Onset of the baby blues

The day started as usual at 05:00 with the tea tray. At the hospital you get a choice of normal tea, rooibos (Red bush tea) or coffee. For the early mornings I just stuck with normal tea. I was hungry as usual. Last night’s dinner of Lasagne left a lot to be desired, and an empty gap in my stomach that had to be filled with a “black cat” chocolate and peanuts bar. This morning my stomach was growling, and I had to grab for the energy bar with my tea, even at this early hour. My hunger was probably due to my hours of wakefulness while nursing. Robert showed more interest in feeding, and I hoped this was going to be a good sign for his future eating habits. I still did not have proper milk, but according to what I read, it will come in on the third day postpartum, which is today.

Today was also the day when boredom with the hospital started to get to me. I was anxious to get out, go home to my own space. I missed Ron, and felt like a prisoner in my hospital room. My attempts at completing the baby jacket I was knitting were futile, there was rarely a moment of quiet peace in this place.

The nurses made their usual rounds, taking blood pressure and temperature, and asking about the bleeding. My gynaecologist showed up again to inspect his handiwork (my incision), and I told everyone that I was anxious to get out of here tomorrow. The lady from catering came in again to ask about the menu for tomorrow, and settled with me ordering only two meals, breakfast and lunch. At the time I figured they will have to chain me to the bed if they wanted me to stay until lunch. But the day hadn’t even begun to take a turn for the worse yet.

Sometime around 08:00 a nurse came into the room and asked me whether I asked for a private room, and when I said no, she informed me that I am going to have company. Suddenly I found myself having only half a room; the curtains were drawn around the other bed near the door and another woman was wheeled in. She was accompanied by her mother and husband or partner, the latter took over the armchair in the middle of the room and I was cut off from the door, this added significantly to my feeling of claustrophobia. I spent the rest of the time trying to distract myself from being an unwilling eavesdropper on conversations, and phone calls. And because of the new arrival I did not get a chance to have a full shower, and made do with a quick sponge bath instead.

When the nurse came with Robert for his first daytime feeding, she told me that they will do a show-bath today, to show me how to bathe baby. I told her it would be nice if we can do it when baby’s dad is also present, she obliged as there was no rush.

Ron showed up just before lunchtime. He had to make his way to me past the curtains and visitors of the other patient. He brightened my day somewhat when he handed me a little package of goodies. As if he knew my trials and tribulations with the hospital food, he had brought me slices of wood-fired pizza from our favourite takeaway, along with a big gold delicious apple. I started immediately to complain to him about the day’s breakfast which consisted of a minute muffin with a sample of jam and a teaspoon of grated cheese. I also announced the demise of my emergency rations. My good husband has really saved me with the pizza. We had our bites of pizza while feeding little Robert, and trying to maintain our privacy from the next patient and her visitors. This day was going to be hard for me I thought and Ron agreed.

Robert was almost done with his meal, when the paediatrician showed up. Ron pointed out to him a largish red spot on the little one’s head. It is a stork-bite, the paediatrician said, and it should go away by itself. These types of spots are common in newborns, and they appear anywhere on the body but especially on the head and around the eyelids (those are called angel kisses), they are immature small veins that eventually fade as the baby grows. I asked him about the baby’s frequent sneezes, and he said that it is also a normal reflex, and baby’s only method of clearing his nose. The spots on his face are also normal and no reason for worry, as well as the little yellowish discharge from his left eye. He said that the eye should clear by itself, once the tear ducts are open. He would only prescribe antibiotic drops if there is a sign of infection such as redness, and swelling of the eye. It was good to know that Robert was perfectly normal, especially that today he has this operation to look forward to. The paediatrician said that he will check on him sometime this afternoon after the circumcision.

Lunchtime came and went; they served Chicken a la king with grated carrot salad with raisins. I found the salad interesting because it was dressed with orange instead of lemon juice. Ron shared a few bites of lunch with me, and then the coffee after lunch. It was the first time I had coffee at the hospital, and I must say that it tasted suspiciously like our famous brand of coffee-chicory blend.

