I am pregnant for the third time.
My first thought is abounding excitement for a new life.
My second thought is fear, acutely remembering my two previous challenging postpartum experiences.
I gear up to test drive the approach that the most critical element of postpartum recovery is simply a lot of help.
Other cultures I read up on assume this. They give their mothers heaps of community help, familial help, postpartum leave.
I approach each day closer to my due date with anticipation and trepidation. More help will save me, I remind myself.
I hire my nanny a month before I give birth to assist in the mornings. All systems are a go.
This time, I vow, I will go by the method of basically staying in bed for forty days and letting other people take care of me.
And then I give birth.
As my body bumbles around rearranging itself, I hand my nanny the newly produced baby.
My two other children follow her out, giggling and shrieking, little feet padding away down the wooden hallway.
This, I think, filled with an aura of entitlement, stretching out on the bed I gave birth on a few hours previously, is the life.
Four weeks in, the point Dr. Harvey Karp predicts babies typically reach their fussiest stage, I’m fading, and I’m fading fast.
The barometer for my okay-ness is how kind I am to my kids and husband. It’s pretty low.
It’s clear I’m losing my mind. I cry, I moan, I accuse.
I try. I try to get more help.
But I’m lying in bed all day, trying to recover from a night of less than two hours of sleep in a row.
Is there anything more depressing than lying in bed all day? When life awaits outside my small confines? Where the sky is blue, where people laugh?
I bore myself with my thoughts. I can’t suck enough life out of the internet to satisfy my needs.
Depression from isolation and boredom coats my sleep deprivation, creating a sinister facade.
“Your body needs to heal,” people keep repeating to me. “Take it easy.”
Heal? I wonder. Heal? my body smirks. Please. Please no.
Though I just went through a major vessel transformation and expelled a leaving creature, my body feels strong as an ox. There’s nothing less it and I want to do than lie in bed and “heal”.
Let me out of this bed, I yell. Let me live.
But I can’t live, because I’m so sleep deprived, so I just bumble around, not doing much except expelling negative energy and emitting noises of helplessness while trying to hide desperate emotions from children. Depression from boredom plus exhaustion leads to a diminished milk supply, leading to a crankier baby, leading to more boredom, more exhaustion, and less milk.
Finally, it reaches a crescendo.
I awake, after not sleeping, and I can take it no longer. My children jump all over me, and I collapse. I am nothing. I am nothing except a mound of clay and flesh. Tears run down my cheeks and I stare at the phone, texting anyone I think will respond. “Please come help,” I say. Please come.
Help arrives, with food, love, and an idea : “Call a night nurse,” my friend insists.
Despite my concern of night nurse hourly rates, I relent. There are no other answers.
Nesha Toron, from Brooklyn Birth Services and Beyond, comes to our home. I open the door to her and sunshine beams out of the doorway, even though its midnight. It’s my lady in waiting. Everything will be okay.
She takes the baby into the other room.
Yes, take her, leave me.
I stare at my four walls. It feels like they are hugging me. I fall asleep, surrounded by the beautiful calming sensation of aloneness. Of okayness. Knowing I will not be interrupted by someone, however miraculous, sucking life from my body.
I awake hours later, the strangest sensation washing over me.
It’s the refreshing sensation of sleep, I realize. The invigorating ability to use my brain.
I peer at my children, another strange sensation- it’s gratitude, I realize. It’s witnessing beauty, rather than resentment.
I look at my husband, another emotion blossoming in my brain- it’s appreciation I feel pounding in my chest. Hello, affection.
I am reborn.
I continue using Nesha’s night nurse help until the six week stage, when my baby starts to act like a fairly acceptable human being.
As I look back on the critical four to week stage of my baby’s existence and my saving grace, I feel one thing strongest- night nurses should be paid for by insurance.
Waking people at random times throughout the night, preventing a decent night sleep, is an actual torture technique. Even if a mother has paid maternity leave, being up with baby all night is still psychologically horrible. Especially for days and weeks at a time. It still prohibits the mother from actually living during the day and taking care of her family and self sufficiently. It seems like providing new mothers with an ability to recover decent sleep should be the minimum to promote a healthy, maternally supportive society.
In the end, my original theory was confirmed- mothers do need a lot more help than my American upbringing taught me. I was just surprised in what form.
Night nurses. The most natural postpartum antidepressant on the market.