All I wanted for my labor and delivery for my second kid was that it be at least slightly easier than what I went through with Paul, which was very drawn-out, uncomfortable and scary. Things were looking pretty good since my second pregnancy went a week longer than with Paul, but when I woke up Friday morning I just had a feeling I'd get induced that day. The week before the doctor expressed concern over my blood pressure so between my actual blood pressure and knowing that it was possible/likely that I might get sent to have the baby early, it was probably higher due to anxiety. Steve, Paul and I had a really nice morning together: we all slept pretty well and Paul was in a great mood due to it being Nutella Friday (which I think is self-explanatory) and that he got to play with his current prized possession: his own umbrella.

A photo posted by Claire Zulkey (@klarzulk) on

I knew that the cutoff for normal blood pressure was considered 140/90 and that was exactly what mine read at the doctor's. I tried to settle down in time for my second reading and was able to will it all the way down to 140/80. Not good enough: my OB sent me to triage for "monitoring," which, last time, led to four nights in the hospital (and a baby.)

17174346184_2a5d5f0912_k.jpgUnlike last time, I didn't hurry right over to the hospital. Something that tortured me when I had Paul was that I didn't eat anything real for about 48 hours before he was born and if I had anything to say about that I wasn't going to make that mistake this time. I moved the car over to the hospital (a full block) and then treated myself to veggie sushi and pineapple from the cafeteria and then bought a bunch of magazine at the gift shop (including the National Enquirer, which is to tabloids what People is to celebrity gossip magazines: the most credible.) I was not going to go into the hospital with an empty stomach and no reading material.

I was admitted to a windowless room in triage around noon to have my blood pressure monitored. Steve came by around 2, but he was going to leave around 3:30 to go to a shoot. Right at 3:30 my OB called to tell me, like last time, that while my blood pressure didn't mean I had preeclampsia, it was still high enough and I was far along enough that they were going to induce me. Also like last time my cervix was all closed up like an angry clam so they were going to do cervical ripening with a balloon, which can take six to 12 hours. Great. The nurse observed that my blood pressure spiked after getting this news.

17610586939_afbefbd6a1_b.jpgLike last time, things started with a very long wait. Before I even got to labor and delivery we had to wait for about five more hours before we left the tiny windowless room, time enough for me to cram down the secret hummus and pretzels and rice krispie treat I had in my bag, and then a secret sandwich Steve brought me, and also to watch an episode of Inside Edition, Forensic Files and to watch like three Modern Families.

 Finally at about 9:30 PM I got taken up to labor and delivery and was taken up in a wheelchair which made my blood pressure spike again because being taken somewhere in a wheelchair is scary.

 It was time to get a cervical check and the balloon put in and like last time I was terrified, because those two things signaled the start of lots of unpleasantness. However, unlike last time this particular medical resident gave me a comparatively gentle cervical check (although I was still closed up). I was told a.) I wouldn't have to take magnesium, the high-blood-pressure-induced-seizure-preventing drug that made me feel so awful last time, and b.) I could get Dilaudid, a painkiller before the balloon got put in. I don't remember Dilaudid from last time--maybe I couldn't have it because of the magnesium or I didn't think to ask for it, but this was the second pleasant surprise after the gentle exam. "This drug will make you feel like you took five shots," the nurse told me (PS unlike last time I brought treats for each day I was in the hospital because nurses are the best people). I'm glad taking five shots doesn't feel like Dilaudid does because if it did I'd be drunk all the time. I just felt happy and loose and things didn't hurt that much. It was around 11 PM by this point (my original OB appointment was at 10 AM) and I had six hours until we checked the balloon. For awhile I chatted with my friends online, ate jello, drank ginger ale, and then I tried to sleep.

I didn't sleep so great because I was excited/scared and it was a hospital and I was 9 months pregnant but I wasn't that upset about that. I was annoyed that like last time, the balloon hadn't sufficiently dilated me so at 5 AM I was told I'd have the balloon in for six more hours, so that sucked, especially because the balloon was causing cramps that felt like a cement brick was growing in my belly (but I got another dose of Dilaudid and that helped.) But then the doctor checked me a little early and unlike last time I had actually progressed up to 6 cm, so she took the balloon out and started me on the pitocin. Unlike last time I opted not to get my epidural before this all went down and they broke my water. Getting the water broken was kind of uncomfortable but it wasn't that bad. Steve and I were laughing about how I basically just got poked with a long stick to get the bag broken. Very scientific.

