No nap yesterday. Today, she is napping. But in between times: dropping her toothbrush down the heat vent, then having a cow about her favorite toothbrush being gone. Throwing sand at the park, then throwing more sand after I said we’d leave if she threw more sand, then throwing tons and tons of sand while I strapped Iris into the baby carrier to leave. Putting rocks in her mouth and refusing to spit them out. Putting xylophone mallets in her mouth and refusing to take them out. Throwing sand in the sandbox at home, then having a fit as I made her leave the sandbox. Dawdling, to the point where I wonder if she can even hear me sometimes. Inventing a reason to have a tantrum every time Iris cries. After I say “I love you,” looking right into my face and saying “NO.”

Yesterday afternoon, with Ingrid upstairs in her crib during the much less charming third round of the no nap fiasco, I called A at work and said, with a level of irrationality I hadn’t mustered since I was 13 and quarrelling with my mom, She is doing these things just to make me mad. She is being a bitch on purpose.

For so much of her life, she has been so ... pleasant. I know this list of toddler shenanigans probably looks typical, even funny. I bet it will look hilarious to me eventually—maybe even in a few hours. But when I’m in it I am one humorless bitch. I am so mad and frustrated, and I yell (A insists it doesn’t qualify as yelling, but it is a louder and meaner voice than I’ve ever used with her before, and I hate it) and then I feel terrible for chipping away at her trust at a time when she needs me to be calm and stable, and she seems so far away, I feel like I’ve lost her.

Whenever I sniffle, It will never be the same, A reminds me that there are good moments. There are still times when I connect with her, hours (well, maybe half-hours) when she’s not crying or whining. Sweet times for all four of us. It’s true. But damn. Damn. Damn. Damn. The other times. The damn other times. Are killing me. Killing us.

Have I mentioned there is a baby in the house? Named Iris? She is a redhead, and she pees almost every time I take her diaper off, and last night she had her first ever really fussy evening of wanting to nurse for, like three hours straight, and she is juuuust starting to look a little bit like she knows what’s going on—this morning she gave me what might have been a tiny, tiny smile. (There: Who says the first child gets all the attention?)


Hoping it ain't so.

I put Ingrid down for her nap a little later than usual, and she's been talking and singing to herself in her crib for over 45 minutes. A few minutes ago she called for me to come up there. I did, thinking she might need a diaper change, and the girl is completely, perkily wide awake. She made all the usual requests one might expect of a 27 month old, like, you know, could she nurse a little bit and could I please count to five in Nepali? I'm insisting that she stay in the crib, but she shows no sign of getting sleepy.

I don't know what's up, but I'm sure hoping this is not the end of the napping era. No one ever goes cold turkey from two-hour nap to no nap, right?



Q: What do parenting a newborn and reading Rumi have in common?
A: They both go better if you don’t think about them too much.

People say, Enjoy your baby, and This is such a special time—you and your baby are getting to know each other. And, when I have time to think about these things* I get all worried. I love to stare at Iris’s little face, and think of ways to describe the color of her eyes, and smell her hair, and snuggle with her and look at her tiny, tiny toes, but do I do it enough? Am I really looking at her? Am I actually getting to know her or am I just carting her around all day? I nurse her and rock her and take care of her but am I doing this too mechanically? Where is my soul? Does this feel as great as it sounds like it’s supposed to? Is this it, or am I doing something wrong?

Yesterday I found myself looping through those thoughts and starting to feel sort of inadequate and lost, and I realized this was a familiar feeling.

In college I took a course called “Poetics of Enlightenment,” where we read mystical poetry from a bunch of different religious traditions. Most of the students in the class were goatee-ed young men, many of whom, for no reason I’ve been able to tell, often wore long, black knit scarves, even inside the overheated classroom. It was a seminar style class, and these guys would wind their scarves around their necks and stroke their beards and talk and talk and talk about the poems we’d read.

To this day I don’t really know what they were saying, but they always seemed to convey that the poems under discussion were So Deeply Important, that there was Something To Them. And I’d sit there thinking What am I missing? I liked reading this. It even seemed mysterious and beautiful. But I didn’t detect anything as deep and important as these guys seem to be talking about. What am I doing wrong? As the course went on, I became less and less able to enjoy reading any of it, and I dreaded sitting in that classroom looking at the Looks of Importance and hearing those guys talk.

