Coming home from the hospital with our first baby was a bit terrifying. We had this teeny, tiny baby in a car seat which looked enormous. I didn’t even know how to adjust the straps on that thing until the nurse showed me how to do it. Driving home I was worried about every bump in the road, both for my little baby’s head and for the pain ripping through my entire body radiating out of my c-section incision area anytime we hit a pothole.
We had stayed at the hospital the maximum amount of time insurance covered, which was five days for my c-section. It wasn’t the most comfortable situation, especially according to my husband who had to sleep in this terrible, hard, fold out daddy chair thing. But we didn’t know what we were doing with this new human we had created. The first 24-hours we just blissed out staring at our baby and taking turns holding him against our bare chests.
The next night we discovered the nightmare that is cluster feeding, but we didn’t know what it was until the next day. If you don’t know about cluster feeding, it’s when the baby nurses frequently over a condensed period of time. Mine did it every thirty minutes the. Entire. Night.
Cluster feeding is hard, but the every half-an-hour should have been a clue that something was amiss. By the third day when our son was losing weight, one of the lactation consultants spotted his tongue tie. As his weight dropped by 9 percent, bringing us close to the magical 10 percent red line, we decided to stay as long as we could and get all the help we could to get the weight up and work on the nursing issues that were becoming apparent. One of the night shift nurses convinced me, through my tears, that formula was not poison and that giving him a little bit of it mixed with my pumped colostrum may be a good idea. She showed my husband how to feed our son with a dental syringe while the baby sucked on his finger. We needed the help and support of people who knew what they were doing with babies. Going home was like going into the wild, and we wanted to prolong that if possible.
We went home with bags of crap I thought I needed and some things we actually did need including a hospital pump. I was told to pump after most feedings and add in a morning pump as well to protect my supply until we could see a doctor about the tongue tie. In the meantime I was nursing with a nipple shield to protect my bloody, cracked nipples and give them a break while they healed.
In the moments while I wasn’t nursing or pumping I was eating everything in sight, guzzling endless quantities of water in the 32oz hospital mug I swiped, and crying.
So much crying
There’s no feedback from the baby in the beginning. They don’t smile at you or do anything to let you know how it’s going. They cry, sleep and eat. Therefore the only measure of success becomes wet diapers, weight gain and levels of crying.
This lack of feedback was all happening in a period where I was sobbing over everything anyway from the hormones crashing to the floor. I was in pain from the c-section and taking narcotics, which I’m sure contributed to my shaky mental state. We didn’t have family help at the house, and my husband was the one responsible for both assisting in baby care and helping me off the floor when I fell out of bed from trying to get up too fast.
I was existing in an incredibly raw and vulnerable state. Yes, I felt the awe of having my first child. Of course I felt love for him, but there were other feelings going on too. I didn’t feel immediately bonded to him. The overwhelming love that I have for him now, or even that I had for him within the first month, was just percolating in the first week. I felt confused by life in those early moments.
I was scared
I didn’t want to hurt the baby by anything I was doing, and he seemed so fragile. I checked his breathing while he slept, and considering he would only sleep on my chest for the first few weeks I didn’t have to reach very far. I panicked over our sketchy bed sharing, but he wouldn’t sleep in the bassinet/co-sleeper we had. I needed sleep, and if he wasn’t sleeping neither was I. One night I woke up confused about where the babies were, somehow thinking I had more than one I was supposed to keep track of. I was hallucinating a cat out of the shadows of our room. I was constantly afraid that he wasn’t getting enough milk because I couldn’t measure the amount he was drinking like I could have if he was drinking bottles. It wasn’t a pretty time.
This rough period was one I didn’t see coming. I had only heard about how much you love your baby. While that’s true, I didn’t know until after the fact that the not-bonded-immediately feeling is also on the normal spectrum. I had developed a relationship with the movement inside of me, and now I needed to build a relationship with the actual person behind the movement.
I’m aware that this post isn’t very solution-oriented, and I don’t know how to make it so. The first week home with our first son was rough. Yes, there are amazing moments in the mix. I felt an overwhelming love for my husband as I watched the man I married become a father. He was amazing in his new role, and seeing this new aspect of him made me love him even more. But you will hear about the good things from other people.
What I want you to remember is that the first week can be rough. It’s okay. Crying a lot is normal. Feeling disoriented and like you have to get to know the baby is normal. Be gentle on yourself and know that it will get better (and if it gets worse, tell your doctor as that may be PPD territory).