I still haven't totally wrapped my head around Annika's birth. It was so very different from Callum's birth, and like much of the rest of the pregnancy I felt a bit removed from it for awhile so my memories of the early part of it aren't as acute, or something. It was certainly much shorter and less intense, or differently intense, than Callum's. And it was great. I mean, awesome. I am THRILLED with how it went. But trying to piece it all together after the fact is proving to be a bit challenging. Also, it started so slowly and gradually that I couldn't even tell you how long it all took. I guess I would say six to eight hours of real contractions, and about three or four hours of seriously painful labor.
So, let's see. The night of Thursday, October 31 to Friday, November 1, I woke up a few times with some mild PMS-like cramping, just like I had before my labor started with Callum. As with Callum, I vaguely wondered if the cramps were the start of something. But my midwife had warned me that false labor was much more common with second babies, and I'd had a lot more Braxton Hicks and painful but useless contractions in the last weeks of my pregnancy with Annika, so I just dismissed it and assumed it was my uterus tuning up for the real thing.
Also, I was being stubborn about the whole thing--I was sure that I was going to go late again, or at least to my due date, and it was still two days before my due date. And also, I thought my water would probably break to start my labor again. So I didn't think a whole lot about the cramps. Until I got up to use the bathroom that morning and saw that I was having bloody show. I never had that with Callum. Then I started thinking maybe something was actually starting. But I Googled it and everything said that bloody show COULD be a sign that labor would start soon, or it might still be days or even weeks. I didn't really think it would be weeks, but I thought it was realistic that it would still be days.
So I went downstairs to my office and did a full day of work as usual. The cramps got worse--they were definitely contractions, and they were slightly painful--I had to breathe through them a little bit. They were super irregular, though. Sometimes they'd be every 10 minutes and then I'd go 45 minutes without any. I got my work done. I whined to Susie and Liz on gchat about how the false labor was so annoying and I wished the contractions would either go away or turn into something real. The contractions continued, and so did the bloody show, all morning and afternoon. The pain increased slightly, but they remained completely irregular. When I finished work I decided I should take a nap, in case it did turn into something and also because I felt kind of worn out from the day of non-labor weirdness.
I did nap, but the contractions were painful enough to wake me, so I napped in about 12-minute spurts, because of course they became regular when I lay down to sleep. After a couple hours, I went downstairs to eat dinner with Torsten, Callum, and my in-laws. When I got up, the contractions got stronger and more regular, but I was still able to more or less act normal during them--I had to stop eating and breathe through them, but I was able to do so silently, without letting on to my in-laws that they were happening. I was still convinced that it was false labor, especially because false labor is known for getting worse in the evenings.
After Callum and my in-laws went to bed, Torsten and I watched Friends in the living room while I hung out on my hands and knees and did exercises on my birthing ball to try to help the baby into a good position (the midwife had said that the baby was posterior at my 39-week appointment a few days prior and while I was fairly certain that she had moved back into optimal position since then, I wanted to be sure she stayed there). Around 10 p.m. the contractions got strong enough that I started grunting and moaning a bit during them. But they were still completely irregular. By this time I had given in enough to download an app to time them, and at that point they were varying anywhere from seven to 14 minutes apart.
Around 11:30 we went to bed and I tried to sleep, but the contractions were too painful. They were trending generally closer together, but there were still some outliers that were a solid 12 minutes apart. My water still hadn't broken, and it broke to start Callum's labor, so I didn't have much of a frame of reference for how to know when true labor was happening. In retrospect it seems so obvious, but at the time I was apparently dealing with a pretty intense dose of denial, because I still didn't really think I was going to have a baby any time soon. All I knew was that for a first baby you're supposed to call the midwife when the contractions have been under five minutes apart for an hour straight, and the hour resets if there's even one contraction that's further than five minutes apart. I was also remembering how slow my labor was with Callum, and how the contractions slowed when I changed positions and the midwife said that was a sign that it wasn't true labor. Changing positions did seem to affect the contractions, though it didn't stop them, so I convinced myself that this was just really painful false labor and nothing was really happening.
