I was in the hospital for three days after my son was born. They wheeled me into a private room with two beds and a bassinet so my husband and I could be together with our son. The room was bland, non-descript, and practically indistinguishable from all the others. It was disorienting to leave, (at least for my husband because I never left) and find your way back. Several times people would walk in and realize they were in the wrong room.
There’s very little dignity in being hospitalized. Dressed in only a backless smock, my junk was often impossible to keep covered. There’s also no such thing as privacy. It seemed like someone was coming in every five minutes. From the floor nurse to the volunteer coming by to check the baby’s hearing, we barely got any peace. It was so frustrating, not to mention particularly detrimental to our breast feeding efforts.
I had been trying without much success to breast feed. It is a lot harder than I had been lead to believe. The baby slept so much, that he seemed disinterested in eating. I began to grow concerned for his weight. After meeting with one of the hospital’s lactation consultants, I spent an hour with my son doing what she had recommended, skin-to-skin contact.
Then, just as my window of opportunity arrived and my son seemed interested in nursing, the floor nurse came in and took him from me to get his vitals. I protested, but she didn’t give him back. Instead she laid him out on the table and as he screamed, she put her pinky in his mouth to pacify him. Within seconds, he settled and went back to sleep. My opportunity to try to feed him was now gone and the hour of prep time was now wasted. I was livid.
My husband and I had about had it with the constant interruptions and were counting the hours until discharge. The last night we were there, my son finally had what seemed like a good latch and feeding. Output in his diapers also seemed reassuring. We handed him off for a couple hours in the nursery that night, which was the only time we’d been comfortable doing it. By morning, we were feeling more confident and were ready to go home.
The two pediatricians assigned to us felt differently. Because we’d been unable to breast feed regularly, my son’s bilirubin levels were climbing dangerously high. He was becoming jaundiced and his skin was yellowing. They wanted us to stay longer for more observation. There were some thinly veiled judgmental statements about my failure to adequately breast feed. I was devastated.
We were shamed into giving him formula. I met with another lactation consultant, one who actually watched me attempt to feed my son. As it turns out, my technique was indeed incorrect, and we realized quickly that our anatomies were not very compatible. I began to realize sadly that my hopes to breast feed him normally were doomed. I was inconsolable.
With the weather threatening to bury us in some cataclysmic storm, we were anxious to be discharged. The earliest appointment we could schedule with our pediatrician wasn’t until Monday, and the weekend was a long time for a tiny jaundiced baby to wait. The doctors said they would call to see if the appointment could be bumped up, but that didn’t seem to be happening. We decided to take matters into our own hands and call them ourselves.
We were able to get an appointment for the next morning, when the storm would have brought high winds and freezing rain. We’d need to take him to the lab as well, which would likely to be filled with sick people in what has been the worst flu season in recent memory. It was not an ideal situation, but we were given the ok to go home.
As we were leaving the hospital as a family for the first time, I rode in the back seat with my tiny baby, feeling a sense of euphoria. For better or worse, our son’s fate was now in our hands. I was still worried about his health, and whether we’d ever successfully breast feed. But for that moment, I was simply enjoying the freedom and togetherness, and nothing could take that away.