Baby Notes: thoughts on recently having a baby


Everyone around here is tired of me being the patient. It’s time to get up, get dressed, start doing something besides making goo-goo eyes at this Little Heavy.

I love how after a newborn has just eaten, you can pick her up under the arms, and she hangs there like a loaf of bread dough with her mouth relaxed into a lackadaisical half-smile. Weirdly, this was the thing I most looked forward to while she was still cooking.



The phlebotomist on staff at the hospital came in to take a panel before they started the induction. She rounded the curtain, put a hand on her heart, and said, “Oh! I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but it is just such a relief to see someone in here who’s not a teenager!” She looked at the ring on my finger and said, “And you’re married too! Wow!… We get so many little girls in here having babies. It’s the cool new thing to do, I guess, with all these teenage mom reality shows.”

I’d noticed a lot of really young pregnant people in the waiting room at the office, but I’d assumed there were at least a few standard married parents as well–enough that it wouldn’t cause alarm when one showed up in the delivery room.

I’m encouraged that marriage is still a comfort to people. We get so much hot air about how marriage is irrelevant and how sexual freedom trumps the confines of traditional family structures. Unfortunately, most of the commentary and defense of go-it-alone-parenthood comes from a privileged class that doesn’t have to suffer the consequences of its own campaign. (Simcha Fisher addresses this issue in a recent post, “For Your Marriage.”)



The phlebotomist finally put the tourniquet on me, smacking her lips like a vampire, saying “Juicy, juicy veins!” This is the response I’m more accustomed to receiving from people trying to draw my blood.



The fact is, I do feel a bit old, even though I know older women who’ve given birth much more gracefully. It’s been four years since the last time I had a baby, but they were sort of a critical four years–a four years that brought me from my early thirties to my late thirties–past that benchmark of “advanced maternal age.”

Maybe it’s due to the size of this baby at birth ( 9.75 lbs.), that for the last few weeks of pregnancy, I felt like I needed a walker to get around. If I’d been lying in bed for awhile and I needed to get up, I’d have to sit on the edge of my bed and count to twenty before I stood up. Once standing, I’d count to twenty again before taking my first step. Even still, I’d hang onto the bedpost until I was sure my hips wouldn’t give out when I tried to walk.

For the first week postpartum, this trend continued as the pregnancy hormones dissipated. Only for the past day or two have I felt the return of something like my former agility. But I sort of remember being 25 and wanting to go for a jog about a week after delivery.



My inability to get around easily these past few weeks has brought to light just how heavily I’ve been leaning on other people.

There’s a section of my last post on “Just Being a Mom”–even if it was written a long time ago–that keeps recurring to me, and making me cringe. It was the paragraph I spent complaining about wiping bottoms, during which I said something about how I considered such actions “beneath my talents.” I have to own that I once thought those thoughts, but I must have been kind of a jerk.

It struck me in the hospital, what a dangerous world we would live in if more people felt that cleaning those who can’t clean themselves is “beneath their talents.” Consider that my OB doc, a highly skilled professional, spent about thirty minutes post delivery…uh… cleaning things up, and that later it was the nurses who helped me to the bathroom, following that, the housekeeper who, for a living, mops the floors and collects the trash and towels of women who’ve just given birth–there are many, many people on many different pay scales, making a living wiping people’s bottoms.

Having spent some time talking to the housekeeper, about how she home schooled her kids, and taught them all to play guitar and piano by ear, so that they later formed a family Gospel band, I have to say, thank God for the people who do things that are beneath their talents.



Very early on, in fact, it may have been that “whatever, let’s have another baby” moment, I decided I would get an epidural when I delivered. It was one way I could get through what for me has been a relatively difficult pregnancy, thinking, at least I won’t have to feel labor. I’ve had six term pregnancies, and all but one of them were inductions requiring pitocin.

I delivered three of those without epidural, studying up beforehand in the Sears birth book, preparing my mental arsenal to do battle with pain and health professionals who would do everything in their power to win me over to the evils of medically controlled labor. I was already mad about the pitocin, but it was a way to kick back, to thumb my nose at it, and suck up the pain.

I just don’t have the energy for that kind of a battle anymore. I briefly flipped through the Sears book the night before my induction this time, and almost threw it in the fire. Every page went something like this: Common medical practice looks like A, but that can cause calamity B. You know better, so in order to make your birth experience as peaceful as possible, do everything the opposite of how your doctors want to do it.

