Food for the Soul
After my son was born, becoming a parent was both natural and a challenge. There were so many things I wish someone had prepared me for or taught me before these moments like getting minimal sleep, changing a diaper every couple of hours, and being incredibly hungry and thirsty. Not to mention the milk leakage that can happen in the first few weeks and waking up with a sopping, milk t-shirt! (It got better). My body was sore from labor for a few days, going to the bathroom was still wierd because the last time I pushed anything out, I was pushing for my baby to enter this world. Sitting down and standing up made me look like a 98 year old with a cane. My back, was still so tight from having back labor. I wish I had gone in the tub much sooner to labor- it really helped to relax me. I also wish I would have invested in a doula to help me with labor techniques so my recovery wouldn't have been full of soreness. I didn't know about these things.
At first, things seemed to be going pretty good considering I was new at all of this. My parents had to head out and go back to work the following day. My mother-in-law, Beth, was able to stay with us the rest of the week and we were so thankful. She was there with us when we were moved to the post-partum room and helped us get a carseat that our tiny baby would fit. The one we brought to the hospital was meant for a bigger baby, even with the infant insert, we couldn't get the straps to a safe setting. She helped us with other things, too; clothes for example, since Animikii was too small for 0-3month clothing and we didn't have any newborn sizes; a rocking chair, since we only had a frumpy couch with no back support (highly recommend having a chair with back support for post-partum); and a slew of other infant accessories that came from his cousin who had outgrown a lot of things (i.e. bassinet, clothes, changing table, rockers, toys, books, shoes, other things).
Beth would also help us with basic needs such as food! After delivery and having a newborn is exciting and exhausting all in one. Getting food can be a challenge if you don't have help. So either Jake or Beth would make a run for food while we were in the hospital, and even when we were home that first week. It was extremely helpful. If you are pregnant, this is something I wish I really understood prior to delivery- how quickly famished you can get when nursing a newborn and how much it helps to have someone around to cook for you or get you (good, healthy) food. It is important for mothers who are breastfeeding to get proper nutrition, just as it was important during pregnancy. Eating becomes one of your priorities with breastfeeding a newborn.
We were so fortunate to have friends help with cooking for us and bringing us food in the first month, too. During our hospital stay, Animikii's first visitors were Anty Jolene and Anty Hannabah. They made a food run for us since they were coming to meet our sacred bundle. While we were in the hospital, from labor to delivery, to being discharged, they took care of our sacred, white samoyed-husky, Happy. We were and still are so thankful and blessed for their friendship and being good relatives.
Monitor, Monitor, Monitor Me. Slowly, Softly, Surely our Baby's Name Will Come to Me.
While we were still in the hospital, the nurses had to monitor our sacred bundle and me every so often. They had to check on my uterus to make sure it was shrinking back to normal (which is also an indicator if something is wrong, like placenta accreta), help with the cramping from uterus shrinkage, refilling water bottles from the uncontrollable thirst like you're in the 4th round of sundance or sweat, and getting us diapers or wipes as needed. Every 8 hours they had to check baby's vitals like temperature, heart rate, lungs, and sometimes diapers.
At first, we didn't mind the monitoring. By day 2, it became an inconvenience and a bit much. One of the times a nurse was checking on us, she asked if I needed help with nursing and I kind of shook my head, but she insisted on helping with the latch. She didn't really help and I must say, she was definitely no lactation specialist. Plus her hands were cold, stale, and rigid. Not to be harsh, but truthful, her hands matched her personality. She tried to reposition him for a latch. Poor baby! He did not like her at all. He actually looked up at me with a furrowed brow, as if he was mad and sort of snapped his eyes at her. And that is the nature of babies; they are so pure and sacred, they often sense what we, as adults, sometimes lose sense of. I realized at that moment just how special, intelligent, and sacred our little bundle is. It's my duty and a responsibility to all of us, to make sure he is cared for in good way.
And then, there are some people who may walk through another's space without knowing it. Another nurse that we all didn't particularly like, and a doctor too, basically took him from me as I was starting to breastfeed to check his vitals and they also tried to take him for a hearing test then. I looked at Jake and my mother-in-law and told them I was just starting to nurse. They either didn't care about his schedule or didn't care to hear me. I was shattered. Jake and I were upset by that. We felt right away that our son's needs were being overlooked because of clockwork and checklists providers have to do. No respect for his needs or considerate of us- this is possibly where a doula can help the mom with options, asking questions, or other support person can suggest to providers something like, " Can you check back in about 20-30 minutes? Baby needs to nurse right now" or "Can it wait? Baby needs to nurse right now."
The doctor was also very persistent in having us sign for a Vitamin K shot right away. I felt so bad about what had just happened that I was in no mood to sign for something that isn't completely mandatory at birth. Yes- we would eventually get our son the Vitamin K shot at the 2 week appointment, but right now is not a good time to ask us! We didn't want to put him through any more than necessary after birth and they were okay with it. We didn't do the antibiotic ointment on the eyes after birth either. That was a personal choice, but also a cultural choice. They respected that because we put it into our birth plan and they were aware of our needs for labor and delivery. (I'll be sharing birth plan ideas and making them "fun" and indigenizing them in a separate post).
Something else during our hospital stay before being discharged that erked me, was the nurses were annoyed that our son didn't have a name. However, there were a select few that were open to learning about our process with naming children. Having the conversation with those who were not open to our naming method is a step in the right direction for them to gain a new perspective. After all, it is our sacred bundle and his spiritual well being that was our priority as parents.
We knew our son's name would come when it was meant to come. I, myself, didn't have a name until I was about 2 weeks old. The day before we were discharged was when his name came to us. We got a call from our brother, Allan. He told us that they showed him and told him our son's name. He didn't give us a word, but a description. He said our son was connected to all of the thunderbeings, those above the thunderbirds, and those below (meaning all birds). He is a communicator between them all. He also said that he comes from thunder. Jake too, saw this. He had a dream the week of the birth.
He dreamt that there was a severe storm that took out everything in its way. He was on his way home from town or elsewhere and caught a ride with a friend after his car was damaged. He went to find me in the midst of this storm. What he found was me and a baby, completely safe in the middle of this storm. I was holding my son, and there was a circle around us that was untouched by the storm. This was a few days before his birth. I too, had a vision of something to do with his name.
They told me the day before the birth that his name had something to do with thunderbeings. On his dikinaagan, we had painted on the headpiece a scene that was of the sky. There were the moon, stars, thunder clouds, and lightening over a body of water. This scene felt right to us 2 weeks before the birth. After the birth, Jake finished putting his dikinaagan together and it was so suiting for our little bundle. After talking with Al and telling him of our visions, we knew we had to get some help with how to put this description into ojibwemowin. We decided to give waagosh a call.
He listened to our description of what we had seen as Bubba's name. His suggestion was what had come to mind, too. Before he said anything, I knew it would be Animikii. Waagosh suggested this name because it would incorporate all of the visions we had seen. Hence, his name is Thunderbird. We also call him, He Comes from Thunder. He has other names from his we'enh ceremony, which we did during wild ricing season (finally) this year. It was the way we did his name that we also asked waagosh to help us with the we'enh ceremony for our son. We wanted to do this to raise our son in a good way- full of culture, love, and our teachings. Through this ceremony, we knew we could give our son the support he needs to become the man he is meant to be. A man for the people, a man who will do good things for the people.
So as we filled out paperwork for discharge, I was so nervous driving home with our sacred bundle. It was winter, the roads weren't bad and we only lived 10 minutes from the hospital. Yet, I was still anxious, hoping my baby would be without me holding him for the short trip home. My mother sense has since, been on high!
I Hope Week 1 Does Not Mean a Weak 1
We made it home. Our son was almost 4 days old. Exhausted, I was still recovering from the delivery for the next 6 weeks. I recovered quickly from breastfeeding only, yet, I did not realize how valuable sleep was. It was quite amazing to see how fast my post-partum belly shrank just from breastfeeding. Animikii would wake every few hours to eat. He would cry sometimes when he was hungry. He would cry when he needed a diaper change and was "a great sleeper". I didn't know back then, that I was missing some of his feeding cues. "A great sleeper" in the beginning does not mean your baby is "a good baby" or "a good sleeper". A sleepy baby often means that baby is not getting enough to eat. (That was something I learned in my CLC training). I would sleep when he would sleep. Even though, my organized self cringed every time I saw the pile of laundry, Bubba's unorganized room, and the mess in the kitchen, I had no energy to work on any of it. All I could do was sleep, nurse, eat, and shower when I got the chance. The best part of it all, was the bond I was creating with my son. It was the best thing in the world, the best kind of love to be holding my baby and nursing him to sleep. We started to get a good feeding and sleeping pattern down.
By this time, our bundle was nearly a week old. I was amazed with how much of a personality he had developed. And his growth! To me, he felt heavier every day. I kept track of little milestones day-by-day until he was almost 1. At 1 week, these were some of the things I was in awe about:
He went cross-eyed and back to normal (this is a norm at this age)
He did wide eyes with eye brow raising
Furrowed his eyebrows
Stood with assistance when he was on my lap
Sometimes would head butt me when trying to latch
He went into his moss bag for the first time (heart melt)
At the end of his first week, Beth had to head back home to Michigan. We were sad and lonesome when she left. But we were greeted by my parents over the weekend. They came by to visit him for a short time. By the time he was 2 weeks, he had grown even more. Some of his behaviors I was in awe about. I kissed his hand and he smiled; his cord nub fell off; he pinched his dad's chest when he held him (he still does this from time to time to me when nursing); he scratched himself leaving a mark on his nose (baby fingernails grow so fast and are so scary to trim); Happy barked and it made him cry; and I would smile at him and he would smile back were all things that made me so in love with my boy. Others left me wondering if he was okay. Things like:
Crying uncontrollably during feeds
Falling asleep in the Moby wrap
Eating and sleeping a lot
He was extremely warm
all made me stop and think, is he okay? Is he sick? He was like that for a couple of days and I should have taken him in then. But on the second day it was his 2 week follow-up appointment. It was very timely because he seemed way too warm, and it wasn't because he was overdressed. He was burning up. We took him to his appointment and he ran a temp of 100.4. His pediatrician was concerned with that temp since he was so young and wanted to admit us. A fever in babies is a sign that something is not right and needs attention immediately. We couldn't get any vaccinations that day because of his fever. When his pediatrician said that we needed to be admitted, I burst into tears.
She first mentioned the tests needed to be done to confirm what he had or didn't have. I heard the words meningitis and had PTSD of when my cousin, who was 7 at the time, contracted meningitis. Sadly and quite unfortunate, that was how he left this world. We share the same birthday. I couldn't control myself as the image of my cousin laying on his hospital bed ran through my mind. I felt like I was in the horrible part of a movie when the main actor finds out something terrible and can barely hear what's surrounding them. All you hear is ringing, or silence and see lips moving but hear no words. My face was drowning, my sleeves soaked up my tears. After that, the only words I heard were lumbar puncture.
My tears became waterfalls, falling without a destination. This was a procedure and protocol for his age that they do to make sure there is no meningitis. The lumbar puncture extracts spinal fluid for the lab to run tests for meningitis. This needed to be done before we drove to the hospital to be admitted. There, other tests would be done (e.g. blood work, urine, BP).
Incredibly worried, I didn't know what was wrong with him. I felt helpless. It scared me. A parent's worst fear is having a sick child who cannot be helped. I couldn't bare the thought of a needle going into my tiny baby's back. I kept crying. I'm so glad my companion was by my side to keep me calm, comfort me, and help me with the consent forms I blanked out on as I had flashbacks to 1998.
After this, they took Animikii into another room to do the lumbar puncture. They said I could go with, but it would be best if I stayed put because they've had parents faint. It's also a smaller room to do this procedure. My face was blank. I cried even harder as they took him, crying, into another room. Our pediatrician felt for me, and asked us if she could get us crackers or juice. Like a sick tot, I nodded my head. It seemed like forever before they brought him back to me. He was sleeping. They told us that he did well. They gave him a nookie with sugar water on it, took the lumbar puncture, and he fell asleep. The doctor that did this, has done many of these procedures and said most all of the babies fall asleep after this. I was confused and also relieved that he was back in my arms.
We packed him up and drove to the hospital. We checked in and they started him on an antibiotic right away. Unfortunately, but fortunately, they had to do this through an IV. They couldn't see any of the veins on his feet and had to put it in his head. I was apprehensive at the thought of a needle being attached to his head. I cried.
