A Year of Grief

A year ago was the worst day of my life. My dad died.

On the one hand, I can’t believe it’s been a year. I can’t believe it’s been that long. On the other hand, so much has happened. I had an entire pregnancy and baby between now and then!

I’ve learned a lot about grief over the last year and expect it will be something I continue to learn about for the rest of my life.

Grief ebbs and flows. There are a lot of water analogies with grief: waves crashing over you…the ability to drown in only 2 inches of water…etc.

I didn’t realize how universal some grief feelings are until I experienced it myself and then recognized those same thoughts expressed by others. My favorite is the disbelief at the audacity of the rest of the world to keep spinning. I can remember driving around Cleveland, running various errands for the funeral, and thinking, “How can all of these people be going about their everyday lives as if nothing has changed? Everything changed for me! My dad died.”

Speaking of the funeral, my aunt put it best. Planning a funeral is essentially all the same pieces of planning a wedding except you only have a couple of days to do it, and you’re so sad the whole time.

Another feeling that is difficult to understand until you experience it is, “It hurts when your person dies. But that still doesn’t prepare you for the pain of their staying dead.”

I got that one from Twitter.

And it’s funny because it makes no sense. If you think logically, you know that death is permanent. For the rest of your time on Earth, that person is gone. But grief isn’t logical. Because the past tense sentence:

“My dad died.”

I have sort of accepted. I understand that he died. I get it.

But the present tense sentence:

“My dad is dead.” or “My dad is gone.”

That’s really hard.

It’s hard because sometimes you forget, and the reminder punches you in the gut. A friend from high school wrote to tell me that he ended up with my dad’s old road bike, and my first thought was that I needed to text Dad to tell him that. Sucker punch. Can’t text him. I forgot.

I still dream about him sometimes. My most recent one was him at my house, and he just started doing the dishes. I went up to him to say thank you, and he just sort of shrugged. That’s who my dad was – the guy who would start cleaning up without any sort of expectation of thanks or praise. It’s just what he’d do.

For now, I’m thankful for those dreams, and I’m thankful for the hope of seeing him again after this life ends. Until then, I gain comfort from a number of things – family, friends, memories, and this verse:

Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden.

Daniel’s Birth Story

In hindsight, it is hilarious how worked up I got about wanting this baby to come.

If you search, “second baby comes earlier?” on my phone, all you will see are purple links because I clicked and read them all in the weeks leading up to Daniel’s birth.

From early on, I decided he was coming on August 19th despite my August 30th due date. I just knew he’d be early and earlier than Caleb. I even took that day off work (and ended up getting a nice last day to myself before he was born). And then he didn’t come.

I didn’t realize how much I was hoping for that date, for no logical reason, until the 20th rolled around. I was in a pretty bad mood that day, the kind where you have flashes of rationality and wonder why you’re so upset before succumbing to the crazy again. And then the 20th passed with still no baby.

The forecast for the 21st was rain all day, so I suggested we drive up to Cartersville and go to the Tellus Science Museum to provide entertainment for Caleb and give him somewhere to run around (plus air conditioning for me).

If you haven’t been, I highly recommend going! The grounds are beautiful, and the museum is a good mix of displays and interactive stuff for kids to do. The parking lot also has some of the largest trucks I’ve ever seen.

Caleb also decided to wear his new Big Brother shirt which was funny foreshadowing. 

I felt fine all morning at the museum and didn’t notice any signs of impending labor. In hindsight the only thing that stands out is how hungry I was on Saturday.

We came home and had lunch and then I laid in the bed while Josh got Caleb ready for his nap. I finished an episode of Gilmore Girls and then napped for a bit myself. I had some contractions while resting but didn’t think much of it since I had been having them randomly for a while.

Around 3pm I felt a small pop at the top of my belly. I got up from my nap to use the bathroom and felt a small gush that really seemed like my water was breaking, but there was no giant rush of fluid, so I didn’t think that could be it. When I sat on the toilet, I had a strong contraction and was losing my mucus plug as well. 

This was immediately followed by terribly nausea that kept me pacing around the bathroom for a bit.

I told Josh that something was up – I was either going into labor or would be in the next day. Overall I felt overwhelmingly weird. 

Then I had another gush of fluid and told him I thought my water was breaking, but I needed to talk to the on-call doctor to make sure since this was such a different experience than Caleb. I told him to be ready to call my mom since she was the one coming to stay with Caleb while we were in the hospital. 