I loved my natural labors, and I think it’s wonderful when women can deliver with midwives at home or in birthing centers–places oriented towards natural delivery–so that you’re not always facing subtle resistance. My medical history, unfortunately, has not allowed it. I have decided to be ok with that.

Maybe it’s something to do with the 2012 election, and Drudge-style media paranoia, but I’m just tired of skepticism, and conspiracies, and default positions that everyone in the world is trying to do me wrong. I wanted to go into labor trusting that I was in competent hands. I was in a new hospital with a new doctor, so it took a little leap of faith. Nothing about it was familiar. But I’ve been thinking a lot lately, in a lot of different situations, that ignorance can be a mercy.

I realize that’s not a popular position–no one wants to be taken by surprise, say, by the end of the world, by aggressive government policies, by cut-hungry OBs. But it was nice to go through Advent and the nativity right before delivery, thinking about how God entrusted himself in complete powerlessness to human caregivers. Why would God, who knows how wrong people can be, choose this kind of voluntary impotence?

My friend Pedge was telling me about a Fulton Sheen quote, in which people who have lost their fear of God tend to redirect their fears onto imaginary human assailants. There must always be an antagonist, whether it’s doctors or politicians or people who think or look differently. It’s so easy to consider oneself a potential victim, when what really motivates fear is an excess love of self.

And let me clarify–I’m not saying natural labor enthusiasts suffer from excess love of self–but rather that I, personally, have pitted myself against imaginary assailants ranging from doctors who were not supportive of my desire for natural birth to whomever the political villain of the day might be.



It also might be worth noting that there’s a tradition in the Church that Mary didn’t feel pain in labor. I want to be like her in all things.



Nevertheless, I did feel some pain. It was much lighter than unmedicated birth, but still hard enough that I had to breathe through the transitional contractions.

There’s always a point in labor where I turn inward. I don’t want to be touched or talked to. I remember saying, “I’m having emotions,” and leaving it at that. I couldn’t name the emotions or what initiated them. I just want to have my weepy moment alone and emerge on the other side of it with a baby.

I’ve noticed that a similar transition occurs postpartum. In the first twenty-four hours, I want company, lots of it, all night long–a party. The next day, I’m getting a little tired, and the baby’s getting a little fussy. By day four, I’m sick of everyone, and making that inward turn. I get the weepies for no good reason. I don’t want to talk to anyone. I don’t want people touching the baby. I just want to hole up, practice sleeping, eating, and being alone, and emerge in a couple days with a sense of being settled.

I should know better than to ever plan something on the fourth day postpartum.

And yet, it never fails–day four is like the epiphany–everyone wants to come see the baby, and I always end up snapping at someone, or crying, or otherwise making people feel bad. And there’s no warning to it. At four o’clock, the sun is shining, and the thought of company sounds sort of nice. By six, I’m a monster.



There usually is a trigger though: either my husband and I have come to some impasse about a parenting issue, or I’ve received some kind of bad news. This time, my trigger was a phone call from the pediatrician’s office, letting me know that in the nurse’s home visit, the baby had lost 10% of her birth weight, and that therefore, if she had not gained weight in 24 hours, I would need to supplement with formula.

While I was passive going into labor, I am rarely passive after it, and I get very annoyed with all the checking of the vitals and whatnot that occurs in the first few days after giving birth. This is the point when it seems health professionals provide more stress than relief.

The night nurse says, “Make sure she’s eating every two hours. She’s already lost 7% of her birthweight.”

The day nurse says, “She’s only lost 7% of her birthweight, so that’s good.” And I’m totally confused because the night nurse made it sound so ominous.

In the first episode of the PBS drama, Call the Midwife, a mother who has given birth at 32 weeks refuses medical care for her newborn, yelling at the midwives, “I’M HIS HOSPITAL!”

I couldn’t agree more.

In any case, the girl started eating a prodigious amount as soon as my milk came in. It was not a cause for alarm.



In all, I’d call it a pretty good birth experience. Labor was easy, the baby is healthy, and I’m recovering predictably, if a little slower than in the past. I’m grateful.


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About Elizabeth Duffy