I spent Raj's Christmas break having anxiety dreams about who would watch Josephine while I was in the hospital having her sister. Not because we didn't have a plan. We had Plans A-E at least. Plan A was our friend Amy who teaches just a few minutes from our house and doesn't have kids so she'd be free to stay here. She could even drive my car with Jo in it if Raj was at work and I needed to be dropped off at the hospital without figuring out what to do about other kids and their car seats. And Jo loves her. The only thing was that she was going to Belize with her mom for eight days during her school break. Plan B was our friend Bethany who does have two kids, but would be here over Christmas. All set. Except for December 28-31 when both Amy and Bethany (and two other friends who offered to watch Jo) would be out of town. Plan E involved dropping her with friends she doesn't really know and who have dogs she was, as of our one long-ago visit, terrified of. I was also worried about the timing of getting any of those people here or Jo to them and me to the hospital, given that Josephine came very quickly and they say second deliveries tend to be even faster.
So when, first thing Christmas morning, I started having some indications that labor might be imminent my first thought was oh crap but my second was well, the timing could be worse, at least Jo-coverage-wise. I texted Bethany to say it's probably nothing but could you please stay near your phone? She said her husband was off that day and her parents visiting so they had surplus adults in case she needed to come and get Jo. I made eggnog pancakes, Jo got up and saw her kitchen and opened a few presents. We had breakfast, opened the rest of the gifts and spent the day playing with Jo's new kitchen and stroller. I did make sure to get a shower and Raj packed his hospital bag somewhere in there. But by the time we put Jo to bed, I felt confident that we were in the clear. No baby today.
A little after eleven, I went to the bathroom before heading upstairs to bed. I felt a pop and a rush and came out to tell Raj my water had broken. Bethany got up out of bed and came over. Naturally, Josephine woke up right then and was screaming hysterically while we got ready to leave. Bethany, thankfully, is super mellow and assured us they'd be just fine. (Let me take one minute here to say that military friends are great. We have limited time together so we dive right into the friendships and we've all been far from family and help and everyone is so willing to step in. Two thumbs up. Highly recommended. If possible, get yourself some milspouse friends.) We left for the hospital a little before midnight.
Poor second child, Nora. Here I've sat down to write the story of her birth and already the first three paragraphs are about her big sister.
I'd put on a giant overnight maxi pad before leaving the house since with Jo, what had been a trickle turned to a gush before we got to the hospital. This time, it remained a trickle so when the triage nurse swabbed the not very full pad to make sure it was amniotic fluid, it didn't read positive. The doctor, an intern who could just not stop yawning, came in to explain to me all of the ways they'd go about proving that my water hadn't actually broken before they sent me home. I was not a fan of her. Neither was Raj, though he said in her defense that she'd have seen a lot of women either actually mistaken or flat out lying about their water having broken. The very first test immediately proved me right and I was admitted, only dilated to 3cm. The doctor said they'd check me again in four hours. I said I was dilated to 3cm when I came in the first time as well and my daughter was born three hours later. She was unimpressed.
When I got to my delivery room, I met my labor and delivery nurse, Elaine. She quickly became my new best friend. Elaine has been working L&D for 30 years and she has seen it all. Every bit of confidence I didn't have in my doctor, I had in Elaine. (I also knew there would be a senior resident present for the actual birth in case things got out of the intern's hands.) Elaine was very impressed with how calm I was staying during my contractions. I said, "Well, what are you gonna do?" Screaming wasn't going to make it hurt less. In fact, I'd read that it'll hurt a whole lot more if you tense up and I feel like probably staying calm helps me dilate quickly, though that is just my unscientific opinion. Elaine had stories about women screaming even when they weren't in a lot of pain because they thought that was what they were supposed to do, women not even in labor pushing on the monitor every three minutes to make it look like they were having contractions ("We can tell the difference."), and all sorts of other pregnant lady shenanigans. Meanwhile the contractions that had barely started when we got to the hospital were coming fast and furious, getting more and more intense.
I don't know what time it was when she got the doctors back to check me and I was already at 7cm. It wasn't that long after that I told her I needed to push. She told me not to while she got the doctors in and the room changed over, but on the next contraction I told her I was pushing and she helped me breathe in such a way ("like you're blowing out birthday candles") as to stop my body from pushing. Once I was allowed, I had baby girl out in three pushes. Three big, hard and painful pushes, mind you, and lots of encouragement from Raj and Elaine telling me she was almost here.
Eleanor cried immediately even though, I'd later find out, the cord was wrapped around her neck three times. They put her right on me and I saw Raj cut the cord. When they'd wiped her down and put her on my chest I could not get over how tiny she was. I figured it was just my bad memory for how small Jo had really been, but it turns out Eleanor was almost a pound and a half smaller. After Jo was born, they'd taken her to the warmer and then to the NICU for over an hour, but tiny pink Eleanor got to stay on my chest and go right with us to my postpartum room.
While this birth was similar to Josephine's in that it was fast and overnight (why do my babies feel the need to deprive me of that last night's sleep?!?) it also felt like a totally different experience. With Jo being in distress, I was getting told to push now turn on your side turn on your other side put on this oxygen mask and not told that I was getting an episiotomy or they were using the vacuum or that an emergency c-section was just about to happen. It felt like I was just one participant in Jo's birth. This time, minus the complications, it felt like delivering Eleanor was something I did with the support of Raj and the medical team. I get now why women would say that their experience of childbirth was empowering. This time, I would say that too.
Pretty much everything turned out to be easier this time. Just the lack of episiotomy alone (I had a minor tear and only one or two stitches) made the recovery so incredibly much easier. And Nora has been a great nurser from the start. I did have problems with engorgement again when my milk came in, but this time I knew to just pump off enough to get her latched so we avoided all of the problems that ended with me exclusively pumping for Jo. We only had to spend one night in the hospital and got to come home the following morning.
It's a big adjustment for all of us, Josephine most of all, but we're figuring it out. This time around, I know how fleeting these tiny baby days are, so I'm doing my best to soak up the snuggles when I can.