Second Time Around

9 years ago

Like many second children (and third, and fourth), our son burst out of the womb like Seabiscuit at the Kentucky Derby. We had a fraction of the advance warning we had for the first child, and my beloved's active labor was shorter than your average Hollywood movie. Bam! He was here!

Likewise, like many second (and third, and fourth) children, well over half the planning around his birth entailed the care and feeding of his two-and-a-quarter year-old sister already here. How would we prepare her for the arrival of her brother? Who would be with her when we were gone? When would she come to see us in the hospital? And so on.

We lavished all manner of advance planning on our daughter's arrival. We attended a childbirth education class for lesbian and bi women, run out of our friendly local lesbian midwifery. From this emerged a parents' group that continues to meet nearly monthly over four years later. My beloved's brother and his wife sprang for a doula for us, and her ministrations and support helped make birth a journey for us, rather than a trial.

(Anyone giving birth for the first time should shun every shower gift other than doula funding. Okay, doula funding, plus maybe copies of Harvey Karp's The Happiest Baby on the Block, and Penelope Leach's Your Baby and Child. But only if the doula's covered.)

For the first birth, we labored over our birth plan, packed and re-packed our bags, debated whether or not to bring music to the delivery room. I kept a meticulously hand-printed list in my wallet of all the people we would want to contact with the news from the delivery room, with their phone numbers. You know, in case my cell phone might, in a stroke of bizarre coincidence, all of a sudden cease to function.

I can still remember the candle-lit bathroom, my beloved in a warm bath at 11:30 PM, trying to quell the back pain and either (a) slow down the labor, or (b) discover that it's not slowable, and we were moving from Braxton-Hicks labor to This Is IT labor. I still remember walking slowly around the house, propping up a shuffling, laboring beloved, prolonging the process so that we would be fully ready upon arrival. Which we were. No going back on that dilation.

The birth itself? Transcendent. Luminescent. Everything one would want out of such a thing. The closer she got to delivery, the more my beloved began to disappear, by degrees, and become more and more elemental. She became less herself and more a mammal in the throes of issuing another mammal. We were aware we were part of something much larger than ourselves, and it felt totally right. The birth went swimmingly. (More details here, in an excerpt from an essay I reprinted on Lesbian Dad.)

Once home, I bolted a white board to our bedroom wall, on which I studiously recorded the timing of every feeding and diaper change, complete with notations as to the contents of the soiled nappies (liquid? solid? heavy? light?). We stressed about let-down, stressed about latch. We found our way. We were encouraged by those who knew to set aside ten days, ideally two weeks to simply be together. Family and friends brought food. We rarely left the house. The first time we did, it felt as if every nerve in our bodies was directly exposed to the elements. Which was probably true. We breathed in wonder and breathed out gratitude.

But with kid number two? No childbirth education class, no doula. No written-out birth plan. Or if we had one, I can't remember. See?! We did rummage around in the basement for what we had learned from experience to be the handful of critical newborn supplies: the cloth-covered, foam wedgie jobbie that you nestle the kid into, so that when they sleep in between you in the bed, they have their own little safe trough. The nursing pillow. The swaddling blankets -- not too thick, and not too thin -- and the spit-up rags. A well-situated and -stocked diaper changing set-up on top of our bedroom's chest-of-drawers.

Did we pack a bag? We must have.

Oddly, our near-nonchalance about the birth experience itself, coupled with our preoccupation with our daughter's experience of the arrival of her sibling, made the second birth a harder one than the first, not an easier one. It was harder both physically, for my beloved, and emotionally, for us both. We lacked two things which, in retrospect, I think might have been more valuable than knowledge bred from experience: a sense of undiluted wonder, and a commitment to spaciousness around the event.

We stayed in the hospital as little as we could. After all, we had another child at home to care for. Folks brought us food for a week, maybe, tops. We were out and about with our newborn in no time flat. He integrated into our lives nearly as fast as the labor and delivery that brought him here.

Do I regret any of this? Absolutely. I have no idea what it would have been like to focus exclusively on the arrival and early infancy of this boy, and I long to know that. He is a marvel. He drives me crazy with love for him. Also, he is clearly thriving. Among the earliest sensations he has are the sounds of his sister's falsetto cooing in his ear, and the flutter of her lips kissing his cheek, over and over and over again. It's only we, his parents, who know the difference between his sister's birth and his. What he knows is that he came into the world right next to other people. And that, I can say as a second child myself, is a very good thing.

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