It’s worse this time.
What with buying a house, moving, Covid, my husband’s new job, my teleworking, writing, and caring for a toddler, I’ve been left little bandwidth for thinking about this second child of ours. (Or, for that matter, thinking at all.) Which is crazy, because as of a week ago, s/he was officially viable outside of the womb. Even though I just passed 24 weeks, the chances are good that this little human, if born super-preemie, would survive. I remember getting to this point in my daughter’s pregnancy and being amazed that medical technology could probably save such a tiny life. And with my low PAPP-A results at my 12-week scan, I am (kinda) prepared for an early arrival. I’m hoping this little pumpkin will stay cooking for much longer, of course. My husband likes to joke that not only will this kid arrive late, but will clock in at 10 pounds. I’m laughing so hard right now. Ha. Ha. No, seriously, just look at my scowling face.
It’s hard not to compare this baby’s journey to our firstborn’s. Beaner’s pregnancy and birth seemed slow, incremental. It was a totally new experience. We were excited, scared, thrilled, nervous; we didn’t know what to expect. I documented the journey blow-by-blow, diligently took weekly “bumpies,” coveted my time with my husband enjoying our ultrasounds together. I was able to exercise regularly, sleep in, take naps when I needed, and prepare super healthy meals (let’s forget the Nutella-and-banana binge). We attended antenatal birthing classes, I learned how to breathe through the pain (which, in practice, went out the window), and we took a tour of the hospital a month before I was due. In the end, everything worked out nearly as we had expected.
So, #2. Before he deployed, my husband and I debated about when to try for a second baby. We thought the timing was right to try immediately before departure; he’d miss the big, fat pregnant me, but would be home for the birth. And we got pregnant. Within three months. And then I had a miscarriage. Within three months. I had been one of those women who thought miscarriages happened to other people. I was healthy, in my mid-thirties, didn’t smoke, and my first child’s pregnancy had been textbook. Why would it happen to me? We knew it wasn’t uncommon, we just didn’t factor it into our lives. It shook us up.
When my husband returned to a UK grappling with Covid-19, we talked about getting pregnant again. Did we want to try in this unknown new normal? Would I be forced to self-isolate or shield as a vulnerable person? What would happen if we caught it? We weighed our options and risks and decided that life moves on. I was only getting older. The fact that none of us, Bean included, had any underlying conditions or worked in health care made us comfortable taking that risk. And so I got pregnant for the third time, pandemic be damned.
We knew within two weeks we were expecting. We only told close friends and family. We knew it was early, that I could miscarry again, that any number of things could still go wrong. The air of confidence I enjoyed with Bean vanished after my miscarriage; I knew the first trimester would be the hardest. I tried not to think about the what-ifs.
Unexpectedly, the first six weeks were easy. Then the exhaustion hit. I’m not sure if it was because I was older or had a toddler or both. Lockdown didn’t help. Neither did my decision to start potty-training my daughter (I contend it was a good idea even if she’s since regressed). I’d never experienced such tiredness as this before, different than midnight flying or pulling all-nighters in college or staying up writing 300-word essays for Sergeant Instructors at OCS. My desire to eat dwindled. My energy levels plummeted. I felt awful – lethargic and unproductive – and unable to take care of anyone else but forced to try. All I wanted to do was hibernate.
After six weeks of chronic sluggishness, and almost overnight, I felt like myself at week twelve. The magical Second Trimester had finally been reached. Most importantly, I had carried this pregnancy past the point where I miscarried before. The mental and physical relief was enormous. The chances were good I’d carry to term and everything would be okay. I later found out I was fighting low blood pressure at my 16-week midwife check-up (102/42), which accounted for my wanting to sleep all the time. I was “prescribed” fish and chips and sausage and mash. Salt turned into a necessary condiment for me. I laughed and immediately complied.