In the years since then, I’ve happened across a lot of those poems again, and away from the silly-yet-intimidating goatee men, they are different creatures entirely. Some have become personally important, helped me see things I needed to see at just the right time. I’m convinced that the biggest difference between reading them in college and later on was that the second time I wasn’t worrying whether I was doing it right. I was just reading.

The awful seminar feeling was so similar to the enjoy your baby worries that I’m pretty sure the solution is the same. Don’t worry about matching up my insides to anyone elses mystical mothering memories. If anything mystical is going to happen, it’s not going to happen while I’m squinching up my face trying to see it. Just change the diapers. Just give the milk. Just hold the baby.

* i.e. when I’m not at the playground, simultaneously neglecting Iris, disappointing Ingrid, failing to hold up a conversation with a play group acquaintance, and leaking milk all over my shirt.


Tantrums I Witnessed This Morning

Sumpeen’s Wrong Wif Your* Diaper
Want Some Fishy Crackers**
Want Some Fishy Crackers (library remix)
Want Some Fishy Crackers (library parking lot remix)
Want Some Fishy Crackers (back seat remix)
Mama Hold You*
Don’t Want to Take a Nap
Want To Sleep in the Bathroom Sink
Want to Wear PJs
Not That Book

* The pronouns, they are not always right.

** I don’t even really consider fishy crackers a food. (I mean, why are they so orange?) We had a bag of them in the house for about a week when the grandmas were around, and something reminded Ingrid of it this morning. Jeez.


When it Rains

A and I are members of a CSA. Once a week we pick up a box of veggies from the nearest drop point—the garage of a family in our neighborhood, a place Ingrid has come to know as “the vegetable garage.”

The food from this farm has been a highlight of our summer. Unloading the box and checking out the sight and smell of all that ripe, perfect stuff straight from the earth never fails to make me feel wealthy as can be. Last week’s box held, among other things, an armload of sweet corn, a pile of perfect purple eggplants, a big fistful of basil, four fat heirloom tomatoes, and a bunch of something called red Aztec spinach.

We divide our produce share with our friends Chris and Jo, and they come over every week on “veggie day” to split up the bounty and cook and eat together. This year we’ve barbecued zucchini and peppers, rolled nori with fresh radishes and cucumbers, gorged on sweet, ripe melons, and even figured out how to eat burdock and black radishes.

Our weekly dinners at the picnic table out back do more than keep us well fed; the basic ritual of sharing dinner builds a really wonderful sense of community—not just with our friends (who, incidentally, have started to feel more and more like family lately), but with the people who plant, cultivate, and harvest the food we eat. We haven't met them, but we read the notes they send with the produce each week, and, almost every time, our dinner conversation turns, at some point, to exuberant praise of this farm: the great, quality stuff they grow, the terrific ideas they send along on how to cook and eat it.

Part of the point of CSAs is that members share in hardships the farm faces as well as successful harvests. And, sadly, this week we're learning what that means, too.

This past weekend, the farm was hit with 12 inches of rain in a 24-hour period, for a total of over 17 inches (and counting) in the past week. Even to someone as isolated from the real effects of weather as I am, this sounds like bad news, and it is. The farm straddles the Bad Axe River, which is currently so full and swift it's unsafe to cross, so they haven’t been able to assess all the damage yet, but already it appears that over a third of the crops are a complete loss, and the flood has washed away topsoil, taken down trees, and destroyed the erosion control measures they’d put in place over the past year.

The flooding has been headline news all over the place, and the affected area is not far from us at all, but for me it took this connection to turn background radio noise—flooding blah blah blah farms blah state of emergency—into a sock in the gut: not our farm!

It's distressing. The loss of our source of beets and brassicas (whatever those are) for the fall is the least of it. The people who grow our food, right now, are trying to figure out how to out how to access and harvest what's still salvageable. They're scraping to pay a large work crew that suddenly doesn't have much to do. And they're eyeing an upstream dam that's in danger of bursting and causing even more damage. Some of the work crew will likely lose their jobs. The crew and owners alike will feel the financial impact of this for a long, long time.

As often happens when things go very wrong, I feel helpless. I doubt that the pennies I could contribute would bring measurable relief to the financial strain this business is facing. I'm glad we're members; in theory, the subscription payment we've committed for the year will help ease the burden; we'll share the loss by receiving lighter boxes in the months to come. But it won't begin to cover it all; much of it, I think, is associated with the farm's sizeable commercial business (they sell to food co-ops and local restaurants).

A small consolation, one that's easy to crow about from inside our dry, intact home, is that at least we are close enough to our food source to feel this. At least we've got the opportunity to know where our produce comes from, who grows it, and what they're up against this week. And maybe, as we hear more from them in the days to come, it will become clear how we can be more than sorrier-than-average bystanders to this mess.


Unforeseen benefits of nursing a toddler through and beyond pregnancy:

Instant milk. My milk came in within 18 hours after Iris was born. And I bet this contributed to keeping jaundice at bay. I'm not positive that the extended nursing caused this, but it sure came in more quickly than it did with Ingrid.

No sore nipples. Maybe I should have guessed that compared with a fully-toothed two year old, even a vigorous newborn's suckle would feel dainty and painless.

Convenient breast pump. Ok, that's crass. But in those first days when I was so engorged Iris could barely latch on? Ingrid could have a little "snack" and take care of the problem, even in a power outage.

See friends' jaws drop. My friend Kelly came for a visit about a week ago. A had told her something on the phone about Ingrid being jealous about the nursing. Kelly said something like, You haven't been nursing her all the way through pregnancy, have you? Like she must have heard wrong. Hee hee.

Connection. Ingrid's and my relationship feels interrupted in a major way. I've been away from her, distracted from her, more than ever. It's great to have this point of connection in our day. Naptime and bedtime, she knows, always include "special nursing time." I know that if she were already weaned, we'd have found some other way to connect, but it's really, really nice to have this concrete, physical part of our routine still in place.

Sense of kinship with our barnyard friends. Where you live, is there a fair in the fall? Is there usually a big mama pig there, with, like ten piglets piling on each other and rooting and sucking and tugging all at once? Yeah. It can be kind of entertaining.

Wait. Nursing both at once? Remember when I said I was going to be all tough about restricting Ingrid's nursing to before bed? Well. I've mostly done that. But I decided that denying her a little taste of milk when she asks for it would just add to her sense of displacement and upheaval. Once or twice a day, she asks to nurse while Iris is nursing. I always say yes, and about half the time she loses interest before I've even got my bra open. The rest of the time we have a festive little piglet pile style nursing fest for about half a minute before Ingrid loses interest and moves on to something more fun, like unrolling all the toilet paper in the bathroom.


Things I said to my daughter yesterday in a grumpy and somewhat loud voice:

I am making you a sandwich. This is a sandwich. I AM MAKING YOU A SANDWICH RIGHT NOW.

Don't open that drawer—you'll knock over the water glass. Don't. No. No. NO. NO!

It is not time to run around "with naked on." It is time. To. Eat. Dinner.

Listen to me, Ingrid. LISTEN.

These are not the worst things I could have said. I know, because the worst things I could have said were right there in my head, next in line. But really, my usual discipline style is somewhat more conversational.

I think it's fair to say we are all a little strung out. She is having a hard time, what with the rearrangement of her entire world and all. And I, despite a 9:00 bedtime and almost daily hour-long nap, am just a tad tired. And we are just not connecting with each other in the way we used to. Which is to say, the stuff I used to say to her often has no effect. Gah. Am going to have to learn to take even more deep breaths.


Back to Life

A just got back from driving my parents to the airport. My mom had been here three weeks, my dad four days.

We are going to miss the 2:1 adult/child ratio. A lot. While they were here, we ate real dinners and real breakfasts and real lunches every single day. Things stayed clean. Plants stayed watered. Increasingly needy two-year-olds and seemingly mellow newborns alike had their needs and more met without interruption. I even got to take a couple of baths per day.

Many times over the past few days, I've thought Now, how would this be going if it were only A and I here? Or if it were only me? and not had a really good answer. I guess we're about to find out. It's been a couple of hours, and so far the house hasn't exploded. (One or both kids have been sleeping the whole time, though.)

