The grayish squirming baby squenched his little face as he was quickly thrust onto my chest. Slippery from my bath water I clung to his tiny squirming body as he let out a little squelch. It was a beautiful perfect delivery which is vividly painted in my mind.
“Hi baby!” I gasped, overwhelmed.
“Call him by his name,” my midwife instructed.
The words seemed strange as I forced out, “Hey Arthur! Hello there!” to this little stranger laying in my arms. I felt the same the first time I called him my son to someone. It was like, now that he was outside of me, I had to get to know him all over again.
The next couple days were spent getting acquainted with this little creature. We awkwardly learned how to breastfeed. I was so adamant that my son was going to be a breastfed baby. Until on his third day of life I was just too sick and too weak and, without having to contemplate the decision, I heartbreakingly handed him over to my mom to be bottle fed with sample formula I got in the mail. And I would never breastfeed again.
Our bond was interrupted completely. On day four of being Arthur’s mother I was rushed to the hospital. It was life or death as doctors and nurses hovered over me. Testing. Evaluating. Talking in concerned voices. Emergency life saving surgery and 19 days in and out of ICU due to severe septicemia.
I missed a few days of his life completely while I drifted in and out of consciousness. I was told that he was laid skin-to-skin on my chest as I was shrouded with tubes and wires and not aware of my surroundings. He came to visit me for an hour every day with either Andrew’s parents or mine. Every day except two when they thought I might have a contagious bug. Those two days were among the hardest during my stay.
He was over a month old when I finally was well enough to take care of my son on my own. His substitute caregivers had to tell me about his doctor’s check-ups from my time in the hospital, his feeding schedule, the way he liked to be held. Days where I had the privilege of changing his diaper, tracking his feedings, and waking in the middle of the night to tend to his squalls were priceless to me.
The aftermath of my illness left me physically, spiritually, and mentally broken. Constant pain across my body made every movement a challenge as I care for my Little Dude, as I affectionately called him. The hospital stay triggered my mental illnesses and left me with PTSD and postpartum depression.
Every time I had to leave my son with his grandparents to go to doctor’s appointments and bi-weekly physical therapy drowned me with guilt. More separation. I had already missed so many firsts. I was terrified I would miss more.
I had planned on having his bassinet next to my bed for the first few months of his life. However, climbing up and down the stairs was physically exhausting and painful for me, so I needed it downstairs during the day. Every night before I went to sleep, despite having the baby monitor next to my head, I went into his nursery to make sure he was ok. Sometimes two or three times until my husband told me to stop.
“He’s fine,” he said. “You don’t need to check him again.”
Where I had planned on going back to work after your typical maternity leave, I needed to stay home and continue to heal. I didn’t want to leave home, anyway. I didn’t want to miss more. I needed my son close to me.
Even though I couldn’t produce milk, I let him suckle on me. I needed him to know that I was close. I needed him to need me.
When Arthur was just under two years old, our one employee walked out on us. I needed to jump in at a moment’s notice. I didn’t have time to find childcare, so he was passed around to close friends and family. One day I was a full-time mom doing a couple hours of work on the side. The next I was working full time.
We found an early childhood development school down the road from our shop. The first day I dropped him off I cried off and on all day. I was worried about him. I called to make sure he was ok. More than once.
Every time I picked Arthur up after school he saw me and started bawling, like he forgot he missed me and I was finally there to rescue him. A few weeks into his schedule of 10 hour days at school he was sitting with Andrew and I on the couch before bed and began to bawl. For no reason. But we both knew the reason – he was torn away from his mom and it broke his heart. And it broke mine.
We reduced his hours at school and managed having him in the office with us at the end of the day.
My mental health declined fast at this sudden change. Not only was I absent physically from my son’s life for longer than I wanted to be, but I was absent mentally as well.
One day I was lying on the couch in a deep dark place. He was about three years old. I just couldn’t stop sobbing. He went to the kitchen and returned with my pill box saying, “Here’s your meds, Mom-mom.” At three years old he was trying to take care of me. During my crying fits he would snuggle into my arms and say, “It’s ok, Mom-mom. Are you happy yet?”
Then the break came. We were finally able to hire someone to fill my position at the office. Shortly thereafter, COVID closed schools and mandated everyone to their homes. We were together again. For six months it was back to just me and him.
Now that schools are open again, he gets three half-days of social development at school and most of the rest of time we get to be together. I still miss him some days when he’s at school.
As we near his 4th birthday, he’s been snuggling into my arms and telling me, “I just want to be with you all the time, Mom.” I hold him tight. Me, too, Little Dude.
And I still feel guilty whenever I drop him off to someone’s care. I have horrible visions of something terrible happening to him. Or me. Some other reason for us to be separated again.
And I pray to God to protect us.