Hi from Clara Young! Just like that, it’s already been a month–four weeks of vanilla-scented newborn cuddles, milk drunk faces, swaddle blankets and Lilliputian diapers. Like her brother, she came into the world with a head full of hair, a button nose, and powdery soft cheeks. She has perfect little oval fingernails (on spidery long fingers, my bad) and funny long toes (also my bad), a bow mouth instantly recognizable from all her ultrasounds, and a comically intense stare. Right before she nurses she gets a manic expression that is, I’m pretty sure, exactly how I look when presented with an extra-large pizza. She’s been full of big open-mouthed reflex smiles since day one, and even a few reflex laughs?! To say we are smitten is an understatement.
About ten days before Clara’s birthday, I woke up at 2:30 am to a thunderstorm outside and contractions eight minutes apart. I timed them in the dark, excited and listening to the rain, until around 5 am or 6 am, when B2 rolled over and I couldn’t resist telling him that I thought something was happening. We got up and promptly did what we made fun of other parents for doing–assumed that this was it!!!!!! and texted our parents and told coworkers and got all excited–only to have the contractions fizzle out by 11 am. Rats.
We were hoping for her to come a little early not just because we were eager to meet our daughter, but because Luke was a C-section, which meant a vaginal birth this time around (a VBAC) was a little more complicated. We were lucky to have a supportive obgyn that we loved, but we still couldn’t go too far past Clara’s due date before scheduling a repeat C-section, because it would be too risky at that point to wait for it to happen naturally. We also couldn’t do too much to induce labor. I think without these things we would have been excited and ready for her birthday to come, but with them, the feeling that there was a looming deadline on our calendar made us antsy indeed. (As the plannerly lawyer types we are, it turns out waiting for something to happen at any time with no control over when is not our forte! Imagine.)
The contractions stayed sporadic through the next few days. We went to the doctor’s and discovered that I was fingertip dilated and 50% effaced. Clara looked healthy on the ultrasound; our doctor told us that there was no reason to schedule a repeat C-section any earlier than 41 weeks, that we’d induce if I dilated a bit further, that Clara could come any day–and just to be patient.
Ha, ha. The next week or so of “being patient” went something like this:
- 10 am: It’ll be today! It will definitely be today! I’m going to go for a walk and then I’ll bounce on the exercise ball while eating dates and pineapple and jalapenos and drinking red raspberry leaf tea and [I have a huge burst of energy and I cleaned the entire apartment / I have no energy and feel like crap / it’s a full moon / it’s a new moon / it’s a clear day / it’s a rainy day / there’s a storm coming / a storm just ended] and I Googled and that’s totally a sign, it’s going to be today.
- 2 pm: It’s not happening today. Everything is terrible.
- 10 pm to 4 am: [while going to the bathroom every 30 minutes] It could still happen today! It could totally happen today! Is that a contraction? My mom went into labor at 2am and it’s almost 2am. It’s going to be today.
- 8 am: It didn’t happen yesterday. Everything is terrible.
- 10 am: It’ll be today! It will definitely be today! I’m going to go for a walk and then I’ll bounce on the exercise ball while eating dates and …
I was a joy to be around.
The next week, we found to our dismay that I was still only a fingertip dilated and maybe a tad more effaced, despite all the cramping and contractions. Both B2 and I were sorely disappointed, despite our obgyn’s reassurance that there was no rush. Every day that passed still felt like one day farther from the possibility of a VBAC, and on top of that, a bunch of work deadlines for B2 meant that the later Clara came, the shorter his leave might have to be.
Clara’s due date came and went. I confessed to B2 that the thing that made me the most emotional was perhaps the most selfish–I was just plain scared of the surgery. More than once, I cried and told him I was scared of going through it again.
Still, the day before Clara was born brought an unexpected sense of peace with whatever birth we would have. I got a good night’s rest for the first time in weeks; we took Luke to the playground and ate lunch at the mall, savored our time as a family of three. For the first time, we didn’t spend the day guessing whether she’d come.
That night, three days after Clara was due, I woke up at midnight; 2 am; 4 am. Despite it all, I still felt a little twinge of disappointment that nothing had happened for one more day. An hour later, the contractions started–again, eight minutes apart. This time we told ourselves we would not fall for that shit again. B2 went into the office. I spent the morning walking around the house, bouncing on an exercise ball, and dancing through contractions to the Into the Spiderverse soundtrack. (Which is an excellent soundtrack, but in retrospect I realize that given that Luke was born to “Stand By Me,” I might owe Clara an apology down the road for making Post Malone her anthem instead.)
By noon the contractions started hurting a little more and seemed to be coming closer together–four minutes, three, two and even one–but they didn’t hurt so much that I couldn’t “talk or walk” through them like we thought they were supposed to when it was time to go to the hospital. I texted B2 that I still didn’t “really prefer to talk through them but that didn’t mean I couldn’t if I had to!” For some reason the fact that they started getting so close together made me think that I just needed to drink some water and lie down. (I was wrong.)
At 1 pm, B2 wondered for the first time if we should actually go in, and whether we’d actually know if it was time. We decided that we’d wait until after a meeting he had at 2:20 and head to the hospital if the contractions were still hanging around by then. Well, the moment B2 went into his meeting things promptly stopped being funny and exciting and is it labor or isn’t it?! and tipped right over into this is not fun at all and I think we need to go right now. After a string of jokey texts all morning, I sent one that just said “are you on your way?” B2 told me later that he read it and knew instantly it was time to go, stood up and told his coworkers he had to leave.
It turns out we left right on time. When we got to the hospital, I was 4 centimeters dilated, the contractions were a minute apart, and then they became exactly what I’d heard about.