Around 12:30 a.m. the contractions got seriously painful--I had to get up and move all around and was moaning and sort of keening through them, and trying to escape them. From 12:30 to 1:30 they were all between 5 and 7 minutes apart, and while they weren't getting closer, there weren't any far-apart outliers, so I started thinking that maybe I should call the midwife. At that point I was still thinking that I would just call her to chat about how things were going, and get a better idea for at what point she would really consider me in labor and want me to come in. But of course right when I said to Torsten at 1:30 that I should probably call the midwife, the contractions got further apart again--the next one wasn't for 12 minutes, and the one after that was nine, and I went back to thinking that it was false labor.
At 2:30 a.m. they got closer together again, though still not consistently so, and they were very painful. At that point Torsten knocked some sense into me and made me call the midwife. I called her at 2:38 a.m. according to my phone history, and had a contraction while talking to her, and after she heard me have the contraction she said, "I think you should probably come in, don't you?" I continued to hedge and pointed out to her that the contractions were irregular, though strong, and I really wasn't sure, and she told me that if it were a first baby she'd tell me to stay home, but since it was a second baby and given my history (the active part of my labor with Callum, from 4 cm to delivery, was very fast, about five hours, so the midwives thought I was probably going to go pretty fast with the second baby) she thought we should start gathering things together and think about heading in to the hospital. She said it wasn't a big rush, but she thought we should start making our way toward coming in.
After I hung up it was a good eight minutes between contractions so I went back to my weird place of denial (it is amazing to think, in retrospect, that I was only two hours away from delivering at that point) and thought that if we went in, we would probably get sent home again. I decided to walk around a bit instead of lying in bed to see if that would help, recalling that that's what they have you do at the hospital if you get there and aren't dilated enough to be admitted. So I started pacing the room and amazingly--it helped. The contractions started getting truly close together, like five minutes or less, and extremely painful. Like, to the point where Torsten became alarmed that we weren't actually going to make it to the hospital in time and started madly gathering the last things for our hospital bag. At 3:30 we decided that they were close enough, and strong enough, and consistent enough, that we should go to the hospital. This was a huge mental hurdle for me because it involved waking Torsten's parents in the middle of the night to tell them, and I still felt like it was probably all meaningless and insisted that Torsten warn them that while we were going to the hospital, there was no guarantee that the baby was coming and that we might be home again in an hour with no baby.
Also at this point I was feeling a strong pressure low during each contraction, not an urge to push but a feeling like I needed to poop. When I mentioned this to the midwife she told me it meant the baby was low. Since second babies don't typically engage in the pelvis until labor has started, and this one had been quite high at my last prenatal appointment, this should have been a clue to me that the labor was for real, but I didn't think much of it at the time.
Torsten and I threw everything together and got in the car shortly before 4 a.m. At that point the contractions were coming every two to three minutes and were horrifically painful. However, they didn't feel like the contractions I had with Callum, which felt more like I was being crushed between boulders. These didn't feel like that at all. I remember thinking that they felt triangular; they started at a distinct point very low down at the base of my uterus and radiated up and out across my belly. I did feel them a bit in my back, but not the way I did with Callum, and while they were incredibly painful, the sensations were just different somehow--more like pressure and downward squeezing rather than the waves and crushing I felt with Callum. I almost want to say that the contractions felt more vertical with Annika and horizontal with Callum, even though that probably doesn't make sense. Either way, I don't know if the differences were because I had a small amount of Pitocin with Callum or if he was in a different position or it was just a different labor, but I kept thinking that since it didn't feel the way it had with him, I couldn't be that far along.
