Arden was due on January 2, 2016, and since Zelda had been two days late, I just assumed that I’d go overdue again. My entire pregnancy was easy—I photographed 27 weddings and almost 70 other sessions while pregnant this year, shooting right into December.
With Zelda, I had no signs of any impending labor until I actually went into labor. With Arden, I had so many more braxton hicks, and by Christmas, I was counting down the days as I became more and more uncomfortable and the random contractions increased.
I had an appointment with the doctor on Monday, the 28th (the day I ended up going into labor). It was all pretty straightforward. He confirmed that my giant pregnant belly was measuring a bit smaller than it had the week before, which meant the baby had dropped, and he could tell that she was in the right position. We scheduled our follow up for a week later (which I obviously hoped I’d have to cancel), and I went on my merry way. I finally got around to packing Zelda’s bag for the few days that she’d spend with family and finishing up my own bag (just in time!).
That evening after we picked Zelda up from daycare, the baby was sitting so low and I was so uncomfortable that I couldn’t believe I’d be able to stand another week of pregnancy. I laid on the couch and read Zelda books, but beyond that, I was essentially worthless as a parent, so thank goodness for Jeff.
I can’t remember exactly when contractions really started—I’d had enough braxton hicks by that point that I didn’t really take them seriously enough to track them for a bit—but I think it was somewhere between 9 and 10 PM. They started really slow, but they were consistent enough that Jeff started to get his things together just in case, and I hit up the great Google to read stories from others and to get a completely unscientific reading on the likelihood of real labor versus a false labor that would peter out soon. I also went back to read Zelda’s birth story, which actually helped me get a better perspective around this labor.
Around 10, we switched over to Netflix for some distraction. We watched a few episodes of Master of None while officially timing the contractions around 15 minutes apart. I decided I’d better have a go at any sleep I could get around 11:00 PM, and I actually managed to go in and out of sleep for an hour or hour and a half while my contractions hit like clockwork. Jeff would literally come back in about every 15 minutes, and I’d wake up to say, “There’s one.” He’d start his nifty little app, then I’d tell him when to stop.
I think around 12:30 AM, they finally started to get just intense enough that I couldn’t relax and get back to sleep in between. They were still only about ten minutes apart, and I still thought we had a long way to go. I remember telling Jeff that I thought we could make it until 6 or 7 AM before we needed to call to get anyone to come stay with Zelda.
The next few hours blurred together as contractions slowly got closer together. One might come at six minutes. One might come at three. One might come at eight, but they were generally coming on stronger and closer together, so I had no doubt by now that we were in for a long night. I took a bath and tried to relax. I listened to some music and laid in bed. When they reached a consistent 5-6 minutes apart on average, I finally called my mom (at 2:42 AM) to have her come over. The general plan was to have her stay with Zelda until my brother-in-law, Christopher, could get there, then she’d come to the hospital to be there for the birth. I just remember her picking up the phone, me whimpering, “Mommy” pathetically and her knowing. She left fairly quickly, I’m sure, but because of the snow storm that had hit that day, the drive that would normally only take about 15-20 minutes ended up taking her closer to an hour.
The contractions started to get more painful as we waited. I forgot how to relax, and I started to fight the pain and tense up, which only made it worse. At some point while waiting for my mom, I switched into the mindset that I was 100% going to get an epidural. We took Bradley Method classes to prepare for Zelda’s birth, and I did the whole thing without any pain meds, so everyone had been asking how I felt about this one. I told them that I would consider it, but I’m generally a stubborn person, and I would more than likely go without again. Somehow in this moment, knowing that relief could be available was the only way I could let my mind cope with the pain. I was also assuming at this point that I’d be in labor for another half day based on the length of my first labor, when the reality was that I was going to be done within just over two hours.
My mom arrived, and we headed right out to the hospital. During my first labor, I had a surge of adrenaline in the car and labor darn near stopped. This time, I had five painful, screaming contractions during short drive to the hospital as the car bumped along the snowy roads and potholes, then I had another two walking into labor and delivery.
We arrived at exactly 4 AM. Since it was the middle of the night, we had to be buzzed through. When he hit the buzzer, rather than saying, “My wife’s in labor,” Jeff started a long, polite prose. “Hi there. Ahhh…I’m here with my wife. We believe she’s currently in labor…” I remember hitting him as I leaned against the wall and saying something like, “Get to the point!” When we got to the front desk, I signed my name on a form after curling over with pain one more time, then we were sent back to wait for the team. This felt like the longest wait of my life (it was probably about 20 or so minutes). By the time they finally checked me, I was expecting to be at a three again like my first labor, and then I planned to promptly request an epidural to get on with survival, but it turned out I was already at seven, so on we went to the delivery room.
I remember whining, “Labor sucks!” and “Help me!” and the poor nurse really wanted to offer me up some pain relief, but Jeff and my mom stayed adamant that I was so close already and that I could do this on my own. I decided to have them check me one more time. If I’d made any progress, I’d make it through on my own. If I hadn’t, I’d give in. I was at an eight by now, and with Zelda, I had moved from eight to ten fairly quickly, so I found new strength and decided I could do it on my own. By accepting this, I finally allowed myself to stop fighting the pain. I generally stopped yelling and whining, and I concentrated more on breathing and staying calm and strong.
By the time I was around nine centimeters, they asked if I wanted my water broken. I was terrified that it would send me into immediate unbearable pain, so I waited a few minutes to eat some ice chips and gather strength, then we went ahead with it since we were so close by this point. Everything blurs in my memory like rapid fire at this point. They broke my water, and I was pushing a few minutes later. I do remember one moment where the contractions slowed down just as I was about to start pushing, and I awkwardly started chatting with the nurse and doctors. “Sorry, just hanging out waiting for another contraction. It seems to be taking a while. This is fun, isn’t it?”
I pushed for just over ten minutes, and I had so much more confidence this time since I had done it before. She came out in one surreal “this is it” moment at 5:54 AM, about eight hours after labor had its slow start, and I felt like my vision was a blur. I could hardly get her at the right angle to take a good look at her, but she already felt so familiar to me. I think I just said, “Oh my God” a few dozen times. Once again, the rest of the room and world ceased to exist as I starred down at my baby girl and she starred back at me. I think the fist thing I noticed was her full head of dark hair. I never thought I’d make a tiny human with a full head of hair! Zelda was so bald for so long.
Giving birth is such an out of body experience. Your body goes through so much that it no longer feels like your own. The whole idea of what you’ve done is just so surreal that you can’t believe you could possibly be experiencing this moment for yourself.
After Arden got her bath and I got a shower of my own, we moved into another room, and I was asleep before I would have been done giving birth during Zelda’s birth. I can’t say that the sleep has been great so far (we rang in the new year by staying up from midnight until 5 AM with a fussy baby), but the nursing staff was amazing again, and we’ve been so grateful for all of the help from our family.
Zelda met her sister that evening. She wasn’t a fan. My sister, Adriane, brought Zelda and had her own five week old, Evelyn, along. Zelda was happy to hold Evelyn, but she pointed to Arden and told us all, “No that.”
Since getting home, Zelda has been a lot more interested in her sister. She loves to kiss her head, touch her hair and tell us how soft she is, point out her tiny ears, pat her on the back and hold her (“I hold it…I hold it again”). Winter babies require a bit more creativity to stay sane inside since we can’t just head out for a walk any time we want, but Jeff’s been great about letting me sneak away when I need a reminder of what life looks like outside the house.