Of Martha, Mary, and Mastitis

This is not me but my sick stunt double

“We can take you in the wheelchair,” said the nurse as I was getting discharged from the maternity ward.

“Oh no, I can walk myself,” I insisted.  I grabbed my bags and got up to leave.  “Whoa,” I exclaimed as I dizzily leaned back on the bed.  Good thing David was holding our newborn!  I have never needed assistance in walking and certainly wasn’t about to be wheeled out of here.  I’m a mother, and I can take care of myself AND the baby, thank you very much.

After a couple of more failed attempts at putting one foot in front of the other, however, I had no choice but to give in.  I still felt weak and unsteady 48 hours postpartum.  The nurse waited patiently for me to take a seat in the wheelchair and proceeded to push me down the hallway.  I’m supposed to be pushing a stroller, not sitting in it! 

As soon as we arrived home, I went about cleaning the house.  The place was a mess, and my parents were coming over soon!  In-between baby feedings and diaper changes I did the best I could to tidy, vacuum, launder, and cook so that my parents wouldn’t think that I was a total wreck, regardless of the fact that life with a new baby is quite literally out of control.  “This baby won’t stop crying, honey.  Where is the off switch?” I kept asking David.

When my parents showed up at the door, they made a beeline to their first grand child and took turns holding him in delight while I continued to sweep, mop, wipe, and fold clothes.  “I could use a little help here,” I said under my breath and actually began to look forward to feeding times just so that I could kick my feet up for a little while.

Only a few days later, it was Easter.  I had been a member of our church’s worship band for many years, and I had every intention of going back to sing and play for the Easter service.  “I can’t believe you’re out and about already,” people marveled as I sang my solo.  “You look like you’ve got this baby thing down!” I was feeling pretty good about myself.

…Until later that afternoon, that is.  I began to run a high fever, and the redness around my breasts clearly indicated an infection was setting in.  Mastitis.  I pored over the pages of my baby books, and the experts all agreed that the most common cause of mastitis is — you guessed it — new moms trying to do too much.  The good doctor got me some antibiotics and ordered bed rest.

For the following three days, I stayed in bed, crawling out only to nurse Josh and to eat.  The friends at church brought over meals.  Initially I refused, explaining that my mom was around to help me with cooking so there was no such need (ha!). The truth is, I didn’t want to admit that I was in need.  Boy, is it humbling to receive, but what choice did I have?

On the third day, I felt as though I came back the dead. The house went to pot again, but oh well.  And the undisturbed bonding time with Josh?  Priceless.

This reminded me of a story from Luke 10:

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

   41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[f] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

It took mastitis to bring down this Tiger Martha and become more like Panda Mary.

Are you a Martha or a Mary?  Anyone experience mastitis?

Parenting and Why We Go Broke

They say it costs a lot of money to raise a child.  I know the reason why: you go broke before you even leave the hospital.

The hospital corridors are teeming with vendors hoping to cash in on the sentimental value of giving birth.  The offerings are numerous and mind-boggling, but one of the first things they get you with is the newborn portrait.  You know the kind — they grab your baby within hours of birth, comb the wispy hair down to the side, bribe the baby to stay still for 30 seconds, put their finger tips together like an old professor giving a boring lecture, and get him or her to look right at the camera and say, “mmmm.”

“Your baby is a one day-old only once.  Why not capture the moment…if you are a decent human being and a caring parent AT ALL,” the brochure states (well, with a little embellishment on my part).  How could I refuse, indeed?  I opened up my wallet and purchased my baby’s very first portrait.  I don’t recall the price, but I’m sure it was not cheap.  I did have the presence of mind, however, to resist the accompanying calendar, key chain, t-shirt, mug, birth announcement, water bottle, and posters plastered with that same photo.

While proudly showing my son’s very first portrait to my parents at the hospital, I took a glance at a newborn portrait in another mom’s arms as they were preparing to be discharged.  Well, that photo looked exactly like my own!  The kid also had wispy hair combed to the side, skin that looked at once pasty and ruddy, and eyes which were still puffy and therefore thin and slanted.  And the kid wasn’t even Asian!

Then there was another one down the hall which also looked just like mine.  And another one.

Oh, I see what’s going on.  They ARE all the same photo!

Newborns change in appearance rapidly during the first 24 to 48 hours of their lives, so by the time they take the photo and bring the baby back 15 minutes later, the picture no longer resembles the newborn in your arms anyway, so what’s the difference?  I think they took one photo of a generic kid back in 1985, and they have been reusing the same photo for decades in hospitals all around the world!  All newborns look shriveled, and you can’t tell if the kid is a boy or girl, Asian or African-American, Hispanic or Caucasian, blond or brunette, awake or asleep.  Lighten or darken the hair a bit, add a bow for a girl and a blue hat for a boy and there you go!

Case in point: put black hair on this blonde girl, and you would have my son Joshua.

