*This was written three years ago - but I never got around to posting it. Recent research I've been doing around birth and breastfeeding (although a millennia ago in Constantinople) for one of my Master's subjects had me going through old birth posts and I realised this one got lost in the newborn haze.
More tired than I ever remember being, I push the perspex crib containing my hours old baby and follow the midwife from the birth suite to my room. It's the small hours of the morning and I'm woozy, confused after the birth. She hurries on ahead and I lose her. The corridor seems to stretch forever and I didn't see which door she turned into. I stand still, lost, wondering if I should just start peering into all the rooms. It seems so much effort. I'll just stand for a moment.
After a time the midwife returns for me, and I follow her into a room with two empty beds. I park my newborns' crib beside the bed next to the window and fall onto it. Every cell in my body seems weighted towards the floor, gravity pulling me earthward.
My labor was quick, but I hadn't slept for twenty hours prior, the patch up after the birth took hours and the official documents say I lost three litres of blood in the somewhat traumatic post-birth. The one that involved the doctor shoving her fist into my innards without anaesthetics. That one.
I am so tired. I ease into the pillow. The blissful crisp sheets. I love the familiarity of the hospital bed, the mattress protectors, the special easy-clean pillows. Bliss. I am sooo tired.
But although I've carefully placed my baby next to me, she's looking away from me. Obviously I want to drink in her tiny, perfect face as I finally tumble into sleep.
Slowly, I jolt upright and stumble around the bed to move her to the other side so I can see her face. (Not that her little ear and soft black hair isn't perfect either.)
Uh oh. The movement sets my post-birth blood gushing faster. I feel it seeping beyond the bulky maternity pad. Reluctantly, I head to the bathroom and yep, it's gone through the mega-pad, onto the oversized undies and stained my pj bottoms.
Weighted, robotic, I stumble out to find clothes in my suitcase, a bag for the stained ones, and jerkily change. By the time I'm clean, my baby is stirring, her little mouth pursing for milk, I pick her up - so tiny, so light - I savour her newborn smell. In bed with me, she drinks eagerly.
Holy hell. That hurts. With my first baby the afterpains weren't that bad. With number four it's intense cramping. I breathe through it as she feeds. I admire the perfect line of her lashes, her tiny fingers, her little nose, her dark hair.
The feeding increases the bleeding. And damn it, after I put her down again I need to change again.
When my little one falls back into sleep I return to the bathroom. I need new clothes again. This time I use two pads. I stumble back to bed. I'm hungry sooo hungry. When's breakfast? I check my bag.
In hormonal craziness I have vegan chocolate that tastes horrific. Why? Why would I do that. I also have yogurts that I forgot to refrigerate. I eat the horrible vegan chocolate as I'm dizzy with hunger.
Surely breakfast is soon. It's light(ish.) Morning approaches.
I should sleep. I know I should sleep. But I'm so hungry. That three litres of blood won't replace itself out of nowhere.
I distract myself with taking photos of my wonder baby. The most beautiful baby in the history of babies. With the exception of my first three.
I watch the changing light of the dawning as it falls so gently on my newborn.
She is so different from my first three babies. They were all large and very fair. She is small(er) and has dark hair. I wonder if she'll grow up to have dark curls. (Spoiler: she rapidly becomes blonde. My dreams of a little dark haired child are thwarted - my children are variations on a theme when it comes to colouring. Grandkids. I'm putting in my order for red hair and black hair.)
Everything she does seems miraculous. She flexes her fingers and it seems momentous. Her face contorts into something resembling a smile as she sleeps and it seems like the first sunrise.
My Beloved arrives. He looks worse than I do. He doesn't have the pink donut I requested but he does have a hot chocolate from the mum's kitchen around the corner of the ward.
The kids are off to school and all is good. He leaves.
Something is wrong. My baby is crying soundlessly. She's a funny colour. I pick her up. I assume she's hungry although she's just fed and I even remembered to burp her. I put her on my shoulder and pat her back. The crying eases.
