Our worlds changed for a second time a week ago when our second baby, Opal, joined us on the outside!
My pregnancy with Opal was so different from my pregnancy with Everest…so much so that I was sure that I was growing a little human gremlin. A few things that were different from the start:
- We told our friends and family right away. After having a miscarriage last year, we decided that we would let everyone know we were pregnant well before the “safe” 12 week mark when lots of women choose to tell others. Honestly, it was somewhat strange to tell loved ones, “I-am-pregnant-but-it’s-not-going-to-work-out,” all in one quick breath so that they wouldn’t congratulate me after hearing the first three words, so when we found out about this pregnancy, we decided that regardless of what happened, we would want to journey with our closest family and friends. At the very least, their thoughts and prayers couldn’t hurt, and as expected, we felt so supported right away.
- The nausea: while I never vomited once with Everest, my first trimester with Opal was very different, and I was thankful to be able to work from home and rest when I needed to.
- We found out that we were having a girl…and lied to everyone about it. Because of COVID, my OBGYN’s office was not offering the same number/frequency of ultrasounds as we had with Everest, and instead were doing routine genetic blood testing. So when we found out that a couple clicks on our online portal could tell us the sex of our baby at 10 weeks as opposed to the anatomy scan at 20 weeks, I couldn’t help myself! We were thrilled to learn we would be having a girl but decided we wouldn’t tell anyone, especially not our parents, to avoid all of the “pink” questions and assumptions. Since we didn’t find out what we were having with Everest, all of our newborn things are gender neutral, and I like designing nurseries around what makes ME happy! However, we did let some of our friends log into my patient portal online and find out what we were having and told them that we didn’t know and didn’t want to know so they had to keep it to themselves. Sneaky, we know. Honestly, this was so much fun. It was a great social experiment to see whether any of them would crack (they didn’t!) and they got to be in on a fun secret while we ensured that our pregnancy conversations would never be focused on about the relatively pointless topic of the gender of a newborn.
- Opal’s pregnancy came with a host of very uncomfortable medical issues besides the first trimester nausea: terrible acid reflux (luckily, this was easily managed after I started medication for it), a wicked case of SPD which made walking (and photographing fall weddings!) so very painful, and – worst of all – gestational diabetes. I found out that I had gestational diabetes somewhere around 30 weeks, and after adjusting my diet and tracking blood sugar levels throughout the day for a week, we learned that the real problem was my fasting blood sugar levels. Basically, waking up in the morning, 12 hours after having last eaten, my blood sugar was sometimes higher than two hours after eating a meal during the day. My body was releasing sugar overnight, and there was very little I could do to control that since…I was asleep. This is problematic for a baby because glucose crosses the placenta, and even that small spike in blood sugar can make a baby gain weight. In addition to that, babies have their own endocrine systems and so more sugar in their bodies = their bodies making more insulin. After they are born, that cycle can lead to their bodies’ blood sugar levels crashing, which in a worst case scenario, can put them in a coma. The solution? I started taking slow-released insulin to lower my blood sugar levels overall. Ian has Type 1 diabetes, and I do have to say that this whole experience really helped me empathize more with what he’s experienced since he was a teenager and lives with daily.
- Because I needed to take medicine to manage the gestational diabetes, I was automatically labeled as a “high risk” pregnancy. What that meant is that for the last two months of pregnancy, I needed to go in for twice a week appointments: one biophysical profile (BPP) ultrasound and one nonstress test every week. I do have to admit, it was pretty nice to get confirmation that Opal was doing just fine twice a week towards the end of this pregnancy, but the extra hours it cut from my schedule were not fun! Apparently there has been a COVID baby boom and so many of my appointments were double booked, meaning longer wait times. Still, I feel really grateful that the insulin I was taking and all of these tests that were run helped me manage my blood sugar and confirmed for us that Opal was doing well.
Overall, I’m not going to lie, I didn’t enjoy this pregnancy. I’ve said before that pregnancy isn’t glamorous but Opal’s really, really was not.
I should have known that I would go into labor on October 16th. All year, I’ve been anxiously awaiting this time. Opal’s due date was October 23rd and just a few weeks before finding out that we were expecting her, we booked two weddings: one on 10/16 and one on 10/30. While I quickly jumped into action and found associate photographers to cover for me and shoot the weddings alongside Ian, I was still nervous about going into labor around those two dates. What if Ian couldn’t be at the weddings?
So it makes sense that as soon as we hit October 16th, my body relaxed enough to kick start labor. In fact, I was feeling so normal that I decided to go to the wedding myself for a few hours and shoot with Ian and our associate, Mina! At this point, I had been having Braxton Hicks contractions for weeks. Fun fact: don’t believe what people say. These ARE uncomfortable and painful, they just aren’t as bad as the real deal.
3:30 pm: It was there that, a few hours in, I lost my mucus plug. If you’ve read Everest’s birth story or been pregnant, you may know that this can mean absolutely nothing at all. But the day I lost my mucus plug with Everest was the day I went into labor so I was wary. However, I immediately felt different and so tired, so I decided to head home and leave the wedding in Ian and Mina’s capable hands.