It’s hard to describe the pain and even harder to remember what even happened during those few hours. (In writing this, I kept asking B2 for details–wait, did we move rooms? Did I walk there?) Every contraction was a kind of pain that sucked you in and made everything else in the world go dark. I tried to be civilized and “breathe through” them when nurses were in the room but whenever they left it devolved into me clutching B2 and repeating “oh-f*ck-f*ck-f*ck-it’s-okay-it’s-okay-it’s-okay-F*CK-F*CK-F*CK.” (Who was I convincing that it was okay?) I started to think I might throw up, and I really hate throwing up, so that was almost scarier than the thought of pushing a baby out of me. Priorities.
So, when the nurses (who were all, by the way, absolutely incredible) told me that they thought it was time for an epidural, I was all in. I know it’s not for everyone–and I have infinite admiration for the women who take other paths, because now that I’m on the other side I can’t even imagine how they do it!–but for me it was like magic. Before the epidural kicked in, the contractions were so bad that I could barely whisper answers to the nurses’ questions. But then it was like a cold fog lifted, and from then until the end of the night (and pretty much the entire time I was in the hospital) I repeated “Oh my God, epidurals are amazing,” about once a minute.
My only anxiety about an epidural was that it would stall my labor, but from there, things went more quickly than I could have imagined. We expected to be there the entire night; I was 5 centimeters dilated, and the midwife told us she thought we had at least 5-6 hours to go before I’d be ready to push. B2 brought me a little sorbet cup and told me about a fridge in the labor wing dedicated to snacks for dad–SNACKS FOR DAD! How cool is that. We texted our families. B2 ate a string cheese from the dad fridge. I made B2 listen to me praise God for epidurals a few more times. We got ready for Clara to come early the next morning.
Instead, just a few minutes later I started feeling the contractions again–along with a huge, crazy amount of pressure. (Looking back, I guess this was transition?) When the nurse came back to check me again, I’d gone from 5 centimeters to fully dilated in an hour. “Well,” she said, “You’re complete, so we’re going to do some practice pushes!” Practice pushes? Now? But, like, we’ll be doing a lot of practicing, right–like, a night’s worth of practicing and maybe I can have this baby tomorrow morning?
Nope. We did three practice pushes–you take a deep breath, then count to ten while pushing, and somehow I found it kind of hard to hold my breath for the whole ten seconds?–then they left me to labor down for an hour. And then we started pushing for real. I don’t think B2 or I really grasped anything that was happening. My doctor arrived; she told us that they could see Clara’s hair already. She was on her way.
Afterwards, both B2 and I were surprised by how calm it all was. I imagined screaming, blood, the worst sort of pain. Instead, all I felt was pressure (epidural, I love you forever) and the pushing made even that recede further. It was a little difficult to push as hard as they wanted me to but ten seconds is not terribly long to do anything, and no one seemed anxious in the least. My obgyn, who has maybe the most soothing voice I’ve ever heard, chatted with the nurse and me in between contractions, gave B2 pointers on how to hold my legs and support my neck, gave me pointers on how to relax my neck while pushing, and apologized for “being nitpicky.”
After around an hour of pushing, I could feel Clara’s head crowning–which was a feeling I don’t think I’ll forget anytime soon, although the anesthesia made it so comically far from the painful experience I’d imagined that I kind of felt like I was cheating–and things did get a little more intense. Every ten-second push was a chorus of encouragement from the nurse, midwife and my doctor, but B2’s voice close to my ear, telling me lowly that I was doing great, was all I concentrated on as we counted. My doctor told me to get ready to push really hard and then stop pushing for Clara’s shoulders. And then everyone was yelling to look down, look down, and my doctor was holding our daughter’s black-haired head up from between my legs. I shouted, “OH SHIT!” and B2 says the whole room laughed at me.
One moment later, she told me to push again. With B2 gripping my hand and his other hand behind my neck, I think I gave one last push–I don’t even remember–and Clara slid right out, sudden and so fast, leaving a bizarre feeling of emptiness, and I sobbed “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God,” over and over again while she yelled furiously at the world and they put her on my chest. It was the most surreal experience I’ve ever, ever had. Typing it makes a warmth well up in my chest all over again.
Everything was even calmer after that. It took a little bit of time to give me stitches, then my doctor washed up, gave me a big hug, and picked up her purse and went home. The nurse went to find our postpartum room, and that was it. Just me, B2, and Clara Young, 22 inches, 7 pounds, 7 ounces.
So here we are. It’s been a dream. The recovery was like night and day from the C-section–a week out it was almost like nothing happened, except for a very squishy tummy. We are plenty tired, but also have been so lucky to have lots of help, not least from B2’s mom, who is in the running for Grandma of the Year. We are soaking in our sweet girl, a new little person to learn all over again, and loving seeing our first baby in a new, older light.
It feels simultaneously like years ago and like yesterday, but the feeling that we’d had the night before Clara came what I keep remembering when I think about her birth. It was one of the most peaceful nights we’d had all year; with Luke asleep down the hall, B2 and I cleaned a bit, wiped down the kitchen counters, did the dishes while listening to old songs we loved when we started dating. The Kishi Bashi song we danced to at our wedding to came on the speaker and we danced together like two goofballs, with my huge bump between us. After days of going stircrazy, we had no expectations for what would come–just a quiet hope for our girl to join us safely, her way, on her own time.
And lo, she did. I am so immensely grateful and still a little in disbelief that labor went as smoothly as it did. It was the most magical, surreal experience and I already want to do it over again. (Kidding–mostly.) But most of all, I’m grateful to be here, our little family of four red bowls.
I hope our newest bowl will like it here too.