Jack and I were getting ready for bed after a long day. It was relieving to be back in our bedroom with the celery colored walls and our framed “Ketubah” on the wall, with its soft watercolor “tree of life.” Simon called this room “the nest.”
Today we had taken Simon to the NICU where he had met his brother for the first time.
“So, they’re pretty sure Gus will be home by next week…I think we can do this.” Jack thought out loud, his words a bit jumbled between scrubs of his toothbrush.
“Maybe you can. I’m not so sure about me.”
“What do you mean?”
I wasn’t really sure what I meant. I started to cry, then sunk into our bed and it all came out:
“I’m just not sure I can do all this the right way. I’m so tired. I know I should want to be at the NICU all the time, but I hate it there. Twice a day is killing me–it hurts to stand and it hurts to sit. And the gross bathrooms. I know it’s stupid.” I looked down at my feet hanging over the bed.
“And mom and Naomi are expecting to be entertained now that the emergency is over. And how is Simon handling this? Are you okay? I don’t know what to do, what to take care of first.”
My nose was running and tears were soaking my t-shirt but I was too tired to find a tissue. I wiped it all away with my sleeve. Jack sat down next to me on the bed.
“And now I have to wake up every three hours to pump.”
“You have to wake up? ” Jack was surprised. I met his gaze.
“Yes, I told you! If I want my milk to come in I have to pump, every three hours for twenty minutes. And I feel like crying each time. I don’t know if it’s that he isn’t here to nurse or if it’s a physical reaction to the let-down, but it’s like my heart sinks, like sadness just sets in.” My head hurt and I wanted to lie down, but at the same time I was frustrated: what was the point? I was just going to have to get up in a couple hours anyway.
“Honey, you didn’t tell me about the pumping, and I didn’t know you were so overwhelmed today. ” Jack put on his pajamas.” That was weird when Naomi got Simon so riled up today at the hospital. And then it was obvious that she was really mad when you told them to have dinner on their own. What was up with that? ”
“I don’t know, but they both seem a little agitated. What do you think it is?”
“Well, they flew here in emergency mode and the crisis was over by the time they got off the airplane. Now they’re not quite sure what to do. But you don’t have to worry about all that. I wish you had told me sooner that you were so overwhelmed. Why didn’t you?”
“I don’t know. I think I just figured it out now. Before I was only trying to get through.”
“Becks, you don’t have to just ‘get through.’ My god. You’ve been amazing. Do you remember labor with Simon? Thirty six hours! And you had Gus in less than twelve. Labor with Simon beat you down. Laboring with Gus, man, you were incredible. It’s like Simon’s labor kicked your ass but with Gus’ labor, you kicked its ass!” He sat down next to me.
“It’s so weird. My body feels like that’s true, but my heart doesn’t. How can I feel so good while he’s in such trouble? It’s like I chased him right out of my body and now he’s suffering and I’m not. Why is that? And if I’m doing so great why don’t I want to go to the NICU more? What if I mess up or make you do too much like when Simon was a baby?”
“When Simon was a baby you didn’t share any of this stuff with me. Maybe you were trying so hard to “get through” that you kept it all to yourself. You aren’t doing that now. …Listen, you just had a baby. You need to recover physically, get stronger, and you can’t do that without resting. ” I leaned into his shoulder and exhaled. It felt like I was releasing something poisonous, letting it fade away. Jack put his arm around me and continued:
“And let Naomi and your mom feel put out! That’s what they’re here for, to help us. Really, it’s okay that you don’t want to be at the NICU all the time. I think it’s fine for you to go once a day. I’ll go twice. They are taking really good care of him. Trust your instincts. Take care of yourself. ” He stepped into the bathroom and brought me a roll of toilet paper for my runny nose. My sleeve was drenched.
“You really think that’s okay? He needs me. How’s he going to know me? How am I going to know him?”
“One week is not going to erase nine months. It’s not going to be like after Simon was born. In fact, it’s already different. Look at all the things you are thinking about–you are looking out for all these other people and noticing what’s going on with them.” Jack put his hand over mine.
“I guess I am feeling very different than I did after Simon. I mean, I’m having all sorts of feelings. Back then I was pretty numb. If I thought of anything it was how Simon was doing, not about myself or everyone else in my life. But now I’m just so overwhelmed. Maybe that’s okay though, what I’m supposed to be feeling.” I moved to the top of the bed and stuck my feet under our fluffy duvet.
“Of course! I’m overwhelmed too. I think if you want to bond with Gus you have to rest… Lie down. Let’s set the alarm for when you have to get up to pump. I’ll wake up too. Every time if you need me. We can rent movies, or just hold hands.”
Maybe I was doing okay. Maybe I was recovering, and reacting to the situation in the best way possible. Could it be that after Simon’s birth I was fighting too hard, like a drowning woman flailing around and only sinking deeper? Maybe now I was learning to ride the current instead of getting lost in a riptide. Maybe the waves could bring me to shore. At that moment, all I wanted was to feel equal to Jack, equal to the task of stepping up to parenthood. Maybe we could do this. So I lay down and went to sleep.