I had a contraction right after getting in the car but then didn't have another for over five minutes, which further convinced me that I wasn't really in labor, because a hallmark of false labor is that the excitement and adrenaline of leaving for the hospital actually stops the contractions. However, after that five-minute gap, they started coming every two minutes again, and I was moaning and thrashing through them, trying to get away and unable to change positions to try to make it better since I was buckled into the car. Luckily it was 4 a.m. and the highway was empty, so it was a quick, mostly silent drive, about 15 minutes, to get there.
Again as I write this it seems so amazing that I didn't understand that I was about to have a baby, but I truly didn't. We donated our umbilical cord blood and had brought the kit to do so, but I made Torsten leave it in the car because I really didn't think we would need it for a long time, if at all that night. The walk from the parking lot to the hospital entrance took forever because I kept stopping to contract, gripping Torsten's hands and squeezing as hard as I could during each one. They were only 1-2 minutes apart at that point and Torsten kept saying he was sure it was real and it seemed like I was about to have a baby, and I would respond that I really didn't think so and we were probably going to get sent home.
In retrospect, I think part of the reason my denial was so heavy was that I was worried that I was overreacting, or somehow exaggerating what was happening. With Callum, I was in early labor for a long time and I had nothing to compare it to, no frame of reference, and it hurt and I thought it must be the real thing--and then it turned out that I wasn't even at 4 yet, and had to actually take an Ambien so I could stop using up too much energy in early labor, and I did sort of end up feeling like I had sounded a false alarm and that I couldn't handle early labor, or something? It was weird and I realize that that impression is fully in my own head, as nobody else ever said or hinted anything like that, but if I had gone to the hospital at the point I did in my labor with Callum and my water hadn't already broken, I definitely would have been sent home. This time I was very aware of that, and I think vaguely worried that I was doing the same thing again, somehow playing it up and making it sound worse than it was. This was also a big part of the reason why I was hoping my labor would start with my water breaking again, so I wouldn't have to worry about sounding a false alarm.
We got up to triage at about 4:15 a.m., and the midwife checked me and I was dilated to 7 cm. I couldn't believe it. It was so much work and so many hours and hours of awful, nonstop contractions with Callum before I got to that point--I couldn't believe that I had gotten there so quickly this time, and without understanding that that was what was happening. I will say that despite my heavy denial throughout my entire early labor, and even though I was amazed at how dilated I was, I wasn't exactly shocked to be declared officially in labor--I think on some level I knew that it was real and was just afraid to think it in case I was wrong.
At that point I was contracting every minute or two and I started to feel like I couldn't do it anymore. I was crushing Torsten's hands and pulling and squeezing during every contraction. I felt the need to get down, like bend my knees and get low, during the contractions. It was very different from Callum's labor--that time I wanted to move and sway and walk, and used the birthing ball a ton, and this time I just wanted to brace myself and squeeze and curl inward during the contractions. I did have the presence of mind to recall what we learned during our Bradley class, and what happened during my labor with Callum, which is that when you get to the point of feeling like you actually can't do it anymore, you're almost done--and I said that to the triage nurse, asked her if it was true that when you think you can't do it anymore that it means it's almost over, and she said yes, and I did believe her, and started thinking that maybe I would have a baby soon.
They brought me upstairs at that point to the L&D floor and officially admitted me at 4:35 a.m. At that point I sent Torsten to go back to the car to get the cord blood donation kit and a couple other things we had left behind. I was contracting basically constantly and Torsten asked the midwife if he had time to go to the car and she hesitated and then said yes, but that he should run. So he dashed out of the room and then I asked the midwife and the nurse if they thought we still had time for a water birth. Right after I asked that question I had a contraction that compelled me to bear down and kind of push, which should have been all the answer I needed, but I still looked hopefully at the midwife, who was like, "Well, we can try to set up the tub, but... I'm thinking it's not going to be necessary..." and I agreed that we could skip it. (And with that, let go of the idea of ever having a water birth, since I wasn't able to have one with Callum either and we are dooooone having kids now.)
