There’s something about a second baby that lends itself to a sort of foggy denial that you’re pregnant. You’re painfully aware of the Braxton Hicks and the agonizing stretching of your abdomen and the dull ache in your back, but somehow it is easier than the first time around to forget, or ignore, the fact that on the other side of all of that unpleasantness you will get a brand new human.
And when, like me, you hit 38 weeks and four days pregnant, and your body and brain start to scream for some relief- even then, it’s easy just to wish for it to end, rather than wishing for something else- this squishy new life- to begin. Your mind swims with anticipation, but the wonder and the context that you felt so acutely the first time around isn’t there, because now the knowledge of what comes next, the absolute certainty of the things to come, feels unbearable when you let your brain drift toward it; there is no relief coming, only a different kind of discomfort and exhaustion.
None of that is to say that I’m not annoyingly, giddily twitterpated when I think about the wrinkly chicken nugget that’s going to explode out of me any day now and the tiny snorts, startle reflexes, and bleary-eyed squints that will accompany him; I ugly sobbed to the point of snotty snorting into my toddler’s arms after looking through a birth photo essay just yesterday. But with one kid under my belt, the knowledge of what lingers after those images fade is bittersweet: it’s gonna suck a lot of the time, and it’s gonna be hard, and it’s gonna be forever.
Up until those first few Braxton Hicks started rolling in two weeks ago, my brain had completely deleted all the “labor and delivery” files except for the ones that made me feel like a complete human-producing badass who sucks at being pregnant but pushes babies out like a friggin boss. And yet as those first few trial waves rolled through my body, my internal surge protector kicked in and those lost memories came flooding back. Ah, shit.
Labor carries with it the most terrifying, absolute promise of any experience I’ve ever had: there is only one way this scenario ends, and there’s no way to stop it. Things could go perfectly according to plan or you could have an emergency C-section or you could, you know, actually die, but one way or another, a baby is going to come out of you and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.
Next are all those uncertainties I just mentioned: will I make it to the hospital on time? My last labor lasted 6 hours start to finish, and with us living an hour away from the hospital, if my second holds true to statistics and goes much faster, I could find myself on the 5 o’clock news as that puffy, red-faced woman who gave birth on the side of the highway, aided by a ne’er-do-well truck driver turned guardian angel and the highway patrol [and no drugs]. If I make it there, will I actually be able to pull off an un-medicated birth this time? If not, will the epidural paralyze me? Will I need a C-section? Will something catastrophic happen, or will it be a regular, run of the mill hospital birth story?
Then there’s the actual fact of the matter: labor sucks and it hurts and when you’re in it you’re convinced it’ll never end. Everything is on fire and you’re exhausted and actually wonder if you’ll be able to stay awake long enough to push this sucker out- until another contraction hits and the adrenaline makes you wonder if you’ll ever be able to sleep again. It’s a rollercoaster that no one can help you with; in life, it is one of the few things you have to do completely on your own. Your mom, your partner, even your doctor, can’t do it for you, and it’s not the time for wavering confidence.
Fast forward through the pushing and the tearing and the fact that seconds after they rip a needle out of your spine they expect you to stand up, stagger to the bathroom and pee, and then hand you this brand new person and deem you perfectly fit to care for it immediately even though you can barely see straight because biology and evolution and maternal instincts and all that good crap: you’re home, and you’re wearing diapers that you soak through every other hour, and you can’t sit down without an inflatable donut, and you’ve spent roughly $100 on Dermoplast and you’re squishy and wobbly and raw and weepy and then…you’re also alone. Your partner goes back to work, your parents go home, the flowers and gifts and visits slow down and it’s just you and this new person you feel like you should know but who is a stranger to you and you have all these feelings about everything and all the articles your husband told you not to read but you read anyway about the million things that can kill a newborn bounce around in your brain all day so that it’s impossible to “sleep when the baby sleeps” and you count down the minutes until your partner comes home from work just so there can be someone else here to stand guard and share the responsibility for a few minutes while you rest but you know he won’t be vigilant enough so you stay up anyway. And your uterus contracts like a senile old man who has forgotten he already did the thing he came into this room to do every time the baby latches on, and your nipples are bleeding and OMG what if you have another kid you have to keep alive too?
Then there are the sleepless nights and teething and mystery medical issues and the terrible twos [which I thought were over-exaggerated just a bit until my toddler catapulted into them two weeks ago] and potty training and broken bones and puberty and dating and the fact that kids don’t leave home until they’re like 30 now…and we’re all so busy counting down to not being pregnant anymore that we lose sight of the fact that once we make it to that waypoint there are a million more in front of us that are just as hard and just as painful and will make you just as uncomfortable [but hopefully a little less swollen]. And it’s wonderful and beautiful and awe-inspiring but it’s also agony.
So yeah, the waiting sucks…but I can wait.