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I thought I had done everything I needed to do to get ready to have a baby 14 years ago. I read “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” I watched multiple episodes of “A Baby’s Story” on TLC. I attended parenting classes offered by my local hospital.
When I went into labor early one morning, there was some confusion about where we were supposed to go at the hospital. My OB/GYN told me emphatically that we shouldn’t stop at the front desk but proceed directly to the labor department. Unfortunately, when we got there, we encountered a less-than-friendly nurse who resented being interrupted on her break. “You were supposed to stop at the front desk!” she said. She put us in a room to await admission, then chastised my then-husband when he stretched out on an empty bed. So much for the joyous experience of giving birth.
After 21 and a half hours of labor, including almost two hours of pushing, we finally had our bundle of joy. The next, day, the staff brought in an educational video to show me. I pointed out that I was exhausted from the birth and might not be able to stay awake for it, but the staffer said they were required to show it. (But wouldn’t it be a good idea if I actually was awake to see the material?!) I remember asking my husband, “Please wake me up when they get to the part about breastfeeding.” Some friends of mine had experienced great difficulty in breastfeeding, so I figured I needed all the help I could get. (For more on breastfeeding efforts by hospitals, see my blog, “Hold that Chest High! Hospitals Lead the Way in Breastfeeding Efforts.”)
We were discharged after 48 hours. I remember feeling like I was not at all ready to go home and take care of this child. My mother came and stayed for several days, but then had to leave to return to her job. My husband was working too. I faced sleep deprivation, challenges with breastfeeding, and lack of knowing what the heck I was doing. For example, although I’m normally a fanatic about avoiding sunburns, I took my daughter out for a stroller ride in the middle of the afternoon, where she proceeded to get a sunburn on half her face. I remember telling my husband, “I’ve only been a mother for a few days, and I’ve already screwed up!” It was overwhelming. I asked a friend, “Why didn’t anyone tell me it was going to be this hard?” She said,” Because no one would ever have a baby!”
I remember getting together with some friends for a birthday lunch celebration a week or so after my daughter was born. A friend advised: “You should start getting you and the baby ready as soon as you get up.” How ridiculous, I thought. How could it take us hours to get ready? Sure enough, between feedings, diaper changes, clothes changes, plus trying to feed myself, shower, and dress, it ended up taking hours to get ready. Hmmmm, I thought. Maybe my friend, who already had three children, knew something I didn’t.
That idea of being guided by a more experienced person is the impetus behind the Nurse-Family Partnership at University Health System in San Antonio. The program helps first-time mothers, especially those who might have limited financial resources. The program partners new moms with registered nurses for two years. It includes home visits every two weeks, beginning early in the mother’s pregnancy and continuing through the child’s second birthday. Nurses educate new moms on prenatal care, infant care, child development, nutrition, parenting skills and the importance of planning future pregnancies. The program is free and voluntary. (For more information, click here.) We salute this innovative program, and we expect other hospitals to follow in their footsteps. With happier moms and healthier babies, hospitals come out the winners.