I called my OB’s office and got routed to a partner practice that they share on-call duty with. The operator told me who was on call (a man!) and that he would call me back. The doctor called me immediately and suggested I put on a pad and see if I lost more fluid over the next 1-2 hours. If I soaked the pad, I should come in to get tested to check if the fluid was amniotic. And, of course, I should come in if I start having contractions.

He said it was possible I was just peeing myself which I did NOT appreciate because even though some pregnant women have issues with bladder control, I did not and was 100% sure I wasn’t peeing.

I told Josh to call my mom and have her come because I was thinking the baby would come in the next 24-48 hours, and it wouldn’t be a big deal if she ended up coming a day early, but it would be a big deal if we waited too long to call her.

I started packing the rest of my hospital bag while I shivered – a fun response I have to stress. Then I spent a lot of time crying about the fact that it was a male doctor on call when I specifically go to an all-female practice and asked about the August weekend on-call schedule at a previous visit, and there was never any mention of the possibility of it being a man. Maybe someone switched shifts, but it was an unexpected adjustment for me, and if you have strong female vs. male doctor preferences, I encourage you to ask if there’s any scenario where a male doctor would be on call instead of just asking the schedule, so you aren’t caught off guard.

Caleb woke up from his nap after Josh and I were mostly packed. We were all going to go on a walk to the playground, but then he grabbed his T-ball set from the garage instead, so we played T-ball in the driveway for a little bit. I had a couple of contractions while fielding balls but nothing regular or that close together. 

Then it started to rain, so we had to come back inside. We went upstairs to play Fort (where we take the cushions off the couch and Caleb jumps on them), and I bounced on my yoga ball while Googling things about water breaking slowly instead of all at once. 

I really wanted to talk to someone else, so I decided to message my friend Jules who is training to be a doula, with the disclaimer for her not to tell anyone I was maybe in labor. I felt extremely private this time around.

I had some contractions on the yoga ball that were about 10 minutes apart. It took a lot of concentration to pay attention to the timing as I was watching Caleb, talking to Jules, and Googling all at the same time. 

Jules was very reassuring to me and sent me a position to slow down labor if I thought I needed it. She also affirmed that it is very common for your water to break slowly, and the dramatic breaking I had with Caleb is more rare.

We ordered some dinner from Maggiano’s (because Olive Garden had this chicken alfredo commercial that had been on my mind for weeks – ha!). We ordered delivery instead of pickup, and I’m just laughing as I imagine myself driving to go pick it up while in labor, especially since things started progressing more quickly.

Mom arrived around 5:30, and I immediately started crying when she asked me how I was and responded with, “I don’t want to talk about it.” To be fair, I was also having a contraction when she asked.

Our food arrived, and I finally downloaded a contraction timer because I couldn’t keep track of looking at my watch and doing the math between contractions and also getting Caleb’s plate ready for dinner. It seemed important for me to know how far apart they were at this point.

According to the app, I started tracking contractions at 5:44 pm, and they were 35 seconds long and 2-4 minutes apart. I couldn’t really eat because I was trying to manage the contractions and finally said, “We’re going to have to go to the hospital because I’m obviously in labor!”

Then (this is my favorite part of the story) Josh asked how far apart my contractions were. When I told him 2-4 minutes, he just stared at me. My poor, exasperated husband. “Aren’t you supposed to go to the hospital when they’re 5 minutes apart?” he asked.

I agreed but also said I wanted to eat more dinner and take a shower before we left. (Again, poor Josh) He told me I could have 2 more bites and then had to go shower. I didn’t argue since I wasn’t having much success with eating anyway.

The shower felt so good! The shower was one of the more manageable parts of labor with Caleb, too. I highly recommend getting in the shower during labor if you’re able.

I got dressed and finished packing, and Josh loaded up the car. I asked him to take a final bump picture of me before we left (again, poor Josh).

6:38 pm

Then we said bye to Caleb to head to the hospital. He had definitely picked up on all the stressed vibes and wasn’t happy to see us go, but I knew he would be fine after a few minutes. He always has a good time with his Nana!

