Last week I turned thirty-eight. I don’t know how that happened, because the last time I checked I was thirty and single and thin. But I do know that I had better get started on that second baby before my reproductive parts call it quits.
I wish this meant that it was time to have lots of sex (ha ha, just kidding — I barely have the energy to take out my contacts at night), but we’ve got two ready-made embryos on ice thanks to the original IVF cycle that gave us Theo. So instead we’ll start another round of hormone injections and blood tests in preparation for what those in the fertility biz call a “frozen embryo transfer,” or “FET” if you want to sound cool. Actually, we did an FET cycle back in October but that one didn’t work out (what those in the fertility biz call a “chemical pregnancy”), so as I get ready to give it another go I’m aiming for a zen-like state of cautious optimism.
But I’ll save the IVF stuff for another day. Today I’m thinking about what it means to be doing this whole baby thing a second time. Some people say that making the decision to have the first baby is scariest — you don’t know what to expect, you’re inexperienced, blah blah blah. But I say it’s much easier to jump in when you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into, when your vision of what it will be like to have a baby comes primarily from the well-dressed, vomit-free children in J. Crew catalogues.
Once you have known true exhaustion, once you’ve experienced the projectile poop and the scary middle-of-the-night fevers, once you’ve become an expert at extracting small objects from a child’s nostril — to willingly say ‘Yeah! Let’s do that again!’ takes a tremendous amount of courage. Courage and impaired judgment, the kind that results from exhaustion-induced brain damage.
But if parenthood is as messy and tiring as they say it is, it’s even more miraculous and gratifying than you can imagine. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) And honestly I am excited to experience most of it again — the breastfeeding, the new baby smell, getting to know a new little person. I would be sad if I didn’t get to do it all one more time. But there is one thing I’m pretty sure I won’t be doing again, and that thing is going through labor, and I have to say I’m not at all sad about it.
Let me begin by saying that, with my first child, I embraced the idea of childbirth with optimism and positivity. I did prenatal yoga for the entire nine months of my pregnancy. The instructor’s favorite motto was ‘You can do anything for one minute’ — a minute being the average length of a contraction. She’d make us hold difficult poses for one minute at a time, during which I breathed deeply and visualized portals opening and babies making smooth, graceful exits that did not involve any sort of ripping or tearing. I was all ‘I am woman, hear me roar’ — not to the point of planning a home birth in a tub; more of an ‘I am going to try to do this without drugs, but if I decide I want them I will not judge myself too harshly’ kind of thing.
When I was about seven months pregnant, Steven and I took part in a six-week childbirth class. It met once a week in a Park Slope brownstone, where a soft-spoken young woman led us through exercises and discussions designed to prepare us for a beautiful, natural birth. You can be sure there were a few eye-rolling moments. Such as the video in which a woman calmly ate a lunch of rice and beans and then went on a nature walk while in labor. She slow-danced with her husband to get through contractions and then gave birth in a jacuzzi, surrounded by her other children. Ick. And then there was this other woman who claimed to have had an orgasm during labor. Even the instructor admitted that this was going a bit far.
Anyway, one of the most fun parts of the class was learning a bunch of different methods and exercises for working through contractions. As in the prenatal yoga class, each exercise typically lasted for sixty seconds. One involved holding an ice cube in our fist, and each time we did it we would employ a different relaxation method to see which one worked best for us. It was an interesting exercise in theory — although I must say, now that I’ve experienced an actual contraction, it bears little resemblance to the sensation of holding an ice cube in your fist. If the ice cube were, say, a piece of hot coal, and instead of holding it in your fist you shoved it, well, somewhere else, then you’d have a slightly better idea of what we’re talking about here.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. When my labor started, waking me from a deep sleep in the middle of the night, I was totally psyched. I was so excited I couldn’t sleep, even though I knew I should be resting as much as possible. Things moved swiftly — the contractions intensified and started coming closer together. I sat on the birthing ball while Steven dug the heels of his hands into my lower back with all his might (the only thing that made me feel better). At one point I actually bit the couch.
My water broke shortly after we arrived at the hospital. The nurses praised the way I was handling the contractions. Everything was moving right along. And then it wasn’t. As I entered my fifteenth hour of labor, the contractions were kicking my ass and I was still only five centimeters dilated. It’s true that each contraction typically lasted about a minute or so, but when there’s hardly time to catch your breath before the next one begins, that crap about being able to do anything for one minute becomes moot. I asked for an epidural and then cried because I felt like a failure (so much for not judging myself). Then I got the epidural and the pain went away, and that was a very good thing. I labored on through the night and into the next morning, with my cervix and the baby both refusing to budge, at which point Steven and I agreed that it was time for a C-section.
So. While I suppose I could see about trying for a VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean) next time around, I think I will just go ahead and have the C-section, thanks. I don’t feel the need to experience the sensation of pushing a small person out of my vagina. I’d rather just schedule an appointment, get a good night’s sleep, and show up with my hair looking great. And if, at the end of my hospital stay, the doctor gives me the option of staying one more night, this time I won’t hesitate to say yes.