I have a sort of fascination with pregnancy and birth stories. I love to read about other women’s experiences, mentally creating a Venn diagram of the various ways our stories both diverge and overlap.
While pregnant with my second child, I often compared and contrasted that pregnancy from the way it was the first time around. And of course I wondered how my second labor and delivery experience would stack up against my first.
I’m happy to say that now I know! Baby #2—my sweet, precious daughter—was born a little over a week ago.
For anyone out there who shares my obsession with reading pregnancy and birth stories, I give you both of mine.
Pregnancies 1 and 2
I am fortunate and grateful to say that both of my pregnancies were healthy and complication-free.
Both times I took a pregnancy test around 5 weeks when I was started feeling “off” with no obvious explanation besides a bun in the oven. One of my first indications both times was actually flu-like symptoms: chills, aches, and a low-grade fever.
The Dreaded Nausea
With my son, I dealt with morning sickness (or, more accurately, all-day nausea) until about 14 weeks. Second time was longer, until 18-19 weeks, and then it made a frustrating appearance again at the very end of my pregnancy.
In general, I found the nausea much more debilitating the second time. Maybe because it was actually worse, but more likely because it was just tougher to deal with when also caring for my toddler.
Indeed, I’d say that was the theme of my whole second pregnancy: Mostly the same as my first, just tougher because a two-year-old also needed my time and energy.
Perfectly logical, of course, but also challenging.
Physical Changes & Challenges
The additional responsibility of a toddler made my second pregnancy more physically challenging in other ways too. Even though I gained close to the same amount of weight with each baby—about 25 pounds—I felt much more uncomfortable with this most recent pregnancy. My body just felt more strained, probably because I did things I hadn’t done during my first pregnancy, like carry a tired 30 lb. child up the stairs and crawl around on my hands and knees while zooming toy cars with him.
Pregnancy round two also brought with it more minor physical inconveniences and discomforts that I’d never experienced before, like varicose veins in my legs and daily heartburn. These are very common symptoms of pregnancy that I was spared with my first child. I’m happy to say, though, that all of these issues completely resolved themselves within hours after giving birth.
Many people assumed that both of my kids would be boys because of how I carried them: all in the front, basketball-style. The old wives tale says that’s an indication of a baby boy, but I think it has more to do with how the mama’s body naturally carries babies.
To me blunt, I was obsessed with following the rules during my first pregnancy. I was incredibly careful about what I ate—not an ounce of caffeine, the exact right amount of omega-3-rich salmon, dark leafy greens daily, etc. It was my type-A personality shining through, to be sure.
This time, however, I was a quite a bit more relaxed. Although I didn’t make the mistake of actually “eating for two,” I gave myself a lot more wiggle room, focusing on nutritious meals and healthy pregnancy snacks when I could, but also indulging without guilt.
During both pregnancies I maintained a regular exercise routine right up to the day I went into labor. This was absolutely essential for me. Going for daily walks and doing low impact aerobics classes and videos kept me feeling strong; without a doubt, prioritizing exercise greatly assisted in my labor, delivery, and recovery both times around.
I know how blessed I am to have had two healthy pregnancies that truly allowed me to revel in the miracle of growing and nurturing a baby!
Labor and Delivery 1
The best way to describe my first labor and delivery? Boring—but in a really good way! “Routine” is actually the word I usually use.
Two days before my due date I started feeling some cramps, but I had no idea it was the start of labor. I just thought I had eaten something funny that wasn’t sitting right in my stomach.
That started in the late afternoon, and in the early evening I lost my mucus plug. I finally realized something more than cramps could be going on.
With the help of my very supportive husband, I labored at home throughout that night until 7am the next morning. Not a wink of sleep was gotten!
But my goal was to stay at home as long as possible, and I succeeded.
Still, when we arrived at the hospital I was only 3 centimeters dilated. I continued without pain meds there for another 4 hours, using all the pain management and comfort techniques I knew.
Around 11am, when I was 5-6 centimeters dilated, I decided to get the epidural—and was so thankful I did! It was pretty much smooth sailing from there! The doctor ended up breaking my water to help move things along, which it did, albeit slowly. I passed the time chatting with my husband and sucking on ice chips and lollipops. I felt so good that we took pictures, for pete’s sake!
Finally, around 5:20pm, it was time to push, which I did with all my might. A mere 15 minutes later, at 5:35pm, my son Luke Wesley was born.
