The Postpartum Chronicles
Hi. It’s been a while.
Three and half months ago I gave birth to my second daughter and have since been in what seems like a hurricane. It’s hard to explain how the arrival of baby Romi has altered my reality. Mainly because I believe I am not yet in reality but in the throws of exhaustion and stress.
Time is still not real.
It is to the world though. I am going back to work next week and I am feeling a whole lot of things but mainly anger. I love my work so it’s not the actual work part.
It’s that this maternity “leave” has been so stressful and scary that I need a break from the leave just to process all that has occurred. Between pumping sessions I find myself startled and frozen. It could be that the world is scaring me more and more, specifically life in the US, or that my relationship with my toddler has shifted dramatically, or that my newborn was rushed to a hospital in an ambulance while on vacation in Europe. It is hard to describe what crying “please help her she can’t breathe” into Google Translate feels like.
It feels like a bag of guilt that has been transfused intravenously into my already wobbly postpartum system.
After almost three years of being away from my friends and family in Israel there was nothing that I wanted more than to hug them and introduce them to the new crew members that have been added since we last saw one another at my wedding. I missed them furiously and felt that there had been more than an ocean between at this point; there were whole life chapters that happened so fast for me and them that it would be hard to ever catch up. My father is getting older.
There was a lot riding on this trip.
There was also my husband, a 2.5 year old and 2.5 month old. So there were many on this trip, too.
I have yet to find a a loneliness that compares to the loneliness of early motherhood, regardless of the added isolation of a pandemic. Months of anticipation have come to a head (a literal one) and my body is left empty, gaping, open. The feelings and memories the physical experience had unearthed in me scared me. Old, calcified experiences frozen in time came to life in my dreams and in uninvited thoughts during my waking hours. I am talking about the kind of memories that have long been buried and shoved away, apparently not as neatly as I had initially thought.
These memories came back with vengeance, vivid and loud as if 18 years had not passed. The shame was just as bright red and the confusion as hazy and hard to grasp. Still a wordless landscape I try to decipher unsuccessfully. Almost like crying into Google Translate except I don’t actually understand the words I myself am saying. I just know it hurts and feels fresh and if anything, that is just insulting given all the work I have put in to making sense of my experiences.
Back to Israel. Or trying to get to Israel.
The day we were to fly out, 6 suitcases and two small people in tow, the flight was cancelled. We scrambled hopefully at the airport for another 4 hours refusing to accept that we had to go home. Meanwhile our toddler, Emilia, was running everywhere, knocking down signs, taking off her shoes and socks, and other wise doing all the things I would loved to have done at that time. The baby was on me, worn in a carrier, both of us sweating profusely.
We went back home. Found a flight for the following day much less comfortable but doable. There was trouble with that flight too. It took almost 3 hours to check in and settle. I may or may not have tearfully yelled at an Air Canada rep that I would not move till they corrected their mistake and gave us our tickets. It actually worked.
It could have been the screaming baby on my chest or/and the sweat dripping down my face that conveyed I was a woman at the end of her rope that shan’t be fucked with.
We survived the 11 hour flight and landed safely. My toddler got sick within a day with a fever and vomiting. After a day and a half of that, she was back in fighting shape and we were able to see our people and enjoy some much needed quality time with them.
We noticed that the baby had the sniffles. I thought it was probably another bug gifted by her sister courtesy of her daycare. We had her checked by a doctor the morning before our flight to Belgium to make sure her ears were clear and she was ok to fly. The doctor (who saw us in a car in a parking lot next to a commercial dumpster- long story) said she was good to go but was developing bronchiolitis which we can’t medicate but we can make her comfortable with a nebulizer and clearing her nose.
Another 8 hour flight to Belgium. Mostly Hassidic men discussing things I didn’t understand in Yiddish. I nursed Romi and used the nebulizer as much as I could. We had two nights in Brussels and we were all fried from the trip already. We landed and stayed at an hotel and just chilled for the night, not something to be taken for granted given the two littles.
Things were looking up.
Romi had a hard time sleeping for more than ten minutes at a time. We were exhausted. She didn’t have a fever so I assumed I just needed to keep her indoors till we got back home and had her checked again.
We were all in the hotel suite together when I saw Romi was very stuffy and decided to steam the bathroom to help her. As I stood with her in the steamy bathroom, our reflection in the mirror completely fogged, I saw she was fading and not able to breathe. I told Bobby to get an ambulance. Bobby called the lobby and got an ambulance. I tried to not freak out as to not scare Emilia who looked terrified and asked to come. We threw our passports and my wallet in my purse and Romi and I sped down the elevator.
She began to go limp in the lobby and I frantically begged the receptionist to check where the ambulance was. People were helpful, or trying to be. I looked at her and I in the lobby mirrors and tried to gage her state. She began to have purple under her eyes. I screamed. I asked for a doctor. I rudely yelled at a bypasser who suggested I giver her the heimlich.
6 minutes and the ambulance came. She began to cry in the ambulance and so did I. The paramedics didn’t speak english. I tried to mime “not breathing” to them. They asked me to calm down. They checked Romi and sped us to the hospital. They were less alarmed than I was.
I thought I was losing her. God, I was so scared. Primal. Animal holding her cub in her teeth to safety. Pure id.
And it would have been my fault because I was so lonely I risked her life to see my people across the world. Did my loneliness almost kill my baby?
At the hospital an English speaking doctor cleared her out with a long metal instrument and told me we were going to spend the night. I was texting with Bobby the whole time. That she was breathing. That she was ok. That they were checking her. That she was on me. That she was being watched. That they took some blood. That we were staying the night. That I loved them. That we were going to be ok.
Meanwhile I shook uncontrollably for the next 8 hours. They found she had RSV- a nasty virus but mostly not lethal. Mostly.
Romi, connected to monitoring devices, was glued to my chest for the next 3 days at the hospital. When she breathed I breathed. When she coughed I stood up and patted her back. When she cried I hugged her and told her I was sorry. That I wished I could take away her pain and feel it for her. That I was so, so, sorry.
In the interim, many Google Translate conversations with doctors and nurses were had. I had to collect myself enough to be coherent enough for an algorithm to translate my many questions to the professionals.
On the third day Romi and I Ubered back to the hotel. She and I slept in a separate room for the next two nights. I was tired and wired in a way that was painfully familiar. Emilia and I spent some time just the two of us. I tried my best to show her that we were ok. I tried to explain to her what had happened. When it was time for night she asked me if we going to the doctor again.
My heart sank.
I just wanted us all to be home already. And of course I was getting sick myself.
We made it home. A 6 hour flight where I stared at Romi’s chest rising and falling with each breath, ready to prance into action if needed.
Here is the realization that was broadcasted in my head on the flight home: this is where your hyper vigilance is actually needed. These are the places and the people and the moments where it counts. You are a mom. You will always have your teeth ready to carry your cubs to safety. It’s not a cognitive choice. This is who I am now, forever.
We are home now. Mostly recovered. Mostly in a rhythm. Mostly settling into a routine. Mostly.
I am going back to work next week and I am more mom than any other description these days. I am more animal than human. I am not who I was before her. And I don’t how to re enter the world with this new identity.