We were informed that Dr. K. was running a late with a series of other circumcisions. Apparently he also has a number of cases that come into his practice as outpatients. Ron and I decided to go ahead to the nursery and take a look at the baby bath.
We wheeled Robert’s crib into the nursery. I should mention here that the nursery cribs all look like clear plastic tubs that are lined with mattresses, and they actually double up as bathtubs for babies. The bottom part of the trolley is full of baby stuff: Diapers, lotions, rubbing alcohol, Vaseline, cotton, cleanser, baby powder, a small changing mat and even a baby bag. All these things are given to parents when the baby is discharged from the nursery. There are no clothing items in the bag of goodies, but there are two cotton hats that will come in very handy to us. One of those hats is the little white hat Robert wore a few minutes after his birth.

The motherly nurse who bathed baby was very sweet, when Robert cried protesting at being stripped naked, she spoke to him soothingly: “Oh, we know it is cold, but we are going to give you a very nice bath… Don’t worry”. The bathing demonstration was very slow and deliberate for the benefit of the ignoramus parents (in this case myself and Ron – although Ron might have some edge on me in experience). First washing the eyes and ears, then the head, and lastly dipping baby’s body in the warm water. Robert was very slippery to the touch and trying to hold him was quite difficult, I don’t know how I would manage this at home.

By the time we finished the demonstration it was past two in the afternoon, Robert was fed, clean and very happy, and still no sign of Dr. K. Ron and I decided to leave Robert in the nursery and go for a walk. We walked around the terraces, looked over at Table Mountain on one side of the ward, then over to the terrace of the adjacent wing overlooking the city bowl. We talked about the wonder of being parents, and I had tears in my eyes when I spoke of my growing love for the little one. I think both Ron and I were still in awe. When we went back to the maternity ward there was still no sign of Dr. K, so we walked down to the ground floor and to the wings where the doctor rooms are located. On our way back we were told by one of the staff that Dr. K was looking for us, and we had to hurry up the steps to the maternity ward on the third floor.

Dr. K was waiting in the nursery, where he was going to perform the operation. He showed us the instrument he was going to use, a cylindrical widget around which the foreskin would be pulled and clamped. He also showed another medieval-looking instrument he called the Jewish harp; a blade which looks like the instrument, and has a vertical notch right down its centre. He said that it is used in the ritual Jewish circumcision. I did not take much of that in; I was beginning to get worried and fearful about the whole thing. It looked like this is going to hurt my baby, and hurt him bad. Ron had many questions to ask and seemed satisfied with the answers. Dr. K. was matter of fact about the whole thing, he said that circumcision is performed routinely in North America (80% of males are circumcised if you can believe him) and there are many arguments for it, and probably just as many against it. But in the end it is a cosmetic operation, I now tend to agree with this last statement.

Everything was finally ready. And after making sure he had the sterile pack he was going to use (there was lots of confusion about the number of sterile instrument packs he used today), Dr K. and Sister T took positions by the crib. Dr. K asked us to leave him to it and have a cup of coffee or something while he finishes. He said that it is highly emotional for parents to watch the operation. He had done only one operation in the presence of the parents and it put him under so much pressure that he would never do it again. I was running to the door myself, but Ron needed this final argument to be convinced.

We went out again toward the terraces. My melancholy increased tenfold; I was on the verge of tears and I could not understand why. I hoped that I was doing the right thing for my son. I don’t know how much time we spent outside, it was another sunny day, but I had no eyes for the beautiful weather. We went back to my room and waited, and soon enough Dr. K. showed up. He said all went well, and that Robert was good. He gave us some advice about caring for the circumcised penis. We should keep sterile gauze and Vaseline around it until it heals. No washing with water before the wound completely heals. Do you want this? He asked and showed a piece of bloody tissue wrapped in plastic and gauze. At the sight I think Ron and I both blanched. It was a little piece of human flesh, a little piece of our baby, and it was bloodied. Ron said later that seeing it made him realise that the operation is more barbaric than it is made out to be. Dr. K said that Muslim parents bury the piece of foreskin; I simply wanted it out of my sight. I wanted to forget about it.
We went to see to little Robert in the nursery, he did not look to bad, although we did not have the heart to look at his parts, yet.

