For several days now, I’ve been trying to think what to write for this post. I’m still not sure. The past two weeks have been both really, really hard, and really, really wonderful. There are times when we are all sobbing and upset, and seconds later we’re smiling and laughing. There is the constant worrying. Is this normal? Why are there spots on her tongue? Is she having a period? Every little thing we stress over and worry about. Our nerves have been fried again and again. Then, at a particularly low point, Hen will make the most ridiculously cute face and noise. She’ll look up into my face and everything in the world is right. All the worry melts away, and I’m overcome with joy.
I can’t really give a chronology of the past two weeks. The days have blurred together in my memory. I’ll do my best though.
We got home from the hospital on Saturday, April 7. After the elation of the coming home wore off, things slowly went downhill. Hen was very yellow. She was super sleepy, and she was having trouble feeding. When you breastfeed, you don’t actually produce milk until 3-5 days after birth. Instead, women produce a super nutritious early milk packed with antibodies and protein but that lacking in fat. Within a few days, a woman’s breasts will “engorge” as the real milk comes in. After several days, Ellie wasn’t engorging. It seemed like she wasn’t producing milk. This was devastating. Our pediatrician suggested that we might just have to bottle feed formula instead.
As with the labor, we want to raise Hen as naturally as possible. Countless studies have shown the benefits of breastfeeding from developing a better immune system to increasing various indicators of intelligence and social aptitude. If you can, you should breastfeed. Even more important, studies have shown that moms who breastfeed bond with their children in ways you can’t with formula. Being told we might not be able to breastfeed was the worst thing we could ever have heard. Ellie was inconsolable. She felt like she was failing, like she wasn’t going to be able to provide for Hen. It was terrible. At each feeding, we would micro-analyze, time and critique Hen and how much milk she was getting. Ellie and Hen would cry. I’d get really upset too, which I show through anger, and would go into another room and break something.
The following Monday, at our 4 day old check up, the pediatrician wanted to check on Hen’s bilirubin levels. At the hospital, they were high. Bilirubins are a by-product of decomposing red blood cells in a person’s body. In adults, our livers filter them out and there is no problem. Newborns’ livers aren’t yet fully functional. To make matters worse, newborns are born with lots of extra blood that will slowly start to decompose. In short, they have a liver that doesn’t really work and high bilirubins. In addition, babies born from longer, more difficult labors often get bruises and bumps. Bruises are red blood that have seeped out of blood vessels that will need to be decomposed. From labor Hen had quite a few bruises. As a result, she had a high level of bilirubins in her blood. High levels cause jaundice. Jaundice turns your skin and eyes a sickly yellow tint. It is not serious unless left untreated. The other side effect is that it makes babies really sleepy.
After seeing the doc, we head to Labcorp for Hen to get some blood drawn. This, my friends, is pretty awful. To draw blood, they stab her heel, then squeeze on her foot to get blood to flow out. The whole process takes at least five minutes. Hen thought this was awesome and screamed bloody murder the entire time. (Over her first week of life, she had her heels pricked six times. They looked like they were in a blender.) The results showed that Hen had a bilirubin level of 20.6. Our doctor immediately prescribed a UV light treatment on a bilibed. UV light breaks apart excess bilirubins in the baby’s blood. Luckily, we were able to get a bilibed we could use at home. It is essentially a UV light tanning bed with a built-in straight-jacket. We had to fasten Hen in the jacket to hold her in place so the UV light could shine on her back and help cure the jaundice. She would need to be on the bed anytime she wasn’t feeding.
The first night was awful. She hated being on the bed. She hated not being held. She screamed. Frustrated, I put the bilibed inside her bassinet and tried swaying the bassinet to calm her. This didn’t work. Instead, I picked up the bassinet and began swinging it back and forth. Earlier in the day, on our way to get blood drawn, I realized Hen immediately falls asleep if I swing her the car seat. The bassinet in addition to Hen and the bilibed weighed about 40 lbs. After 5 minutes of swinging, my back was starting to break. Hen continued to scream. Ellie cried from the couch. “What the hell am I going to do?” I thought. “This is miserable.”
