The first day of my daughter's life, I waited for someone to tell me to feed her. I'd read a dizzying amount of advice, much of it conflicting, but one thing that had stuck was that it was best to feed the baby within an hour of birth. So as the nurses were doing this and that around me with their friendly yet ruthless efficiency, I asked, "Should I feed her?" What I was really asking was "Can someone show me how to feed her?"
I'd signed up for a breastfeeding class a few weeks before my due date. Then I didn't go, because a blizzard came in. My non-attendance was out of character for me. I spent the afternoon trying to figure out if the class was cancelled in the face of winter weather warnings. I checked websites and called what turned out to be a doctor's office that was completely unrelated to the classes, where a friendly receptionist went above and beyond trying to find someone else to call. The class started at 6:30 and ran until 8:00, which is when the weather advisory started. And then I got a dinner invitation, so I decided to just assume the class was cancelled.
Sitting in the maternity ward with a baby who was probably hungry from her long journey out the birth canal, I wished I had gone to the class. Finally, a nurse took a few minutes to show me how to hold my baby and put her on the breast. I found this to be comical and a little bit barbaric. You rub the baby's lip with your nipple, which makes her reflexively open her mouth wide. You immediately stuff as much boob as will fit into her mouth. Imagine someone shoving a water balloon in your mouth every time you yawned. The nurse warned me that the baby would not eat very much, as her tummy was about the size of a marble. I was delighted to feel what must have been the baby latching on to my nipple. The feeling almost immediately ended, but I figured that was how it was supposed to go.
Had I attended the class, I might have known that the baby needs to stay latched on to get any milk, even enough for a marble-sized tummy. The result was that the baby did not get really anything to eat that first day. On the morning of the second day, I woke up feeling refreshed and rested, though a bit sore in some areas. I was hopeful that we would be released that day, and the midwife seemed to think I was good to go. They even started the checkout process by having me fill out the postpartum depression screening. I checked the boxes that said I was able to feel cheerful as much as I had before, that I was not crying for no reason or blaming myself for bad things that might happen.
The nurse came in and asked me how the baby had eaten the night before. Pardon? That was when I found out that I was supposed to be feeding the baby through the night. In fact, I was apparently supposed to wake her up to do so. Having not attended the class, I can't say whether those particular topics were covered. I just thought I had one of those good babies that sleeps through the night right away. All these parents complaining about the baby not sleeping, when they're the ones waking them up to stuff boobs in their boob-holes. Susanna continued to be very sleepy, to the point where she didn't wake up much even for me to ineffectively feed her.
It didn't seem like a problem to me, but the pediatrician was concerned about my very sleepy baby. She was so concerned that she had someone come and poke my baby's foot to draw blood (baby woke up for that). The blood test came back positive for jaundice, and so my dreams of being released were dashed. I was more annoyed than worried, as I knew jaundice was pretty common in babies. Josh had had it and look at him now, a big strapping man, a father even.
Jaundice in babies happens when their bodies are unable to break down bilirubin. When a red blood cell gets old, it breaks open and all kinds of stuff spills out, which is broken down by the body into other stuff, including bilirubin. The liver then breaks down the bilirubin and then its passed on out in either solid or liquid waste. Babies, with their brand new livers, take a little time getting started. Plus, the blood that a fetus has has different characteristics than the blood of a tiny person living out in the world, so the body is breaking down more red blood cells than usual. Because the bilirubin is flushed out the digestive tract, it is important that the baby get enough to eat for the digestive system to be flushing.
My not feeding the baby had caused her to have jaundice. I mean, I didn't know, no one told me how to feed the dang baby. I guess I could've informed myself, by like, taking a class or some...oh. Skipping out on that breastfeeding class a month ago gave my baby jaundice. Fantastic.
Jaundice is treated with light. This treatment was discovered accidentally, when sick babies taken out in the sunlight did better than babies that stayed inside. Now, they use a light board. This was a small surfboard type thing hooked up to a car vacuum cleaner type thing that created blue light. You put a mask on the baby to protect her eyes, then put her on the board and swaddle baby and board all up together. It looked like she was in a tanning bed. I was still not worried. Sure, my baby was sick with my incompetence, but she had a super-common condition that they treat with the power of the sun.
But then I was lying in the hospital bed, holding a baby strapped to a glowing surfboard. Josh had gone home to feed the dog. I couldn't snuggle my baby, I could only hold the board she was strapped to. I couldn't see her face, as it was covered by the mask. I sat and looked at my baby in her terrible Hannibal mask, sleeping on her eerie glowboard. All because I blew off a breastfeeding class to go have dinner with my friends.
Then Josh came back, and Susanna devoured some milk I pumped for her, and her bilirubin went down, and it was all fine. We were cleared to take her off the light therapy so we could snuggle properly while they worked on our discharge papers. At last, they let us take our little glowbaby home.