When I was pregnant with Oldest, I read a lot about labor and delivery. Breathing and relaxation techniques, what to expect at different stages, pretty much whatever I could get my hands on in order to be well-prepared. But what I wasn’t prepared for was a nurse who kept asking me questions. During contractions. I expected small talk in between, but she seemed oblivious to the fact that I was otherwise occupied, and the questions just kept coming. I couldn’t figure out what her problem was. Nevertheless, I generally try to respond to people when they talk to me—anything else would be rude, right?—so I did my best to be polite and answer her. But I was having a really hard time staying focused.
When she left the room I asked my husband to intercede so I could concentrate on my breathing. “Would you please stop her from talking to me when I’m in the middle of a contraction?”
“Okay, but when are you having them?”
“When I close my eyes!”
Duh. Isn’t that an obvious sign?
But it got worse. (Bear with me—I promise there’s nothing graphic or sappy ahead.)
Oldest was breach, and I had an emergency c-section. I hated how the pain medication made me feel afterwards, how whenever I turned my head the room swam for several seconds before it followed behind. I wanted to be alert and soaking up every moment with my baby, and instead I felt drowsy and out of it. So when the nurse on duty told me, “Just let me know when you need something more for the pain, okay honey?” I didn’t exactly feel motivated to speak up. Besides, I told myself, it only hurts when I move. I’ll just try not to do that.
So I didn’t ask for anything for the pain. The entire day. And nobody offered anything, that I can remember. I had not considered that the nurses would want me to walk around the ward several times. Or that there would be other reasons I would need to get out of bed. The pain got bad. I’ll just go to bed early, I told myself. That will help. I didn’t realize that even beyond nighttime feedings there’s no such thing as sleeping through the night for a new mother in the hospital. It seemed like somebody constantly wanted something from me—my vitals, my arm for an immunization, Oldest’s vitals—I don't even remember what else. I was not going to get much rest.
By 9 or 10 that night I was sitting on the edge of the hospital bed in tears. “I can’t take it anymore,” I admitted to my husband. Still, I don’t think I asked for anything for the pain for another few hours.
Yes, the doctor scolded me the next morning. And yes, I learned my lesson.
When Middle was born I had a lovely little button attached to my I.V. that I could push whenever I wanted. It administered painkillers in small doses and was on a timer, so if it wasn’t time for another dose I didn’t get anything, but if it was—relief at my fingertips.
Lesson #1: It’s important to manage the pain if you can, because if you don’t, it will ride you with its legs wrapped tight around your throat just like that old man who got hold of Sinbad the Sailor on his fifth voyage.
Lesson #2: For heaven’s sake, woman, learn to speak up!
Okay, I sort of learned my lesson. I’m better about taking ibuprofen if I really need it. And I’ve gotten better at asserting myself in certain situations.
But there are other kinds of pain. And my lingering tendency towards silence and coping-with-it instead of dealing with things full-on proves I still have a lot to learn.
More on that next time.
*It's a good leap by the way, even though it has me sort of nervous.
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