Two public health nurses come visit us on Thursday. Stan is folding laundry on the couch and Belén and Susanna are perched beside him. I’m nursing in the armchair, tucked in with pillows and swaddle blankets. Our living room is messy with books and burp clothes, but not squalid. The nurses settle in and begin by asking a few screening questions. How are you feeling physically? Fine. Is Baby latching well? Perfect. Do you have family support? Check. Are you aware of the baby blues? Yep.
I’m answering all the questions just like they want me to. Which doesn’t feel quite right.
“I know I sound normal, and it is all going well, but still, this is really something,” I start to explain. I want them to know even though we look good on paper, we’re in survival mode. These first few days have been nothing less than epic in my little world and I wonder if they should dock some points off my file for good measure.
Later, years later, I know I will wonder what exactly made this first week so momentous. Besides the obvious, a new family member, I want to remember the all-consuming details. Details I’ve forgotten before. When I make my mental list while nursing, or drifting off to sleep, each one seems to come with a prayer. The prayers are short and of the Anne Lamott variety–Thanks, Help, Wow–but they come like a cool breeze on a humid summer day; some are even pin-pricks* of light from the world beyond my nursery. Read on if you’ve forgotten too, or want to pray along with me.
Things I’d Forgotten
…Baby shoulder skin and fleshy upper arms that will one day be biceps… Most of us remain topless the first week so we are ready to snuggle Vivia at a moment’s notice. She inhales all our scents, learning who is who, and we get to feel her skin as she curls into our chests–the Cadillac of all baby-holds. These moments inspire the Wow-God-I-can’t-believe-I-get-to-do-this-again prayers. And another, Wow, for all the things that need to go right to make a healthy human.
…Voracious hunger… I keep my eyes out for easy calories like nuts and avocados, downing un-whipped whipping cream and anything else fatty. Normally, food prep and eating is a pleasure but now it’s a hurdle just to satiate my appetite. After hunting through cupboards for my next snack I open an appeal letter from the Canadian Food Grains Bank. Describing the situation in South Sudan one aid worker writes:
They were on the run, searching for a place to hide, trying to think of somewhere near, running, desperate for a safe haven, carrying only what could fit in their hands, a bag or two, a child on one arm, and some clothing.
While honey and butter melt on my hot toast, I imagine the scene and think about mothers fleeing with their newborn children.They are voracious, like me, but without stocked pantries. Without organic nuts in fancy packages. Without whipping cream. Carrying only what could fit in their hands. God help them.
… Voracious hunger… I’m not the only one with an appetite around here. Interestingly, when Susanna is holding her sister, Vivian is never hungry.
Me: It looks like she’s rooting around for something, why don’t you pass her over?
Susanna: Oh, don’t worry, Mom. She’s not hungry. (As in, I’m not planning to give her up any time soon.)
Vivi: Slurp. Suck. Sharp inhale. Head slam against chest. Another slurp.
So far, Susanna has sustained only one minor injury for her Nope-not-hungry-with-me philosophy. A hickey. (This point doesn’t come with a prayer, unless laughter counts. Unfortunately, Vivia doesn’t seem to have a sense of humour yet.)
…Stan’s voice… Even though he jokes that the name Vivian means “accident of God” in Cree, I know by the sound of his voice and the lullabies he sings, Vivi is carving a place for herself just like Susie and Belén did. And while his prayer of I-can’t-believe-we-get-to-do-this-again, might be prefaced by a “help” instead of a “wow”, his tender tones towards his newborn daughter are an answer to prayer in themselves. Thanks God for surprises and the grace to accept them. Give us more grace, for ourselves and each other; we’ll be needing a surplus in the coming days.
…Labour is only half-over when the baby is born…The uterine contractions last for at least three days and although the delivery was un-medicated I need drugs, and more deep breathing, to get me through them. When the cramps lessen my milk comes in; taut is the word that comes to mind. For relief I know I need to nurse, but every time Vivi latches on a lightening bolt of pain shocks my whole body. Motherhood is a big kick in the pants, I think, and this is just the beginning. But still, I have my baby. When I pick her up to try nursing again I wonder about women who lose their babies. Women with swollen, aching bodies but no child to hold or feed. Whether they choose their path of sorrow, or their babies are taken from them, God help them.
…The sunrise after a night’s work…When I make it through the night, after hours of changing and burping and feeding, I feel as if I’ve gotten a little bit closer. Although to what, I’m not sure. The sky lightens and like a weary traveler I arrive on the doorstep of another day. We did it! I want to say. We did one more night! Thank you, God.
PS. All the nicest pictures in this post were taken by my sister-in-law, Amber.
PPS. Thank you, friends, for your well-wishes and response to Vivia’s birth.