“Hello baby. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of - you’ve got to be kind.” - Kurt Vonnegut
See Baby Baby 1 Here.
I wish I had written sooner, but in so many ways I feel like I’m trying to survive the whirlwind that is a second baby. She is so beautiful in every way. Tiny, with long fingers and toes that are so narrow I wonder if they'll ever fit in a shoe. She has dark hair - nearly black, but I can already see the light hairs coming in behind them. I’m sure she’ll be blonde like her sister soon, but maybe she’ll surprise us and the dark will stick. It’s been seven weeks and she's changed so much. Her arms and legs are longer. Her tiny movements are more precise. I’m already forgetting what she was like a month ago. I need to get all of this down.
At 39 weeks and 3 days, my doctor told me to come in to get my membranes stripped. It was Columbus Day - a really unremarkable day, except Kevin was working at the VA and had a rare day off. He came with me to his first and my last appointment for baby girl. She stripped my membranes, told me I was 90% effaced and said, “I’m on call tonight. Come because you’re having ‘contractions.’”
Kev asked, “Does that mean you’re going to induce her?”
She shrugged with a smile. “Just tell the nurse in triage you’re having contractions.”
So we did. Well, after we spent the day cleaning and packing and running last minute errands like cleaning the car and getting groceries and all of the things we felt were important, when we really should have been taking naps.
I cried off and on throughout the day - not because I was nervous or anything, but because I understood that everything was about to change. I was okay with the change for me but it was Claire I was worried about. Claire, my first baby. My only baby. How was she going to feel?
Being pregnant is weird. You have all of this time to prepare and plan. Nine long months. But the growth is so slow and gradual that at some point towards the end you look down at the watermelon that is your belly. Then you realize that the baby has to come out somehow. So I dropped her off with our friends, and told Claire the next time I saw her she would be a big sister.
The nurse at triage was not amused. “We’re slammed today,” she said. I looked at my belly and willed the contractions to come. And, somehow, miraculously, they did. While she left us alone in the room I watched as paper rattled out of the printer, lines forming along with my pains. My doctor gave me pitocin later to speed things up, but the labor started on its own.
I sent Kevin away to get me some food and when he came back with my Wendy’s baked potato and frosty (the worst last meal ever) they were ready to admit me.
Before anything else, I asked for my epidural. I’d learned the hard way with Claire that waiting was a bad idea. A girl a year ahead of Kevin came in to do it, and it hurt so much. The needle struck a nerve and I could feel the pain vibrating in the spot where it was stuck. Fortunately, that was the worst pain of the whole experience. Eventually the epidural did its job, and I felt relief. This was 9:00 pm.
At 9:30 they broke my water. Then I fell asleep for a bit. Kev was watching Parks & Rec on his iPad on the couch when I woke up at midnight feeling nauseous. He grabbed a bag for me to vomit in. The resident came in to check me and said I was at a 7. “Call us when you feel like you need to push.”
Around 1:00 - less than an hour later I started feeling the need to push, but I thought it was too soon. Kev called the nurse in and she said, “Nope. You’re at a 10. We’ll grab the doctor.”
Doctor Green came in with glasses on and a sweatshirt over her scrubs. Clearly she’d been woken up. She got everything ready and had me do some practice pushes. I could feel the contractions through my epidural, which didn’t happen with Claire. It was strange to feel the pressure but not the pain.
They told me when to push - and I was working so hard I didn’t notice the alarm on their faces. Kev told me later that the cord was wrapped around her neck, so if I didn’t get her out quickly they would have to do a C-section.
Doctor Green coached me through the labor the way I imagine a midwife would. She told me when to breathe, and where to focus my pushing. I love her so much I cry when I think about my labor. She was compassionate, but eager at the same time. I wasn’t aware I was pushing in the wrong place until she showed me where I should feel it. Finally, after 23 minutes of pushing she said, “Look down.”
I did, and she literally pulled the baby out of me. It was so strange and beautiful to witness my baby exiting. Immediately they laid a wiggling, warm and wet baby girl on my chest and I sobbed. I’d waited so long for that very moment.
I thought about the year we tried to conceive. The disappointment of each negative test, the struggle watching Claire get older. I thought about the miscarriage. The months spent on the bathroom floor - so nauseous I didn’t trust myself to drive. All of it, every part of it culminated in this one, beautiful, beautiful moment.
Sharon Olds writes about the “air glittering with escape as it does in the room at birth.”
And if you’ve been there, and you’ve seen it, you know that it really does seem to glitter.
It’s the closest to magic we get here on this earth.
When Claire came to meet her for the first time, I expected an instant reaction. I thought she’d somehow recognize the little koala bear squirming from the plastic bassinet from another life. The Grand Duchess Anastasia. But Claire just looked at her and agreed to hold her, but was more excited to see me. Finally, exhausted from our prodding and picture taking she asked, “Mom, can I watch a show now?”