In the car I told Josh I wanted to keep my expectations low for how far along I was. I could only be 1-2 centimeters! After the male doctor blow to my expectations, the last thing I wanted to do was hope for 6-7 centimeters and be wrong. Josh looked at me and said, “I think you’re further along than that.”

I held Josh’s hand and breathed through the contractions as we made our way to Northside. We got to experience the new Covid rules of Josh being evaluated and given a visitor’s bracelet and at the entrance before going upstairs to check in.

I started having Josh do the crisscross massage on my back as I had contractions while waiting for someone to come to the check in desk, waiting for her to come back with my ID, and then waiting for someone to take us to our room. I had felt like I needed to use the bathroom during our whole car ride, so I went to the waiting room bathroom and had another strong contraction while on the toilet.

Once we got to our room, Josh helped me change into my gown, and then we met Nurse Kia who went over my birth plan with me. She said she trained as a doula prior to becoming a nurse and was down with my unmedicated plan. Mentioning her doula training immediately put me more at ease since there would be at least one person in the room who was on my side even if the doctor wasn’t – which was an unknown at that point.

She did go over the pain management options available and helped set my expectations about the doctor by telling me that changing pushing positions would be at his discretion and preference, so I tried to prepare to advocate for myself if he was insistent I stay on my back.

Then we did all the paperwork which was sometimes more torturous than the contractions. They just didn’t seem to have any of my information despite me previously giving birth there and going to an OB practice that works with Northside. I had to answer questions about my blood type, allergies, etc. all while having contractions every 2 minutes.

The contractions were getting much worse, too. I kept telling myself I would try to get in the shower as soon as we were done with paperwork because I wasn’t sure I could make it without an epidural based on how much pain I was in at the moment. It felt like the end of labor already. (Spoiler alert: because it was!)

I would stand and lean over the bed to have Josh crisscross massage my back during a contraction and then sit on the edge of the bed after it was over because my legs would shake so hard afterward.

Poor Josh was trying to pump up my yoga ball, but I kept needing him to rub my back, so he wasn’t able to make a lot of progress.

It was time to get the monitors attached to my belly, and I initially panicked once they were secured because I didn’t hear the baby’s heartbeat. It turns out Kia had the volume down on the machine, and I could easily see the heartrate numbers by looking at the screen. I actually appreciated the low volume because Caleb’s was so loud that I heard it ringing in my ears for hours after I gave birth to him.

Then it was back to answering more and more questions as Kia worked through the various tabs on her computer. I kept thinking I just wanted to get to the cervical check, so I could get an idea of how much longer it would be. We also planned to tell family and friends we were at the hospital once we got that information.

At some point during the question-answering portion, another nurse came in and asked Kia if she’d checked me yet. The way she said it made me think that either something was wrong, or maybe I was near the end of labor. (Spoiler alert: it was the latter)

It was finally time for her to check me, and it was more painful than expected because she swept the entire circle which is not something I had experienced before.

“I don’t feel cervix.”

I asked her what that meant, and she said, “It would mean that you’re at 10 centimeters.”

“Great! Because I feel awful!” I replied, so relieved it was almost over.

Kia had the other nurse check me just to confirm, and she agreed that it was time to page the doctor. I asked what station the baby was at, and he was at +1 which was also good news because Caleb was at -3 when I was fully dilated which is why I had to push for 4 hours.

At this point I didn’t get out of the hospital bed anymore. I stayed laying on my back; I tried to roll on my side at one point, but the pain was much worse. I brought out my O and M sounds and squeezed the heck out of Josh’s hand during contractions while waiting on the doctor.

Kia had to step out at one point, and she looked at me very seriously and said, “Do not push this baby out while I’m gone.”

The doctor came in, and the first thing he said was, “Well, no time for an epidural!”

I responded by telling him I didn’t want one anyway, and he remarked at how sometimes he’ll go months without an unmedicated birth but this weekend I would be his fifth. He was very chatty.

Then he started asking my a lot of questions that would be answered by looking at my birth plan, so I interrupted him and asked someone to hand him a copy. He read through it and said most of it was moot at this point since we were near the end, and I’d probably have the baby out in two pushes. “You better knock on some wood,” I countered.

Like Kia warned me, he wasn’t too excited about a non-back laying pushing position. Laying on my side would be ok, but he didn’t prefer the all-fours position because everything would be backward for him.

