The Birth Diaries (2) by Victoria Jelinek



Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” Mark Twain

Since having my baby boy I’ve been in the hospital for 3 days. My C-section wound is healing, and I’m shuffling around. They do NOT let patients be lazy here in France, that’s for sure. They had me up and about a couple of days after I gave birth, forcing me to use the toilet and take walks up and down the hall.

Each day in the hospital is regimented activity, with the morning being the busiest. Seemingly all at once, there are people coming in to take the garbage, swipe down the counters and tidy the bathroom. 
Doctors come in to take my pulse, my blood pressure, and put some kind of measurement/radar on Sebastian. Sage Femmes (midwives) ask how the night went. Then a woman comes ‘round and asks what I’d like for lunch. Another brings my breakfast. After breakfast, my little family goes to the bathing room to wash Sebastian under supervision. 
Thank the fates for this, too, because we didn’t know what to do with him after he was born. Thank the fates for their fastidious conscientiousness in France, which ensures that new mothers know how to breast feed, burp, de-gas, bathe, and change their babies before they step foot out of the hospital. 
There are other people with their newborns in the bathing area, which is a room full of sinks and workstations.  Other than a greeting, no one speaks or makes jokes. Perhaps we’re too tired? It’s amusing, too, because each of us eyes the other babies and mothers to compare with our own baby and our own post-baby bodies.
Oh! And the Maire (mayor) has been calling my room three times a day to find out what my boy’s name is and all of his birth details. Finally, today, we gave out his name officially – Sebastian Leo. Also today, the paediatrician told us that our boy has jaundice. I thought jaundice was akin to scurvy or small pox in the sense that it had passed out of western society. The doctor assured us that it was very common and a few days of phototherapy would sort it out. The phototherapy was started immediately. Unfortunately for this first time, my husband had gone home to make sure our beloved cat Oscar was okay and to do some work.
The phototherapy device is a small canister with a door that looks like a miniature sunbed with a little tarp suspended in the middle. The nurses took my baby, took off his ‘onesies’ and his diaper, taped some gauze over his eyes, then stuck him naked in the middle of the tarp in the machine and turned it on. Sebastian freaked. I tried to calm him, but I was scared, too, and upset that there was anything wrong with him in the first place. 
The nurses thought he was hungry. I fed him and he was quiet for a bit. Then he started crying again. The nurse went and got formula for him, saying it would ‘last longer’ and ‘be stronger’ for ‘our purposes.’ She shoved the milk into his mouth and he drank deeply and quietly. Once he’d finished a bit, she thrust him back in the sunbed, shut the door, and started the engine. 
Shortly thereafter, he threw up. The nurses were disgusted and complained that my baby was a problem. For the first time in my life I understood the feeling of a mother bear for her cub. I wanted to scream that they were rough and unfeeling. I wanted to scream that it would be scary for ME to get blindfolded and shoved naked, suspended, into a loud machine and he’s just come out of the safety of my womb. Sounds, sensations, eating, are all so new and overwhelming to him. But I held my tongue. I know I was hormonal, that he’s my child so I’m extra sensitive, and that they were just doing their job, albeit grumpily.
The need for phototherapy means I’m in the hospital for a few days longer, which distresses me somewhat, even as I realise it’s a good place to be in these first moments. I can’t really sleep comfortably on my bed because, as in all hospitals, there are many noises in the night: walking, crying, talking, jangling, scraping, jostling, rattling of carts and beds, people coming and going from your room.
I’m alert to the noises my son makes, which disturbs my rest, as he makes frequent noises. I think he sounds a little bit like a pug dog. The lights in the hospital could be used to interrogate prisoners. I’m also worried that I’ll have to go pee and have to call a sage femme to help. They don’t generally respond quickly to the bell ringing, and when they do come they act as though they’re being majorly inconvenienced. I think that it’s more of a lazy thing than a malicious thing though. One nurse did take Sebastian away from me for four hours in the night last night to give me time to get sleep. I could hear him crying as they walked down the hall and away from my hospital room. I thought I’d never be able to relax because I’d worry that Sebastian was unhappy, but the next thing I knew she was back in my room, putting him in his basket, and I’d been deeply asleep for four hours. 

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