Parenthood, I am discovering, involves mostly panic and a gnawing sense of inadequacy. I’m sitting in the expressing room in Sunninghill hospital – more of an alcove off the nursery really, with a curtain for ostensible privacy. At 7pm a senior nurse chased me out of the ward for being there during the shift change, and her bedside manner could have used a bit of work. I felt like a piece of shit and immediately slunk out to go and cry in the toilets downstairs. (I apologized to a woman waiting outside when I emerged, who was probably knyping while I was bawling my eyes out.)
I’m too scared to venture back in there.
Now I’m sitting here weighing up two choices: either I do dare to show my face in there again and spend the required 3 hours with the baby (assuming I am even allowed to), which means staying here until 11pm, or I go home at the time I said I would. One choice means stressing out my parents-in-law, who are worried about me and the fact that I haven’t eaten dinner; the other means stabbing, wrenching guilt for being a bad mother.
All told, it has been a long, hard day. This morning just after 7 the nurses cornered me to tell me that I had to order from the SA Breastmilk Reserve. I filled in my details and paid R500 for two weeks of deliveries, feeling defeated. I frantically pumped out the 11am and 2pm feeds, then dashed to the office, where some people were pleased to see me and others pretended I hadn’t been gone for nearly two weeks to have a baby two months early. But it was refreshing to be surrounded by sounds that didn’t involve medical equipment, and to feel vaguely in control of one aspect of my life.
After two new business meetings, I left the office just before 4. When I got here, I organized a weekly parking voucher, then went to check on the baby. “Where have you been? You’ve been gone the whole day,” the nurse wanted to know. “She misses Mummy’s arms.” “You’re very good at guilt,” I said. We agreed that I’d come back to hold the baby after the 7pm shift change.
(I need to hold the baby because it will help her grow, and I’ve been told I need to hold her for at least three hours a day or not bother.)
After that, I pumped solidly for 2 hours, managing to squeeze four feeds out of my long-suffering but somewhat recalcitrant mammary glands. Then I took the milk to the NICU fridge and encountered the old bag of a nurse.
A baby, a full size one, is hiccupping under UV lights in the nursery just beyond the expressing room (which is more of an alcove with a curtain for privacy); a sound like a squeaky toy. I’m sitting here thinking: I have weeks and weeks more of this and I’m lonely – and feeling stupid because I should be able to handle this on my own – and tired and wracked by guilt and this sucks. It really sucks.