5:00 pm: By this time, I decided to get in a bath and started tracking my contractions in case they were the real deal. I was in contact with Lauren, our close friend and doula/birth photographer, because I knew things could move fast — and they did. With Braxton Hicks contractions, when you move around, they usually slow down and stop. But no matter what I did, I kept having fairly strong contractions that lasted anywhere from 30-60 seconds every 5ish minutes.
5:30 pm: At this point, the ceremony was over and I knew that Ian wouldn’t be able to stay at the wedding until 10 pm like we originally planned. He checked in with our wonderful associate who felt confident that she had the rest of the evening’s events covered and planned to leave at 7 pm when the guests would be sitting down for their meals. In the meantime, I tried to rest in bed, took a shower, and ate dinner.
7:00 pm: Ian got home and packed the last few things we needed in our hospital bag. During this time, I tried to just rest in bed which became increasingly hard as contractions became stronger and more painful. At 7:30 pm, Lauren arrived at our house. It felt like as soon as she arrived, my contractions started slowing down to be 7-8 minutes apart and 30 seconds in length. I was really afraid that this whole thing had been a false alarm, but continued to lay in bed and breathe through them.
9:00 pm: Hey, did I mention that we have a toddler who is kind of a nightmare when he goes to sleep? At this time, he decided he wanted to get into our bed which he often does to fall asleep. But those don’t exactly make for ideal labor conditions. So we decided that we would go ahead and head to the hospital for a more peaceful environment (haha)! As soon as I stood up to make the move, the contractions picked up in every way — they were coming faster and they were painful.
9:30 pm: I decided to use the bathroom downstairs before leaving home for the hospital and my water broke! While a good sign, it also meant that things picked up, which made for an incredibly uncomfortable ride to the hospital. At this point, contractions were happening around every 3 minutes, which is how often I made Ian pull over to the side of the road during the 20+ minute drive to Duke Regional. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn from when my water broke with Everest and didn’t grab a towel to sit on as we drove in Ian’s car to the hospital…
10:30 pm: After getting checked in, I tried to get in the tub at the hospital, but I had to be connected to the baby monitor, etc, etc. so I just got back out and laid in bed. I asked my midwife to check my cervix to see how far along I was and she was surprised to find that I was already around 8 cm. At this point, the contractions were so painful (this can often happen after your water breaks) that I decided I wanted an epidural. I didn’t have one with Everest and I was so nervous about transition that I decided I just wanted the pain to stop. Getting the epidural took a while because I needed IV fluids first and had to sign consent forms and take breaks for contractions (just typing this is giving me painful flashbacks…).
Here’s what I have to say about an unmedicated birth vs. epidurals: do what you have to do. I’m SO glad I have experienced both! If I had a third baby, I’m not sure which route I would choose. Having an unmedicated birth was such a powerful experience, but I don’t think of myself as any less amazing for the way I gave birth to Opal. However, one thing I would definitely recommend? Meditation during pregnancy. During my pregnancy with Opal, I spent time almost daily reading or listening to these hypnobirthing resources and it changed my pregnancy for the better and helped me to have a more peaceful labor!
11:30 pm: At this point, the epidural was working, but all of a sudden, the midwife, a few nurses, and an OB swarmed into the room. The beeping on the monitor indicated that they couldn’t find Opal’s heart rate, so they had me get on all fours and attached a probe to her head so they could keep track of her. My midwife leaned close to me and said, “It’s okay. You’re safe. And if we need to get her out, we can do that in seconds.” I was freaked out because a c-section was not in my plans AT ALL. But luckily, the probe let us know that she was fine.
12:00 am: Once the medical team left our room, Ian, Lauren, and I all settled down to rest while Opal and my body did their jobs. I’m SO thankful that we were all able to get a bit of sleep.
2:15 am: When you get an epidural, your legs are numb so that you cannot move them at all. I was lying on my side and was afraid I would get stiff, so I asked Lauren to help me turn over. But as soon as we did that, the machines started beeping again. Ian stepped out into the hallway to call the nurses, but the medical team was already on the way. As soon as my midwife checked me, she said, “Oh! It’s time to push” She could see Opal’s head and because her heart rate was dropping again, there was no time to wait.
2:24 am: One contraction and a couple of pushes later and our Opal was on the outside! We quickly learned why her heart rate had kept dropping: her umbilical cord was very short! When they laid her on me, I could only pull her up to my stomach while my placenta was still inside. Every time she moved lower, it pulled on the cord and her heart rate responded. We were struck by how beautiful she was, with a head FULL of hair, and a face different from her brother’s. She was quiet and peaceful, nursed well right away, and was no where near the demon I thought her to be during pregnancy (sorry, Opal). We thought she would be big because of the gestational diabetes, but she was 6 lbs. 13 oz. at birth, just 5 oz. larger than Everest. She is perfection.
