After recently giving birth to my first child I look back on my hospital stay and I have mixed feelings about this life changing experience. If you were to ask most new parents they would probably agree with me and say each day goes by in a blur of disbelief, panic, exhilaration, tenderness, tears, laughter and complete exhaustion. The parenting literature and websites tell it like it is but for me there are a couple of instances that stand out and will stay etched in my memory forever.
I have never experienced anything quite so bizarre as listening to my husband discuss the most boring topic in history, golfing techniques, with my obstetrician as he performs an emergency caesarean on me. Drugged to the hilt with absolutely no feeling in the bottom half of my body I listen half heartedly to bits and pieces of this ridiculous conversation and let the rest float over me like waves. My husband, who doesn’t even play golf, is babbling on about the right swing and giving advice like he is a pro. Looking up and deep into his eyes I notice he is as terrified as me and then I hear his signature nervous cackle. I smile to myself and get on with my deep breathing, chanting in my head ‘please let her be alright’ over and over.
All of a sudden I feel tugging in my belly and our daughter is introduced to the world with the words, “here she comes!” and then we witness the miracle of our first child being lifted out from inside me and held in the air. I’m met with two puffy slits for eyes, hair in curly wet clumps, a big, red beautiful moon face and a strong set of lungs. Then as quickly as she arrives she is whisked away from us.
Craning my neck in the direction of where she is taken to the other side of the room for tests I silently will them to say she is okay and to hurry and bring her back to me. As my husband walks over to her, I hear more nervous cackles followed by pure joy in his voice as he speaks to her for the first time.
After what seems like forever they bring her back to me and place her on my chest. Silent tears slide down my face as I drink in her beauty with my eyes and touch her checks and nose and mouth with my fingers. Smothering her in kisses, I float through the air in ecstasy. I can feel my husband standing behind me and he leans forward and kisses me and I sense his heart is melting as he watches his wife and child together for the first time.
Then I’m on a trolley hurtling down one white corridor after another plunging head first through perspex doors towards recovery. All I can do to stop myself from throwing up is to stare at my toes which are painted a vile fluorescence pink. I think I’m stuck with this colour for weeks and I curse myself for another complete lapse of taste at the pedicurist, chalking it up once again to my insane pregnant state.
Back in recovery they make me wait a whole hour before I can see my baby again – it is torture! I feel this almost carnal need to be with my baby so to take my mind off it I concentrate on my shocking pink toe nails and wriggle around trying to get the life back in my legs after the epidural. Groggy and feeling left out picturing my family and husband crowded around our new baby I make the decision to stare down the male nurse who is monitoring my recovery. He does a great job of ignoring me, totally oblivious to my impatience and desperation.
After an hour he looks at me like he has just discovered I’m lying in front of him and notices I’m shaking uncontrollably. Offering me a blanket and placing them over my legs he can’t help but comment on my shocking pink toe nail polish. “Wow that is what you call pink!” Finally we get back to the maternity ward and to my room and I see my family and baby again.
For me, breast feeding in the first two weeks felt like someone was hammering nails into my nipples. The midwives stand over you and shove your breast into the baby’s tiny beak like mouth and over your aching shoulders they instruct you on how it is supposed to be done. In my drugged-up, sleep deprived state none of it made any sense whatsoever. I am usually quite a self-conscious person but this went out the window with no choice but to curl up my toes, deep breathe and scream on the inside, “Oh my God the pain!”
Another vivid memory is being woken in the dark from an exhausted sleep every two hours and given pain relief. Shortly afterwards my precious baby is handed to me to drink once again from the milk bar that is my breast and I think to myself I only fed five seconds ago, she can’t be hungry again!
On one particular night my husband and I were doing tag teams rocking her in our arms, looks of complete terror on our faces because we had no idea what we were doing. We tried numerous times to get her to stop crying both thinking to ourselves my god is our baby waking up the whole ward? Miraculously, after an hour she stopped and we felt such a sense of pride and happiness. We did a cheesy high five to each other in the dark grinning uncontrollably, so proud of our obviously skilled parenting. My husband carefully placed her back in the crib like handling fine china and sank back into bed. The relief was short lived as two minutes later up she started again!
I watched our family and close friends as they hold her for the first time, lost in their own thoughts. I saw those who have their own children remembering how it was for them, and those who don’t are in complete awe. My mother quietly creept into the room every day bearing gifts of beautiful baby night gowns, chocolate and peppermint tea, a big smile on her face as she reaches down into the crib, lifting her first grandchild into her arms.
Finally the last day arrived and I had that sick feeling in my stomach like when you are at school and it is the last day of the summer holidays. As I gingerly carried out our brand new baby into the cold wintry day I felt like a different person. The wind picked up so I pulled the wrap tighter around her small body and stroked her face, her eyes firmly closed and her nose turning pink in the wind. We nervously strapped her into the car seat and I felt like I had just emerged from a warm, safe cocoon. The cars were noisy and going too fast and it was so bright. I longingly turned back to the hospital and felt like I wanted to run back in and kidnap the nice midwife with the spiky brown hair. Shaking my head I said to myself, okay stop it, this is ridiculous, everyone does it. Turning back around I looked at my husband with a nervous smile and we drove on towards our brand new life.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem