Baby Jojo has been a long time coming- 3 years in the making, because I was determined to not have an only child. Our options were two or none… since Peatuk was born, we were biding our time for the perfect opportunity to add on to our family. The perfect time to expand pretty much never exists. Well, maybe it does for people who are far richer than we are, but for middle class (Are we middle class? Not by American standards, but surely by Bulgarian standards?) parents, building a baby is always a leap of faith.
Then came the 9 months of pregnancy. My mother says that she always loved being pregnant, and that if pregnancy did not result in more kids, then she would choose to be pregnant all of the time. I think my mother is completely insane. Pregnancy, for me, hovers just beyond the final circle of hell. Physically, this pregnancy was not so bad. Sure, there was morning sickness for the first four months, and for the last month there was the inability to sleep due to hip pain (and a clingy toddler). There was even quite a bit of heartburn, which was new for me. But in general, I think I handled the physical pregnancy better than my first. It was the emotional aspect that got me. I had some significant anxiety this pregnancy. It got to the point that some days I was unable to leave the house. Definitely unable to ride in cars, talk on phones, or think about finances. The anxiety made me short… irritable… ANGRY. This was not particularly good for the two men in my life, and our family has been stressed due to my anxiety.
BUT the thing about being pregnant is that I knew it would end, and in the end I would get to meet our daughter. I just had one final hurdle to get over: childbirth.
I had all kinds of mixed feelings about childbirth. Just waiting to go into labor naturally can be downright nerve-wracking. As the due date approaches, I started to wonder if every little thing was a sign of labor. Would I know when I was in labor? Would my labor be as fast as my first, and would I have time to get to the hospital? Would a spontaneous labor be as painful as my induction was?
Then there was the social mom-guilt that constantly lurks, whispering in my brain, “Go all natural. Show you are a real woman and don’t get an epidural.” I know that is complete bullshit, but I still feel the pressure. Of course, my opinion on pain management during labor has changed since my first birth. With Peatuk, my thought was, “I don’t want an epidural, but if I absolutely need one, the option is there.” With Jojo, it went more along the lines of, “I am curious to see if my contractions are less painful this time than they were last time, but if they are anywhere near like they were last time, then I am getting the epidural happily and ASAP.”
All of that weighing on my mind- the family transitions, the pregnancy anxiety, the excitement of the approaching due date, the mom-guilt- I was ready for pregnancy to be over. My due date was January 18, but I thought it would be appropriate for a girl like me to go into labor on Thursday, the 12th, which was a full moon, and have the baby on Friday the 13th. It fit my romantic side. When Nikola and I started dating, we didn’t count months that passed, but rather measured our relationship by the full moon. Just this Christmas, I got him a little reminder of our relationship stating that we had been together for 54 moons. This moon would be 55.
I was disappointed when I went to my appointment on Thursday and my OB told me that I was just a fingertip dilated and my uterus was still quite high. She did not think I would go over my due date, but it would probably be closer to my due date. Oh well, romance can’t control everything. Or can it?
I had light cramping all day, which is normal after a cervical check. I tried not to get excited about it. It was probably nothing. But at 2 in the morning I had a more significant cramping that was definitely tied to a tightening uterus. I started timing my contractions. The first five came in at 10 min, 8 min, 7 min, 8 min, and 6 min. Rather irregular, but they were obviously getting closer together. And STRONGER. Just before 3am I woke up Nikola to tell him that I might be in labor. We decided to watch a TV show and keep timing my contractions to see if I progressed. Well, 10 minutes later the contractions were 4-5 minutes apart and I could barely stand through them, so we decided to go to the hospital.
On my way to the hospital I vacillated between thinking I was ridiculous, that it wasn’t labor and we should just turn around and go home and thinking that I was certain to die and we couldn’t get to the hospital soon enough. I hate that feeling- the feeling that I cannot trust my instincts or my body because I do not want to be seen as a hysterical woman. Surely my contractions weren’t that bad. I already know I have a low pain tolerance, maybe it was false labor.
We got to the hospital and all of the gates were locked for the evening. We rang the bell for the night porter and… nothing happened. We rang again. And again. We called the hospital. They said the night porter should be there. We waited. Nothing happened. We called again. A nurse came down and tried to open the door, but she did not have the keys. She went back up. Nothing happened. We called again and FINALLY the night porter came to open the door for us. This was about 15-20 minutes, but when it is the middle of winter and you are having contractions 2-3 minutes apart that feel like they are ripping apart your insides, that can feel like a lifetime. I will say I was less than pleasant to the porter as we hurried into the building.
Then came check-in. I had to lay down while they checked my dilation (4 cm), drew blood, took an ekg, did an allergy test, set a hep lock. Throughout the whole thing they were asking questions to confirm my paperwork, insurance, address, due date etc. And throughout the whole thing I was swearing up a storm. Okay, not a storm, but “Fuck” was dropped repeatedly, and I felt slightly bad every time. Improper, or some such. Then came the signatures. Papers and papers. Digital fingerprints for the electronic copies. The last one to sign… an agreement to pay for the epidural and acknowledgement of risk. Then, FINALLY, we were off to set the epidural.
This epidural was easier than my first. My contractions were still 3-5 minutes apart, not right on top of each other, so I only had three or so contractions the entire process. Then they had issues pushing the medicine and then… finally… bliss. They went a little higher at first, and it made me tingly in my toes and I could no longer feel my contractions at all. (Usually they keep it low enough so that a woman can feel the contractions but is not bothered by them). This caused my contractions to slow so I was put on an oxytocin drip. Luckily, at that point, I could not feel the dreaded oxytocin contractions that pregnant women fear. I had a casual conversation with my midwife about the differences in American and Bulgarian birth culture and why we were raising our kids in Bulgaria. I could have dozed a bit. The contractions sped back up and my epidural began to wear off.
By 6am I could start to feel my contractions again and I was 8-9 cm. My midwife told me to let her know when I felt the need to poop, as that was a sign that I would push soon. It was all very calm and serene. Last time, I was so anxious to feel the need to push, afraid I would be late and somehow miss it, that I started pushing too early and ended up pushing for an hour. This time, I informed my midwife that I could feel my contractions lower and I had a slight feeling of pressure, but nothing strong. We decided to wait for it to grow stronger. When it did, my OB and midwife helped me walk to the delivery room. My uterus was still high, so my OB had me push through a few contractions standing up. The baby immediately dropped and I walked bow-legged to the birth table, amazed that I could feel her head so low inside me. I pushed through 4-5 more contractions. 3-4 pushes each contraction. My pushing was much more effective this time. It was nearly silent, with some grunting but no screaming, and with each push I could feel the baby moving out. I was not exhausted or weak. I didn’t think “I can’t do this.” I felt confident.
At 6:40, baby Jojo popped out and they laid her on my tummy for a few minutes while they cut the cord and cleaned things up. She was absolutely beautiful, and I couldn’t stop staring. That overwhelming feeling of love and admiration and awe that I had been too exhausted to feel during my first birth was there. I felt euphoric.
Since then, me, Jojo, and Nikola have been hanging out in the hospital, working on breastfeeding and getting to know each other. My recovery is going much better than it did with Peatuk. I am feeling fresh, energetic, and not nearly as sore as before. I can’t wait to take this little darling home and introduce her to her big brother, our new apartment, and life in the Antares clan.
Jojo-Antares Nikolova Nikolova
Born: 6:40 am January 13, 2017
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