The NICU nurses reassured me that they do this often, it's quite common, and usually safer than an IV in the foot. Still, anxiety was running through my veins. And to my surprise, they were right. The IV went into his head without any issues. The one thing that did give them issues was the catheter. They were sticking a catheter into him to get a sterile urine sample. I couldn't stand it. He shouted and cried so loudly, I started to cry. I knew that it hurt him. Finally, Jake stepped in and mentioned to the nurses that urine right from him is sterile and there was no need to stick a catheter in him. Jake was able to catch a sample into the cup without a catheter. Go dad! I'm so glad he stepped up, I just panicked and it was utterly painful to hear and watch. Poor baby!
They ran their tests and monitoring of his vitals every 4 hours. In between they would check his IV and antibiotics. It was hectic and disruptive to his sleep, my sleep, and Jake's sleep. At one point, I cried out of frustration. They had me power pumping after he nursed and I didn't like it at all. I felt pressured into pumping. There was no real reason for me to pump, I wasn't engorged or feeling engorgement. He was nursing just fine. Because of the pumping in between feedings, I had been up for 23 hours straight. Any time I was about to fall asleep, he would wake up from discomfort. It completely threw off our breastfeeding game we had. We later found our after our 5th day there, that he had signs of a UTI. That would explain his painful crying and shouting every so often. They had to monitor his diapers both wet and dry to make sure he was getting enough to eat. Once the monitoring slowed down, we were all able to get some rest. During this time, we had so much support from friends who brought us dinner during the week we were in the NICU. It was chaos and a blessing in disguise all in one.
Finally on the 6th day, we were discharged. We were so happy to finally be home. It was the longest week for us- including Happy. She was at home again being watched by her favorites Hannabah and Jolene. We wouldn't have been able to stay in the hospital 24/7 with Bubba if it weren't for those two watching Happy. That's the endless challenge with being a dog owner. She's not allowed in many places so we either have to find someone to watch her, board her (which can get spendy), or work out a schedule so she can be walked and fed when we aren't home. If she were a service dog (which we are starting to look into), it might be a different story.
We had to check-in a week after being discharged to make sure everything was okay. That appointment was much better than the 2 week. At this time, Bubba had outgrown his newborn and premie clothes. He was onto 0-3 month clothing and never stopped growing. He was on his way to turning 1 month old. I loved watching his growth. The only thing I didn't like was fingernails. Clipping his tiny fingernails was nerve racking. They're so little. I didn't want to miss and clip him. Jake clipped his nails once- that was the first and last time he did this. Poor babe had a cut fingertip.
During this 1 month phase, we continued getting help and support from our friends and coworkers. They started a Meal Train and would bring me homemade dinners every night for an entire week. It was the best thing I could've asked for. It was so thoughtful and helped me out tremendously while Jake had to go to evening classes. The best part was, they were foods I liked. Mashed potatoes, gravy, and beef tips, three sisters soup and bannock, chicken and rice, and some other meals that were delicious.
When you have a newborn, every little bit of help makes a huge difference. Anything from someone doing the dishes, taking the trash out, going for a food run or cooking for you, watching baby while he sleeps so you can shower, or making sure your water bottle is refilled makes being a new mother less exhausting. Especially, if you're a nursing mother. The only thing I wished for during all of this was that I lived closer to my parents. It made things after the 1 month mark, sometimes challenging. Fun and exciting, nonetheless, but challenging.
Something I am glad I did since my son was born, was writing down something significant or a milestone each day. I had a planner I was using for work that I turned into a milestone marker for my son. It's something I recommend for new mama's and any mama to do for their newborn. It takes maybe 2 minutes or less to write down something that your little one did that day that made you smile, laugh, wonder, or proud of. I look through his little milestones every once and awhile and find myself lost in the pages, reminiscing about the days when it was just my Bubba, Happy, and me spending time together all day. They were peaceful, tiring, and amazing days. I am so happy that I spent that time with him. I can never get those days back. Every moment was so special and continues to be special. And I have developed a bond with him that allows me to sense and understand his needs. The 2 week scare we had with our little bundle made me realize, my mom instincts are real and that I need to listen to them. I knew something was up and if we didn't have the 2 week follow up appointment, I would have taken the initiative to bring him into the clinic. Just as I listen to manidoog, I learned quickly to listen to my mom instincts. I have done this and it has helped our bundle, myself, and Jake with keeping Bubba healthy in all ways. When I started listening to my mom instincts, I became more in tune with my son and the world around him. That's the beauty of becoming a parent.