I return to the familiar pattern of feeding, eating, getting changed, feeding, burping, feeding, forgetting to burp, everything is brought up, changing, re-feeding, burping.
I am so tired my eyes keep falling shut, but every time I am half asleep something happens. A nurse arrives to check my blood pressure, a nurse arrives to check my baby's blood sugars, my baby wants more milk, I need to change my pads.
The ward round doctors enter my room in a mob.
This is not the way I wanted my husband's bosses to see me for the first time. Puffy and splotchy with half-concealed blood-stained clothes in the open suitcase beside my bed. The shower I had after birthing seems aeons ago, although it's less than eight hours. They talk words and go.
The nurses check my blood pressure, they do stuff to check my iron. They check my baby's blood glucose.
I can't take in enough. My brain feels as if it's been put into slow motion. It takes me awhile to work out what people are saying.
I concentrate on my baby.
The nurse comes in again.
My baby is again crying silently and oddly. I'm about to pick her up when the nurse motions me to stop. She gets out her watch and looks at the time. I think she sets a timer.
My baby is having non-breathing episodes.
I can't quite get my head around it.
My baby is taken away for monitoring.
I slowly find my way through to the infant intensive care room. It is not so very far away, but blood soaks through the two pads and stains the seat when I'm feeding her, carefully, because of the cord attached to her.
I try to clean the blood up, moving slowly, and cumbersomely. It takes a long time.
Sugar. I need sugar. Caffeine. I need to stay awake, aware. I'm scared to sleep.
Stuff it. On my return I start wearing my baby's nappies.
My parents arrive, bringing supplies. Already I need new clothes. I brought a suitcase and thought myself silly. Not so much.
My older children arrive while our littlest one is still in the nursery. I guide them through and they study her with awe. For some reason my son is wearing a face mask, as you would for snorkelling, but I don't ask.
We sit and watch. She is so beautiful. Her skin soaks up the light. It is so strange to see her placed on her tummy, the crib at an angle, when we spend so long never placing babies on their tummy.
My wonder-child is returned to me by nightfall. I stay up most of the night, nursing her, watching. Afraid her breathing will stop. I read - a fantasy book about a heroine who saves her world against all odds.
A nurse brings hot chocolate and I gulp down the much needed sugar desperately. I dare not fall asleep. I cannot stay awake much longer.
The next morning my Beloved drops by before starting his shift - again he looks worse than I do. And I am still wearing nappies and have not slept in... o I can't work out the numbers. He has spent the night putting up the new trampoline. As you do. The kids are not coping well with me not there.
Again, in the morning, my parents walk to the hospital with changes and necessities. They hold my little wondrous one while I have a quick shower - I have been too worried to leave her for more than the time needed to stumble-trip to the loo. Being clean feels good. Washing away the blood feels good. I am still clumsy, ponderous, sleep hazed. My darling is all that is perfection and I am so scared my concentration will slip, that I will sleep and she will stop breathing.
Later in the day my things are gathered up and I am wheeled through to a much larger, single room, although the last room contained only me. (A far cry from the ward I was in with my first, when there were four - or maybe six -of us in a room and another mother's children ate my breakfast). This room is so light and airy and I feel very spoilt. Although I did not enjoy everyone and their side-kick descending for ward rounds (and let us be clear, as a general rule I dislike obstetricians) - this almost makes up for it.
I spend another sleepless night in this new and airy room, obsessed with the changing light as it embraces my little one, so new to the world. I dare not sleep - I watch, besotted. Her tiny hands, her movements still those of one who has been held in fluid for all of their existence.
This is the last time it will be just me and her - I savour it, willing the time to slow. This is the time apart. The honeymoon as I learn her face, her addictive newborn smell, the rightness of her weight in my arms.
All to soon it is time to leave the hospital and return to the chaos and rush that is life beyond the hospital walls. Tomorrow I will be doing the school run and listening to stories and being pelted with hugs and demands and injustices needing to be immediately adjudicated.
I still haven't slept. The world is blood and milk.
But my wonder-baby is all that is wonderful and I rejoice that she is mine and I am hers.