The Stats—Baby #1
Born at 39 weeks, 6 days.
7 lbs, 2 oz, 20 inches long.
Total labor and delivery time: 25 hours.
Labor and Delivery 2
My second labor and delivery experience could not have been more different than my first.
If the first could be described as boring and routine, the second can be described as intense and fierce.
This time around, my water broke at home at 5:15pm when I was 38 weeks and 3 days. I had a feeling this baby would be arriving early, but this was even earlier than I expected.
When my water broke, I was just barely starting to feel crampy. My doctor told me to come in to the hospital, but that I needn’t rush too quickly. She suggested eating a meal beforehand since it could be a long haul once I arrived.
We waited for my mother-in-law to drive up from about an hour away to watch my toddler. I was still easily walking and talking through the contractions at that point, though they were getting stronger.
Once we arrived at the hospital, I was sad to learn that I was only 1-2 centimeters dilated. They didn’t send me home, though, because there was some meconium present with my rupture. My midwife offered me a low dose of Cytotec to help ripen my cervix. I didn’t know much about it and was feeling a bit discouraged at only being 1-2 centimeters, so I accepted the lowest dose possible.
And then things got serious.
My contractions started to get incredibly intense incredibly fast, and they were extremely close together. They had told me the Cytotec would make me feel crampy, which I didn’t think would be a big deal. What I discovered, though, was that this meant I had no break from the pain between contractions. It was constant and exhausting and mounting every minute.
I tried all of my pain management techniques, but they were only moderately helpful. I never thought I’d be one of those women who screams through the pain and crushes her husband’s hand, but that woman I quickly became (to the horror of the woman in the next room over, I’m sure!). I cared about nothing except surviving the pain and getting my daughter out safely, and I had little control over my body and the ways it was handling the pain—the way I moved, the sounds I made.
It was all incredibly primal. It was simultaneously both humbling and strengthening.
Around 9:45pm, just a little over 2 hours after being admitted, I decided I didn’t want to feel primal anymore. I wanted to get the epidural. I actually felt silly because—despite the immense amount of pain I was in—I assumed I wasn’t that far along yet. I believe I looked at the nurse and said desperately (or perhaps screamed, I’m not sure), “I promise I’m not a wuss, but I want an epidural now!”
My husband kept insisting I must be pretty far along because I was obviously in way more pain than I ever had been the first time I gave birth, and when they came in to check me, he was right; I was 7-8 centimeters. “That’s why it hurts so much more!” I shouted. I asked (begged! pleaded!) to still be able to get the epidural. They said I could and the nurse went to call the anesthesiologist.
He never arrived.
Before the nurse even got him on the phone, I felt an intense urge to push. An I-cannot-stop-myself-from-pushing-oh-my-gosh-I’m-pushing-right-now urge to push. “Something’s happening!” I screamed.
And then all chaos broke loose.
The nurse ran out and shouted for the midwife to come in. The midwife ran to my bed and quickly announced that the baby was crowning and it was go time.
That was the moment I felt the most intense fear of my life. I hadn’t intended to push my baby out without an epidural—without any pain medicine at all, actually. I didn’t prepare for that because I had such a good experience with pain medicine the first time. I remember screaming, “I can’t do this without medicine!”
Yes, you can, my husband told me.
And I did.
In a blur of no more than 3 or 4 pushes, at 10:24pm, my daughter Lily Marie entered the world. I can still clearly conjure up the feeling of her head and shoulders sliding out, the relief it brought. My midwife later joked that she didn’t really deliver my baby so much as catch her!
They put my baby girl on my chest and all I could think was THANK GOD that’s over and she’s here and she’s crying and she’s perfect. It was a gush of relief as I slowly started coming back into my body and processing what just happened. But even hours later, I kept saying that the whole experience—her early arrival, how fast and intense it all was—still felt surreal.
Looking back I realize that the Cytotec made things a whole lot more intense and painful than they would have been otherwise. Without it I would have gotten at least a pain-free minute or two between contractions to rest and mentally regroup. But I don’t regret getting it. At least I don’t think I do. I’m honestly still processing that aspect of this story.
The next day my husband asked me if, after that birth experience, I feel like I can do anything. My answer was yes.
The Stats—Baby #2
Born at 38 weeks, 3 days.
6 lbs, 12 oz, 18 inches long.
Total labor and delivery time: 5 hours, 10 minutes.
Total time in the hospital: 3 hours.