For the last ten months I have abstained from alcohol, avoided unpasteurized cheese, refrained from Excedrin when I had a headache, and kept my caffeine intake to under 200 mg a day. In my mind I had decided that once my baby was born things would move back toward normal. Little did I know this was just the beginning. My body is no longer mine. It belongs to the baby.
On the evening of Dec. 9, I’d just sent emails off to my family explaining how my doctor thought the baby might come late. Sitting at my computer desk I suddenly thought I understood what incontinence felt like. I was uncontrollably peeing all over myself.
As I hovered over the toilet, gushing like a water fountain, I realized that I wasn’t peeing. Without any warning signs, pains or contractions, my water broke. As I began stripping off my wet yoga pants and searching for a new pair of underwear, still gushing water, I yelled to my fiancé and slipped on the first pair of shoes I saw, flip flops. It was 5 degrees outside, but I was too nervous to think about freezing toes. Within minutes we were driving 95 miles per hour on our way to the hospital, an hour away.
Epidurals terrify me, which is why I decided on a natural birth. I had no interest in having my spinal cord tapped, and I let everyone on the delivery staff know it. The pain seemed relatively light and manageable at the time.
Cut to two hours later. Half my body felt like it was being dipped in boiling water. There were moments of reprieve, then the boiling water again. I misunderstood that birthing pain meant the stretching of my vagina, not these horrendous contraction pains. “Give me an epidural,” I said. “Are you sure?” my fiancé asked. “I want the epidural!” Nothing in my life or former career could have prepared me for this. This was the worst pain I’d ever felt in my life. The epidural, on the other hand, was wonderful.
On Dec. 10, at 8:27 a.m., baby Quentin came into the world purple and covered in white goo. He was so quiet I was afraid he wasn’t breathing, until they plopped his naked body on my chest and he looked at me with huge curious eyes. Amazing. Absolutely amazing. And terrifying. I was in shock, and I’m pretty sure Quentin was, too. An alien to this world, the creature was taking his first non-liquid breaths and we didn’t know what to make of each other. I was speechless and didn’t know what to feel. This was not the picture-perfect moment every film-birth makes it out to be. This was messy and scary.
Bringing Q home was the beginning of my new adventure as a mom. Before being discharged I had to agree to the terms. No driving for two weeks, no long walks, don’t carry anything heavier than a baby, no exercise for six weeks, and no penetration of any kind. In the doctor’s words, “No sex, no toys, no fingers, no tampons, and certainly no male anatomy for six weeks” (lest I was confused). The doctor wouldn’t even discuss birth control options until our six-week post appointment. I’d always heard kids stopped couples from having sex. I just didn’t know it happened from day one.
Our first night home was anything but bliss. Baby Q wouldn’t latch on. He and I were still learning how to accomplish the instinctive art of breastfeeding. Nothing about it felt natural and it was frustrating work for both of us. I was awkward despite having carried him for 10 months—he was still new to me. I didn’t know if I was holding him properly and nothing I’d learned from lactation class was helpful. I’d never changed a diaper, and neither had my fiancé. No one told us babies needed to be burped after a feeding. I found out the hard way when the baby exploded at both ends, becoming an active volcano of milk. Diaper changing immediately became and remains a two-person job: one person holds the legs while the other wipes and re-diapers. At some point my fiancé and I will have to learn to handle this task solo, but no need to rush it, we’re still newbies.
My body became the property of my baby during pregnancy, and it still is. I’m a 24-hour food delivery service. The adorable creature I’ve produced sees me as his personal meal on wheels. When he sees me walk towards him, his brow furrows in concentration, his eyes widen, and his lips purse together in a sucking motion. He doesn’t need language to communicate. When he cries, my body responds and I turn into a free-flowing fountain of milk. For the unprepared this can make for embarrassing public outings. Sure, I can see my toes again, and bending over to tie my own shoes is no longer a feat to accomplish. What I’ve traded for are bruised, sore nipples, postnatal celibacy, milk stains on my clothing, and unconditional love.
I knew I would miss sleep, but I didn’t understand I’d be missing out on intimacy with my partner for a full six weeks, which seems ridiculously long. Approximately every two hours the baby needs to be fed, cuddled, burped, changed, etc. Truthfully, I’m so exhausted from not sleeping I’ve hardly noticed the lack of sex. I half expected to be plagued with graphic dreams and an unsatisfied libido, but I’m too weary to notice. I’d thought the “I’m too tired” line was one of the oldest excuses in the book. Turns out, it’s real.
This is the price of parenthood, and while Quentin currently views me as “mom the milk lady,” his puppy-like whimpers and wide eyes are enough to make my heart melt every time. I study his every move and sound with awe and wonder, excited by even the smallest expression. My lessons in the challenges of raising a newborn are also a discovery of the joys of parenthood. Quentin is no longer that little discolored alien placed on my chest in the delivery room. He is my family now, and I’m secretly loving every sleepless minute of it.