twice a day, i spread a towel down on my bed, pull on a pair of latex gloves, and slip my underwear down. this is not a sexy story. there is a plastic bin beside me, and it is filled with medical supplies: 4x4 gauze pads, sterile swabs, saline, iodoform packing strips, a suture removal kit. i put on an episode of the read to distract myself. a tab of the iodoform strip pokes out of the opening in my incision- it is damp and red, flicking out from the smiley face of my c-section scar like a sly tongue. i breathe deeply and pull it out with tweezers- a foot and a half of packing tape unfurls from this hole in my abdomen. it is like a disgusting magic trick, yanking a neverending parade of silk scarves out of a hat. the reversal of it is the hard part- with the tip of a sterile swab drenched in saline, i shove a new length of tape back into myself, digging deep into the wound space until it is fully packed.
as far as seromas go, this one is innocuous enough. in two weeks, it will heal. it's a small price to pay, i tell myself, looking over at james in his bassinet. his eyes are bright, alert and awake. he entertains himself quietly by slobbering on his little hands.
but the small costs have added up to what feels like an overwhelming upfront debt. some of it has accrued slowly and quietly. in bleary-eyed, six-hour stretches of cluster feedings, in the 43rd time of accidentally burning my hands in the scalding water used to wash bottles and breast pump parts, in brief moments when i lock eyes with my baby and feel nothing but the inexorable weight of responsibility.
some of the costs have been debited quickly and punishingly. in the sight of my mother on her hands and knees in my living room, wiping up puddles of blood. in my fever, chills, and tachycardia while an unknown man in the emergency room bay next to me vomited loudly and ceaselessly for an hour. in the gut-wringing misery and fear of being confronted with yet another hospital room that was indistinguishable from the postpartum suite i had only recently escaped- this time, with the admitting diagnosis of sepsis cellulitis. the dawning realization that i would be spending several nights away from my baby. the guilt of feeling relieved by the prospect of uninterrupted, ambien-laden sleep.
after a barrage of iv antibiotics, some wound exploration (this sounds like a fun magic schoolbus adventure but was actually just my doctor jabbing a swab in me until rivulets of blood and pus poured out of me yet again like a stomped bag of gushers), and a crash course in diy wound packing- the possibility of feeling like a normal human woman dawned dimly in the horizon. i returned home covered in a roadmap of allergy rashes and blown vein bruises, determined to clear this last obstacle and revert back to my new normal.
except then my milk supply dropped, and the cost continued to climb.
the magic of the human body fires off the prolactin hormone immediately postpartum, which serves the dual purpose of making you feel mentally unhinged while also animorphing you into an actual miltank. by day 3, your breasts forget that they are breasts and puff up into shiny, painful boulders that are also sprinklers. you forget that they once used to look amazing in harness bras and lacy lingerie and magnetized attention that wasn't just the gummy ferocity of an infant's mouth. after a few days of sopping rivers of breastmilk down your body until you feel like the world's grossest waterslide, your breasts recede slightly to a more tolerable- but still bonkers- size. over the next couple of weeks, the frequency of nursing and pumping establishes demand, and your milk production will normalize to supply it. we have now exceeded my understanding of breastfeeding.
after my hospital stay, what was once a bacchanalian feast for my fat little baby dried up to nearly nothing- the postapocalyptic fallout of 4 days spent pumping infrequently and bogged down by a plethora of iv medications. nothing tastes as good as skinny feels, i apologized to a frustrated james who gnawed mercilessly at my empty breasts. i grappled with the pronounced feeling of inadequacy- as a mother, a woman, and bag of milk. i told myself that if similac was good enough for 2chainz, it'll be good enough for my son.
but mostly, i drank herbal concoctions of fenugreek + blessed thistle and ate bowls of oatmeal until i felt sick. i nursed and pumped through every other excruciating waking hour, painfully eking out half ounces here and there, hoarding a collection of small, pathetic bottles like pirate gold. slowly, very slowly, my efforts here are paying off.
but it is not the only mission on my ever-evolving quest log:
- recover from infection
- finish wound care
- restore milk supply
- build a freezer stash
- return to work
- figure out childcare
- convert body from milk factory back to boner factory
- fall in love with this child
this last item on the task list gets slightly easier, day by day. despite a recent spat of interminable fussiness, james is a quality baby. he's packing on weight like blac chyna; his little hogbody has already grown out of his initial newborn outfits. his glorious hair is starting to show signs of waviness, and i expect we'll be able to style a little pompadour by his first birthday. his head smells like happiness. he is not yet an interactive human being, but seems to like his father a great deal. he spends a lot of time staring in wide-eyed wonderment at ian or else gumming and drooling on his biceps. he does not seem to like me much, but i don't blame him. i am bringing nothing but some milk and a lot of shade to the table.
"not worth it," i tell ian sometimes, half-wry, half-dejected. my body feels broken; my mind feels bowed. this is supposed to be the best thing that has ever happened to me, but so far it just feels like surviving a meteor crash. and cognitively, i know that i am building equity in my ideal life, that this down payment is just a moment in time, a blip on the calendar of the longest shortest time-
but when i think about the entire month of august so far, it feels analogous to an incident that occurred two years ago. while driving home, i received an important alert on my phone that distracted me completely- and the joy and excitement of finding out that olive garden was running a promotion on neverending pasta bowls was followed immediately by a head-on collision that destroyed the front end of my car.
don't ask me how that parallel makes any sense. i have been sleeping in 2 hour increments.