I wake up in the morning. I’m sore and in need of Vicodin, but I feel rested. Nina, my doula, let me sleep in since my last pumping shift. It’s so nice that Nina’s here so Jack can be home with Simon. But something is missing. Gus. I gave birth yesterday and haven’t seen my baby since. Yet my body can’t deny the pleasure of resting to full satiation. Should I feel bad about that? Nina helps me into the shower. A chair with a hole in it lets me sit without pain. The shower tiles are bright aqua blue.
“Okay, after this we need to get you pumping,” Nina says gently.
Again. I’ve been waking every three hours to pump and will need to do so until Gus comes home. I set up the double cups of the industrial, hospital-grade pump. The whirring begins. The noise sounds like boredom. As the suction kicks in, it feels like the organs in my chest drop an inch. I’m sitting up straight yet feel an odd lurch inside me. I can’t just sit here and listen to that noise for twenty minutes.
I call Jack. He’s already been to the NICU and Gus is doing great. They’ve taken out the breathing tube! The doctor says he’ll be home in a week, two at the most. All he needs to do is steadily gain weight.
“I’m going to be discharged soon. Maybe I can come nurse him this afternoon. Will he be ready?” I ask Jack.
“Yes, and I have something else to tell you. Your mom and Naomi are here! They got on a plane before they even knew Gus was going to be okay. They’re on their way to get you.” Wow. My mom and sister. I feel very taken care of. Yet still that vague feeling like I’m forgetting something, or I shouldn’t be where I am.
My mom and sister arrive and Nina leaves me with a note detailing exactly what kind of pump I need to rent, and where to get it. Apparently I need more suction than just the average pump to get my milk to come in. And I was looking forward to the quiet purr of my portable pump with its little motor.
I’m discharged at 11 that morning and I’m starving. My mom and Naomi decide to go all out — we’ll go to Oliveto’s for lunch. After that we’ll go to Rockridge Kids and rent my pump. Rockridge. It’s strange to go there right after the hospital — we’re on College Avenue, the tony main drag I used to push Simon up and down when he was a baby — before we moved to North Berkeley. Depressed, I’d walk the familiar street, head down to avoid eye contact. And also because I’d seen that same stupid street a million times before.
I can’t help feeling triumphant as I walk into the restaurant. My body feels so different than it did right after I had Simon. Then I felt defeated — sucked dry. Now I feel tired and hungry, but strong. We sit down at the table and order a bottle of wine. The waiter asks how many glasses and I indicate that I’d like one too. Why not taste just a bit, indulge in maybe a half-glass?
Naomi looks me over and whispers in my ear “I wonder if the waiter thinks you’re pregnant?” I sigh and look at my stomach. Nothing like a sister to point out life’s little imperfections. Is it wrong to have the wine? I decide that it’s not wrong. A half glass is an indulgence, something for me. That has to be okay.
We eat cheese and pate, and share pasta and salads. Everything is delicious. I dip a piece of warm bread into creamy olive oil, take my last sip of mellow, slightly sweet merlot and savor the satisfaction of being full and not at all nauseated.
After renting the pump at Rockridge Kids, we go home. After a nap, Jack will pick me up and we’ll go to the NICU. I can’t help thinking the nap is like cheating.
Before we are allowed in the NICU, we have to remove our jewelry, scrub our hands and forearms with special soap, and put on hospital gowns over our clothes. Jack is a pro already, but I fumble with the foot pump that turns the water on and off.
We walk in, past incubators with babies so tiny they look like the drawings of fetuses from my pregnancy books. I try not to look. I want to block out everything but Gus. I feel lucky that he’s bigger than the other babies, the size of a regular newborn. Electrodes are taped to his skin to monitor his vital signs, but his IV, breathing tube, and feeding tube are out. His eyes are closed and I check for his stork bite on his left eyelid. It’s there. He’s mine. He must be.
His eyes open and he looks right at me. The nurse helps me remove the electrodes so I can breastfeed him. I tell the nurse I want some privacy, so we can bond. They bring a rickety divider over. It will have to do. I take off my shirt. I want to feel his naked body against mine. He latches on and I try to focus on my sweet boy.
I’m balancing. Part of me is connecting with my son, squeezing him, smelling him. The other part is stunned — my son was born yesterday and I’m nursing him for the first time. I haven’t heard him cry yet. I wonder if nursing right now is making a difference to him. Does he know it’s me? I kiss his eyelid with the stork bite. It’s got to be him, doesn’t it? I reassure myself. Just because I haven’t held him for a day doesn’t mean he’s disappeared . He’s right here. Right here.
As he sucks I feel the organs in my chest being pushed down, weighing on my stomach. Tears well up. This hormonal shift as the sucking sets in is becoming familiar. I don’t like it but at least I can feel it. I’m not so depressed that I don’t notice. I close my eyes and try to imagine us at home in my bed, him falling asleep at my breast.
Visiting hours are over. We are visitors. I change Gus’ diaper and his nurse readjusts his electrodes. I kiss Gus goodbye and Jack and I leave the NICU together, holding hands.