Looking up I noticed the spider plant hanging from the ceiling. It gave me an idea. What if I screw a bicycle hook into a stud in the ceiling and string the bassinet up using my bear bag rope? Genius! Then I can swing her without killing my back. Fifteen minutes later Hen and the bassinet were strung up and I pushed her back and forth cackling like a madman over my invention and through the frustration of Hen still crying. Eventually, she settled down and went to sleep. Some how we’d have to keep this up until Hen’s bilirubins went down.
The other piece to solving the jaundice puzzle is feeding. The only way to get bilirubins out is by pooping them out. To poop them out, Hen needed to start eating more. However, breastfeeding was till a problem. It was a Catch 22. Because Hen was so sleepy from the jaundice, she wouldn’t suckle enough. From the lack of suckling, Ellie’s breasts were slow to produce milk. To break this vicious cycle, Ellie started pumping after each feeding. With the extra breast milk, I’d feed Hen with a bottle trying to get her to drink as much as possible. The charade of bililights, heel pricks, and feeding went on for almost four days. Friday morning, we finally got the okay to take her off the bilibed. Her bilirubin levels had dropped down to 13.4. She was in the clear.
Since then, Hen has been feeding much better and has become more awake and alert. Slowly things are getting easier. It’s incredible how difficult the first weeks are. No one tells you this. What’s most difficult is not the lack of sleep. I mean it makes things harder, but its nothing compared to the constant worrying and fretting. You have nothing else to do but to question everything she does. Is this normal? Is she going to be okay? Will Ellie be able to breastfeed? Should we keep her on the bottle, or will she get flow confusion? I’ve done a lot of difficult things in my life and put myself into a lot of difficult situations, but this is something new. Not necessarily comparable, not necessarily more difficult, but a new challenge, a new experience. I’m a dad now. Ellie is a mom now. We have someone else to care for. Someone who’s going to make life difficult and wonderful all at the same time.
I keep thinking of the line I tell my students all the time: “What’s the fun in doing things that are easy?”
Some things I love about Lily:
1. The velociraptor like noises she makes
2. Skin to skin time. Tummy to tummy and head to heart. She melts into my skin and wraps her arms around my chest. It makes me tear up every time.
3. Going for walks or dancing and singing with Hen while she’s strapped to my chest like a marsupial in the ergo carrier.
4. Seeing Hen and Ellie make the same faces. I think she has all of Ellie’s beauty.
5. Tummy time. This is when I put her on her stomach and she practices lifting her head and wiggling around.
Here are several things I have learned in the past week.
1. Family and friends are really important. Having Kyle and Stacy living with us has been more helpful and wonderful than I can express. My mom visited for four days as well, and it was great to have her here. Humans evolved to be pack animals. It doesn’t really make sense that in our modern society we expect mothers (sometimes with the help of fathers) to raise a baby by herself. We need community. We can’t do it alone. Recent research also indicates that babies raised in communities can develop greater intelligence and social ability than babies raised by one or two parents.
2. Cloth diapering is super easy.
3. The best way to soothe an upset breastfeeding mama is through a neck massage.
4. Lily is a swinger. The best way to soothe her is to swing her in the car seat or her new swing.
4. Dogs love newborns more than cats. Oscar is a great older brother. Thibby has gone emo and is all misunderstood now.
5. Doctors at Highlands Family Medicine are morons.
6. Breastfeeding Ellie will pretty much only eat food laden with dairy.
7. Sleep is for the weak (or I’m just jealous of those who sleep).
8. Nights are hardest.
9. Baby clothes are useless. Hen is pretty much naked all the time. For warmth, we wrap her in blankets.
10. Being a dad is awesome.