I didn’t bother arguing because at this point I was so tired, I wanted to lay on my back anyway. Then came a particularly strong contraction that made me feel like I was going to vomit, so I asked (maybe yelled) if I could push soon.

The reason the chit-chattiness was so irritating is because going through contractions when you’re ready to push is torturous, and pushing is the relief from that torture. To be fair, he had also been getting ready while talking – getting his gown on and such – but there wasn’t quite the sense of urgency I was hoping for.

He checked me and agreed it was go time. They set up the foot plates and said I was good to push on the next contraction.

It took me the first contraction to get the hang of pushing and accepting the discomfort that comes with it. The second contraction was much more productive, and I could actually feel the baby move down and be close to crowning. This was so different from my experience with Caleb where I pushed for hours before feeling any progress.

They asked if I wanted a mirror to watch myself, but I declined as I was trying to stay Zen and relax my entire body between contractions by laying back with my eyes closed. I was also closing my eyes during pushing, anyway.

I had a mini contraction that I just breathed through before pushing again on contraction #3. This was another productive one, only dampened by my annoyance at the doctor telling Josh that I had a small tear, which is where the blood came from. I wasn’t interested in hearing that!

I felt so peaceful in the rest between contractions here because I knew the baby would be out on the next set of pushes, and it would all be over. And he was! I pushed again during contraction #4 to deliver his head, and then the doctor pulled the rest of him out (ouch!). After getting to the hospital around 7 pm, Daniel was born at 8:51 pm!

The cord was wrapped around his neck twice, but not in a way that alarmed anyone. Daniel came out crying and with good color.

We delayed the cord clamping until it stopped pulsing, and then Josh cut the cord. The doctor then tried to deliver the placenta by pushing on my stomach, but I asked if we could just wait a minute since I felt very rushed. He obliged.

I turned to Josh and asked if he took any pictures, and he said no, so he got this gem.

8:57 pm

Daniel cried for a long time, so I had to have Josh repeat to me anything the doctor said because I couldn’t hear him over the baby. He eventually settled and even started rooting to feed. It was difficult to do while flat on my back, but once the doctor finished his stiches, and I got to sit up, it was much easier to.

The nurses brought me juice and crackers which Josh fed to me while I held Daniel. It was a very pleasant Golden Hour!

After the hour, Josh watched Daniel get weighed and cleaned while Kia took me to the bathroom to try to pee. They want you to pee before you move to a recovery room, and I thought it would be easy but ended up sitting in the bathroom for a while. I eventually found the motivation to go after she mentioned I’d have to get a catheter if I didn’t go on my own soon.

Daniel got his first bath, wrapped in blankets, and then Josh got to hold him. And we finally got around to telling friends and family that not only were we at the hospital, but also I had the baby.

Like last time, everyone at Northside was extremely nice to us during out stay, and I even had a nurse find a sandwich for me at 4 am that first night. My doctor visited me the next morning, and after hearing how quickly everything went, I joked with her that I tried to wait for her but couldn’t.

Thankfully Daniel didn’t have jaundice like Caleb did, so we got to go home around lunch on Tuesday and introduced our boys to each other to settle in as a family of four.

Recap of my Second Pregnancy

In typical second child fashion, this kid gets a blog post 6+ weeks after he’s already born when I blogged weekly during my pregnancy for his brother. Oh well!

The biggest difference in the first versus the second pregnancy is that it is impossible to compare your childfree life to your life with a child. They aren’t even in the same universe.

And because of that, some things for Daniel’s pregnancy felt much harder.

Nausea feels worse when you have a toddler who wants to run and play rather than lay on the couch, and breast sensitivity is more noticeable when your toddler uses you as a jungle gym. I also don’t recommend being in your 3rd trimester of pregnancy during an Atlanta summer.

But there were some things that were much better!

The biggest thing was I didn’t have debilitating SI pain this go-round. I even ran up until 33 weeks! Peachtree was my main motivation to keep running / run-walking, and I even ran-walked it 4 minutes faster than with Caleb even though I was 8 weeks more pregnant. Granted, I lost all motivation to exercise after that, but I was still impressed with myself!

I also didn’t get high blood pressure near the end this time, so there was no added stress in worrying about induction, and I was Group B Strep negative, so I wouldn’t have to be on IV antibiotics during labor.

And some things were very much the same, and I was very much ready to be done being pregnant at the end. I think that’s universal, though.