On Tuesday we took Henry to his first museum. It was the Met, of course. He slept through the whole visit. However, for the bus ride home he was wide awake. Bus windows are awesome.
Six days after my c-section I was holding Henry and noticed a little drop of blood on his foot. He had no cut or scratch that I could see, so I gave him to my husband to investigate while I continued to visit with my parents and sister who were in town. A minute or so later Tim reported that he couldn’t find any cut or scratch on Henry. I checked myself and couldn’t find anything – until I peeked under my skirt. I had blood down both of my thighs. Only then did I notice the large wet spot on the front of my black skirt.
Into the bathroom I went. It turns out my surgery incision had opened up, almost all the way. This led to my very first New York City emergency room visit. Luckily with my family in town I had a ride to the hospital and someone to watch Henry while I went to the ER. We were not going to bring our 6-day-old baby to the emergency room, and this meant Tim could come to the hospital with me, which was a very good thing, because I didn’t handle the news I received very well.
I thought I had just a busted stitch and that my visit would entail a quick cleanup and sew job. While waiting in the ER I was trying my best to be cool, but I was still raw from the birth experience of a few days before and I was away from my newborn baby who was hungry. The hospital was not where I wanted to be, for any reason.
The on-call OB/GYN attended to me quickly and assessed the injury immediately, telling me that blood had pooled under the incision and thus we were dealing with a ruptured hematoma. That it had ruptured was a good thing (relatively speaking, of course), as pooled blood is the ideal environment for bacteria to grow; had it not burst I would have eventually ended up with another hospital stay to get rid of an infection. I am glad she shared this with me because I tried to use this information to soothe myself once I heard that I was not in fact going to be stitched up and on my way but that instead the wound would take a month or more to heal and that I’d need daily wound care from a professional. It was a very deep wound. And it hurt. Oh my God it hurt.
Cleaning the wound entailed scraping out the old blood, cleaning it with saline, packing it with gauze, then covering and taping it with more gauze to protect it. It also meant me using some of the Lamaze pain management techniques I didn’t get to use for Henry’s birth – so we didn’t completely waste our money on the Lamaze class. (Luckily the pain from the wound care subsided pretty quickly. A week later it barely hurt.) I had a visit with my doctor the next day, who set up home nurse visits for me. Unfortunately, our insurance didn’t approve the visits until four days later, so it meant I had to go back to the ER or an urgent care facility for the next three days. I could barely walk. When my doctor found out that I wasn’t going to have home care for those days she met me on her days off and opened her offices specifically for me over that weekend. When she called me and told me she’d take care of the wound it felt like she’d saved my life.
Luckily my mom was able to spend that next week with me. She watched Henry while I went to the doctor. Henry’s immune system wasn’t ready for the subway, and I wasn’t physically cleared to carry even my tiny baby for too long, so I was very, very lucky that my mom could come and stay with me while Tim went back to work to finish the school year. When I picked my mom up at the bus station I looked like an a-hole making her carry her bags all by herself up the subway stairs, but I am so happy I got to look like an a-hole. I was also scared to be with Henry by myself. This so far is the worst feeling I’ve ever experienced in my life.
So I was a bit of a mess Henry’s second week in the world, physically and mentally. At this point I still had very swollen legs and feet – picture my legs and feet in a fat suit and then double that size – and now had a bulging wound cover sticking out over my still-paunchy stomach. It was hard finding appropriate clothing to wear in public. Tim’s flip-flops barely fit my feet, and I really should have been walking with a cane. And I put on quite a display trying to function without using my stomach muscles. As far as describing my mental state, I’ll just say I cried a lot.
So after a month and change of being homebound until the nurse had visited (yet being very happy the nurse could visit), of being physically restricted, of worrying something was going to go wrong, last Friday I was declared healed by my doctor. I now have a big, beautiful, ugly scar to show for it, and I couldn’t be happier.
At the very first ultrasound, when all that’s visible is a faint, tiny ball of cells, I said to my doctor, “Aw, it has my nose!” Because I find myself hilarious, I repeated this statement at every ultrasound thereafter.
When my doctor got back into town Monday after Henry was born (she unfortunately couldn’t make it to his surprise birthday) she visited us in the hospital and immediately after looking at Henry, said, “Aw, he’s got your nose!”
And he may actually have my nose. It makes me wish I’d said instead, “Aw, he has his father’s natural intelligence and my work ethic!”
But my nose isn’t half bad. You’re welcome, son.
The following tips are admittedly heteronormative and apply to couples who’ve had a biological child. Though not entirely universal in application, I still highly suggest you read and take the advice.
Tip 1: Do NOT tell a mother whose child was born premature that “the baby just wanted to come out.” The baby did not want to come out. The mother provided a safe and warm place for the baby to grow, and the baby would have liked to have stayed there until full term. Telling a mother her baby wanted to escape her womb is telling her she did something wrong. She did not. And if you think she did I suggest you say absolutely nothing at all to her, ever.
Tip 2: Tell the new mother the baby looks like her.
This tip I learned from my Lamaze teacher. I’ve experienced its worth firsthand. The truth is babies almost always come out looking like their father. But no matter how she had the baby, Mom just went through a lot, so even if the baby is a clone of his or her father, pick at least one feature and call it Mom’s. And the baby’s features will change, so constant comparison to Dad is not only premature but insensitive.