My husband and I started looking for a house to buy around the same time we found out we were expecting. In the middle of lockdown. When nurseries and schools were still closed. In a housing market that shut down for three weeks. When in-person viewings were opened up again, we donned scarves for facemasks and yellow rubber gloves to stave off the virus. We took turns walking with Beaner while the other looked inside the houses. We saw wrecks, pristine bungalows, a house with a garage with a dog giving birth inside. When we walked inside the Church Street house – just for laughs, just to take a look as it was the top of our budget – I knew. This felt different. This had so much potential and space and character. This was our house.
It had to be.
In the three months that followed, crossing our fingers about this house felt like the mental strain of early pregnancy again. Would we discover something in a survey about the house that made it unlivable? Would the sale fall through? Would the solicitors drag their feet with all the paperwork? Remarkably, we had very little setbacks. But we also failed to move when we wanted, failed to get the military to move us on their dime (as promised), and failed to turn our rented military housing over as soon as we wanted. That’s life. When my husband started his new course, we were (mostly) in one house.
My pregnancy seemed distant to everything else that was going on as the buying-a-house process took over our lives. Sure, I looked visibly pregnant and felt huge at ten weeks, but there were no kicks, no acid reflux, no getting up to pee seven times a night. Things trucked along. My diagnosis of low PAPP-A was new, and a bit scary, but something for the future. The placenta was either going to do its job or not, but I wouldn’t find out until later check-ups. All I could do was take my vitamins and low-dose Aspirin, eat well, get sleep, and try to exercise. (Chasing after a toddler definitely counts as exercise.) At my last appointment in Yeovil, the sonographer said everything looked perfect. The baby was developing well, she could find no abnormalities, and the scan was quick and easy. I even laughed when a midwife later pointed out that this kid was not only in the normal range, but was nearly off the charts for abdominal circumference. Buddha belly baby.
Fast-forward. I’ve felt flutterings for the past few weeks which have developed into full-blown kicks (more likely, headbutts). I’ve experienced stiffness in almost all of my joints, including my knees, hips, wrists, and fingers, but clocked it up to relaxin and growing a second baby. And stress. During the move and while cleaning our old house, I felt like an old man most mornings, too stiff to even straighten up until the blood started circulating. I moaned at my husband that I was too young to feel like I had arthritis, that I didn’t want to feel 80 years old. The pain was too much. I’ve since taken things down a notch and I feel much better. Perhaps the solution was that simple – listen to your body and be kind to it.
Baby is developing just fine. The ultrasound at my new hospital 45 minutes away (let’s not think about contractions on the car ride to the delivery suite…) showed an umbilical cord and placenta that are completely normal. My next scan isn’t until December. That’s lightyears away. I feel I’ve spent so much time fretting about something going wrong, it’s jarring to not have to think about it for a while. My poor husband hasn’t been able to attend a single scan due to coronavirus restrictions. He’s desperate to see a scan in person and I don’t blame him: this is the time for him to get psyched that we’re having another baby. It feels like this pregnancy is a sideshow to our busy lives. Suddenly, we’ll have this newborn to add to the mix. Maybe that’s what all subsequent pregnancies feel like.
For her part, I think Bean will like being a big sister. She’s got a stuffed monkey she calls “Munty” that acts a bit as her own baby. She brings him downstairs, sits him in her highchair for breakfast, and props him up to watch when she’s busy with something else. It’s simultaneously super-creepy and absolutely adorable. In her desire to be helpful (“helpful”), I think my daughter will get underfoot, wanting to change the nappies, feed the baby, and put on “jamas” for bedtime. I guess there are worse things to worry about. Like why your toddler just had a complete meltdown about not wanting to walk down the stairs. Or emptying the contents of your pantry all over the kitchen floor. Or jumping into the dog bed stark naked after her evening bath. Things get easier, right?
I thought I had it hard with my first pregnancy; I’m laughing now. Sure, I became forgetful. Sure, I didn’t know what to expect. Sure, I was nervous at every scan and check-up. This time around, it’s a whole other journey. Forget baby brain; I’ve got baby body.
And maybe that’s perfectly alright.