Fortunately, we've got a lot of stuff planned for the next several days: Dinner with a friend, a two-day trip to A's mom's place, and (heh) a wedding on Sunday afternoon. So at least we won't have a ton of time to sit around and think about what a mess we've gotten ourselves into. I even think it's a bit of a relief to have the house a little emptier and Ingrid (I hope) a little less hyped up than she was with all the grandparents in attendance.


First Impressions

Iris was born wriggling. I could feel her swim out of me like some marine creature, and, as if to participate intentionally in that metaphor, as soon as A had cut the cord the doctor lobbed her up my way—she must have lost her grip—and she landed in the curve of my body, landed like a slippery fish on deck.

Iris was born crying and cried until she was good and ready to stop—a good 20 minutes, first curled up next to me and then in A’s arms. A mad cry, but not out of control. A cry that seemed to say Give me a few minutes to get used to this.

She was born sucking. Between cries, big, slurping sucks on the back of her hand, on whichever fingers got caught up in it. On her own lips. I remembered the ultrasound at 20 weeks where we saw her making sucking and swallowing motions inside me. She’d been practicing, and she was good at it.

She seems, in some ways, so self-sufficient, my little wiggling crying Iris. Surprisingly often, she calms herself down from crying. She chokes when the milk comes too fast, but recovers without spitting up, without much fuss. She startles when there are loud noises, but it doesn’t usually send her into a fit; she just fusses herself back down. She seems to have a calm center. She has those big, dark eyes. She wakes up and looks at things and looks and looks before she grunts and squawks and, maybe, eventually, cries.

I’ve made myself write this without comparisons, without saying, She’s so different from Ingrid. Ingrid stopped crying as soon as I held her. From day one she was a fountain of spitup and would accept no substitute for the breast. She seemed fragile, gentle, disorganized, in need of a shell.

It seems more natural to put it that way, but I’m leery of comparisons. Who wants to always be compared to her sister? I bet that, especially with same-gender kids, especially with sisters, this is going to be an important part of my job for a long time, to keep from seeing one in terms of the other.

On the other hand, without the contrast, I might not even see these things about Iris. When Ingrid was tiny, I remember being surprised at how easily other moms seemed to be able to describe their infants’ personalities. He’s very persistent, someone would say. What’s Ingrid like? And I’d be like, She, um? Likes milk?

So it’s a gift of being child number two, I bet. To be seen just a little more clearly, through somewhat less bewildered eyes.


The View from Day 5

I keep hoping I’ll have time to write something more than stream-of-consciousness blather, but that’s not looking likely, so here’s the best I’ve got.

Iris is lovely. She has a round face, fine little features. Eyes that I think will turn brown like her daddy’s, and hair that hopeful relatives and unbiased strangers alike have called “red.” I love that her coloring, at least, seems so different from Ingrid’s light, light hair and blue eyes. Baby pictures of Ingrid look strikingly like her (to the point where they’re hard to tell apart), but to me, in person, Iris looks utterly different from Ingrid then or now, and really not like anyone else I can name either.

So far she is rarely fussy, and even when hungry, just lets us know with a squawk or two. She doesn’t seem at all to be the zero-to-wailing-in-one-second type. For which I am so grateful. Also grateful that she is sometimes totally happy to suck on her hand. And that so far she hasn’t spit up more than a half teaspoon at a time.

And plus, it is such a privilege to have a newborn. I’d forgotten. It’s so amazing to be able (when there’s time) to sit and hold her and know we’re together for the long haul and not have to hand her back to anyone.

Ingrid is having a rough time. She’s got the world’s shortest fuse right now and the tiniest spill or frustrating incident sends her into complete teary whininess. It is one part exhausting, two parts heartbreaking. She has a new really sad crying face that I haven’t seen before, and it kills me. KILLS ME. I saw it first the first afternoon we were home with Iris. Iris started fussing a little, and Ingrid came undone to see and hear it, hiding her face behind her hands and cowering toward A, away from me and the baby. Worried and sad and miserable looking.

At the same time, she is still very sweet with Iris. Gentle. Kisses her. Wants to hold her, and grins hugely when she’s got her on her lap. And she doesn’t exactly seem jealous. She’s objected to my nursing Iris a few times, but more often asks me to pick the baby up than to put her down.

She may, more than anything, be reacting to the unprecedented 48 hours she spent away from A and me while we were at the hospital. We talked a lot beforehand about what would happen, and she was with her beloved grandmas and had a great time, but she is sort of acting like she’s afraid we’ll leave again. And, on top of that, everything is suddenly different in a confusing, unclear way. Mama can’t lift her into the crib (I’d forgotten to get us read for that). Daddy’s home all the time. Everyone’s attention is divided in a new way. She must have a lot of scary theories as to what will happen next, and I wish I knew enough about what those are to be able to reassure her.

Really, I’m right there with her. Undone by sound of crying baby? Check. Not sure what’s going to happen next? Check. Crazy about the baby, but kinda miss the way things used to be? Check and check. I just wish there were three of me: One to sit and snuggle all day with gorgeous, soft Iris. One to chase my giant, brilliant, grown up Ingrid around the park. And one to curl up in bed and look out at the leaves and cry just a little and then drift off into uninterrupted sleep.




Born yesterday, August 4, the first cool, rainy day here in weeks, after 10 hours of labor and 10 minutes of pushing. She is healthy and strong and doing great. She weighs 9 pounds, 2 ounces, exactly the same as Ingrid weighed. She has a spectacular face and longish gold-brown hair. She seems to be an awesome nurser and (even better) loves to suck on her hand.

We'll likely go home from the hospital tomorrow, barring any jaundice issues. The grandmas brought Ingrid here for a visit this morning and she was utterly interested and sweet: She touched her hand and said Iris has a pinky finger just like Ingrid's. She kissed her on the tummy and said I love Iris.

And time will tell, but for now I'm shocked at the extent to which I feel like I sort of know what I'm doing. I mean, I can nurse and eat pizza at the same time! And in general both my butt and my nerves are feeling far less raw than in the hours after Ingrid was born. We just passed Iris's 24-hour birthday, and it made me a little weepy. To be expected, I'm sure.

Thanks for all your good wishes for this baby's arrival. Things are sweet for now.


Iris's Birth

It started when I woke up that morning, about 7:15: contractions. I felt one, then another, then another, then turned over so I could see the clock and tell that they were pretty regularly around four minutes apart, though pretty short and not very painful. I’d been fooled the day before by an hour of that same thing, so didn’t let myself get too excited, but lay there for about a half hour before getting up and going downstairs.

It was a Saturday. Mom and A and Ingrid were up already, playing on the floor in the living room and talking about going out for breakfast. I chatted with them for a while before mentioning, well, I’ve been having a few contractions. There was some excited twittering about whether we should still go for breakfast, and the two of them got all jumpy when they saw me rock back and forth through a few contractions. Mom said, “Let’s make breakfast here,” and she whipped around the kitchen making waffles and sausages while I played with Ingrid a little and kept paying attention. I wasn’t at all sure they were regular enough to be the real thing, but we were all kind of jittery anyway. I started the kettle to make myself a cup of tea. A asked, “Are you making raspberry leaf tea?” I said, “No way—this is black tea. I don’t want to have a caffeine withdrawal headache in labor!” I think that gave him confirmation that I thought this was probably the real thing.

But at times there seemed to be long gaps between contractions, and I was worried that things would fizzle out. I spent a lot of time trying to remember what it had been like last time: How far apart were the contractions? Were there gaps like this? After breakfast, when things seemed to be keeping up, I called our doula, R, to let her know something might be going on, and A called his mom to ask her to come down to take care of Ingrid (she lives about an hour away). He brought the phone out on the front porch to call her, and I remember calling to him, “Tell her that it might be a false alarm, but to come anyway!”

I went about my usual morning: Playing with Ingrid. Organizing a few things, packing a few things in my hospital bag. Sending a few e-mails, none of them acknowledging that something big might be going on. I called my friend E, whom I’d been wanting to talk to for days, and left her a message saying to call back to chat, that in the afternoon I’d either be at the hospital giving birth or at home discouraged by the lack of progress.

It was a special day, weather-wise. For weeks—almost all of July—it had been hot and humid, so hot we could barely go outside and I certainly couldn’t do much of the brisk walking I'd wanted to do to get labor going. But that day—eight days past my due date— it was cool, cool, cool, and by mid-morning it would be raining. It felt like a huge relief.