Ron left shortly after that and the full measure of my desolation kicked in. I walked again to the terrace overlooking Table Mountain and bawled my eyes out. Sister T met me as I was walking back into the lobby; she asked whether I was okay. I started babbling something about how much I love my baby and how much it hurt me to cause him pain. Tears flowed like a waterfall, while the kindly woman just held me and let me cry on her shoulder for a minute. You have got the blues, she said. It is all your hormones coming back and it is hard, I know it, I have been there. It took me a couple of minute to realise that I had to get a grip. I will be okay, I said. I just need a breath of fresh air, and I will be fine. It is okay, she said, you needed to let it go, but if you still feel sad and depressed let us no, we do not want you to go into post-natal depression. At the mention of the word “depression” my back stiffened, and I thought, no way, I won’t let myself sink into THAT! I walked outside took deep a few deep breaths of spring air, and decided that the worst was over, for me and for Robert. There was no point in moping; I needed to focus on the future. I am a very lucky woman; lucky to have a beautiful healthy child and a wonderful husband. My family has a wonderful future ahead, and I should only be grateful. With that in mind I walked back to the ward, past the same nurses who eyed me warily after my emotional outburst, but I responded with a smile and announced that I was feeling much better.

In my now divided room I sat a little on the bed and read in my baby book. The Paediatrician came and assured me that Robert is okay. His penis looks fine, he said, and he is now asleep. He had prescribed some Panado drops for him should he be in pain later today. I told him that I took a little bit of strain on my son’s behalf; he must have seen that, because my eyes looked awfully red and puffy.

In the end Robert behaved better than I did and woke up promptly for feeding in the early evening. He was nodding off to sleep in his bassinet when the visitors for the woman in the next bed started arriving. First it was the mother and the partner whom I saw earlier today, and then there were other family members and friends. Soon enough the room was full and people were starting to drift over towards my side of the room. Little eyes peered at me from behind the drawn curtains. After some time I found that I could not handle it anymore, my senses were bruised enough as it is today, and I did not think I should stay in this hubbub any longer. The next door festivities were evolving into a full-fledged oriental bazaar – or so it sounded to me at the time.

I wheeled out Rob’s bassinet between the jostling crowds of visitor and headed towards the nursery. I don’t think I was very coherent when I tried to explain my predicament to the nursery staff. One nurse thought it strange that I am bringing the baby back to the nursery while family is visiting, and I had to explain to her time and again that it was not my family who is visiting, but that of my roommate. Once however they looked across towards the corridor they immediately understood as the visitors have already spilled into the hallway and were queuing to view the newborn baby-girl. In the end, I was given a chair in front of the television, and one of the nurses switched the channel to some entertainment program. In my state of mind though I could not care less what was on. I just nodded off in the armchair in front of the television. When I got up half an hour later I was happy to find out that visiting hours were over.

I returned to the room alone as Robert was still sleeping, and was greeted back by my roommate, who apologized for the number of her visitors. I told her that of course she could not help that she comes from a big family who came from all over the peninsula to congratulate her on her first child. In truth, the woman was alright, and kept to herself for the rest of the night, nursing her child and her various aches and pains (she was also a c-section case). The rest of the night was quiet, punctuated only by the muted sounds of the television, which I could hear from her headphones, and her quiet conversations on the cell phone with the father of her baby and other relatives.

The only entertainment that I had to look forward to was dinner, which was waiting for me forlornly on the bed tray; A single baked potato with cheese and some nondescript salad. I was glad I still had the big apple Ron brought me this morning, which I devoured immediately. I was ripe and ready to go home.

During this evening, my milk came in. My breasts were engorged and sore and I waited for the breastfeeding sessions more anxiously than ever. Robert’s enthusiastic nursing relieved some of the pain and I spent most of the night going hot and cold with the onrush of milk. The nurses however assured me that this was normal, and all I had to do was wait for the supply to diminish gradually and become more or less equal to the demand.

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