17609050688_eec05a6a3b_k.jpg"I would get the epidural now," advised my OB (and if you want to know her name it's Anita Levin and I like her very much: she's a straight-talker, slightly little sarcastic, kind and encouraging without being a b.s.-er.) and I listened to her. The last time I got my epidural the numbing shot hurt a lot more than I thought so I was terrified this time around and basically forced the attending nurse and anesthesiologist to hold my hands and give me small talk to distract me and in the end that shot wasn't as bad as I remembered. It's still not fun but it was no worse than getting the IV put in my hand in triage. So by around 10:30 AM my balloon was out, the pitocin was going, the epidural was in, and all we needed to do was chill until I was dilated enough to push.

And we pretty much just waited during this time. We watched a few episodes of Friends on Netflix, we watched the movie Limitless on TV, I sat up to try to dilate more and tried to doze a bit. Dr. Levin came by to chat around 3, just hanging out. Unlike last time, maybe because things moved faster or because I wasn't on the debilitating magnesium, my contractions never felt that bad through the epidural. I felt an occasional throb that moved from my abdomen more towards the back, and used the push button to increase my dosage, but if I hadn't had that push button, I could have lived. Also unlike last time I didn't develop a fever, and unlike last time I didn't upset Steve by how in pain and tortured I seemed.

Dr. Levin checked me and told me we'd be ready to go at about 3:30 PM (A total time of about five hours to finishing dilating compared to 15 last time). I got nervous again because I remembered how difficult pushing was with Paul. Dr. Levin and the nurse refreshed the pushing directions and I had Steve find something suitably dumb to put on the TV for distraction (I had made and brought a labor playlist but it seemed too silly at the time to put it on, especially because I didn't want to bump loud music while my doctor was trying to tell me important stuff.) The last time I pushed I went for 45 minutes which seemed remarkably short, especially given how tired I had been on the magnesium. Also the last time I pushed there were like 12 people in the room because I had a fever towards the end of my labor and had to be put on antibiotics so the pediatrics team was on-hand to make sure everything was good with Paul. In this case there were just three medical professionals in the room. I began pushing at 3:30 and at 3:36, after exactly four pushes, James made his appearance. Afterwards, I noticed I had some purple splotches on my face, probably from the exertion, but they were well worth it (and they seem to have gone away already.)

Like last time Steve looked at the baby and looked at me with an expression on his face I hope I never forget: amazement and delight and relief and exhilaration and love, and unlike last time I was energized and cognizant and appreciative enough to feel the same way. We did it! We all made it.

17162993313_ee5903f64e_b.jpgJames came out very cranky because, we have learned, his biggest turnoff is being naked and not-held. Once they put him on me he calmed right down. He was covered in dark hair all over and of course lots of birthing gunk so it was hard to tell how cute he was but he immediately took to the bottle Steve gave him so we had a feeling we liked him right away. He smelled like a little buttered bun.

Unlike last time, the stitches weren't that bad. I had repeatedly told Dr. Levin how unpleasant the sewing-up process was last time so she slyly told me to give my epidural button a little push right before she began. I still wouldn't say it was a walk in the park but it definitely felt less, um, specific than it did last time. We then got wheeled down to our new room and this time I didn't feel scared. I wanted to see people in the hall so I could show off our tiny new baby.

17783718501_842a45c5b4_k.jpgWe sent James to the nursery for the night and I slept harder than I had in weeks, maybe months, and so Sunday we just enjoyed our time alone with our soft orange snuggly new guy. My parents came to visit with Paul and it was just great: he was happy, slightly interested in James but not in-his-face or jealous (possibly because my parents spoiled him completely rotten while they had him for the weekend.) All he mainly wanted to do was eat jell-o with his hands and then go to the playground.

17610609999_dc5f50076c_k.jpgIn the end, the process was so much easier, faster and less-scary than the first time and it almost makes me wonder how a third would be, because if I had the whole experience again but just without the anxiety, it would have been even better. I marveled at how much better I feel this time around--largely because I'm not on magnesium but just happier in general. We feel more confident with this baby, I feel more affectionate (his cheeks are so velvety! He looks like one of those baby-Muppets [not a Muppet baby] His tiny noises are so tiny!), and I'm so glad to not be pregnant. I know it will be a different story when we go home and we have a lot of hurdles to face in terms of balancing the new family but the experience of starting this kid's life without a lot of fear or anxiety is a pretty sweet beginning. 

(I had Steve read this over and he also wants me to make sure you know that the day after we had James, we watched the Nicolas Cage movie Next as well.)