‘Now, don’t let them kick you out of that hospital bed until you’re ready to go home.’ I remember a number of well-meaning female friends and relatives drumming that line into me before I gave birth to my baby boy last December, with what I can only describe, knowing what I know now, as very wry smiles. ‘Of course ‘ I agreed to myself, sure I’ll want to catch up on as much sleep as possible before heading home with the baby, so I’ll try and stay in as long as they’ll let me.
Oh. How. Wrong. I was.
Let’s be frank. That 1-3 night stay in hospital with your raw, torn up body and tiny, wrinkled, crying newborn lying by your side are probably the most exhausting few days of your life. There is no way you are able to actually lie down and get some uninterrupted kip at any point and anyone who tells you otherwise is having you on big time! I don’t care if you’re in a private room, a semi private or public ward, the bottom line is, you’ll pretty much get zero sleep and need to survive on a serious of unfulfilling catnaps. Why? Well let me lay it out for you.
1. Much to my surprise, there was no magic midwife that came in and wheeled my squished-up bundle of joy down to the nursery, where I could admire him through a glass window in my PJ’s after a super amazing sleep - a la every Hollywood movie I’ve seen involving babies! And this was the biggest shock of all. I can clearly remember feeling completely exhausted, sort of like I had been run over by a truck, with horrendous jet-lag thrown into the mix and being left with my new baby beside me in a small cot. I’d given birth at 4.00 am and by 7.30 pm that evening my delighted, but exhausted husband was falling asleep standing up, so I sent him home for some rest, naively thinking the midwife might wheel the baby off to that said magical nursery land while I slept. Wrong!
2. Which brings me to point number 2. The hubby goes home at 8.00 pm or 9.00 pm and you’re on your own. Sure, there are midwives floating around the halls, but you’re basically left to your own devices for the entire night. Yep that’s right, it’s just you and baby until the next morning and good God was it the loneliest few nights of my life. And if, like me you are a nervous first-timer with no clue how to even put on a onesie, that first night will be spent on high alert in case the baby cries, poops, wants to be fed, or you just spend the entire time checking if he is still breathing!
3. Visitors, visitors, visitors. Now I know family is naturally excited when the new baby arrives and of course that is great, but do they ALL have to feel the need to visit in those first couple of days when you’re in the hospital looking like the wreck of the Hesperus and feeling so tired you’re starting to hallucinate? No they don’t, but be prepared for them doing just that. And it’s not just your visitors, it’s everyone else’s too! Trust me, by the time you leave, you’ll be ‘au fait’ with everything Auntie Mary beyond the curtain has to say about who said mass last week and why in her day there was no such thing as an epidural, whether you want to or not. And speaking of mass, don’t be surprised if the priest pops in at the worst possible moment (me with my ass hanging out of my gown) to give you communion too!
4. Noise. You’d think that at night things would settle down on the ward. But oh no they don’t, if anything they get noisier. From babies crying, (okay, that’s a given!) to you and the other new mums crying. To alarms mysteriously going off, heavy doors banging, to staff having large loud chats at 3.00 am, people shuffling up and down to the bathroom, to the jarring sound of cutlery and dishes being thrown around the place (yes thrown!) at all hours, there is just too much noise to sleep and earplugs are useless because, well see point 2.
5. Doctors and nurses asking you a million questions. Yes, it’s their job and isn’t it great they are so concerned about you and your new baby, but prepare to be asked to roll over and show your stiches (if you have any) several times a day, be asked if you’ve pooped yet, are you passing urine, what about the baby has he pooped yet? I mean what are they the poop police?! Expect to have your blood pressure routinely taken and blood drawn, as they check baby’s weight, hearing and reflexes. Is he feeding? How much? How often? What will you have for your dinner and don’t even get me started on all the leaflets they give you.
In between all of that there is just no time for sleep. I can remember my mother telling me how she had been kept in for 5 days after having me, as was the norm back then. She recalled how they’d wheel the babies over for feeding and cuddles, etc., but how they’d then take them away so that the mums could get some sleep. I loved the idea of that… of course she also remembered how she was able to smoke in her hospital bed! Okay, so times have changed and while it’s nice in one way to have your baby there with you to bond, sleep is so important too, especially for those first few days as you grapple with this momentous change in your life. A happy medium might be the answer. But for me, I literally counted the seconds until I was allowed to go home, where I promptly fell onto my bed and got a few blissful hours of unbroken sleep, knowing that I had at least one other pair of hands to mind the new baby.