My little baby daughter, not even two weeks old, is already teaching me.
Little Ella teaches me that I am very invested in being a coper. Not a martyr, but a very capable strong able woman. It is not without a tinge of pride I tell people that right after I gave birth, no pain relief at all, I am up and about, walking around. I silently revel when people tell me that I look so well, and am coping so well.
I worked up till the very last possible day (incidentally),even as my feet were so swollen that I could no longer drive, let alone walk. The shabbas before Ella was born I walked on my tree stump legs to friends nearby in over 30 degree weather (which to me felt like 40 degrees). I did yoga throughout, carried on my night classes. I rested more, and didn’t have shabbas guests at the end, but never would I say I wasn’t coping. When I felt frazzled or tired, I simply put myself to bed.
And then Ella came. The first two days we were in the comforting and supportive Genesis clinic. I was still on a post birth high, and had reserves of sleep. The incredible nurses were a ring away, and even watched Ella one night while I slept. I was euphoric and feeling physically strong and on top of the world.
Even at home those first few days, she didn’t sleep much, but I handled it. Visitors and families streamed in and out and we were doing great. Until Tuesday morning. On Monday night from 6pm – 2am Ella screamed and screamed and screamed. Her teeny body writhed in pain, her face contorted and bright red and she screamed. My husband and I took turns holding her, rocking her, patting her, and she would calm for a few moments until the screaming began again. Somewhere between the thousandth scream, I start bargaining with the universe. I even offer to be in labour again, no epidural and all rather than tolerate this.
The next day I was shaken to the core. During the screams, I convinced myself that she had colic, and was doomed to months of a screaming unsettled baby. Worse yet, was watching my little baby, so helpless and small and in pain, and unable to help at all.
The next day I am shaken to the core. Every little sound she makes convinces me that the screaming episode is going to start again. I am terrified of the night, and what it may bring. What will I do if it starts again? I start collecting baby chiropractors numbers, and shake. I eat like a refugee, shovelling cold food into my mouth, crouched over the dining room table, as if I am not knowing when I can eat next. I try rest while family watches Ella, but I am too wound up. I hear every squeak from my bedroom, waiting for the descent into hysteria. My husband tells me I me I have a crazed look in my eyes, and I look at him with annoyance. Why can’t he see how brilliantly I am coping, as everyone else does? Sure, I am tired, but which new mother isn’t.
And then the cracks. While getting immunizations back at Genesis, we bump into an old classmate from 12 years ago. She has given birth just before me, and I see the joy and pride in her eyes as she shows off her little boy. Me? I fantasize about leaving Ella Rachel there, so I can go home and sleep and sleep and sleep.
We come home from the immunizations, and the tears come. I am a hormonal ,anxious wreck. I cry and cry and feel better. People say the first six weeks are the hardest, and I can’t imagine getting past this first week. That night, Marc offers to watch her while I sleep. I bath her, feed her and go lie down. But sleep doesn’t come. Every sound startles me, and I hear her moaning and wailing. I stumble into the lounge later, and am told that she has been sleeping soundly all this time.
Finally, I realize that I am struggling. The doula comes the next day for a post birth visit, and my words are heroic and noble. But she senses the rambling speech and crazed eyes. She prescribes rescue remedy three times a day, and tells me to sleep in the day while Ella does. I realize with shock that I am sleep deprived and overwhelmed, all very normal feelings.
I look at other mothers who have their own conversations and thoughts, and wonder – is it really possible that a time will come where a watch doesn’t indicate what time a feed is due, and I will feel half human and maybe even get dressed one day.
My amazingly generous mother- in-law offers to get us a night nurse a few days a week. Initially, I balk at the idea. I have friends with five children who managed without a night nurse. I have domestic help and haven’t cooked a meal since she was born. A night nurse? Those are for spoilt South Africans. Surely I can take care of one new born alone and manage? It feels indulgent and how can I trust a stranger with tiny Ella.
I read a frum magazine about a woman with 14 children, and how serene and calm she is. I will bet she never had night nurse for her fourteenth, let alone her first. I am neither the first new mother nor the last, so what am I complaining about?
Already, the list of demands I have screams loudly. All these things I should be doing. I should be managing, coping without sleep. I shouldn’t need help. I should be able to do it alone.
Yet after a week of about two hours sleep a night and another episode of weeping and wanting to leave Ella at the clinic for good, I learn. That for Ella to be dependent on me, I need to depend on other people. I can’t do this all alone. I turn to my husband, my family and I advertise for a night nurse. I will accept with gratitude all the support I can muster, and ask when I need more. (Wasn’t it an aristocratic thing to have nurses for children?) I buy earplugs, and when my mom shows up at 6pm I answer the door in my pajamas, and hand Ella to her and off I go to the bedroom with my earplugs. The next day, my friend Julie comes for bath time. I ask her to bath Ella alone, while I go and take a bath myself.
I start sleeping in the day time, with my ear plugs while Marc watches her.
Yes, little Ella is already my teacher. Not even two weeks old; she has pierced through my armour, showing me that I am so much more fragile than I care to admit, and mothering is definitely not for sissies.