After A's mom arrived, A and I went out for a walk. I carried an umbrella. It was so pleasant out. Just a light rain, and flowers blooming and the sound of the rain and breeze in the leaves. I remember trying to breathe that all in, knowing the last half of the birth would be in the hospital, far away from those sensations. A timed the contractions, and we talked about easy, ordinary things, about Ingrid, about how glad we were it was cool and rainy. The contractions were strong enough to make me shift my walking rhythm just a little but not really slow me down. Moving seemed to make them shorter and closer together, by about half. I really wanted to keep aware of what was going on with my body rather than trying to block it all out, and I kept thinking of my uterus as a giant muscle, trying to think about how the feeling of a contraction was similar to, say, a bicep or tricep doing its work.

We stopped at the neighborhood coffee shop. We sat outside. In my shorts and tank top, I was, for the first time in weeks, almost too cold. Sitting still in the chair, the contractions got longer, but farther apart and a little weaker.

Before we headed home we wandered through a new gift shop next door to the coffee shop. It felt so strange to be in labor in that public space—like I should tell people about it. I contemplated buying a souvenir (!) but decided things were starting to move along enough that we should head home.

Walking home, the contractions were definitely stronger than they had been on the way out ... they slowed down my walking quite a bit and even made me catch my breath.

At home I settled into sitting on the living room floor next to the birth ball, sometimes just rocking through contractions and sometimes leaning my forehead against the ball to relax through them. It was coming up on Ingrid’s nap time, and I really wanted to be able to put her down for her nap “one last time” (despite disbelieving looks from everyone else in the house). When it was time I took her upstairs and we went through our whole usual routine: tooth brushing, reading stories, nursing, hugs and kisses. I felt incredibly sentimental about it: our last time doing this, just us. At the same time, the contractions were getting harder and harder. They did slow down while I was upstairs with her (mind over matter?), but as we were looking at a book together I had a pretty hard one and it took some work to stay quiet and relaxed through it. It was a deep, hard pain at that point. An ache.

I ate some noodles for lunch and then went back to having contractions on the floor with the birth ball. We called R a number of times through this, trying to figure out, first, was this really labor, and then, when should I go to the hospital. I’d tested positive for Strep B, so the doctor wanted me there four hours before the baby was born to get IV antibiotics. I didn’t want to end up being there too long and getting messed with. And I’d found out the doctor on call was not the one I trusted the most (I’d heard she could be a little jumpy with the medical interventions). Every time I talked to R, we decided to check in again in another 20 minutes or so. Then about an hour would go by before we remembered to call her again. The contractions were pretty hard—I couldn’t talk through them, and, even between contractions, wasn’t doing much other than relax and wait for the next one—but they weren’t yet a full minute long and weren’t a consistent distance apart, so I was kind of worried I wasn’t very far along.

My friend E ended up calling back as things were heating up. I wanted so much to be able to talk to her, and we chatted between contractions and I had to just be silent through them and finally hung up sort of abruptly. She said that I should send some of the contractions her way later, so she could take one or two for me if I needed a break.

Ingrid took a really short nap—only an hour. She seemed so cool with what was going on at the time, but looking back I can see she must have sensed the excitement and tension and couldn’t sleep that well. (And also, come on, Grandma and her dog were there, so who would want to nap?)

I think that after she woke up I spent about another hour in the living room. A's mom did an awesome job of keeping Ingrid busy and occupied. And clearly Ingrid noticed something was going on with Mama, but she didn’t seem worried. She’d come and talk to me between contractions, and then when another one came I’d say, “Mama needs to rest a little bit right now,” as I closed my eyes and leaned onto the birth ball, and Ingrid would go off with Grandma again. I’d been worried that having her in the house would be stressful or irritating, but it was completely the opposite. Hearing her voice in the other room as I was breathing through a contraction was really, really soothing, like its usual sweetness was magnified.

I called R again, and she seemed to think (probably because I was quite lucid and normal between contractions) that I still wasn’t very far along. She suggested I go for another walk to try to get things going. I said to her, “I don’t think I can go for a walk,” and Mom and A, listening to the conversation from the couch across the room, both shook their heads vigorously. “Everyone is saying no,” I relayed. Mom and A were starting to get antsy about getting me to the hospital, but I wanted to wait another 20 minutes and re-evaluate then.