We’ve been asked a lot where Opal’s name came from. I started feeling her move really early, around 13 weeks, which I learned is common for second-time moms. The way she wiggle-wormed was soft and strange. One night, I had one of those vivid pregnancy dreams, and in it, an opal was present. The way she moved was reminiscent of the way the opal in my dream shone and changed colors. Even though we had another name in mind for her, I woke up knowing she was an Opal. I also really loved that opals are the October birth stone, it comes from Sanskrit, and opals have so many colors present in them and Opal is a rainbow baby. Her middle name, Katherine, is Ian’s mom’s name. We often call her Opie Kat!
Newborn + Toddler Life (i.e. How is Everest?)
Life at home with Everest and Opal has been great so far. Everest goes to daycare during the days, so he gets lots of playtime and we get to snuggle with and get to know Opal during the day. As the days get shorter and we do have a three year old, we are experiencing lots of dinner time and bedtime push back, which is harder to deal with when you’re running on less sleep.
All of that aside, getting to see Everest as a big brother has been one of the more joyous experiences of my life. He is clearly so in love with her and proud to be a big brother. A few things I never want to forget:
- A text from Ian’s mom while we were still in the hospital: “Evs was very excited telling his teachers and friends about Opal. He made me show them photos and said that’s not me- it’s Opal”
- An update from Everest’s teachers after we took Opal to morning drop off on the way to her doctor’s appointment: “Change has also been marked in a very special way like the arrival… of a baby sister! This weekend Everest became a big brother with the arrival of his little sister, Opal! This morning Everest and his parents brought Opal by to meet the class. Everest said, “The leaves are changing and my sister is here!” The children were very interested in Opal and were very excited to see her. During lunch, Gaia said, “I like your baby, Everest!” At group, Everest shared with us that he is very gentle with Opal, Opal drinks milk, and sleeps a lot! He also showed us how he holds Opal in his lap. He is one proud big brother!”
- We brought Opal home on a Monday afternoon while Everest was at school. Ian’s mom picked him up to bring him home and my parents were already at home with us. We were all so anxious to see how he would act because he’s known about and talked about Opal for the entire pregnancy. But it seemed like it was just too much pressure: Ian had a camera, my dad was recording on his phone, and meeting Opal overwhelmed him. He was distracted, didn’t want to hold her, and sucked on his thumb — a clear sign that he was having some feelings. I was disappointed, but we played it cool. The next morning, though, while Ian was at the gym, the three of us were hanging out on the couch downstairs. Everest had woken up extra early. He was watching Blippi while I drank coffee and scrolled my phone and I had placed Opal in a bassinet that we have downstairs for her. A few minutes later, Everest was standing next to it, looking in, and then started rocking her. He said, “Mama, I want to hold her,” and I was so taken aback. But I settled him on the couch with some pillows and then placed her on his lap. The expressions on his face when he looks at her are so awe-filled and beautiful, and I remember him saying, “Hi, Opal. I’m your big brother.”
- He clearly feels so much pride over Opal. He’ll say things like, “I’m going to help Opal because I’m her brother,” or “Mama, we have to be gentle with Opal.” My mom said something like, “I’m going to take Opal home with me!” and Everest yelled, “No! You can’t take her because she’s MY sister!” We’re in for a wild ride with these two!
Caring for Opal & Myself
So far, caring for Opal has been a breeze, very different than caring for Everest. I remember every little thing feeling so big with him — the new sleep schedules for all of us, the tracking of pees and poops, the night sweats, and last but definitely not least, the nursing. Things have certainly been uncomfortable at times, but it’s so helpful the second time around knowing that none of these things will last forever. Eventually, we’ll sleep through the night. Eventually, she’ll be back to birth weight. Eventually, I won’t sweat out all of the water in my body while I’m sleeping. Eventually, my nipples will be fine again and I won’t feel like I have cement boulders attached to my chest. Just knowing these things is so helpful. Breastfeeding is going really well and Opal is a delightful sleeper, eater, and cuddler — exactly what a newborn should be. Maybe she’s making up for the things she did to my body while I was pregnant! Either way, I’ll take it!
I have to admit, caring for myself isn’t going as well in some ways. Mentally, I’m feeling great. Lots of hormonal changes, yes, but overall, I really am doing well. But physically, I think I’ve been pushing myself a bit too much by going on walks and doing things around the house. It’s just so nice to not be so giant! But my body has been telling me to slow it down, so I’m spending as much time in bed or on a couch as possible right now. I definitely want to heal well and I know that resting is important right now.
I’ll end by saying that we are really lucky to have friends and family who are taking a lot of great care of us and our family. We have friends delivering food daily, Ian’s mom often picks up Everest from school and hangs out with him in the evenings, and my parents have been around cooking up a storm and took Everest home for a weekend so that we could rest. We’re also grateful to the staff at Chapel Hill OBGYN, Regional Midwifery, and Duke Regional Hospital. They have all taken such good care of our family. And a HUGE thank you to our good friend, birth photographer, and doula, Lauren! I 10/10 recommend that you hire a doula and/or birth photographer for your birth!
If you made it this far, thanks for reading! If you have questions about our pregnancy/labor/birth experience, feel free to reach out at email@example.com.