I’m writing this from a place outside time, day, night or sleep. It’s a place filled with magic, milk and boobs on constant display. I’m writing from the Newborn Bubble.
My baby, Matilda, was born a month ago and my brain is mush. So if this column ends up being little more than disjointed images and memories, incomplete sentences and trains of thought that get started but never leave the station, know that I am in a postpartum daze.
I’ve started to write this piece literally dozens of times: my current view is a baby who passed out looking at her high contrast card. Her onesie is stained with spit-up.
Is she breathing? My current view is a sleeping baby in a dock-a-tot, it’s 10:33 a.m. I should be sleeping because she is — but I can’t.
Is she breathing? My current view is a baby in a bassinet. It’s 3 a.m. and I’m in my living room, which is where I live now.
Is she breathing?
I keep being interrupted. The baby is fussing. The baby is crying. The baby needs holding. The baby is spitting up. The baby needs to be burped. The baby just blew out her diaper and needs a change of clothes. The baby has gas. The baby is hungry.
Two days after my C-section, discharged and bringing Matilda home, I had the terrifying realization that I was entirely in charge of this fragile creature. She cried for the entire first half of the night. The dog followed us around, whimpering, unsure of the new arrival. Matilda was inconsolable until my husband realized his baby-whisperer powers and rocked her to sleep. Me, staring at her all night: is she breathing?
I’ve fallen in love with my husband again in the Newborn Bubble. Watching a man become a father is sexy. He’s confident and calm with her. I feel weak, weepy and insecure. Even though I just made a human, I’m insecure about my new body, which is doing all kinds of things. Fluids leaking. Uterus contracting. Layers of muscle and skin healing. Hormones raging.
The Newborn Bubble is white noise and shushing and singing and rocking and bouncing and swaddling. Crying at 4:30 in the morning because you can’t get that third snap to snap on the onesie. I’m desperate now, the red-faced screaming terrorist is only minutes away from appearing. Reaching out to your friends and family in the middle of the night. Is this colic? Finally getting the baby down and then wondering, again: is she breathing?
It’s a learning curve. New terms: colostrum, meconium, lochia. Managing that floppy head. Changing a diaper in the dark before she flips out, only to have her spit up on her sleep sack. Changing the sleep sack, she’s filled her diaper again. Back to square one. Defeat. It’s rooting and cooing. Boobs are leaking. Is she breathing?
Breastfeeding and staring into the void. The boobs are lead characters with full-time jobs in the Newborn Bubble. They need massaging and pumping. They need pads and nipple cream. They get clogged or develop mastitis. They require attention all day. Even if the baby manages to sleep for three whole hours, the boobs wake me up, engorged, overflowing onto my new sheets. The boobs demand almost as much attention as the baby.
It’s chaos. A successful day for me looks like eating, showering and getting maybe two consecutive hours of sleep. What I didn’t account for with a C-section was the difficulty doing basic things like sitting up, twisting, reaching, lifting a baby into a bassinet. My husband took over running the house and making sure we were fed. He also changed her diaper in the middle of the night and burped her. I know people do this alone all the time — but I have no idea how. You’re warriors, whoever you are.
It’s binge-watching television to survive. One night, at around 3 a.m., I considered binge-watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians from season one. My rock bottom in the Newborn Bubble. When I told my friend about this piece, she said it should just be a black page with “Newborn Bubble” in the middle.
It’s raw and vulnerable, I’ve kept the bubble sealed. But things have pierced it. Tragedy like Uvalde. Sobbing in the middle of the night, reading the news. Unfathomable evil and loss. Shocking events, like the sudden and tragic death of my obstetrician. The man who guided me through the entire pregnancy and Matilda into the world, gone. The healing scar across my abdomen a permanent reminder of life — and death.
The Newborn Bubble is existential. Late at night, balancing joy and love like I’ve never experienced, with fear and grief. Sleep-deprived. Pondering how our species managed to survive this long, coming into the world this helpless. It’s the newborn smell. The first real smile. The heart cracking open when you hear that first cry. It’s a mother’s love. It’s everything. Is she breathing? Am I breathing?
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s July 2022 World edition.