It seems like I had to wait a really long time for Clara. I didn't; she was only 4 days late and still within my due "week" (rather than due date). But I had been so weary with the pregnancy (more accurately, the sciatica) and so worried that this baby would be problematically late, that I had grown impatient. I was ready to have that "Baby C," as we had been calling it, and I was pretty confident that Baby C was ready to be had. The baby was so low that it had felt for a couple of weeks like I'd been carrying around a bocce ball between my thighs. I was tired.
I think it didn't help any that my first baby had been one week early, so even though I tried not to have any expectations, I think I subconsciously did. My due date was a Monday and all week long after I'd missed that date, I'd been researching natural induction methods. On Thursday afternoon, the midwife told me not to worry about doing anything extreme until the following week; even so I was still thinking of how to induce labor Thursday night. So that when I went down to the basement to clean Julia's crayon markings off the wall, I joked that if scrubbing crayon off basement walls were an induction method I'd have hit the jackpot.
And so, perhaps, I did hit the jackpot. The next morning I woke up around 7:30 with some funny feelings. For about a week I'd been feeling what I was describing as Braxton Hicks contractions but on the inside; my Braxton Hicks contractions had always felt like they were on the outside, on my belly - but these new ones were deep inside. Turns out these were prodromal labor and come Friday morning, the real labor was hitting pretty hard and pretty fast.
But I was in denial that it was real labor. I wanted it to be, but I didn't want to get my hopes up that I was actually - finally! - going to have this baby! So I tried to be "realistic" and went about getting ready for work. I showered and tried to get dressed, but couldn't even do that. Before I knew it I was calling my parents and texting my co-workers, and curling up on the bed to ride out each contraction and wondering how long will it take this time? Sergio took Julia to school and came right back home; he called the midwife, drew me a bath, downloaded a contraction-tracking application on my phone, and started tracking. We were surprised to find that the contractions were coming so quickly. I was surprised at how intense they were so soon. Nothing like the long stretch of "easy" contractions that I had with Julia. For this one I skipped ahead to the hard stuff right away.
I ended up laboring at home for only about 3 hours, which, when viewed through my frame of reference of a 28-hour labor the first time, seemed like only 5 minutes. We packed up and went to the hospital at around 11:00 am. All I could think about was how bright it was outside - how painfully bright it was - and how if this baby turns out to be Clara, how appropriate that she be born on such a clear, bright day. That was and is a charming notion, but truth be told, it was that brightness that really threw me off for the rest of the day.
And here is where the comparisons begin (I promise, Julia and Clara, we won't always be comparing you to each other like this!): when I went to the hospital with Julia, it was dark and stormy and late at night and I'd already been laboring so long (15 hours) and we had to enter through the ER entrance at the back of the hospital and not many people were there ... but with Clara, when I went to the hospital it was bright and clear and lovely and everything was happening fast and I'd hardly been in labor at all (3 hours) and we went in through the hustling, bustling front door and there were so many people everywhere. With Julia I spent so much time in labor, and it was so dark and dim in that room in the middle of the night, that I went into a trance without even trying (very helpful for pain management in natural childbirth!); with Clara, labor progressed so quickly and the room was so bright with all that sunlight managing to push through the drawn curtains that I never got deep enough and never fully made it to "Planet Birth."
So this meant I was way more "with it" than I had expected to be. And my brain went into overdrive instead of going into autopilot like it had with Julia. I tried to focus on what I needed to do but tried also to distract myself from the pain. I hung out in the big jacuzzi tub for a while, but couldn't get comfortable because of baby's little bocce ball head sitting so low. I hung out in the shower with lots of warm water pouring on me while I sat on the exercise ball and rolled around through each contraction. I danced and squatted around the room per the midwife's instructions, trying to get Baby C to move its head a little; the baby had its hand underneath its chin which was tilting its head at the wrong angle and we couldn't proceed until it had sorted itself out.
Sergio was right beside me for every contraction, and whereas with my first labor I was eventually so far gone that I didn't know who was in the room or who was holding my hand, with this labor I was far more aware of my surroundings and was highly dependent on Sergio. He helped me breathe properly, he encouraged me with a quote from a card we'd seen at the midwive's office - "the contractions can't be stronger than you because they are you" - he reminded me that each contraction brought us closer to meeting our mystery Baby C and to smelling that sweet new born smell and to finding out if it's a boy or a girl, he told me that each contraction was working, that it was progress, and eventually when I just kept saying "no, no, no, no, no" he'd help me to embrace each contraction by reminding me to say "yes, yes, yes, yes, yes" instead. I truly could not have had this baby without his help.
After almost 10 hours of labor, it was time to push - although if you'd asked me it had been time to push since morning. Since this baby and its little bocce ball head had been so low, I had been wanting to push all day. (This is another totally different experience than Julia's labor, when I never once felt the urge to push.) I only had to push a few times this time - I think it was 3 - before Baby C made its debut and Sergio called out, "We have a Clara!" and I moaned my ridiculous "just-gave-birth" moan (the same strange noise I made the moment I first saw Julia). They hoisted Baby C up onto my chest. She sneezed, she cried; I wailed, Sergio beamed - and everything was perfect.
"We have a Clara!"
my little burrito baby with a bocce ball head
And this trio of grandparents were so helpful in the days following Clara's birth: taking care of Julia, taking care of Clara so Sergio and I - zombies from sleep deprivation - could catch a few zs, preparing us food, cleaning our floors, doing small projects around the house. My mother cooked all my CSA vegetables for me, bought me just the right new clothes, even gave me a pedicure. I can't begin to express my gratitude.
Clara and I were released from the hospital in no time at all, which was also a totally different experience than when I had Julia. With Julia, I chose to stay at the hospital with her until she was released from the NICU five days after birth. And the day we left was a clear, bright, beautiful Friday morning - a stark contrast to the dark, rainy Saturday night we'd had when we entered the hospital earlier in the week. With Clara there was no NICU stay, she and I were both fit as fiddles, so they released us both the day after she was born. Which means we entered the hospital on a clear, bright, beautiful Friday morning and left the hospital late on a dark, rainy Saturday night.
We continue to marvel at how different the two girls look, in the same way that the two births were so different. When Julia was born her skin tone was pale and she had (and has) crystal clear blue eyes and hardly any hair at all and what little was there was very light brown and now that it's grown in her hair is all curly. But then Clara - Clara's skin tone is darker and she even has those purple spots on her lower back and she has glossy black/brown eyes and a full head of long black hair that's straight as a board. They are so distinctly different and unique and it will be so fun to see how their little personalities develop, too.
Julia holding Baby C for the first time
Julia has taken so well to her new baby sister. We continue to call Clara "Baby C" to help Julia with the transition (since that's what all three of us called the baby in utero), but Julia has already started calling her Clara - or rather "Baby Dara." She is interested in her and asks about her always and runs to see her and kiss her and hug her when she comes home from school. She offers to help change diapers and to wipe. And though Julia is too young to actually execute many of the tasks she offers to help with, we are just so delighted that she's interested. She is going to be a good big sister; I can tell already.
It has now been three weeks since Clara's long-awaited birth and even as she still feels so little and new, it also feels like she was always here. Maybe that's just my way of interpreting the "meant to be" feeling. It's amazing how quickly that feeling takes hold. Not three weeks but three minutes - dare I say three seconds? - after her birth I felt like she was always a Clara and she was always ours and she was always meant to be. I feel like we're a complete set now. I can't imagine it any other way.