Kevin took the baby and Claire curled up next to me, and we ate chocolate and watched Paw Patrol. And you know - I think we both needed that. This moment in the middle of the excitement and joy and overflowing love where we both said, “Things are different now and we both get it. But for the next half hour, let’s pretend like they’re the same.”
Of course we struggled with her name. I’d whittled it down to two - Charlotte or Hazel, but midway through my hospital stay threw a new one out there - Julia, because why not confuse myself even more?
Kev loved them all and told me to choose. So I tested them out. For nearly two days I would call her something different when I picked her up. I told different nurses different names. I tested nicknames. None of them felt right.
But I didn’t want to have to wait at the social security office a few weeks later when I finally settled on one because that sounds like the worst, so right before we were discharged, I decided on the one that felt the most right - even if at times I still wonder if it was the right choice. (Even if I may have Googled "How to Change a Name in the State of Florida," more than once in the middle of the night.)
Hazel for Kevin’s great-great grandmother. She was an opera singer in the Los Angeles Philharmonic. And Jane, for, well, a lot of reasons. But mostly after my favorite character in my all-time favorite book, Melissa Banks’ Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing. And Jane Eyre, who felt chronically misunderstood the way I used to. And Jane Bennett, fiction’s best sister. And Jane Austen too, I guess, and our cute little neighbor Jane who reminds me of Matilda and is precocious and intelligent.
Those reasons seemed about as good as any.
I thought it would be easier the second time, and I was right, but the transition to two surprised me. With Claire I felt this urgency for her to get bigger - less fragile, less dependent, less helpless. But with Hazel, I know what is coming and I am content. Content with her smallness and neediness. Content to let her lie on my chest for hours after Claire goes to bed.
The hardest thing about having two is Claire, not Hazel. She wants to touch her all the time - her face, her feet, her head. She constantly pulls Hazel’s hand out of her swaddle so she can hold it. She “kisses” her on the lips with her toddler mouth. It annoys me, even though I know it shouldn’t. I know that Hazel is lucky to have such a sweet sister. But sometimes I feel so fiercely protective of Hazel that I forget that Claire is also small and also needs me and my love.
I was at a baby shower once, long before I had kids. Everyone in the room went around and shared their best piece of advice for the soon-to-be-mom. Most people said things like, “Nap when the baby naps,” or, “Don’t expect the house to look perfect,” but my cousin said something that I’ll never forget.
“Don’t be afraid to apologize to your kids,” she said. It’s simple advice. But since Hazel was born, I’ve found myself relying on it. Claire has pushed me in ways she never did before. I feel angry with her a lot. For waking up the baby. For waking me up. For blatantly disobeying me.
So I say sorry. And she says she’s sorry. And we keep trying.
I feel differently about things somehow, than I did before. I realize that’s a vague assertion, but there are multiple things I’m truly more passionate about than I was before Hazel was born.
That shooting in Vegas, and then the one in Texas? They made me mad. Furious, actually. Not that I wasn’t affected by the shootings before - of course I was. But something about knowing those people were once someone’s infant like my infant, curled up in their arms, their milky wheezy breath in the night against their mother's face made me even angrier than before. So I called my senator. I told him I didn’t want to worry about my child going to the movies, or to a church, or school. I stared down at her and tried to imagine the hate someone must possess to do something so inane. I joined an Instagram group for Mom’s in favor of gun policy change.
I’m also more afraid.
There’s this poem by Ellen Bass. After Our Daughter’s Wedding. I’ve been thinking about it off and on when I watch my (two?!) girls day after day, scooting around our little house. I think about losing them. Not just Hazel, the most obvious, vulnerable choice, but her older sister too. I imagine my life without them in it until tears run involuntarily down my face. I try not to do it, but it keeps happening and I don’t know how to stop it.
I’m 29 years old next month. I’ve lived the majority of my life without them - without even the notion of them. And I feel like my world would absolutely dissolve into nothing without either of them in it.
I caught myself telling a friend that I was fat. I cringed as the words came out of my mouth and immediately wished I could take them away. I don’t believe I’m fat. It’s just something I said when describing the way my clothes fit postpartum.
The truth is, I’ve never felt more at home in my body than I do now. For years I was thin, but I didn’t sleep enough, I didn’t eat enough, I didn’t ever work out. I was chronically dehydrated. I felt terrible all the time, but I was thin, so I figured that was health.
I have hips now. Full breasts, a stomach that ripples with a dark line down the center. But it’s not the physical appearance that makes it feel like home. It’s that my body is put to good use now. I feed my baby. She rests against me, her sweet panting breath puff-puff-puffing in the dark. In the mornings I wake to a mouthful of toddler hair and reach for the crying infant on the other side of me.
I have an early memory of lying beside my mom during the day on her bed. I could feel her breathing, and tried to match it. Her breaths were slower than mine and I strained to meet them. To me, she was the most beautiful woman in the world.
We need to talk more about this. We need to talk less about the stretch marks, the sagging breasts, the “mommy pooch.” We need to talk about how we grow into ourselves over time. How our bodies and minds find each other if we let them.
