I’d been home from the hospital after delivering my daughter for less than 48 hours when my husband woke up to me shaking uncontrollably in bed.
He laughed a little, trying to shake me awake, thinking I was messing around somehow. But I wasn’t joking, nor was I awake.
My body, without my knowledge, consent, or apparent consciousness, was ravaged with an infection so widespread that it started shivering violently in an effort to raise my temperature high enough to kill the bacteria attacking it.
When my husband realized that my temperature was nearing 105 degrees, he immediately called my nurse-midwife and dragged me, half-awake and delirious, into the shower to cool me down.
I spent the next three days in a hospital.
I couldn’t stop crying about being separated from my baby and forbidden to feed her with the IV antibiotics coursing through my veins. A month later, I was back in the hospital again — this time with mastitis so severe it damaged the milk ducts in one of my breasts (hello future lopsided bathing suit top).
I was able to remain fever-free and out of the hospital after that but I wasn’t in the clear yet. I found myself limping towards a finish line I couldn’t find, struggling to find my way out of the murky darkness of postpartum depression.
Sometime after my daughter turned a year old and I began graduate school, I felt like I was coming back into myself, like the small light that had been extinguished was slowly flickering back to life.
But when my husband and I decided that we were ready to expand our family, even as I planned the nursery and settled on a name because I was sure it was a little girl, I was filled with fear about what was to come again.
Sure, I feared the labor and delivery part a little. But most of my fear came because I knew what I was in for after the birth.
I was completely and totally terrified that I would sink back into the depression I had clawed my way out of; I was paralyzed with fear about how I would handle a new baby, sick with sadness over losing that special bond of just me and my daughter.
When I gave birth, right on schedule to our little girl, my husband took off half a day from work from his brand-new job so he could drive us home. And then we were on our own.
Just when I felt like I was at the lowest point, a mother who couldn’t mother, a woman scared of failing again, in swooped my guardian angel.
My sister, home from college, came over almost every day to entertain the two-year-old, to hold the baby, to just be there with me. I couldn’t tell you exactly how long she stayed, but I can tell you that she saved my life.
Every day for weeks I took a nap in the afternoon, finally making good on that age-old adage to “sleep when the baby sleeps.”
I stayed off of the Internet for months, not even to announce my daughter’s birth on Facebook.
I sat outside with my sister and my baby while we stuck our feet in a baby pool, staged truly awful “photo shoots,” and took turns walking a colicky, screaming baby around the house in a never-ending lap.
I rested and rejoiced in my new baby and made it through my postpartum healing completely unscathed, nary a touch of mastitis in sight.
And months later, when I opened my eyes from the newborn baby fog and realized how much my sister had saved me from myself, from that feeling of being so alone in the world, just you and crying babies, I wanted to cry. Actually, I did cry when I tried to tell her how thankful I was for her, both of us blubbering incoherently in a picture someone snapped of us on Christmas morning.
I know that my sister will never realize the gift she gave to me until (and if) she has a baby of her own someday.
But looking back, I can’t help but see what a difference having help in the postpartum period made. In my subsequent two births that followed, I came down with mastitis once, twice, over and over until I hit a whopping ten times — until my body wouldn’t respond to any of the antibiotics my doctor tried. I feel like I lost so much time that I could have been enjoying my baby because I was sick and miserable and crying; because I couldn’t get the rest I needed to get better.
I have thought all of this time that I was so lucky to have help, how I was a rarity in a world of mothers that are expected to “bounce back” and be running full-speed hours after giving birth.
But what if we have it all wrong?
What if we all had that kind of support that I experienced as the norm, and not the exception?
What if, instead of hoping we could make it through the postpartum period unscathed, we could go into healing with confidence and support?
What if we all had the gift of a sister who would sit with you in the bright summer sun as you both marveled at your newborn baby girl?
I can’t help but think what a different experience giving birth could be.More On