Written By: Jane Helpern
I was that smug, glowy asshole who relished in being pregnant. I felt great, gained a minimal amount of weight, and posted radiant hiking photos on my due date while my expecting contemporaries bemoaned their fatigue, cankles, and heartburn. Naturally, it didn’t occur to me that my birth and transition into early parenthood could be anything other than as obnoxiously hiccup-free and seamless as the ten months that preceded it.
If a traumatic four-day induction and labor due to dangerously low amniotic fluid was not enough to derail my utopian, made-for-Instagram vision of motherhood, at two weeks earth-side my baby boy was diagnosed with a rare-ish condition called Pyloric Stenosis, which most commonly, and somewhat biblically, appears in first born sons and presents as severe projectile vomiting, poor weight gain, and dehydration.
What began as a little harmless spit up had within three days progressed into a full-blown nightmare of around-the-clock barfing; my helpless son and I naked on the hardwood floor, couch swathed in old sheets, husband frantically catching and measuring puke with a bucket, desperate to convey the severity of the bodily fluid tsunami that had swallowed up our once perfectly predictable lives.
Several panicked visits to our highly reputable pediatrician later, we were assured the baby had a minor bug that would pass in a few days and sent home to fend for ourselves, just another pair of frazzled new parents ill-equipped despite our impressive arsenal of minimalist baby gear. Temporarily placated but mostly still skeptical, I sought the advice of doulas, lactation consultants, and chraniosachrologists. Had I tried nursing him lying down? Upright? Using essential oils? What about cabbage leaves? Baby massage? Colic calm? I dutifully attempted it all to no avail. My budding mom-dar knew something wasn’t right yet my pride kept me from throwing in the towel on the “normal” new-mom experience. Where were the jealous Facebook acquaintances and impenetrable force field of joy I was promised?
But when this alleged bug did not pass in a few days and in fact took a turn for the worse, we swapped our egos for survival mode and booked it to the hospital. An ultrasound confirmed the telltale sign of Pyloric Stenosis: an olive-sized blockage between the stomach and small intestines preventing the passage of food. There, in an antiseptic hospital room on what was just another sleepless, snuggly Monday morning for most of my postpartum pals (the same ones I’d so easily out-pregnancied), my still-days-old son was administered electrolyte stabilizing fluids through IV and scheduled for emergency surgery the following day. As my boobs swelled into gravel-filled waterbeds, I wept at my inability to nourish and soothe my baby, still too young and primal to comprehend why he was being deprived of the only thing in this cold, cruel world of any importance to him.
The next day, when it came time for surgery, I held my wrinkly man’s miniature hand as he was wheeled into the operating room to undergo general anesthesia and receive three laparoscopic incisions through his abdomen and belly button. Then, in a lobby outfitted with purple vinyl couches and room temperature coffee, we sat glued to a monitor. We waited the 52 minutes for our son’s name to be followed by the words “In Recovery.” If this had been an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, I would have cried. Like, a lot.
As far as infant surgeries go, you could say we hit the jackpot. Pyloric Stenosis is fully correctable, has no long-term impacts on the child’s future, and results in minimal to nonexistent scarring. Even more fortunately, we caught it early, and had access to one of the best children’s hospitals in the world, where a prestigious team of surgeons sees a minimum of one of these cases a week. While it’s a beautiful truth that my son won’t remember this, and has since made a full recovery, the same can definitely not be said for me, who nearly six months later still struggles with anxiety and PTSD, manifesting in a myriad of ways not least of which is an inability to distinguish between normal newborn fuss and a life-threatening emergency, despite my boy’s delicious croissant thighs, perpetual gummy smile, and impressive growth landing him in the 85th percentile for his age group.
Being women, we are accustomed to shedding. Baby weight. Uterine lining. Hair. Last season’s clothing. And yet when it comes to becoming mothers, the bliss myth—of it all unfolding so naturally and intuitively—is incredibly misleading, all consuming, and impossibly hard to shake. So what happens when your preconceptions about conception are shattered into a million pieces and your mom-fidence gets sacked like a quarterback before its even had the chance to get its sea legs? I guess you write a personal essay and spend a lot of time in therapy/on WebMD. Because the truth is, even though our startup was rough, this is really just the very beginning of the very beginning of the very beginning of a lifetime of what-the-fuck-just-happened. Surviving Infant surgery? Check! Now who's afraid of a little teething? (Me!)~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Jane Helpern is a writer, founder of boutique creative agency Jane Says, and jumpsuit-clad drool receptacle. When she's not creating copy and content for trailblazing brands, you can read her words on pubic hair, bad ass female founders, anti-retouching, pregnancy-shaming, bad feminism, and buzz cuts at i-D, Allure, Teen Vogue, Create + Cultivate, Into The Gloss, Refinery29 and more. You can catch her in Los Angeles hiking, sipping spicy mezcal cocktails, and trying to shape the future of an actual human being. Holy sh*t. That's a lot of pressure. Don't remind her.
Photo by: Rick Rodney Photo www.rickrodneyphoto.com