To My Second: A Birth Story

PC: Kimberlie Ann Photography

PC: Kimberlie Ann Photography

"I'm not ready." 

The thought ran through my head on broken-record repeat as I lowered myself into a warm bath. 

"I'm not ready." 

I combed through my tangled hair. 

"I'm not ready." 

I held my oldest; her last moments as a baby ticked by. 

"I'm not ready." 

I surveyed my home—my home with no oven, no countertops, no carefully placed bassinet. 

I wasn't ready. But ready or not, here you came. 

* * * 

As I write this, you're napping. The clock just snuck past 5:45, telling me you've napped for over an hour by yourself for the first time in a few weeks. Besides this nap, you've needed shushing, soothing, and contact with my weary body to nap well. 

So—that's how month two has gone. 

And yet, there goes month two, and I'm already nostalgic for it. Month one fled too swift—that first bleary month where all you needed was me and all I needed was you. Month two came gradually, and then all at once; it was a month of slow recovery and tired arms and short nights. 

There goes month two. 

* * * 

I had played and replayed scenarios in my head like bad movies. There were scenarios where my contractions led me—kicking and screaming, for all intents and purposes—into labor and delivery. I imagined telling a nurse, "Please stop it. Please. I don't have a house and my husband doesn't have a job." 

See, your dad got laid off in June, while we were knee-deep in our long-dreamed-for home addition. We'd already borrowed the money and we had severance pay, so we plowed ahead, pushing the deadline closer and closer to your due date. We moved in five days before you made your swift and decisive entrance, dear one. 

I tell you this because I wasn't ready. And you still came. And you were still perfect. 

* * * 

As it was, a few things had fallen into place. Our home had power as of 24 hours before I admitted the obvious—I was in labor, and it was time to go. We were hopeful about three job prospects—in fact, your dad had all but been offered a job. 

But your little bassinet—it was still boxed up in the garage somewhere. Your diapers and wipes and onesies, they were all jumbled in a pile, not carefully folded and ready for you. And your planner, doer, make-doer mommy was scared—scared that this lack of preparedness and certainty would hurt you somehow. You'd know we loved you, right? 

So I put on a sweater and briefly checked the contents of the hospital bag and told your dad in exasperation, "Yes, it's for real. Let's go." And I added, as backed out of the driveway: 

"Damn it. I needed one more day." 

* * * 

You wouldn't wait one more day, though, or hardly one more hour. We arrived, and the nurse—I can't recall her name or her face, so frazzled I was—went through the admittance procedures. She checked me and announced I was a four. "A good time to come in," she congratulated me. Your dad took a video of me, robed in a hospital gown, swaying gently, holding my belly. "How do you feel?" he asks. Watching it now, I wish I could go back and tell that terrified girl she'd be okay, that her baby didn't care about paint or bassinets or medical insurance. "Feeling like this is it," I replied, proffering a strangled smile. They monitored you, they started an IV of antibiotics for my group-b strep, they gave me cheery updates as I pursed my lips in pain. "That IV should be done soon. I'll check back in a bit!" 
 

The shakes started only an hour after we arrived. I couldn't control them and felt silly, frustrated. "Are you cold?" The nurse raised her eyebrow, surveying me. "No," I said, "but shakes are normal, right?" 

She mumbled something about "usually later," and said, "You still want an epidural? I'll page the anesthetist." 

That's when the pain started in earnest. That's when my worries relinquished control to my body and I was suddenly delirious with wave after wave of contractions. My desire to appear nonchalant and in control was still in place—but barely—when I asked about that epidural what seemed like years later. "On her way!" I heard a voice say from somewhere in the room, somewhere I couldn't focus on as I breathed through the tightened, white-hot agony. 

The anesthetist arrived and began to explain, in a low, rehearsed drone, that if I had complications from this epidural it wasn't her fault and the hospital wasn't liable and other things you care deeply about while experiencing the worst pain of your life. I inhaled sharply at a contraction, and she asked, "Need to take a break?" "No," I said, "keep telling me about liability." 

Then things got real. "I feel a lot of pressure!" I remember yelling, afraid you'd already poked your tiny head out somehow and were greeting me with a cheeky grin. When I felt a gush, I knew my water had broken and heard the words "meconium" and "NICU" and that's when mama started swearing. "Yep, you're a nine," my suddenly all-business nurse announced from somewhere under my hospital gown, and I gasped, "Does this mean no epidural?" 

My midwife was suddenly in front of me. "You can get that epidural NOW," she intoned firmly. 

Thank God. That was my thought. Because no matter how much pain I was in, at least the epidural was going according to plan. 

I held your dad's shoulders and swore rhythmically into his shirt while using all my strength to hold still as the anesthetist inserted a giant needle into my spine. I tell you this, dear, because I hope that by the time you have babies, they've made this feel a bit less barbaric. 

"Can I move?" No. "Can I move yet?" No. "Can I move now?" Yes, here, roll back on the bed. 

That epidural didn't set in until I had started, in a half-laughing, half-crying fit, pushing you into the world. 

"No need to wait for the contractions," my midwife said from behind goggles and a mask. "She's almost here. Go ahead and push however you'd like." 

So I pushed. A few times. And you were here—wailing like your life depended on it. 

Turns out, it did. I knew when you screamed with those tiny lungs that you hadn't swallowed any meconium, that you were breathing and okay, that NICU wouldn't whisk you away from me. I pulled your slimy, red body toward me and laughed. 

And all at once, I was ready.