Very soon after that phone call, the contractions got quite a bit harder. I felt uncomfortable, felt I needed to make more noise (I’d been keeping pretty much silent, for Ingrid’s sake), needed to pee, felt sort of nauseated. “Come upstairs with me,” I said to A just as a contraction ended, then I bolted up the stairs. I peed, then had a contraction that knocked my socks off, announced, “I’m going to throw up,” and threw up. A lot.

We called the doctor’s office to tell them we were on our way. I kept vomiting and trying to recover from the vomiting, and finally felt good enough to get myself down the stairs, giving instructions about what to put in the car, etc. all the way.

I still get all teary thinking of saying goodbye to Ingrid—who seemed preoccupied with Grandma and, looking back, was probably so nervous about what was going on that she was sort of ignoring it—I gave her a big hug, my big, grown up girl, and said in her ear, “Next time I see you you’ll be a big sister.”

In the car I reclined in the front seat, lying almost on my side. It felt good to lie down, like I could relax in a way I hadn’t been able to at home—and I was tired and damn uncomfortable. I’d described the contractions, a bit earlier, as “rude,” and they began to be more so.

I had a bunch of contractions as we walked through the hospital, mostly falling to my hands and knees to get through them. Someone I couldn’t see stopped and said, “Do you guys need some help?” Without looking up, I said, “No, we’re fine.” And we were. I was pretty lucid, thinking my way through contractions, and in between feeling pretty normal.

In the triage area they checked all manner of things and finally my cervix. With her hand inside me, the nurse said, “How do you like the number....six?” Six centimeters! I was thrilled. I hadn’t thought there was any way I’d be that far along yet, since things hadn’t gotten truly horrible. I remembered Ingrid’s birth, when I was admitted at six centimeters and was terrified that that was all the farther I was; I already felt like a wild animal at that point. But not this time. I put on a gown over my tank top and wrapped a drape around my bottom half to walk to the room where Iris would be born.

In the room I lay on the bed, on my side. I needed to have an IV, to get the antibiotics, and they put that in. It made me cold all over and made my arm ache. A remembered what it had felt like to have an IV as a kid and he brought me a warm washcloth to put on it. Which felt great, but the contractions were pretty harsh by then, and A had started pressing on my lower back (and R on my hip) through every single contraction, and soon I needed that much more than any relief for my arm. At one point A needed a break from doing the back pressure, and Mom did it instead. I remember saying “Push hard,” before realizing she was probably already pushing as hard as she could. I really needed super strong pressure, and apparently A was doing it in some pretty wacky positions because of the way the room was arranged—it ended up giving him a stiff neck for several days afterwards.

I had some nasty heartburn during that time, too, and I remember almost asking for some Tums before realizing it may look a little silly, me making a big deal about completely unmedicated childbirth and then asking for Tums to deal with a little heartburn. It’s funny how much it bugged me, though ... just that tiny bit of additional discomfort seemed like too much.

I lay on my side for a long time, and began to really concentrate on my breath. I remember that if I could get through eight deep breaths, then I could get to the point where the contraction was starting to ease off. I’d breathe and count and in between I was imagining floating up on a wave in the ocean, or picturing the muscle of my uterus working to open me up, picturing the baby I’d soon be holding.

The nurse was in and out of the room; the doctor came in to check on me, I think. This went on for a while and then R suggested I get up on my hands and knees and lean on the birth ball for a while. I did, and then needed to get up to pee. She suggested I hang out on the toilet for a while. I thought I’d try, but when I was standing up I realized there was no way I could get through a contraction without someone pressing on my back. So after I peed I scooted back to the bed to do another one on my hands and knees, and halfway through that contraction I knew I was about to puke. Which I announced to everyone, and a basin appeared in front of me, which I threw up into copiously.

In the middle of that the nurse came in to put the monitors back on me. After I mostly recovered from the vomiting, I lay back down again. I was still so aware in between contractions, I didn’t think I could be going through transition yet. The nurse started getting the supplies ready for the actual delivery—things for the baby, sutures, things to cut the cord with—and I joked, “Do you actually think I am going to have a baby?” It seemed very far off, but in reality it would only be a little longer before Iris was with us.

They ran the monitors for a while. R looked at the printout and said, “It looks like the baby is doing better.” It was news to me that she had been looking not so good (less reactive—not something to worry about, necessarily, but glad I didn’t know it while it was going on). The doctor came in and asked if I wanted her to check my cervix again, and I said no, I’d rather keep on going for a while longer.

