Haylie was born just after midnight on Saturday, July 24th. We went home the very next day around dinner time. I wanted to spend as little time as possible in that hospital. Along with my newborn, I left with a prescription for a course of antibiotics as well. The long difficult labor had resulted in a urinary tract infection that was found when they checked my cautiously delivered urine sample that morning. I was pretty sure that nothing would ever be the same again, but most especially going to the bathroom. I was all padded up with a cross between a large menstrual pad and a diaper. And, they threw in an inflatable donut for my sitting pleasure, just in case.
Those first few days are a blur to me now. I was supposed to be resting as much as possible and sleeping when the baby did, which was actually most of the time. But, as tired as I was, I just couldn’t sleep much. I was on auto-pilot and spent most of the time just holding her or watching her sleep and meticulously folding onesies. I think my brain was still floating in an oxytocin cocktail and my neurons were being rearranged into an organized, efficient, mothering machine.
My mom stayed in close contact and stepped in to help when I needed an extra set of hands, like when I had to go to the grocery store to buy some cranberry juice to help treat my urinary tract infection. I left the baby with her for the first time, and as I drove down the street, I felt a tug of anxiety in my gut.
Too soon to leave my baby. Ok, just hurry up and get to the store and back.
As I walked quickly down aisle five, scanning for the cranberry juice, I heard, from somewhere nearby in the store, the sound of a baby crying. Then, suddenly, the familiar hot flash in my breasts, and the next thing I knew, the front of my shirt was soaked. My milk had let down. In the middle of Marsh. I took a quick detour down the baby aisle and also grabbed a box of breast pads, which I had been so sure that I would never need. I think I had exchanged the two boxes I got as shower gifts for something far more practical, like another receiving blanket. At least there was no line at the checkout, and the cashier was an older woman who just gave me a knowing smile.
Yep, I’ve just given birth. No pride left here.
The whole nursing thing turned out to be not so romantic in the beginning either. For one thing, Haylie’s rooting reflex seemed to be backwards at first. Babies are wired, for survival’s sake, to turn their heads in the direction of the cheek that is stimulated by touch, and to open their mouths. This is nature’s way of ensuring that they latch onto the breast in order to feed. Well, my daughter turned her head in the opposite direction. That made things a little bit more complicated.
She eventually did get the hang of it, and so did I. It was definitely easier for the first few days when I was producing just colostrum, which is nutrient dense, high in antibodies, and low in volume, compared to regular breast milk. Once my milk came in, my ginormous swollen mammary glands took on a life of their own, and they were so big it was seriously difficult for the baby to get her tiny mouth around them. Sometimes she would lose her suction grip, slipping off the nipple, and the force of the milk spraying out would get her in the eye or hit something lying on the coffee table in front of me.
And, the whole time she was ravenously slurping on one side, the other side was leaking, soaking me with a warm sticky mess. It took some practice to figure out how to hold her comfortably with one arm, and use the fingers of my other hand to push hard on the free nipple, suppressing the flow of milk, so that didn’t happen. It also took some practice to learn how to switch sides before the baby got too full, so that both breasts received equal attention. The whole system works on a supply-and-demand feedback loop, so that if you’re not careful, you can easily end up with a very lopsided situation. It can take some time to bring that back into balance once you’ve already got one breast much larger and fuller than the other (yep, I speak from experience).
And, it can take time for your nipples to toughen up. By the third or fourth day, I was so raw and sore that I couldn’t even bear to take a shower facing forward. My right one was puffy and red, and the La Leche League representative that I talked to said that mastitis was very common in new nursing mothers, but that since I was already on an antibiotic, that should take care of it. I remember sitting there alone on my sofa, in my little apartment, nursing my precious newborn baby and hating how much it hurt.
I don’t want to do this, I thought, Is it ever going to get better?
So, days blurred into nights blurred into days as my life revolved around the feeding schedule of a very young human being. My appetite kicked in, and I ate a lot. I did a lot of laundry, mostly little newborn-sized onesies and washcloths. Sometimes I even brushed my hair.
When Haylie was about a week old, my mom talked me into coming to a pool party at a friend’s house. Everyone was excited to see the baby, who seemed a little extra fussy that day. It was low-key, and I sat in the shade, enjoying the conversation and the company, but not so much the jokes about how big my boobs were. When Haylie woke up hungry, I went inside into the air conditioning to find a quiet place to nurse her. She had a serious look on her face that day, almost like a furrowed brow. After just a few minutes of feeding, she suddenly pulled back and vomited up all the milk. Not knowing any better, I chalked it up to the heat and humidity. I had no idea that, since I had stopped taking the antibiotic the day before, and therefore that the baby was no longer getting a residual amount of it through my breast milk, that the bacteria she had contracted in my birth canal (the very same bacteria that had caused my urinary tract infection) were multiplying rapidly inside her.
And, I had absolutely no idea what was about to happen next.