Second pregnancies are different. Time no longer stands still. Best intentions of maternity pictures and quiet meditation take a backseat to jobs, and housework, and taking care of big sissy.
I knew she’d come at 38 weeks, but still it caught me by surprise. I never got to all those things on my list. All that contemplation and connection. Instead, it was Friday night and we went to dinner at a friend’s house and I announced to everyone I was done. Wishful thinking, I thought.
But, sure enough, that night the cramps turned into contractions and I slept as well as I could between each one, hopeful when they were 6 minutes apart but remembering the nights of prodromal labor with her sister. And, just the same, daylight came and they tapered out. Another night, the same. Exhausted but excited. Another day spread out and then a third night, more intense. I could no longer sleep between. I howled into the night, “Bring me my baby,” a voice primal and haunting escaping from my lips.
Alex got up at 3AM to check on me. He must have sensed it was time or heard my wails. We called Grandma and when she arrived the contractions were 3 to 5 minutes apart, strong enough to make me believe maybe we wouldn’t have to wait another night. I cried in the triage room when they admitted me. This was real. Somehow it had all flown by and I was having a baby. A BABY. How was it not real, already?
Bright lights and 30 minutes of fetal monitoring left me twisting back in forth in the hospital bed. “Your baby will be here soon, Mama,” the nurse assured me, her Spanish accent so maternal I wanted to melt into her arms. I needed to get up and move around. I was ready.
As the light began to creep into the sky, I felt my contractions spreading back out. I was too late. I couldn’t do another day and night. I needed my old friend, Pitocin, but now the memory of induced contractions flooded back and I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do it again. I had told myself if this birth was like Eloise’s I would do it differently. Not because I regretted the way I’d done it before, but because I’d already done it.
I asked for an epidural knowing Pitocin was next.
When the doctor came in, he thought I was the surrogate for my dad and my husband, who were with me in the room. We laughed. Exactly the moment comedic relief was needed.
I was more afraid of an epidural than the pain, but I was also so very, very tired. I held my breath and trusted it was an experience I needed. I let myself be less than perfect because perfect in my mind was facing the pain head on. After all, I’d done it the other way before. I should be able to do it again, but maybe that’s exactly why I didn’t. I needed to make time stand still, the super power I’d always wanted as a child. A tiny break before the marathon of newborn parenting.
I may have cried a little as the epidural was administered, but soon my legs were fuzzy and I was able to relax. We’re too hard on ourselves as women, I’ve decided. The midwife who delivered Eloise came on duty and we chatted about my choice. She was so supportive, her curiosity about my experience comforting, as she wanted to hear the difference between an epidural birth and a natural one, having opted to go natural for her one and only childbirth. Knowing she would deliver Miriam was everything I needed. It was the natural balance to my choice.
For the next 7 hours, I rested and visited with family. It was somehow anti-climatic to lie and wait for the baby to arrive, unlike the hours of hard work I put in with Eloise. Still, there was comfort in the ability to let go and just let it happen. I imagined my body opening. I went crazy unable to move my legs. Finally, the epidural started to wear off just as I hit the wall of transition. I wailed and moaned and sent the anesthesiologist running down the hall with needles to fix things. Numb again, I stopped trying to harass my legs back to life and finally accepted my passive state.
When it was time to push, she was out in just three contractions. So much peace in her exit. The midwife had me hold my own legs and the muscle memory of pushing came back easily. No tearing, no pain. Just a baby. As her head emerged, they had me sit up to look. I pulled her onto my own chest. My little act of agency in such a passive state. A gift from my kind midwife, knowing I needed a little more.
A warm, wet baby on my chest. Wiggling and real. My baby. Born on a rainy afternoon in February without screams or profanity, just ease and grace. Tears again. Loving disbelief on my husband’s face. Eloise was the first besides us to meet her. I had thought we’d wait until we went upstairs to recover, but my husband marched her in and I pulled her into bed with me. Another moment I didn’t know I needed. Our little family of four finally complete.
Two girls, my girls. Miriam Grace, the missing piece of our puzzle, teaching me on day one to be present instead of “perfect,” to make time stand still, again, to let her enter the world in peace.