With the coronavirus pandemic raging on through summer 2020, official July 4 fireworks events were cancelled to avoid public gatherings. On the evening of July 4, my husband, daughter and I (heavily pregnant with my second-born son) decided to drive around in the car to check out fireworks that people were lighting up on their own. We set off as the horizon darkened and a full moon came up to rule the sky.
My daughter chatted continuously, the words tumbling over each other, rarely-heard exclamations falling fast from her lips. Fireworks began to explode above treetops and the buildings surrounding the freeway. People with masks stood (at least six-feet) apart on flyovers, watching them. My husband, daughter and I joined them as more flashes and booms filled the night sky. My daughter jumped and hooted while my heart did a little dance of its own.
Driving back home, we turned into a street where many fireworks were going off. To our delight, the people who had been lighting them set off a new round. Rockets zoomed upward in rapid succession and burst into a variety of sparkling colors and patterns. The entire display lasted for about two minutes, right above our heads as if it were our own private show.
It was the middle of 2020 and my heart went out to all those who were suffering. At the same time, I was grateful for all the little joys, including our impromptu family outing. We’d left the house to catch a few glimpses of sparkles in the sky here and there, only to be treated to magnificent firework showers right in front of our eyes.
About five years ago, I wrote about and shared my first childbirth experience. You can check it out here. The years flew by and in front of me now stands a girl in pigtails and pink glasses, who talks non-stop. To absorb all of her endless talk, my husband and I decided to add another pair of ears to our family. Also influencing our decision was the fact that we have one sibling each and our lives would be incomplete were it not for them.
A second child might be a few years of extra hard work for parents but a lifetime of companionship for their children. With this reasoning in mind, I braced myself for the additional responsibility, the following words from a Coldplay song (the context was different, but still) ringing in my ears:
Nobody said it was easy
No one ever said it would be so hard
I’m going back to the start
Cue the guitar …
Alright then, here’s an account of how our Baby Number Two made an entry into this world during an unforgettable year, with the Covid-19 pandemic changing how things were normally done. Everyone in the hospital (except me, especially during labor) wore face masks all the time. Only one person could accompany me, no visitors were allowed and we were sent home with the baby after spending just one night at the hospital after the baby was born. I was filled with gratitude for all healthcare helpers — my OB/Gyn, the staff at her office and at medical centers like labs and the nurses in labor and delivery at the hospital, who continued to provide care to us during these unprecedented times.
We were expecting a boy and prepared for his arrival in much the same way as we’d done for his older sister except that this time it was like traveling down a familiar road, but with much of the landscape around it having changed!
Like last time, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes during my pregnancy and was going to be induced earlier than my estimated due date. So on the appointed day we got myself admitted to the hospital. Last time, full dilation had taken a long time (around 36 hours) and we came in half-prepared for a long wait and half-hoping everything to speed up since the method of induction was different (an oral pill given to me was supposed to take effect faster) and also because it was my second pregnancy.
On arrival, I was poked in preparation for the IV to go in and fitted with two abdominal belts tracking the baby’s heart rate and my contractions. After swallowing the pill, I tried to help move things along by walking back and forth and bouncing on the birthing ball. I was so enthusiastic about it that the nurse had to come in to check why the baby seemed to be jumping about inside me!
After that I rested, read my library book of Hemingway’s short stories, ate lunch and was given the second dose of the pill because there was still no dilation. We started to watch a movie on television. Then my doctor came in to check me. My ears perked up when she said that maybe there was a leak, that perhaps my waters had broken. But a test to verify this came back negative.
By then I had begun to get mild but consistent contractions. In the evening, the nurse told us that she’d wait to start the drug Pitocin since the contractions were two minutes apart and not spaced out yet. Dinner time came and went. We finished watching the movie that we’d started earlier, wondering when the pace of our own movie was going to speed up. The nurses changed their shifts and gave me another dose of the pill. We settled down for the night, but I was unable to fall asleep.
Sensing my restlessness, the night nurse with a distinct non-American English accent (it was South African, I later learnt) said to me, “All you can do right now is try to think positively, love. Gather all the time you’ve spent in your nine months of pregnancy and condense it into this waiting period until your labor begins.”
I took heed of her advice and drifted into much-needed sleep. After a couple of hours she came in with promising news. She would be starting a dose of Pitocin through the IV. I went back to sleep and woke up at 6 a.m., refreshed after a good rest even though mild contractions had continued throughout the rest of the night.
And then when I was least expecting it, it happened. I was returning to bed after going to the bathroom when I felt a sudden gush of water trickling down my legs and drenching my feet.
“Look! Is it what I think it is?” I said to my husband. I had never experienced my water breaking before because during my first childbirth, the doctor had broken my bag of waters.
The contractions began to come close together now and became stronger like a train picking up speed as it leaves behind a station it’s been stuck at for too long. I began to huff and puff like an old-time train engine, inhaling a deep breath and letting it out in throaty moans.
It hurt, much worse than what I’d endured in the past. During my first child birth, I had received the epidural in earlier stages of my long labor when the pain level was lesser, while this time, labor was progressing faster. My body and the baby had decided to make a dash toward the finish line in a race car instead of on a bicycle.
The nurse from the previous day who’d returned for her morning shift massaged my lower back and then flipped me around so that I could lean into her arms while I rocked my hips in tune to excruciating pain.
“You’re doing great and handling the contractions very well,” she said.
“Thanks, but when do I get the epidural?” I gasped, looking around for the anesthetist.
I finally got the epidural in the nick of time, barely able to keep still with the pain accompanying the contractions coursing through me, as the anesthetist inserted the needle for the catheter into my back. Only twenty minutes passed before I became considerably dilated and started to feel the urge to push.
The doctor came in and within half an hour she, the nurse and my husband positioned themselves around the foot of my bed. Another nurse began to prepare the baby’s station for checkup and cleaning. I no longer felt the pain with the contractions, just immense pressure, which I worked through by pushing on each rising wave. Towards the end, the doctor expertly guided me to “hold” certain pushes as the baby made his way out in the final stretch.
And then I felt something I’d never experienced during my first time — an intense, burning sensation down below, brilliantly named the “ring of fire”. I hunkered down, the past few years of my first-born daughter growing up flashing before my eyes, and told myself over and over again while I tried to push this baby out, “This is the easy part! This is the easy part!”
Then I gave one final push accompanied by a loud “aaaahhhh”, much like the dramatic one they show in the movies, the mother’s scream just before the shrill cry of a newborn suddenly pierces the air.
And out he came! Without any cuts, tearing or stitches on me this time. The doctor untangled the umbilical cord that was wound around my son and placed him on my belly with his squished-up little face turned up towards me.
My husband and I gazed at the newest little member of our family who looked like his older sister when she was born. We couldn’t wait to bring him home to her!
Here are lovely metaphors given by famous writers to describe flash fiction or micro-fiction: “an iceberg” “ice melting on a hot stove” “a single raindrop that engulfs its own blue pearl of light” “the world in a grain of sand”