7. AT HOME

When we arrived home, Stewart carried the baby upstairs to his crib. Then he carried me up the same stairs. Now we had to change our first diaper. The new gauze diapers were stiff. “Are you sure you bought the right kind?” Stewart asked. “These look like paper.”

“Yes, I’m sure,” I snapped. “They just haven’t been washed yet.”

We had bought a washing machine just before I went into the hospital, but it still hadn’t been delivered. So we decided to use pampers. We picked David up and took off his wet diaper. In those days, pampers didn’t come with those little self-sticking tabs, and it was necessary to use diaper pins. But we couldn’t make the oversized pins pierce the paper diapers. We were both frustrated. David began to cry. Finally, Stewart forced the pins through. I nursed David, and soon he fell asleep.

I began to wish that Stewart had gone with me to the Red Cross baby care classes. Then there would have been two of us to remember all the little tricks. Now, when I told him what I thought I remembered from those classes, I didn’t have any authority. I wondered if we had made a mistake to attempt this on our own. Here we were–two bumbling amateurs. How would we manage? We could hardly wait for my mother to arrive that night, fresh from her brush-up course and with the experience of caring for four children of her own (two arriving together as twins). She wasn’t expecting David and me to be home from the hospital yet, and we decided not to tell her until after Stewart picked her up at the airport and brought her to our house. It would be a surprise.

That afternoon, Stewart wanted us to listen together to the audio-tape he had made in the labor room. I was reluctant. “There are some good things about the way memory works,” I tried to explain. “It frightens me to have every second recorded, when my mind might want to forget it.”

But Stewart insisted, and I joined him in listening. And was surprised. What I remembered was my pain. But of course I couldn’t hear that. What I heard was the encouragement of Stewart, Sis, the nurse, and the doctor. With all that help, what right did I have to complain? There was Sis, like the sister I never had, helping beside my bed, as women had always helped each other give birth. My experience must not have been so bad after all.
At the end of the tape were peculiar animal noises, something between a whimper and a shriek. I realized I must have made them when I first saw the baby move.

Stewart and I muddled through a few more diaper changes. Stewart warmed up some of the roast that had been in the oven the night we left for the hospital. He cooked some vegetables, too, and brought my supper upstairs with a flourish.

Mother arrived a few hours later. She gave a small squeal when she came up the stairs and found me already at home, nursing the baby. She could hardly wait for a pause so that she could hold her first grandchild.
Then she cheerfully pitched in. She washed the diapers in the bathtub. (Stewart and I would never have thought of doing that.) But first she sent Stewart out to buy soap flakes—Ivory Snow. “You can’t was diapers in detergent,” she asserted. She showed us how to keep the pins in a cake of soap so that they would slide through the diapers. “We’ll get this baby in real diapers as soon as they dry on the clothesline,” she said. “His little bottom doesn’t look so good.” There was reproach in her voice. She used a flashlight as she hung the diapers on the line in the back yard.

I decided not to fight Mother for the first baby care tasks. I felt so helpless that I was glad to have Mother take over, at least for now. There would be time enough in the next few days for me to learn how to manage for David.
Besides, Mother thrived on being needed. I remembered being startled at photographs of my mother right after her wedding. Such an attractive, graceful girl. But sometime after my birth, or after the three brothers who followed in quick succession (four children under the age of five) Mother had lost her carefree winsomeness. She had become a nurturer. That defined her completely. When the last child left home and she had a hysterectomy, Mother experienced the first in a series of depressions. There had no longer been any need for her quick efficiency. Now there was. I could read a sense of purpose in every gesture she made.

My father called from Atlanta, where he was involved in a church conference. “Oh no,” he said. “Can’t wash diapers in detergent. Take care, Princess. Let Mother help and get plenty of rest.”

The guest bed and the crib were in the nursery. I told Mother she could settle there. At night, the baby would sleep in the room with Stewart and me, next to the book case, in the antique cradle we had found.

I had come home to rest, but that night I was as wakeful as I had been at the hospital. I was haunted by might-have-beens. What if Sis had not been there? What if I had asked for medication for the pain? But what if the drugs had affected the baby? What if Dr. Eagle had not been out of the room when the baby’s head appeared? What if I hadn’t pushed so hard? What if I had pushed harder, or had started pushing earlier? Could the baby have hung on to the edge of the bed with his tiny toes? (Mother had told me that in their first few hours after birth, babies have grasping toes like monkeys.) What if I hadn’t taken the tedral for asthma? Would I have slept better? Maybe without it I would have choked and been unable to breathe. What if I had not listened to the nurse and had taken the aspirin to help me sleep? Would a different combination of medicines have reacted differently with my system? What if the baby had died? What if the baby had died? I couldn’t stop worrying about what might have happened.

The next day, Tuesday, Mother got a phone call about her brother Lawrence. He was the one I had thought of when I filled out Dr. Eagle’s forms, the one with the cleft palate. Now he had been badly burned by an exploding oil heater. There was little hope that he would survive. “I may have to leave here and go to South Carolina for the funeral if he dies,” Mother said.

Stewart, who was good at drawing people out, got Mother to talk a little more about Lawrence. “He had a very unhappy childhood,” she said. “He never could talk right or do anything else right. Finally, when he was almost thirty, he had the operation. His older brother went with him to Washington and stayed with Lawrence through the whole horribly painful ordeal.

“The last years of his life were unfortunate, too. His wife left him. He was living alone in a rooming house. It’s all very sad.”

The washing machine and dryer arrived. Mother continued to manage David’s care. But I was firmly in charge of feeding him. He nursed eagerly. Then he napped most of the time, waking every four hours, almost as if he had an alarm clock in his stomach. Mother suggested that I shouldn’t feed him too often. “It’s good for babies to cry and then get what they want,” she said. “It gives them a sense of power.”

I did not sleep well Tuesday night either. This time my worries were about the present and future: Do we have enough diaper pins? Is the cold draft from the front windows reaching the baby in his cradle? Is the thermostat turned up high enough? Could the bookcase fall over on the baby? If something happened to me, if I finally fell asleep so deeply that I couldn’t be awakened, would Mother and Stewart by able to hold David up against me so he could nurse?

“How did you sleep?” Mother asked anxiously the next morning. “Not so well, again,” I admitted. “But I think it’s normal to be excited at first.”

Mother thought things were beginning to go beyond normal. I had slept fitfully for the first two nights in the hospital, and then not at all for the next three. I seemed unable to nap in the day either. Something had to break.

I kept calling Mother to tell her things, interrupting the meal cooking and diaper changing, about which I was less and less concerned. I talked faster and faster, with my voice pitched higher and higher, making less and less sense. First Mother, then Stewart began to be alarmed.

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