the rolling bassinet.
-Looking out, from my second room before I was moved to the Mother and Child room in the neonat, as it was raining, and looking at the people going about their business, walking down the street, and at the café I had eaten at when I came in for my prep classes, and just feeling like I was looking out at another dimension, a parallel universe. Those people on the street, that café, were so close I could throw something and hit them, but they just felt so far away. Same as when we stopped at the café, I was sitting there in the sunshine amongst other people, but I felt like I was in another universe.
-A sage-femme coming in every morning to give me a ton of pills , and to do a diamap around 11pm, and I would nap during it. How I came to appreciate this as a built-in opportunity to rest for half an hour.
-The British midwife forgot about my diamap on the second night, and I had to roam the maternity ward looking for her, as it was one am and I had to be down in the neonat at 6am to nurse you, and I was dying for sleep, so I just unplugged it. She later apologized for having forgotten about it.
-The days when you were in the couveuse, and under the blue light for jaundice, and the nurses joked that you really enjoyed the warm weather, because you were splayed out with your purple sunglasses like you were at Cannes. You were the only boy while we were there.
-How I cried one evening because you weren’t gaining weight and a nice sage femme named Aud comforted me.
-The night of the cherry story, I was so afraid to ask the nurses to feed you at 3am, so I could sleep for six hours, but I was so desperate for sleep. The hospital has a policy of rooming in, which I think is very good but at the moment I was just dying for more than three hours of sleep. So your papa went to ask them, and before he could open his mouth, the nurse said “Your wife needs sleep, we will feed him”. I was so, so relieved.
And then, a nice nurse, Alex, told me I shouldn’t come until the eight am feeding, as sleep was important for milk production, and I was so relieved she said that too.
-This I need to remember. You weren’t gaining weight on the three hour schedule, and the pediatrician discussed this with me, and I said I thought we should do on demand, and so the pediatre agreed to give it a try, and I was to keep a journal, indicating when you nursed, and for how long and which side, etc, and the next day you had gained weight. She said excitedly, when she saw me, “Il a pris du poids!” She then said we could go home that very day, if I wanted.
This is important to me, because it felt like the pediatre was trusting my instinct, and it gave me a shot of confidence, that I knew what would work for you.
-There’s this photo I took of you a couple of days after your birth, you are sound asleep with your eyes firmly shut. It’s so funny because this was a face that used to make me so stressed, because it meant you were sleeping and not eating, and now it just makes me laugh, it’s such a funny expression!
-How on Sunday I sneaked out without a discharge note in the afternoon to take a walk in the quiet streets and go to the market.
-How I set up the rooms I was in, and the bathroom in the neonat, the one with no shower curtain just a drain in the room, and how that was a sacred space to me.
-Someone coming in every afternoon to ask me what I wanted the next day to eat, and tell me the fromage and dessert selection. (Basically, either fish, an omelette or a tarte au fromage).
-Coming in to my room after an every-three-hour feeding, settling down to pump and drink some Weleda tea or post-partum recovery herbal tea, having a few minutes to sift through a book or the Cosmo that was in the gift pack given by the hospital, or to lie down with my eye pillow for a quick nap, before going back up for another feed.
-Calling your grandpa the day after your birth, and saying Hi Grandpa. Calling Tante and Oncle in Germany and telling them you’d arrived five weeks early, and the first thing any of them saying was, what was your name.
-On the last day, one of my favorite midwives, Is, came in to give me my discharge papers and prescriptions for myself (the neonatal nurses gave me yours) and my ordonnance for ten sessions of pelvic reeducation, and how I was just sitting cross-legged like a teenage girl on the bed like she was an old friend, and she shook my hand afterwards.
-How we loaded you into the taxi to go home, so tiny in your carseat, and when we walked in the door, I fell to my knees and hugged Emma and cried. I had missed her so much.
I don’t know what else I can tell you. They were such special days, and I don’t know that I really realized it at the time. I think it was a combination of being so exhausted, from the birth and righ tbefore, even though I had rested plenty during my pregnancy, and also the hormones, and the stress of becoming a new mother.
There’s so much I don’t want to forget, so much I probably already have forgotten, but I think that this is as much I can tell you about the story of your birth. Of course I have to go rewrite the first part now, I hope I can remember that much. And I will add to the last part as I remember things.
This was written over the course of five months, a few evenings, at the café downstairs. One of them was the end of July, late, around midnight, outside in the warm night. It was finished, finally, after having to rewrite the first two parts, on November 20, 2009.