I hate to admit it, but this was the first of many portraits that come in those large, white envelopes with the crimply clear plastic front which I ended up purchasing.  I tell myself each time that this will be the last time I’ll buy my child’s official portrait, but I just can’t stop myself: nursery, preschool, kindergarten, baseball, recital, first grade, second grade, third grade, fourth grade…and so on. I always get suckered into that message that, as a good parent, you must not miss a single opportunity.  You will NEVER have a second chance.  You will do this if you are a decent parent, especially if you’re a Tiger Parent.

I will discuss in my next post some other items offered to me for purchase before leaving the hospital.  But before I go on, tell me about the various items you ended up paying for at the hospital or shortly thereafter for your own newborn.  Come on, you were suckered in too, weren’t you?  Feel free to comment here!

The Bradley Plan and the Illusion of Control

The whole Tiger Parenting style is predicated on the notion that we parents have control.  I became a Panda Mom precisely because I learned the hard way that this is simply not true.  Any illusion that we as parents can manipulate and control our own obstetric destiny melts away on the floor of the maternity ward.

My husband David is a family physician by specialty, but he occasionally still delivers babies.  He is that old school, cradle-to-the-grave doctor whom we once knew and watched on TV.  The best part is that David occasionally brings some nuggets of gold home for his blogging wife.

For example, he says that whenever a woman in labor comes walking in with a piece of paper spelling out her labor plans, his entire nursing staff roll their eyes in unison.  These directives are also known as the Bradley Method Birthing Plan, and the word on the maternity ward is this:

“When a woman walks in with a Bradley

Then everything will go very badly”


The plan usually specifies things such as

- No pain medications

- No IV

- No internal monitoring of the baby.

- Minimal external monitoring

- No Pitocin (medicine which induces labor)

- Don’t even suggest epidural

- Hold baby immediately upon birth

- Nurse immediately after birth

- No artificial nipple such as the bottle or binky

…and on it goes.  Many of these demands are not all that unreasonable.  Unfortunately, though, more often than not these plans go right out the window and the moms end up with an emergency C-section anyway.  In fact, David thinks that there is a direct correlation between the presence of such plans and the greater possibility of needing an emergency Caesarean.  Perhaps the heavens are trying to send down a message.

My friend Liz had such a plan ready to go and was looking forward to an all-natural, no-pain meds, perfectly smooth labor and delivery.  Well, you can imagine what happened.  As they wheeled her away to surgery for her emergency C-section, she was heard wailing, “But I haven’t read that chapter yet…”

My husband also tells me that when a laboring woman walks in with a Doula, the nurses smile and turn to one another and laugh in their own foreign language right in front of the patient, “Go back home and give your birth there.”  It’s their little rebellion again the demands of these Type-A mothers who increasingly show up at their door trying to control their own destiny as well as that of their babies.

I had my own little plan, though at the time it wasn’t known as the Bradley Birthing Method, and I only had a mental list with nothing written down.  It would have been nice to go without Pitocin, but when my water broke and the contractions which started in earnest slowed down to a crawl after about an hour, it became necessary to consider medical intervention.  There was only so much time before infections set in; we had to get things moving for the sake of the baby.  Hello Pitocin.

It also would have been better to go without pain medicatons, but when push came to shove (literally), my pain level became such that I was ready to surrender my bragging rights.  Hello epidural.

Nursing not going well?  Hello bottle.

Cloth diapers not working out?  Welcome, disposables.

They say knowledge is power, but I wonder how true that really is, at least in this case.  I’m certainly glad that we live in an age where we do have medical intervention necessary should things go very badly during the birthing process.  Of course, as expectant mothers, we want to learn as much as we can about this new adventure we’re embarking on, so we read whatever literature we can, especially those of us who want to do everything just right.  However, my husband often says that the body is going to go into labor and the baby is going to eventually come out whether we intervene or not.  He’s just there to assist the inevitable process and let nature do its thing.  We just like to think we’re still in control.

In 1 Corinthians 8:1, we read that “knowledge puffs up but love builds up.”  We mothers all learn, one way or another, that our love for our children overrides even what the experts say in these books.  Some of us take longer than others, but we eventually get there, and that’s when we begin our slow transformation from Tiger to Panda.

Probably the most useful information I got from one of my pre-labor research was that when I’m approaching the final moments before the baby comes out, I should freshen up my makeup.  Why?  Because simultaneous with that final push, the camera bulbs start going off to capture the moment.  Lots and lots of photos are going to be taken, and they are going to be seen over and over by your family and friends. These photos are going to last forever, at least for the next three generations.  You don’t want to look like hell in those pictures.  Thanks to my epidural, I was in the moment and was able to touch up my lipstick and redo my hair just in time.  When people see photos from that momentous occasion, they always comment, “Oh he’s so beautiful!”

Then they always say, “Wow, you look so nice for just having given birth!”

A beautiful baby and a hot mom.  Who needs the Bradley Plan?