When I was pregnant with my first child I went out a bought a lovely nightgown and robe set to wear in the hospital after my baby was born. My mother told me that such a beautiful set would be the last thing that I would want to wear once the baby was born. I simply could not understand what she was trying to get across to me. Didn’t she want to see me looking demure and glowing, my hair tied back with a satin ribbon, as I sat propped up in the hospital bed, beaming and holding my brand new infant, in my brand new dressing gown? Was she not watching the same TV commercials that I was watching?
My mother told me that I would ruin the nightgown, and being a nurse, I should have known that she had a point. I had done my OB rotation in college, but I went on to work with the babies, in the newborn nursery, and NICU. Looking back, I must have lapsed into some form of romantic fantasy amnesia during my pregnancy, because in my mind, I was going to pop out the kid without breaking a sweat, hop out of bed, do my hair and makeup, and be ready to hold court. It was nothing like that.
For a first child, my labor was quite short at just five hours or so. I had my natural labor, but nothing else went right. I was severely preeclamptic, so I had IV’s, and oxygen, and a monitor. You could barely see me amidst the tubes. Things got so bad that they were prepping me for an emergency c-section, but I dilated from 5 to 10 centimeters in 10 very intense minutes, so they hauled me off to the delivery room. No nice birth-room birth with my midwife for me.
No, the doctor placed a suction cup on my baby’s head, then she had two burly nurses ready to push on the top of my belly. With the next contraction, the doctor told me, and the nurses to push, while she pulled, and my son shot out like a cork. Pictures show me, not having a delicate bow in my hair, but having my hair plastered to my head, and a wet washcloth adorning my forehead.
The next few days were a haze of nursing sessions, and pad changes, and nurses massaging my uterus, and me in tears more than a few times. There was no makeup, no pretty hair, and absolutely no glamor. What was present was a lot of messiness, hormone changes, and a really sore bottom. I believe I took my mother’s advice, and the pretty nightie and robe stayed packed. The postpartum period is, in one word, drippy.
A friend of mine from work had her baby soon after I had mine. When I spoke to her after, once she had gotten home, I asked her how she felt. She told me that she felt like one, big, soggy, paper product. Another friend had a baby shortly after that. We were a fertile lot. When I spoke to her, and asked her the same question, she told me that she felt like a giant, walking boob, as in breast. Combine the two statements, and you have an accurate view of the first two or three weeks after giving birth. Between the huge menstrual pads, and the nursing pads, and the diapers, there is a lot of wetness, and a lot of changing going on.
This does not even begin to touch on all of the hormonal changes, which bring on even more dripping, in the form of tears that come on, out of the blue, usually when other people are present. “I just don’t know what is wrong with me,” is a commonly heard comment during the postpartum period. There is nothing wrong at all. You are sore, and tired, and hormonal, and you have a new human being to care for around the clock that you spent the past nine months growing from scratch in your own body. Who wouldn’t cry, when you think about it.
Oh, there are the exceptions, of course. I did see one woman come through birth without a hair out of place. She had a planned c-section, and went in wearing full makeup, and a bow in her hair, and she came out looking just as lovely. I think that she’d even had a manicure. I learned my lessons, though. When I had my last child, I wore the rattiest pajama top I owned, an equally ratty cardigan, and sweat pants to the hospital, and I wore them home, too. That way, when I got done with all of the leaking, and dripping, I could just burn the whole outfit. Save the pretty stuff for later. Life isn’t a television commercial. Relax and take a deep breath. Your new baby will think that you are beautiful. Okay, so babies do not see so well at first, but that is probably for the best, right?