The skin in my hands is cracked.
My hair is dirty, and messy.
My body is producing blood and sweat.
My breasts seem to be too hard, or too soft, but never quite right.
There are piles of laundry in my room, in the restroom, in the corridor. I’d have to check the kitchen, maybe there too.
I have been cooped up in the house for the last ten days.
And I am discovering a germophobe that I didn’t know I had in me.
Is all this the result of the flu? Of asome catastrophic domestic apocalypse? Of a natural disaster?
It is a new baby.
A new, glorious, gorgeous, cute little baby.
The skin in my hands is cracked because, after he was in the NICU for a week, we got used to wash our hands every single time we pick him up, we feed him, we change him, we cuddle him… We are so diligent about it that even his brothers, 12, 8 and 5, who are boys, and are gross, have gotten into the habit of not entering our room without washing their hands. Had I known all it would take was bringing a new baby home I would have done it years and years ago. Oh, wait… But going back to the skin. It is raw. It is cracking. It hurts a bit, and no amount of moisturizer makes it better. But it doesn’t matter.
My hair is a mess. That is such a stereotypical thing to say… And while I have been able to take daily showers (after all, this is my fourth baby, and I know that he won’t run away from the crib in his sleep while I shower for ten minutes), washing my hair in Chicago’s winter is a two hour commitment. Which I haven’t been able to make in the last few days. But it doesn’t matter.
My body is producing blood and sweat. It will be for a couple more weeks. It is the hormones, going up and down, adjusting to my now empty uterus, adjusting to the fact that my body is not sustaining and carrying another body anymore, adjusting to the fact that the baby who lived inside my belly for 37 weeks is now peacefully sleeping in his crib, making it seem impossible that he ever fit inside my womb. I have to change nightgowns twice a night, we have driven all around town in search of cotton pads (not even Amazon gets this right), and I have to be diligent with my water and food intake, because otherwise I get dizzy. And all that after an easy, beautiful, and pretty much uneventful birth. But it doesn’t matter.
My breasts are doing weird things. Sometimes things that hurt. Two days after birth I was in tears because my baby was in the NICU and I was only able to pump 5 ml of colostrum. It seemed like the end of the world to me. No amount of nurses, doulas, lactations consultants or husbands could console me. Then, the next day, as they all had promised (and I should have known by my fourth rodeo), my milk came in with a force, and I was suddenly pumping 100 ml and drowning that poor little baby in milk. We still haven’t gotten the supply thing to perfection, but we are working on it, eight times a day, for an hour at a time. My nipples are a bit raw, my breasts are a little tender, and my back could use a full week of massage. But it doesn’t matter.
There are piles of laundry everywhere. There were already piles of laundry before, to be honest, because with three boys, and their sports, that tends to happen. But the piles have multiplied. See sweat, milk drowning and baby, all above. We try to keep up, but there seem to be millions of diminutive onesies, and footsies, and oh so so many burping clothes… But it doesn’t matter.
I have been cooped up in the house for ten days. Normally, this would have driven me absolutely crazy. I am what we call in Spanish a “culo inquieto”. Literally translated, a “restless butt”. Being home for more than ten hours gives me anxiety. Doing what seems like nothing drives me nuts. Back when I had my first baby, and I was in pretty bad shape, my beloved postpartum doula had to take the telephone and whatever book I was reading from my hands, tuck me in, turn off the lights, and command me to sleep in an unmistakably stern voice, in order for me to rest a tiny bit. By now, I have gotten better at it, so with the right amount of books and coffee, and a visit here and there, I am surviving being hunkered down in the middle of the Chicago winter. But it doesn’t matter.
I may be turning into a germophobe. If you know me, you know I have never been one. If you have been in my house, you know that tidying it up is not among my priorities. My kids have eaten mud, and sand, have licked each other and probably a few dogs, have happily picked up a cookie that just fell into the ground and put it back in their mouths. And I have been fine with all that. They all have built pretty strong immune systems. But this baby being born in the middle of winter while the media bombards me with words like “flu”, “RSV” or “coronavirus” have turned me into a paranoid mama bear who would like to wrap him up in bubble wrap, if only after filling the bubbles with Purell. I hope to eventually go back to my laid back self, because my hands won’t survive two more months of this. But it doesn’t matter.
You may be wondering where I am going with all this. The other day, after my previous post, I was talking to my niece. She is now 26, my same age when I got pregnant for the first time. And she had to ask me to explain what was happening in that postpartum add that got banned from the Oscars, because she had no idea. No one had warned her. That is not the kind of thing that appears in maternity books, or is discussed over coffee and croissants, or wine, for that matter. Neither are any of the things that I listed above.
But my bottom line for her, and for anyone in her generation, anyone younger who is thinking about having a baby some day, is that, all these things will happen. They may be messy. They may be rough at times. But in general, these things don’t matter. Those are not the things I remembered from my previous babies. Actually, I had completely forgotten some of them. What I remember are the cuddles. The newborn smell. The softness of a newborn cheek. A tiny hand wrapped around my finger. That look of infinite gratitude and immense love that babies give you when you pick them up from the crib to feed them. The first smiles, both the first “farting” reflex one and the first social, real, intentional smile. The love. The raw, primal, intense, infinite love that you feel when you look at them. Some will tell you that it is all hormones. To hell with them. For me, it is all heart.
And that is all that matters.
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