upon my hospital discharge, dr. grisham informs me that i will not be able to drive for two weeks. my guts are held in by staples and i can barely walk a lap around the maternity ward without struggling, so i think that this is a perfectly reasonable post-op constraint. but only two days later, i defy my doctor's orders. i convince ian that i am perfectly capable of driving 10 minutes down the street to a wendy's drive-thru, and that jr bacon cheeseburgers are essential to my recovery. i sit in my sweltering hot car for several minutes before i turn the engine on, but the heat and sunlight feel like a warm, welcome panacea that suffuses me from the inside out, thawing out the vital core of me. the brightness of this saturday morning is an antidote to the 72 hours following james' birth.
later, when i review the filmstrip of my life, i will see the darkest frames here- a solid band of black dividing an old life from the new.
i am wheeled back to my l&d suite immediately after surgery, and our families take turns to adore this tiny new addition, passing him around in careful cradle holds. i am mildly surprised that i have no objections or anxieties to anyone holding this thing that was removed from my body only moments earlier. in fact, i feel a bit relieved to see well-practiced arms handling him, providing a demo for me- he is so incredibly floppy that i can't quite figure out how to hold him myself. his anatomy is like 7 pounds of flubber, and i worry that my awkward fingers and sharp nails are too dumb and untrustworthy to be properly positioned on such a delicate frame.
after an hour, we are all trundled off to the recovery ward. my room is c-480, directly across from the nurse's station. a nurse mentions that i will receive pain pills, but no one brings me any. i am still woozy and exhausted- from labor, surgery, excitement, or a combination of the three. i want to sleep and james wants to sleep, but instead we are coached into our very first round of breastfeeding. the terms latch, feed, and nipple immediately skyrocket to the top 25 most over-utilized words in my vocabulary. ruth, my night nurse, is efficient but detached. she seems to want me to manipulate james' neck in order to cram my entire breast into his mouth. this is a geometric impossibility, and also i am still afraid to handle him. i curse my hands for being so small, my ring for being so high-set, and myself for being the worst.
the three of us- me in my recovery bed, james in his little isolette, and ian on a plasticky and uncomfortable loveseat- settle in for some much-needed sleep. but i quickly realize that sleep is not an option for me, because the pain from my c-section creeps in- slowly at first, then in unbearable torrents. i jam on the button of my epidural fentanyl drip in rapid succession like i'm trying to enter the konami code. ruth comes in every hour on the hour to evaluate my pain score. i curse those stupid dopey faces on the wong-baker pain scale and instead try to remember hyperbole and a half's revised version. i am a 9. i am positive that my epidural is no longer effective, or else this cassette of fentanyl is just an apple juice box. ruth unhelpfully informs me that i am no longer receiving marcaine, so that explains why i can so acutely feel the effects of having been gutted, cauterized, and stapled back together.
the pain is unmanageable, and ruth keeps coming back to me with increasingly pointless suggestions. first, she dispenses a single motrin, which is like bringing me a bandaid while a bear is actively mauling me. then she brings me a heating pad, which i guess is like bringing me a heating pad while a bear is actively mauling me. by her 4th check-in, i am sobbing. she consults with an anesthesiologist, and a one-time dose of morphine is approved.
the pain subsides to a manageable 5 or 6, and then the next several days are a blur of physical depletion. each day blends into the next, and the recovery room is always dark. i never know what time of day it is unless i am logging a nursing session. i feel like i am living in the world's worst casino. james nurses very little during the first 24 hours, but graduates immediately to voracious cluster feeding by the second night. ian, unflinchingly calm and patient, changes every diaper because i can't rise from the bed without assistance. our little family exists hour by hour, punctuated by check-ins from nurses. i can't cobble together 45 straight minutes of sleep because someone is always whispering i need to check your vitals. firm hands probe around my swollen incision, press hard on my abdomen to contract my uterus, pull down pair after pair of disposable underwear. my epidural and catheter are eventually removed, leaving a mess of angry bruises and superglue residue like ungrateful houseguests.
i bleed, i swell, i ache.
everyone always talks about the difficulties of labor and delivery, but no one prepared me for the dual pain of postpartum. the physical half knocks me off my feet, then mental half creeps in insidiously to flatten me completely.
our family and friends are singular bright spots in the recovery days. during pregnancy, i read so many reddit posts and message board threads about how to avoid or delay visitors- but i am so relieved to have the love, support, and normalcy of these visits. ian's family, my family, maggie, and the rasmussens drop by to admire baby j's great hair. in between the social calls, ian helps me shuffle a few laps around the maternity ward.
before i am discharged on day 3 postpartum, we remember to order the ~special celebratory dinner~ of steak and lobster. not because either of us really crave surf 'n turf, but because it is complimentary and i am still asian. my father swoops in to eat my portion. he seems to enjoy it, because he advises me to deliver my next baby here too.
we are released to disorientingly hot, bright sunshine on thursday afternoon. to me, it feels like finally waking up. to james, it is just another landscape to sleep through. oblivious to the sauna of black leather car seats parked for 4 days in the texas summer, he naps comfortably all the way home. i watch him dozing off, the delicate peach fuzz of his baby cheeks highlighted by the afternoon sun. i think that this is it, i have made it through recovery, and everything will finally feel normal again.
but of course, i am wrong. i am usually always wrong.