At first I couldn’t put my finger on precisely what moment I wanted this birth story to begin. You see, I began suffering from those teaser contractions midway through my second trimester. This prompting one pointlessly premature visit to the Labor & Delivery unit and many nights of anxiety-ridden “I think it’s time” moments. In my mind, this story starts then, although several more months would pass before his actual birth. I’ll fast forward.
He was small. Too small, we worried. We had weekly ultrasounds at the end, monitoring his growth and health. He passed with flying colors every time, despite being barely in the tenth percentile. Yet still, I was huge. All moms say that. But I was huge. With each step, the joints of my burdened pelvis ground against each other like gears of an old, worn out clock. My abdomen tested the limits of elastic, and most of my maternity clothes had become too small. I wanted him out of my body and into my arms. I wanted to get on with it. The mystery and romance of this second pregnancy had faded sometime midway through first trimester.
Let me pause. I am setting up this story as if my pregnancy was an inconvenience, or simply a physical ailment needing to be relieved. That’s not at all the case. I just want to paint a clear and accurate picture of a tired and prolonged build up, so you might note the juxtaposition of frantic and excited energy that followed.
We agonized over his birth date. J didn’t want him to share a day with his sister, although they already shared a due date. My obstetrician recommended induction due to the baby’s small size, so we were thoughtful in choosing the 25th of April. Two days after our daughter’s birthday. The day after his due date. Of course I assured myself, my husband and anyone who would listen that the baby would arrive sooner. I urged (okay I shamed) my parents to travel to Kansas City at least two weeks before my due date. And they did.
We drove to the hospital on the morning of the 25th, as scheduled. We had taken Squish to her grandparent’s apartment the night before. I rolled my eyes at my own naïve certainty of an early delivery. It felt surreal to be so incredibly intentional about this birth. To plan ahead. To have a sitter arranged and the luxury of a nice dinner, knowing it would be my last meal for a while. To check in to the Labor and Delivery unit as casually and without ceremony as if I were checking into the salon for a cut and color. I was standing next to the hospital bed, wiping down my body with surgical prep pads as J ambled into the room with our bags. “Here we go,” I said. “Here we go,” he agreed.
It was 10 a.m. when they started the Pitocin. My dilation was minimal at the start, a centimeter I think. I thought to myself, “Buckle down. We’re going to be here for a while.” Meanwhile, the contractions I had previously questioned as being real became more prominent, more defined. I was satisfied. This was happening. I hadn’t felt contractions during my first labor. I felt so real, so connected. Soon the pain increased and made me wince. This was exciting. I said to myself, but unfortunately not out loud, that it might be time to speak to the anesthesiologist. Suddenly, the waves of pain rose up and flowed steadily. I couldn’t catch my breath. I grimaced and smiled at J. “So this is what labor feels like,” I said and joked that he did this to me because that’s what women in labor always say in the movies.
I asked to be checked and also for the nurse to please page the anesthesiologist. I was dilated to a 6 and expanding quickly, the nurse confirmed. I was not prepared for this pain. Briefly, regrets surfaced about skipping those hypnobirthing classes I had seen advertised. By the time the stern, humorless anesthesiologist arrived with her cart, I was moaning in pain, hissing obscenities through my teeth between contractions, which barely receded before the next wave crashed through. I pleaded for the doctor to hurry up with the epidural, to please oh please stop the pain. My vision dimmed and I thought I would faint. I said I was going to throw up and the nurse pressed an emi-bag into my clenched fist. “You’re doing great,” she said. They stuck me twice in the back before the epidural was placed to the doctor’s satisfaction. “How quickly will it kick in?” I breathed, as the nurse checked my progress and announced frantically that I was complete and ready to push. The doctor said 20 minutes, then asked me to adjust my expectations for pain relief delivery, as the epidural was placed too late. I shot a desperate look toward my husband, as nurses, resident doctors and various other medical staff streamed into the room. He squeezed my hand back and told me to forget about the chaos and commotion and focus on my breath. Then he told me he loved me.
I pushed, I don’t know for how long, because it was barely noon when my perfect, healthy son was placed in my arms, slippery and quiet at first, eventually uttering a sweet muted cry. J held my hand for a moment longer before he pulled out his camera, capturing our first moments together. Mother and son. Buster latched well and stayed on my chest for quite some time before I allowed the nurse to gingerly place him in the warmer for an exam.
He was so small, so quiet. For the first 24 hours, he endured heel pricks to monitor his blood sugar before and after feedings. He cried, but he was brave and sweet. We stared and stared, staying awake beyond what was necessary so we could watch him while episodes of Marvelous Mrs. Maisel played on and on.
The awe and wonder of this second labor and delivery felt like a first time. Nothing could have prepared me for the experience of completing my family, of adding a second baby as perfect as the first one. It was, is, just the beginning of our story.