I had always bitten my nails, but in the months leading up to the birth, I made a new friend who told me not to anymore.
“You don’t want your baby to have a Mum with chewed fingernails!”
That statement was enough to make me stop, and I had nicely shaped nails when I went in to give birth. I had photos of my beautiful, naturally grown nails inside the pulse oximeter they’d attached before they induced me. My wrist had reasonably fresh ink, a little crucifix next to a semicolon. It was a reminder that although my life had had some pauses and sad punctuation, there was more to come before there would be a full stop to finish it.
Three days after the birth, I was lying in bed and stroking that very tattoo while I let my brand-new son drain me of my nutrients. That was the day they had finally gotten me out of bed to walk to the shower, but I didn’t shower myself.
The pain of getting out of bed was nothing on labour, but it hurt just the same.
One of my friends told me that first baby labour could often last thirty-six hours and that I was lucky I had only endured around thirteen.
“It could have been so much worse. You could have torn.” She said as she held my baby for the first time. I had initially felt like an absolute goddess for enduring as much labour as I did, but she reminded me I’d only been able to do it with an epidural. I still maintain that induction hormones make the contractions a thousand times worse.
“Yeah, well, the contractions were unbearable. Remember I was induced.”
I had spent my days since birth tethered to the wall by three cannulas; one with anti-biotics for my infection, one with hydration, and one for something I can’t even remember. It made for a very cumbersome trip out of the bed for every feed, but I had no problem ringing the buzzer.
I had finally relinquished some of my control in the name of doing the best for my son.
He had taken to the breast like an absolute champ. He had an excellent and natural latch and I adored having him nuzzled into my chest as he guzzled intently. Despite my train-wreck of a birth, this was one thing I held onto as a measure of my motherhood. I never got bored as he spent his time snoozing, sucking, and swallowing.
Although it all appeared to be going well, my milk was yet to come in. Not surprising, considering I’d lost almost half of my blood in the birthing process. He was sucking a whole lot of colostrum and air, which was beginning to not be enough for his growing body.
The next time he stirred, I started to thread myself free from the cannulas to get him for his next feed. I struggled to pull the bed rail down and my abdomen sent pain all throughout my body. Up until that point, a nurse had been bringing him to me for feeds night and day because I was simply unable to after the birth. As I crawled out of the bed, half bent over, I became overwhelmed by my desire to pee. I rang the bell anxiously, worried that I may wet myself. The nurses had only just removed my catheter that day, so I was still getting used to the sensations of knowing when I needed to go.
A minute passed and I could feel my anxiety welling up, so I rang again.
“Ooh, someone’s a little needy.” I heard one of the nurses say in the hall.
After all, I was just one of many new Mums who needed help.
I rang the bell again, and a small amount of urine trickled down my leg.
“Please!” I whispered.
I shook and moved in my half-standing position, utterly helpless. Still chained to the wall, I either had to pee my pants or wait patiently, but time was running out. As I tried to regain my composure, I noticed small, brown streak coming out of my son’s nappy.
Maybe he hadn’t been hungry at all, I thought.
A nurse pulled the curtain aside brusquely and asked me why I had rang the bell so many times.
“I’m sorry but I really need to pee and I’m attached to the wall.”
She narrowed her eyes, silently pulling the drip machine out of the wall.
I moved as quickly as I could, relieved myself, and returned to my dirty, crying baby. I struggled to undo his nappy as my hand was thick with cannulas.
“He’s hungry too, you know. You need to feed him.”
I could feel tears welling up. I wasn’t one to cry, but I felt so hopeless and alone.
“I know. But I really needed to pee.”
The nurse noticed my tears but carried on aggressively.
“Why are you crying? This is your life for the next eighteen years. Buckle up, princess.”
I was indignant, but she was right. I sobbed, trying to wipe the tears from my eyes, but it was hard with a hand full of needles.
“Come on. You just have the baby blues, this is normal at day three. Don’t ring the bell unless you really need us.”
I gently removed my son from his swaddle and took him back to bed with me, sobbing at my complete failure to meet his needs. This was day two, and I was already failing him.
As the night wore on, I continued to feed, feed, feed, but the more I did, the less he was seeming to enjoy it. His wails were matching my exhaustion, hour after hour. As the clock ticked past midnight, he started to bash his head against my chest. I tried to reassure myself that it was all normal and I refrained from ringing the bell, the nurse’s ire fresh in my mind.
Even though I felt alone, you’re never really alone in a hospital and I could hear the nurse’s rubber Crocs grating against the floor, irritating me so. I worried that if they caught me on my phone, they’d think I was even more of a failure than before. As soon as I knew they were occupied in other rooms, I whipped out my phone and started Googling frantically.
Baby + headbutting + autism, Baby + headbutting + poor + attachment.
These were all threads of thought I had come across in my studies and I was worried that it wasn’t normal. He cried and cried in my arms, though I had long stopped, now just desperate for answers.
I was still cradling him when out of sheer exhaustion, I nodded off. It was somewhat peaceful, until I started to dream. In the dream, a man stood with his head fallen, cradling his own baby against a brick wall. He was rocking his baby, perhaps a little too hard, with a bottle teetering on the edge of his thumb. The baby was wailing. I felt compelled to help him.
In the dream, I edged slowly forwards to this mysterious stranger.
“Sir! Sir! You can’t feed him like that! The latch isn’t right. The bottle isn’t in his mouth.”
I felt my body melting into the perfectly groomed lawn around us. My forearm detached, then my hand, and then my legs caved in beneath me.
He looked up and scoffed.
“Why would I take advice from you? You can’t even feed your own baby. He keeps headbutting you.”
I jerked awake, ashamed that not only could I not feed my son, but I had fallen asleep on the job. As I looked around the room, I noticed that there were plumes of smoke emanating from the corner of the curtain.
No. Surely not?
As I grounded myself, the smoke drifted away. I was safe, for now.
At three am, I took a photo of the both of us when he’d finally cried himself into sleep. I figured I’d need a reminder to show myself in the future what I could get through when I tried – and more important, why I needed to get through.