I was fortunate to have three weeks of help after Hazy’s birth. The first week I had Kevin. His program lets him use his sick days as paternity leave. They are allotted five days a year, but he sprained his ankle playing basketball and had to use one in September so he had four left. Four of the most wonderful days. For the first time since Claire was born we were home together. He gets vacation days, but we never stay home so this was new. It wasn’t that we did anything spectacular. It was just that he was here. We tag-teamed bed time, meals, naps. He took Claire to school. He took Hazel to her one-week checkup so I could get my nails done. We ate a lot of Chick-fil-A and pizza. The night before he was scheduled to go back to work I fought a massive lump in my throat. His training is grueling and frustrating and I have to do most things on my own. Having kids is harder than I ever thought it would be but there’s still no one else I’d want to do it with but him.
My Mom came next. She cooked and cleaned for us. She held my new baby and told me how beautiful she is. But most of all she took care of Claire, which is exactly what I needed her for this time around. My sister Lacey has this idea for a nonprofit called, “Moms without Moms.” It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like. New mom’s who don’t have mom’s themselves can get the help they need after the baby comes. I think it’s brilliant, because there's no way I could do this baby thing without her.
My sister Jessica came the week after her. She took care of me in the same way. She made me laugh. I hope that someday I can be the life raft for them that they were for me.
I forgot how messy it all is since Claire is actually a really clean toddler and has been for awhile. The poop and the spit up is relentless. I was so excited to finally wear my pre-pregnancy clothes only to realize they'd all end up stained or ruined so back to my sweatpants and Kevin's t-shirts it is.
We went to Animal Kingdom last weekend since our Disney World passes are about to expire. While I was changing Hazel on Kevin's lap she performed some sort of magical poop explosion and it went everywhere. I mean everywhere. All over my pants, shoes, Kevin's pants, the ground, her blanket. Miraculously nothing ended up on her. (Houdini is what she is.) We laughed a lot, but I also felt like crying when I washed up in the bathroom and realized I had to wear those clothes the rest of the day.
When we got back to our group Claire cupped my face and said, "Sorry Haze pooped on you."
Ten minutes later she said, "Mommy you smell bad."
Kids are great. You should have them.
Again, maybe it’s the hormones, but I worry about what will happen to my girls if something happens to me. I keep giving Kevin bits of information, should the worst happen. “Make sure Christmas is absolutely magical.” “Have my sisters talk to them when they start their periods.” “Don’t make a banana bread recipe that doesn’t include cinnamon.” He rolls his eyes when I do it. I'm mostly joking, but sometimes not.
I want to be there for every Christmas morning. I want to be there when they start their periods. I want to make them banana bread for their breakfast. I want to do all of it. I’ve never cared so much about staying alive as I do now.
I really love this job. I don’t want to romanticize motherhood, because I’m pretty sure social media has done that enough for 12 lifetimes - even when people attempt to “keep it real.” Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I hate it. The other night when I was up with Hazel for the fourth or fifth time - I lose track, I sobbed to Kevin and told him that, “I hate this job. I love my kids but I hate this job.” So there’s moments when it’s the absolute worst. When I wonder if I’ll ever read again or work on my novels or go to the store without hauling a back-breaking carseat in. (How is it 2017 and we are still lugging those things around?!)
But I sincerely love the slowness of my days. How we move from meals to books to naps to games to errands, one after another, until another day has passed. I’m not as good at this gig as I imagined I’d be. We don’t have scheduled learning time. Our meals are far from balanced (we mostly live these days on bananas, chocolate and bread if I’m being honest), and my discipline is only 10% effective. But we take long walks every day. I put Hazel in a wrap so I can kiss the fuzzy hairs on top of her head and watch Claire zig-zag down the sidewalk with her pink helmet and bright blue scooter. We visit the library and load up with children's books. We attempt to nap, which is ridiculous, and every day I give up in frustration and sometimes anger, but then Claire makes me laugh just like her dad and I forget that I was ever mad. Kevin gets home and I’m still standing and I consider it a win.
People told me that once my new baby came my love would expand so I could love them both. I think that’s true in a way, but a little inaccurate. Of course as soon as Hazel was born I loved her. I think that’s innate - primal even, born from months of sacrifice and curiosity and gratitude. But I don’t love her the same way I love Claire and I think that’s okay.
I know everything about Claire. How she likes her toast cut, her favorite colors, all of her different phases. I know how to make her laugh. We’ve spent days reading together, making up funny songs. I love her, in part, because I know her so well. I think that’s how love for our children is born - at least for me. From thousands of unspoken memories, from days and weeks and months and years of time spent together. The cupped hand we clean with a wipe, the six cries we alone can decipher, the lost toy, the pride, the way their eyebrows rise and fall. The details, the sliver-like moments that make us realize how deeply tied we are to another human.
Oh Hazel Jane, I can’t wait to know you.