Personal note: I have a very attractive husband. Comparing Henry to his father is and always will be a compliment. But for better or worse half of Henry is me. Also, since I was very, very blessed to be adopted as a baby, Henry is the only person in this world I know who I am biologically related to. This looking like someone phenomenon is a brand new one for me. So I repeat: be sensitive. I still have hormones that need to be worked out, and I’d rather not have to work them out on you.
Tip 3: Don’t constantly ask new parents what you can do for them or what they need.
It’s great you want to help, but don’t be needy. Constant nagging stresses them out. They need time to figure out what they want and need, and it does not help for you to force them to make those decisions. A simple “Let us know if you need anything” – without a daily follow-up – is the most helpful. They’ll let you know how you can help. If you absolutely MUST do something immediately, buy them toilet paper or frozen pizza.
Tip 4: Don’t be a guest when visiting.
If you’re brave enough to visit brand new parents and are staying for more than an hour, act more as if you live in the house,* not as if you’re visiting, especially you are visiting intentionally to help.** If you want to make dinner, don’t ask “What do you want for dinner?” Having to make such decisions is excruciating for new parents. Ask, “Any dinner requests?” or give them a choice between two options. Or just make something. (If it’s in the house, chances are the parents bought it because they will eat it.) Like tip 3, don’t ask what you can do. If there are dirty dishes, wash them. Trash in the trash can? Take it outside. Something can always be vacuumed or dusted. If the baby poops or pees while you’re holding him or her, change the diaper. You are by no means obligated to perform such tasks, but they are truly helpful if you are comfortable doing them. If not, just hold the baby while the parents housekeep or sleep, which is also very helpful. Don’t take it personally that the parents aren’t devoting sole attention to you – know they are VERY happy to see you. Come with ways to entertain yourself and activities you’d like to do outside of the house, especially if traveling a distance and spending the night. Making new parents find ways to entertain you is not very nice. The fewer unnecessary decisions new parents have to make, the better.
*This is not permission for you to redecorate. In any way.
**If you have been asked to come help, these rules do not apply to you. (Thanks, Mom. You actually set these standards.)
Tip 5: Don’t take pictures of Mom without her permission.
In fact, don’t even ask “Can I take your picture?” Say, simply, “Let me know if you want a picture of you and the baby.” If you want a picture of Mom and Mom doesn’t want her picture taken, too bad for you. If you need a photo to remember the moment then maybe you shouldn’t be visiting so soon. Mom has a weirdly shaped body, her clothes don’t fit right, she has dark circles under her eyes, and is very likely not wearing makeup or wearing her hair the way she’d like. These things are important in pictures, and it doesn’t matter at all if you don’t care how the mother looks. I posed for requested pictures recently, and I should have offered instead to be kicked in the shins; at least that pain is impermanent and less mean.
Tip 6: Take it easy on the stuffed animals.
Newborns aren’t even supposed to have stuffed animals. I know that you want to be the one who buys the baby his or her favorite toy, but chances are, since the parents, at least early on, are the ones who get to decide what the child’s favorite anything is, the child’s favorite stuffed toy will be one Mommy and Daddy picked out. (On that note, you can buy stuffed animals parents registered for.) Quantity does not help your chances. Don’t leave the parents with a pile of stuffed animals. I know they are super cute, but please try to resist buying a stuffed toy unless it is very special. Baby wipes are much cuter.
Tip 7: Buy age-appropriate gifts.
Buy gifts the baby can use or wear as soon as possible. Don’t buy the baby a scooter or a backpack for kindergarten or an Easy Bake Oven. Or, if you do, keep them at your place until the baby/child is old enough to use them. It’s hard learning to share space with a new person, so don’t laden new parents with objects that will sit untouched for more than a few months (especially if they live in a one-bedroom apartment).
Don’t worry – we’ve all done these don’ts at one point. We just won’t do them ever again.
Today is Henry’s due date. Tomorrow he will be four weeks old. <Insert quote about life being full of surprises.>
What started as a regular checkup turned into my son’s birthday, a month early. Henry was born at 12:04 p.m., weighing 5 pounds, 11 ounces, and measuring 19 inches long.
Because of slightly low thyroid levels brought on by the pregnancy, beginning at week 35 I had weekly appointments in the fetal evaluation unit just to make sure all was okay. On the morning of Henry’s birthday, after a week of consistent abdominal pain from what was determined to be Braxton Hicks (by an awful resident about whom someday I may talk), I felt good and was looking forward to my final weeks of pregnancy. Turns out I would be pregnant for only a few more hours.
After a really great eight months together, for some reason that morning Henry’s heart was decelerating. It would beat normally and then suddenly drop. After sitting in three different positions while on the monitor and having the machine beep a warning every time, I got treated to a wheelchair ride up to the labor and delivery floor for further monitoring. “Should I call my husband?” I asked. They handed me my phone.
I’d be on the phone with my husband often for the next hour and half, sending messages that began with “I’m going to labor and delivery to be monitored if you’d like to come down just in case” and ended with “emergency c-section happening now.” I was talking to my husband on the phone as I was getting the epidural.
Tim got to the hospital right after the c-section was over. We saw Henry for the first time together in recovery. And that healthy, perfect little baby latched right onto my left breast and ate.
Neither Henry or I expected to meet each other that day or to celebrate his birthday so soon, but meet and celebrate we did. It’s hard to believe he’s been here for almost a month, but, right now, it’s also hard to believe he hasn’t always been here.
On what would be week 40, weighing just five pounds more than I weighed before I was pregnant, I’m posting the last picture we took of me pregnant, from week 34. Appropriately, it is at home, on our front stoop. Tim even made it into this picture (you can see his reflection in the door).