05/11/2012 10:29 am ET Updated Jul 10, 2012

My Terrible, Horrible, No Good (But Actually Not So Bad) First Mother's Day

I assumed my first Mother's Day (as an honoree, that is) would include certain trappings: crispy bacon; many hours of uninterrupted sleep; kind, heartfelt praise from my husband (on behalf of our preverbal son) for my solid eight months of continuous, somewhat competent mothering. What I got instead: one rock-hard boob, profuse vomiting, a catheter.

I woke up on that sunny Sunday morning last year, nursed the baby, and rolled over to go back to sleep. My husband whisked our son away. I opened my eyes again a couple of hours later to the smell, and crackle, of bacon in the kitchen. (Right on schedule!) I also, however, noticed that my left breast was really sore and kind of... hard. And I was feeling a bit feverish. Within minutes, I'd made a self-diagnosis: mastitis. I'd spent enough anxious hours with "What to Expect" to know what to expect -- a prescription for antibiotics and pretty quick relief. My OB said I didn't even have to come in. She quickly called in the prescription and my husband ran out to get it.

By the time he returned 20 minutes later, I was shivering uncontrollably. I swallowed one of the pills. I promptly threw it up. My husband was looking very concerned: "Um, you're pretty pale. Actually, you're really really pale." He got the baby--still in his rainbow-striped PJs--and told me we were going to the hospital. "No, no," I said through my chattering teeth. "I just need to keep down the antibiotics. I'll be better in a couple of hours. Is my bacon in the oven?" But before I could even take another pill, I threw up again. Between the convulsing and the vomiting, my protestations were utterly unconvincing.

Within 30 minutes, I was admitted to the emergency room. My temperature was very very high, my blood pressure very very low. The doctors took blood; they hooked me up to an IV. A friend came to take my baby away and back to our apartment. I had few coherent thoughts in the midst of this commotion, but I do remember one: My bacon is probably really burned.

Sometime after midnight, still in the ER, yet another doctor came by -- this time (finally) with some news: I didn't have a typical case of mastitis (clearly). I had sepsis, a potentially fatal infection of the blood. My first reaction was relief -- confirmation that I wasn't the biggest wuss of a breastfeeding mother ever to hit Park Slope. My second was total shock -- and the crushing realization that I wasn't going to be home by the time the baby woke up that morning.

It was another three days before I was released from the hospital. The experience had made the whole childbirth scene eight months earlier seem like a pleasant little romp. Even after I got home, I was still so weak. I couldn't play with my baby the way I had before the terrible horrible no good Mother's Day, and although I'd pumped throughout the hospital ordeal and was prepared to continue breastfeeding, my son had other ideas. He'd apparently enjoyed the freedom of a bottle for the last four days and had zero interest in nursing. I'd been planning to wean in a couple of months anyway, but being forced to give up that connection so abruptly was by far the most painful part of the whole experience. It took another full week at home before I felt remotely like myself.

So, no, my first Mother's Day wasn't quite what I had envisioned. (The catheter seemed particularly uncalled for.) But it wasn't all bad. Much of it was actually amazing. I live in a time, and a country, where I could be at a hospital getting life-saving medical care in minutes. I have health insurance to cover the cost of that care (well, much of the cost). I have friends who will drop whatever they're doing to take care of my kid -- and then send me photos of him every hour. My happy, robust little boy had a fabulous first Mother's Day, exploring Brooklyn in the bright May sun.

And I have a husband who made sure that even in the hospital, hooked up to needles and tubes, I felt special, and deeply loved. Perched on my ER gurney that afternoon, he presented me with a stunning book that he'd painstakingly created, chronicling the story of my pregnancy and our son's birth. This year, we'll read the book with our chatty, curious, amazing toddler. And I'll be so grateful. With any luck, I'll also be eating fresh bacon, extra crispy.