With the next contraction I for-real felt the need to push and just then Torsten came racing back in the room with the cord blood kit and the midwife and nurse and I were all like, "Perfect timing!" I was standing up at that point and just followed my instincts, which led me into the same position in which I delivered Callum--squatting on the floor holding onto the side of the bed. The contractions were horrifically painful and with the next one I bore down and my water broke with a burst and went everywhere and I said, "Oh, my water, my water." Then I told the midwife that I felt like I needed to poop and she said "that's the baby" and I said "are you sure?" and she said yes and then I contracted again and pushed and felt the baby's head crowning. At that point the contractions were basically constant and I pushed as hard as I could and the midwife told me to slow down, slow down, and I forced myself to take a break from pushing, which was extremely difficult because when the baby is in the birth canal, all you want is to get her out and have the sensations and the pressure end, and I thought I heard the midwife tell me to try to stand up (I'm still not totally sure if she did actually tell me that) and I did kind of stand up and lean over the bed in a position similar to being on all fours and I asked, "Is this OK?" and the midwife assured me that it was but then with the next contraction I squatted down again and pushed and pushed and I felt her head come out and the midwife feeling around to make sure the cord wasn't around her neck (it wasn't) and she told me to slow down again and I forced myself to take another break and then I had to push more so I did and I felt her shoulders come out and the same tiny tornado slithering feeling I felt when Callum was born only this time I was familiar with that feeling so I knew it was the baby being born and then she was out and the midwife had caught her. The midwife and nurse were behind me and they immediately handed her to me so the cord wrapped around my leg and I held her and looked down at her and we all waited for her to cry and after a few seconds she did cry and it was such an amazing thing and we all laughed with relief. She was born the day before her due date, at 4:53 a.m., 18 minutes after I was admitted. I asked the midwife how long I pushed for and she said one minute, but I think it must have been more like two or maybe three.
She was so beautiful and unlike Callum, she came out with no trauma or difficulty (she had an 8 and then a 9 on her Apgar) and pinked up right away and so nobody took her away from me. After they handed her to me I didn't give her back for almost two hours. The nurse helped me get the cord unwrapped from my leg and I got in the bed and delivered the placenta with no problem, holding the baby the whole time, and nursed her right away and she latched on beautifully and nursed for a solid half hour on each side. She was very noisy, with lots of grunting and squeaking.
I held her while the midwife checked me for tearing and it turned out I did tear, but less than last time--just one tear, and first degree instead of second. The stitching up took forever and was horribly painful, which I also recall from last time--apparently lidocaine doesn't work very well on me. So that sucked, but I held the baby the whole time and felt so relaxed and happy. I couldn't believe I'd had the baby, that she was there and perfect and healthy, and that I'd had such a fast and relatively easy birth, and that I never had to give birth again, that I was done and it was over, truly. Torsten kept commenting on how peaceful I was, and how you would never know I had just given birth because I was so happy and cheerful.
When the midwife finished stitching up my tears, she and the nurse left the room and it was just the three of us, Torsten and me and Annika, and I held her and she nursed and we laughed and talked and just felt incredibly calm and happy. Then we FaceTimed both sets of parents at the same time on different phones and told them about the baby and showed her to them and laughed and joked. Eventually the nurse came back in and I relinquished the baby to be weighed and measured and bathed and generally checked out, and then Torsten held her for awhile and the nurse cleaned me up because it turned out that Annika had pooped while I was holding her (she had also pooped while being born, or just after, but thankfully not before so she hadn't aspirated any meconium), and I also had blood and amniotic fluid on my legs. I remember the whole thing as just being very soft and quiet and happy and calm. The birth was so fast that I still had energy left to absorb and enjoy what was happening, and enjoy my baby. And she's so amazing. I'm so happy with how the birth went, and that I was able to have two birth experiences that I feel really good about, and that resulted in two wonderful, perfect babies.
Also, it was hard to tell at first since she was all wet from the birth, but it's looking more and more like she has red hair.
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