She left the room, and almost immediately after that—maybe the next contraction—I started to feel like pushing—just kind of grunty at the top of the contraction. The next contraction after that I really felt like pushing, and said to R afterwards, “I really felt like pushing that time.” R was like, “Yeah, I could tell.” It seemed like it was immediately after that the nurse appeared again and checked me. As soon as she put her hand in, my water broke. It wasn’t during a contraction, so it felt very gentle—just a muffled pop, and then fluid running out of me. I said, “Oh! There’s something...” She pronounced me to be completely dilated, but the baby was still so high she needed to keep her hand inside me through a contraction to make sure the cord didn’t prolapse. She asked if it was feeling too awful for her to be doing that, and, weirdly, it wasn’t at all. It didn’t hurt, and it was actually kind of a fascinating sensation—to have my body open to the world that way. I pushed through a contraction with her hand inside me until the baby moved down far enough, and then the doctor reappeared.

Pushing was harder than I remembered. At first it was a relief: After the first contraction I pushed through, I said, “I LOVE pushing!” and everyone laughed. But as the baby moved down, it got excruciating. It felt like hell and I couldn’t wait to be done. Excruciating. The sensation of pressure, of not knowing exactly what to do with it, of needing to work, of being stretched out so fast. My body felt completely open—my cervix, but also my throat, enabling me to make sounds I have never made before.

R got right next to my face and kept talking me through it in my ear: "Just push right through whatever you’re feeling. Just keep pushing, and you can be done." I whispered to myself, finally pretty much incoherent: “You can do it. You can do it.” “Strong. Strong. Strong.”

They said I pushed for only 11 minutes. It felt like at least an hour. 11 minutes: that would be, like seven pushes or something, maybe fewer. Three while the nurse’s hand was still inside me. A handful more to move the baby down. Then one that brought her to crowning and me to total all out bellowing pain. I yelled "DO SOMETHING!" When the contraction ended I couldn’t believe I needed to wait for the next one to get that baby’s head out. To wait with her lodged there. R helped me reach down to feel the head, and I was glad to do it but was also so panicked at the level of pain that I couldn't really feel anything with my hand—I just swiped around down there, unable to tell what was me and what was baby.

The next contraction I knew I had to get her out and pushed with all my might. I think I pushed beyond the end of the contraction, not wanting to have to wait for another with her inside me. I did it. Her head was out.

A and Mom scurried to the end of the bed to see the baby’s face. The next contraction I pushed her body out and could feel her arms and legs wriggling as she emerged, like she was swimming out of me. I could sort of see or sense the baby lying perpendicular to how she’d come out as A cut the cord. He said, “Caro, we have another daughter!” and the doctor lifted her up and lay her next to me, only somehow she ended up almost throwing her, and she landed next to me in the curve of my body like a big fish splashing up onto deck, still all wet, sort of bloody, and crying. I lay on my side next to her for a long time, saying, baby, baby, hello sweetie, and she was full of healthy strong cry.

Her face looked so very unique; I think we’d been expecting an Ingrid replica, and here she was, her own perfect self: pointy chin, cheekbones, full lower lip. Yelling her head off. Sucking on her hand and making enormous slurping sounds.

A and I took turns holding her for a long time. She wanted to cry for about fifteen minutes after she was born, and our holding her didn't seem to matter; it was like she just needed to cry to get over all that smooshing and squeezing. But then she calmed down in my arms, looked around, blinking. And then I tried nursing her and she latched on as though she'd done it a million times before.

When I think of our time in the hospital with her, I think of Iris's soft, soft head. How it felt to kiss her scalp.

She was born at 5:11 p.m., about 10 hours after labor started (just a couple of hours shorter than my first labor, if you're keeping track), and two hours after our arrival at the hospital. Some parts of her birth were amazingly similar to Ingrid's: the puking at key moments, the quick dilation from six centimeters to ten. It felt very different, though. The earlier contractions were harsher, hurt more than I remembered, and pushing, as I mentioned, was far more terrible than the first time around, probably because Iris descended so quickly. But transition was somehow a breeze; I never reached a point where I felt crazed between contractions.