Fear and Loathing on the Maternity Ward
Passing the Parent Test
Giving birth is a lot like a bad blind date: They look nothing like you’d imagined, there’s a lot of pain and suffering in the middle, and you end up taking home a complete stranger who cries and wets themselves. Maybe my blind dates have been different than yours.
After giving birth to my first son, I had serious doubts the hospital would let me take him home. After all, they didn’t know me very well; I could be a deranged nut-bag. Didn’t I need to get certification or pass some sort of test to become a parent? Nope. They just hand the baby over, wheel you to the nearest exit and dump your ass on the sidewalk.
Standing on the curb, waiting for my husband to bring the car around I stared at my newborn son, this tiny miracle, and it hit me: I was now somebody’s mother. Could we really handle this? How were we qualified to be parents?
The answer became apparent when my husband and I tried to prop our nine pound bundle-of-joy into the ginormous car seat wedged in the back of our Acura. As we strapped him in, he promptly slumped over, his head lolling listlessly to the side. “What’s wrong with his head?” my husband asked.
“I don’t know. I don’t think it’s supposed to do that.” I said. After triple checking the car seat, we secured our son as best we could. My husband drove us home, cursing as we hit every pothole in the vicinity. Again I had to wonder; were we qualified to be parents? Not by a long shot.
When we arrived at the hospital 48 hours earlier I’d been blissfully unaware of my maternal shortcomings. We checked in at registration as planned, I was then properly sedated and ready to “perform the miracle of childbirth”.
If anyone tries to hand you that crap about natural childbirth, slap them — hard! There’s a reason they offer you an epidural. Attempting to pass something the size of a Thanksgiving turkey through your vagina hurts — a lot! Not big on pain, I opted for drugs and plenty of them. I’d have jammed the epidural into my own back in the parking lot if I could have. What no one will tell you is that the epidural is only temporary. As the contractions increase the doctor will decrease your epidural drip so you can push. And push I did, for hours.
Toward the end, my doctor wearily announced that she’d had a long day and would rather be home watching basketball on TV. Nothing is more demoralizing during the “miracle of childbirth” than seeing your gynecologist slumped over the stirrups, yawning at your lady business.
As the hour grew late and the Blazers lost to the Celtics, my doctor decided it was time to vacuum the baby out and go home. After a great deal of Hoovering, my son was finally sucked out of the birth canal. Misshapen from all the suctioning, he looked a little like a Conehead. But the nurse slapped a knit cap over his lumpy skull and told me the swelling would go down in a few days. That hat stayed on for eight weeks.
Memories of those first sleep-deprived days at home with baby are forever etched in my mind. I can recall the vacant, haunted look in my husband’s eyes during 3:00 a.m. feedings, as he slumped bonelessly against the wall of the nursery while I tried in vain to breastfeed our baby. Without the aid of the hospital lactation nurse, a.k.a. “boob-wrangler”, I was lost.
The second week my husband announced he was moving to a hotel. He thought I’d have all the answers because I was the mother. Apparently having a uterus made me an“expert” in his eyes. Or perhaps he thought an owner’s manual had slid out of the birth canal along with our baby, who knows? All I knew for sure; this was not the blissfully idyllic experience we’d anticipated for nine long months.
All the books and well-meaning advice seem designed to give new parents a false sense of security. What happens after you give birth is so uniquely individual and life-altering that no book can ever prepare you.
My son is now seventeen and heading off to college soon. Recently I found myself teary-eyed at the thought of losing him and he hugged me tight, reminding me that we still have time. And as my son attempted to comfort me, I caught a glimpse of the man and father he would one day become. It was in that moment that I realized my husband and I may have finally passed the parent test.
(Originally published in Portland Family Magazine)
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Pam Grimes is an author and columnist living in Portland, Oregon. Visit her at www.pamgrimes.com