Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Hospital Pt. 5: My Daughter, Keith Richards

Okay, I mean breast feeding is beautiful, and all that. But, yeah, it still kind of blows.

The problem is that breast feeding novices are lead to believe that it’s so natural. That nothing could be more natural, in fact. And it is. But what happens is that it leads us to confuse natural with easy, and from what I’ve seen at least, breastfeeding, like pimping, ain’t easy.

Here’s how easy breast feeding is supposed to be, how intuitive for mother and child.

One of the great stories of natural survival I’ve ever heard involves baby kangaroos, when they’re so young you can’t even call them a joey yet. They’re newborns about the size of a lima bean. But—and I heard this somewhere, I don’t know where—these kangaroos are so instinctively motivated to get milk that after birth they climb up their mother’s bellies, painstakingly, with all their strength, with everything they’ve possibly got, to get to a teat, latch on and live. The lima beans that can’t do this simply die. It’s nature’s way. Can you imagine? For them it’s like scaling the Palisades! Talk about instinct!

So you’d think, considering how much harder kangaroos have it, and yet somehow they manage, that breast feeding a newborn human child, with a highly motivated mother, would be kind of a cinch in comparison. I mean, after all, we have thumbs.


Now, I must say here, Randi was a fabulous mother within about three seconds of Stella’s birth. Listening to her coo and talk to the little one was a heartwarming experience. I wish I could replicate the instinctive chatter she knew to share with Stella, but her cadence is so sweet, it’s hard.

But, unfortunately, for the first several days of Stella’s life that sweet cadence became increasingly exasperated as she tried to get our reluctant baby to attach to the boob and get her anti-body slushy.

“C’mon sweetie, Mommy’s got a beautiful breast for you right here! It’s just waiting all for you,” she’d say as she held Stella next to her breast. The problem was that her nipple was still kind of inverted and flexible. What we needed were big old pencil erasers. Instead these kind of swayed back and forth. And Stella was having a hard time “latching on,” which is literally the moment when the child stops playing around and starts drawing from the boob. It’s fairly dramatic if you’ve never seen it. All of a sudden a crying, fussy newborn will get incredibly still, stop crying and become a sucking machine. And baby’s mouths are way stronger than I imagined. When I stuck my pinky in Stella’s mouth it started to feel badly squished within just a few moments.

But that latching-on moment proved elusive.

This was especially frustrating because we desperately wanted Stella, if nothing else, to get the colostrum. Colostrum is the clear liquid that squirts out before the milk. It is packed with anti-bodies, and can’t be replaced. It only lasts for a few days, though, and if the baby misses it, she misses it, which would disturb us to no end.

And she was missing it. Randi would literally stick her boob in Stella’s face, and Stella would either suck for a few moments and go to sleep, or turn her head. It just wasn’t working.

Fortunately, the hospital provided a mechanical breast pump in the room. At first I didn’t even know what it was. But once Randi put the little suction cups over her breasts, and the machine turned on there was no doubt. All of a sudden the suction kicked in for real, and, well, you can imagine what happened next. I don’t want to embarrass my wife here. I’ll just say that next time Stella tried to latch on her target was about three times bigger. And stiffer.

So that was part of what we were going through during our hospital stay.

Another part of it was that nurses seemed pretty much unwilling to leave us alone for more than two hours at a time; it must be in their union contract. It seemed that just as soon as all three of us got comfortable, or—heaven forbid—even got a little sleep a nurse, or janitor, would bust in to give Randi some kind of test, borrow our baby, or clean our room.

Also, one of the nurses quickly became our enemy.

She was youngish, probably in her early 20s, and had an eastern European accent. She popped in the first night, and quickly gave us a hard time.

“This room is too cold! You could harm the baby!”

Yeah, that’s what you want to hear when you’re a brand new parent. You're killing your baby. We turned up the heat. But the nurse’s mood didn’t improve upon subsequent visits. And we were getting ready to pounce in return.

We also had to fill out a surprising amount of paper work during this time.

One such item was how we wanted Stella to be registered with the Social Security administration. With pride I filled out her name, Stella Rae Serchuk. I took particular joy in writing down the name Serchuk, especially because up until that moment all the hospital documents, including my name tag, had the last name Skaggs on it. This is because Randi had registered under her own name. So for several days I suffered the slight indignity of being called Mr. Skaggs by all the staff whenever I wrested back my baby from their greedy, bureaucratic clutches.

(David Skaggs, by the way, is actually a former Congressman from Colorado that I once interned for. Nice guy, but that’s another story. Although not much of one; it was a pretty boring internship.)

I also felt pride because we had added one additional Serchuk to the world, which is saying something. I don’t know many Serchuks. Do you? Sometimes I get the feeling if you rounded all of us up together we’d just barely make a minyan. (Although it should be noted that there are two other David Serchuks. One is my uncle, no big surprises there. But the other one is a large, Midwestern auto racer and mechanic. I am a nerdy writer with glasses. We must’ve been switched at birth!)

Another thing we were required to do before leaving is sign a document testifying that we watched an anti-baby shaking documentary. I found this slightly patronizing as I knew that shaking a baby is very dangerous, but I guess they feel that many other people just haven’t figured this out yet.

There were minor victories along the way, though, too. Soon--although it was a slow-going process--Stella managed to suck down several feedings of colostrum. In a few days the milk would come in, we were told, and she would start to sleep better.

Stella, you see, was prone to waking up every few hours, no matter what we did, and crying until she was near a nipple. And the few times she did want to sleep for more than three hours we had to wake her up to feed her. We didn’t want to, that’s what we were told to do. But it was no fun. Stella wouldn’t want to suck, but she couldn’t go back to sleep anyway. The answer? More crying!

Basically, though, we learned that the kid just didn’t want to sleep. And she didn’t necessarily want to eat, either. She just wanted Mom’s boob near her face. With such symptoms I soon realized that we had given birth not to a baby, but to a tiny, adorable, Keith Richards.

This frustrated Randi, who kept on trying to talk Stella into breast feeding.

“C’mon baby girl, you’ve got to get all your colostrum so you don’t get sick,” Randi would plead. Stella would take a few sips of boob bourbon turn her head and pass out. For about a minute, until she’d start crying again.

But Stella wasn’t the only one getting antsy. By day two we were all ready to leave the hospital. It’s amazing to me that women used to stay in the hospital for over a weak after childbirth as a rule. Randi was feeling good enough that she wanted to go home after one night; another happy consequence of the natural birth.

Soon enough, the big day came. Taking our congratulatory flowers, and Mylar balloons and stuffing them in the trunk we clicked Stella into her brand spanking new baby seat, and I carefully, carefully drove the five minutes to home. Stella had been fidgeting, but she immediately calmed down once the car started moving. The girl like to travel, again like Keith Richards. I parked the car, and we brought our new love home. We'd done a lot of work to make it ready for her, and couldn't wait to share it.

It was April 16, and we were now officially on our own.

No comments: