The third trimester is where things got real. Before then, the pregnancy was just one thing that was brewing as we got on with our lives. It was only at this point, around the 28th week of pregnancy, that the pregnancy started to take over. It’s trite to say that there’s a lot that happens in the third trimester, but it’s a little more involved than that – there’s a lot that you have to make happen as well. And, the whole time, you have no idea what you’re doing!
The rhetorical “you”, in this case, is us. We had no idea what we were doing. We reminded ourselves that this sense of total bewilderment is part of the proud tradition of parenthood, but somehow knowing that did not make the process any easier.
Part of the pregnancy takeover was physiological. Amelia’s belly was ballooning rapidly, and with that expansion came tiredness, aches, limited motion, and a distinct waddle. Walking the few blocks to the grocer was suddenly a substantial undertaking, one that required an early departure and a nap afterwards. This was a bit of a challenge to adapt to (more on that in a minute), but in truth it was the smaller part.
The larger part was the baby prep. First, we had to find out what things we needed to do – thankfully there are books for this. Then we had to make the decisions that the book told us we needed to make, which is where it got harder. Take prenatal classes, for instance. You don’t just show up to The Prenatal Class™ – there are different courses, and they can be wildly different (consider HypnoBabies vs. Lamaze vs. the courses offered by the local health authority). The same issue presents itself with cloth vs. disposable diapers and, well, every item on a baby registry.
In fact, assembling the baby registry was probably the most daunting task we were faced with. It took the better part of a week, and was shockingly research-intensive. Let me put this in context for you: Amelia has a Masters degree and teaches research skills to college students. I have a law degree, which involves a not-insignificant amount of research in its own right. You’d think that we’d have this on lock, but figuring out which high chair (for example) to get for baby Cheeseweed tested the outer limits of our abilities.
This preliminary research step is so hard not only because we did not know what we were doing (although I cannot stress enough how completely and accurately this describes us), but also because we had no idea what we needed to learn in order to know what we were doing. Consider the high chair. First, we need to recall that high chairs exist and are available for purchase. Second, we need to figure out whether this is something that our baby actually needs. Third, we need to determine a reasonable price range, since every baby-related item ranges from suspiciously inexpensive to wildly overpriced – there are $30 high chairs (well, technically boosters) and $1000 high chairs, and both get hawked with a straight face. Clearly, we do not want to kill our baby with the wrong high chair (or saddle ourselves with one that makes our lives harder rather than easier), but we also do not want to bankrupt ourselves in search of ever-greater high chair superiority. So our research intensifies, and we descend into a maddening vortex of high chair reviews and informational materials. Repeat this process roughly fifty times and, blammo – you’ve built a baby registry!
Oh, if you’re curious: newborns don’t use high chairs, since they can’t sit up without messing up their still-developing necks. High chairs are basically death traps until the baby has a few months’ experience with the whole gravity thing. This information was surprisingly hard to come by.
Thankfully, we did not spend all of our time cooped up in our home researching newborn neck strength and ideal surface firmness. Amelia worked for the first half of the third trimester, though this got progressively more difficult as she became less and less able to squeeze between students’ desks. She also found time to travel – first to a bachelorette party in Kamloops, then to Victoria for our anniversary. These trips were hard to square with work obligations; the pregnancy was sapping Amelia of energy, causing her to nap frequently and spend her few remaining hours of consciousness frantically marking student papers.
Amelia’s usually quite comfortable with stress (she did willingly choose to go to grad school, after all), but pregnancy is one of those times when stress is best avoided. Not only is stress bad for the baby, but also it’s sort of gross for the mother – did you know that a stressed-out baby can poop in the uterus, and spend the following weeks or months floating in (and ingesting!) its own excrement? We didn’t, until her doctor mentioned it. After that, we were keenly aware of the potential for stress-induced uterine poops.
Amelia’s doctor recommended stress-avoidance, so Amelia swallowed her pride and hired a friend to help her with her marking. This freed her up for crucial poolside lazing and bachelorette shenanigans – important parts of prenatal development, to be sure.
Our anniversary trip was not exactly as relaxing. It turns out that, if you leave your car parked at the ferry terminal with its lights on for a couple of hours, it might not start in the usual way (or at all). The sudden mad search for a jump before the last ferry departed gave Amelia a jolt of adrenaline that darn near popped the baby out.
The Victoria trip is where we discovered another all-too-infrequently-publicized feature of pregnancy: hemorrhoids. Apparently pregnant ladies just get ‘em, and (if they’re lucky) they might clear up shortly after the birth. Keep in mind that our anniversary trip was a full three months from Amelia’s due date. So the next time you see a pregnant lady gingerly taking a seat, remember that, although the cause could be general aches and pains, it’s probably her butt.
On top of this, Amelia could no longer sleep comfortably on her front, back, or sides. Amelia, being a keen student of Euclidean geometry, had sadly concluded that there were no sleeping positions left which involved actually reclining – and sleep-standing is not one of her many skills.
So: Lying down hurt, walking hurt, sitting hurt. Our days became a constant exercise in managing comfort levels. I thought of Amelia’s comfort as a glass, quickly being drained by literally any movement, and slowly filling during prolonged breaks (slightly faster with back-scratches). So we measured out our activities, not planning any two things too close together in time and leaving hours for recuperation over the course of the day. No measure was too drastic; we even bought impromptu tickets to Ant-Man as an excuse for Amelia to sit in a cool, dark room for a few hours.
Amelia wrapped up the first half of the third trimester with one last major outing – to Nanaimo, where she was the maid (matron?) of honour in her best friend’s wedding. This can be a demanding and stressful role, but the bride-to-be was tremendously accommodating; there were ample opportunities for Amelia to rest in the shade between activities.
The wedding was right at the end of the semester, after Amelia had wrapped up marking students’ exams. Once she’d completed her wedding party duties and taught a couple of orientation classes, she’d be at leisure for the last two months of the pregnancy.
The second half of the third trimester, those last couple of months, were where life became all-pregnancy-all-the-time. No longer at work and visibly, incredibly pregnant, Amelia’s delicate condition (she hates it when I call it that) coloured every interaction she had with the world.
This was not always a good thing! Some people simply do not know how to comport themselves around a pregnant person. Bad behaviour ranges from the merely inconsiderate to the truly, aggressively rude. For instance, Amelia would count the people who surrendered their seats to her, unbidden, on the SkyTrain. In the many long months of pregnancy and her hundreds of SkyTrain rides, she encountered only seven gallant Vancouverites – mostly older women who (Amelia surmises) had experienced pregnancy themselves.
When people did pay Amelia notice, it would be to rub her belly as they walked by (“WHO DOES A WALK-BY BELLY-RUB?!”, Amelia queried), startle her by shouting questions about the baby’s gender as she walked by (thanks, newspaper lady), interrogate her on her reproductive history (“Is this your first? Was it an accident?”), provide unsolicited and ridiculous suggestions (“You should name your baby Jonathan! Oh, it’s a girl? Jane, then”), critique the amount of time she spent in the washroom at the Old Spaghetti Factory, and loudly debate with their friend whether the waddling lady in line at Timmy’s was pregnant or “just fat”.
Amelia did not enjoy this part of pregnancy – her body is not a curiosity for public consumption, but somehow her burgeoning belly was taken by countless people as an invitation for comment and intrusion. Every venture outside of the home brought new boundary violations.
Some people weren’t rude, per se, but could definitely be classed as a bit weird. For instance, it seemed like everyone had a test for whether the baby was a boy or girl. People offering these predictions all had three key qualities: (a) authority (“speaking as a professional uncle”, “my grandmother used this with every grandchild”), (b) audacity (“before you tell me the sex, let me tell you“) and (c) infallibility (“I’ve never been wrong!”).
Amelia mostly found this amateur divination entertaining, and delighted in recounting the wildly different diagnoses she received. She was told that she would have a boy, because her belly was so high; also (according to a different Nostradamus) she would have a boy because her belly was so low. Others knew it would be a girl because the belly was high or low, depending on the teller. Or maybe because the belly was so round, or because her face had gained so little weight (or so much!).
So, not only does no one know what they’re talking about, but apparently they can’t agree on where Amelia’s belly was located. It was mid-height, by the way.
Finally, some people were not rude or weird at all. Some people were amazing!
Some of these people were strangers, like the deli counter lady at the grocery store. I’d been sent on a late-night fried chicken acquisition run and, upon learning my wife was pregnant (I’m a sharer!), the deli counter lady dumped every remaining piece of fried chicken into a box, stamped a “one chicken special” price tag on it, and passed it to me. “For the baby”, she said. Amelia was elated by both the act of kindness and the extra fried chicken.
Some of these people were colleagues. Amelia had arranged to substitute-teach some classes during the latter part of the third trimester. When she wasn’t able to come in at the last minute due to unforeseen hospital visits (more on that in a bit), her boss (the acting dean!) personally filled in for her with nary a complaint.
And some of these people were our friends, who went to extraordinary lengths to organize and execute a truly tremendous baby shower. This meant so much to Amelia. These friends are not kid-having folks, and (always the worrier) she was concerned that they might feel obliged to begrudgingly plan and participate in something that they were unfamiliar with and profoundly disliked. But her worries sold both herself and our friends short – they committed wholeheartedly to the event, and very successfully staged a celebration of their pregnant friend and the little baby that she was soon to bring into the world. Our friends may not be too keen on popping babies out of their own, personal wombs, but they are keen on Amelia. It was touching – Amelia might have had a dignified little sob when she went to bed that night.
The event had all the hallmarks of a traditional baby shower, including gifts and food and games and decorations and such, none of it done by half. On top of that, there were personal touches which added a sly wink to the festivities; bingo cards with a spot for “personal bubble tummy touches”, a custom-printed card game that doubled as an in-joke, oddly-phrased signage that hearkened back to their days dissecting language as a group of fresh-faced grad students, and more! Sentimentality aside, we had a lovely time.
None of this is to suggest that the planning was not fuelled by late-night wine-drinking sessions and confused Google searches, which I understand to be an essential component of planning a baby shower. Our friends accomplish things in the manner to which they are accustomed, after all, and we would not have it any other way.
Since Amelia was not working during the last two months of the pregnancy, there was ample time for other social engagements. She was rapidly becoming less mobile – intermittent contractions began well over a month before the due date, which really put a damper on things like “walking” or “moving more than ten steps away from a bed”.
The first time they hit was a real surprise; Amelia hadn’t been expecting contractions to manifest as a constant, throbbing pain in her abdomen for hours at a time, but (after an urgent trip to the ER), we learned that that’s apparently that’s how they start. Amelia could be in labour any time, the nurses told us – tomorrow or a month from now or even longer. We just needed to keep an eye on the severity, frequency, and duration of the contractions and rush to hospital if they hit certain thresholds.
So we did most of our socializing at home, close to the hospital and within waddling distance of bed. Fortunately, our friends were willing to suffer the long commute out to our home in suburban Burnaby just to see our mugs. For instance, Amelia organized a Dungeons & Dragons group with weekly(ish) meetings at our place. Amelia was the dungeon master, which let her use her free time at home to prepare storylines and draw maps.
We even moved the group’s annual Thanksgiving dinner to our kitchen. This is traditionally hosted by our friends Lauren and Steve, who graciously surrendered the hosts’ mantle to accommodate Amelia’s delicate condition. Lauren, being the official turkey-maestro of the group, came out early to ensure that I didn’t burn the place down.
The turkeys turned out great, by the way, which is very important. I like to joke that Cheeseweed is “not much bigger than this turkey right here” (a reference to a TV show). There does not need to be any turkey before us for me to say it; Amelia knows the turkey to which I am referring. Amelia hates this joke, and has decreed that I could only say it if I actually cooked her a turkey. Well, we cooked three turkeys, and I feel that I got a suitable amount of mileage out each of them, joke-wise.
Amelia put her time at home to good use. Her nesting instinct kicked in pretty hard right around this time; it suddenly became very urgent that we buy an infant bath, load up on receiving blankets, and otherwise fill out our nursery. She cooked and froze dozens of meals, in preparation for the exhausting early days of parenthood (we’ll have to make meals on an as-needed basis during the exhausting later days of parenthood, though). She lopped off most of her hair (“it’s more manageable this way!”, she claimed, though in truth she’s wanted to go short for years). She also organized and sterilized essentially everything in the nursery.
It seems sort of reductive to chalk a grown person’s behaviour up to some sort of hormonally-driven instinct, but Amelia confirms: the nesting instinct is real, and it’s a serious kick in the pants. She Got. Stuff. Done. After a few weeks of this, though, the number of remaining tasks dwindled, and she had to find ways to occupy her time. Mostly, this involved video games – she started playing Tales of Symphonia to fill her free hours at home.
We did, occasionally, get out of the house (well, condo). Sometimes, circumstances demanded that we go out – for instance, a two-day-long power outage found us seeking refuge at a friend’s house (thanks, Mary!). At other times, we made a more deliberate effort to stay involved with our social circles. For instance, we headed out to Michelle’s home on the other side of town for her birthday about three weeks before the due date. Amelia started getting contractions about half-way there; by the time we arrived, her uterine gymnastics had left her exhausted. Our friends graciously offered up their bed as a place to rest.
About an hour later, though, I went in to check on Amelia and found that her contractions had intensified – they’d hit the hospital’s thresholds and it was time to motor across town and get her admitted. And motor we did; Google Maps predicted something like thirty-five minutes, but we arrived in closer to twenty. It wasn’t long before we were at the hospital, Amelia was admitted, and our nurse checked Amelia over.
After an initial examination, our nurse told Amelia that she was in labour – the baby could be coming tonight! This was a big moment for us. It was unexpected – we were still several weeks away from the due date, though only on the tail end of preemie territory. We’d likely need the services of a NICU while the baby’s lungs finished developing (which might require us to move to a different hospital – our hospital of choice was crowded that night), but little Cheeseweed should be fine.
We sat there for a moment, absorbing the news in a state akin to shock. But there was this moment, as we looked at each other (I in my seat and Amelia in her hospital bed), when we simultaneously realized that we had no reservations. We felt ready. Everything was in order at home, the baby was healthy, and we had waited so long – we were ready for the wait to be over. We eagerly awaited for the doctor to come in to conduct the cervical exam to confirm the labour.
This eagerness was only slightly abated by a sudden, sharp, haunting scream from the delivery room next door – I have never heard a human create such a sound, and it touched the very core of my being. I looked at Amelia with trepidation and she laughed at my concern – my visceral response to The Scream is one of her favourite pregnancy stories.
Unfortunately, the doctor’s examination revealed that it was false labour. False labour is like actual labour in essentially every way, except that the cervix hasn’t dilated, which means no delivery. False labour is extremely physically uncomfortable (much like regular labour), but its emotional toll is much more severe; coming crashing down to earth after being told that tonight’s the night is a heck of a trip. Plus, it sticks with you; you can’t really distinguish false from actual labour without a medical professional sticking their fingers up the birth canal, so every time that contractions flared up afterwards there was this lingering doubt – “is this actual labour, or am I just going to get my hopes up and waste another four-to-six hours in the hospital again?”
From that point on, we were on contraction watch. Amelia’s uterus had warmed up and was running at full steam; now we were just waiting for the cervix to ripen, which the nurses told us could take as little as four hours (or as much as several weeks). Whenever the contractions hit those thresholds, we drove on in. During the times when they floated below the hospital’s range, we just… waited.
What followed was a tremendously frustrating two weeks. That doesn’t seem like a long period of time when I write it out, but trust me – it was a very long time. Contractions came consistently; they’d come in waves, lasting a couple of hours and spaced five or so minutes apart, then quieting down for a couple of hours, and then starting up again. They weren’t quite frequent enough to trigger a hospital visit, so Amelia just soldiered through for fourteen long days. It seemed like the baby would never come, and Amelia would be stuck in a never-ending cycle of almost-labour.
It was during this time that I started my new job. This was exciting in its own right, though the knowledge that I could get The Call at any moment really coloured the experience. New baby trumps new job, excitement-level-wise.
As it happens, I wasn’t at work when labour began. Amelia had a routine checkup with her OB/GYN on Tuesday, 20 October 2015. He administered a cervical exam and declared that Amelia was roughly 3cm dilated (4cm is usually pegged as the beginning of “active labour” and 10cm is full-on birthing mode). Her contractions had also been particularly intense that day, starting around 4am and not giving more than a few minutes’ relief between them. The doctor told us that Amelia would give birth that day – “I’d bet good money!”, he exclaimed, so I took the day off work.
We should have taken his bet. The contractions picked up in the evening, we went in to the hospital, and they told us that Amelia was still 3cm dilated. “You’ll have your baby within 24 hours!”, another OB/GYN said. They gave Amelia some morphine to help her sleep. Amelia was opposed to any pain relief, but the doctors convinced her that it wasn’t for pain relief as such; it was just a half-dose to allow her to ignore the contractions long enough to fall asleep, which would help labour go more smoothly. She grudgingly accepted and we went home to sleep. The contractions slowed a little, but did not stop; we spent Wednesday waiting for the contractions to pick up again.
You can see where this is going. Fast-forward 24 hours: no baby. The contractions were ongoing, but not at hospital-levels yet. They started to pick up a few hours later, so we went back to the hospital. Amelia got examined by yet another OB/GYN, who hemmed and hawed for a bit before deciding to admit Amelia. Amelia was just at the cusp where she could be admitted (she was 4cm dilated), but for a first pregnancy they sometimes wait longer (since dilation tends to take longer). Luckily for Amelia, the delivery ward was nearly empty and the doctor took pity on this poor pregnant lady who had come in for the fourth time. Amelia finally got sent to a delivery room.
We spent the evening in the delivery room, with Amelia in increasing levels of discomfort but her cervix stubbornly refusing to open up further. After four or five hours without progress, the doctor suggested that Amelia transfer to one of the comfier beds in maternity where she could get some sleep. The doctor also advised another half-dose of morphine. “Delivery only gets harder if you stay up all night”, we were advised. We accepted the doctor’s recommendation and resolved to try again tomorrow.
We settled in to the maternity ward around midnight. Amelia bundled herself into a bed and I caught a nap on a couch. We weren’t there long – at 1:50am Amelia realized with a start that her water had broken. (Quoth Amelia: “FINALLY!”)
This was a surprising and exciting development, though it had not come at the ideal time. The shot of morphine that Amelia had been given was just hitting the apex of its effect; now surging with adrenaline and slightly addled, she was having some trouble processing what was going on.
After the water broke, things moved quickly. Amelia’s contractions rapidly intensified, and we were whisked back to the delivery room. From here on out, Amelia got cervical examinations every few minutes. She measured 6cm at 2:30am, 8cm at 3:30am, and 10cm at 4:30am. This is about twice as fast as you’d expect (it’s usually 1cm per hour); apparently Amelia’s mind and body were finally in sync, and every part of her was in a rush. It helped that the morphine wore off quickly, too.
Once she was fully dilated, Amelia started pushing. The instinctual urge to push is a powerful one; it starts shortly before full dilation, and during that time the nurses ordered her to resist (since premature pushing could lead to tearing). The urge was so powerful that Amelia was not fully able to comply. Fortunately, full dilation came quickly. Soon, Amelia could reach down and feel the top of our little girl’s head, only barely inside her. But this proximity was deceptive – labour was less than half-done, with the better part of an hour to go.
Labour is a terrifying and awe-inspiring thing to behold. Amelia’s body wrested control of itself from her conscious mind, forcing her to push to the point of exhaustion, and then well beyond that. With each contraction her whole body tensed, her face turned purple, and blood vessels across her entire body burst. After an hour of intense labour she was spent, falling unconscious in the minute-long reprieve between contractions, only to jolt back awake as her body bore down once again.
And then, one hour and ten minutes into labour (if you’re counting, that’s fifty long hours after Amelia’s nonstop contractions started in earnest), we saw her. The baby’s head burst forth into the room, her body still buried in her mother’s from the neck down. It’s a bizarre sight; a puffy, purple face suddenly poking out of Amelia’s nether regions. The doctor turned the face around towards Amelia and asked Amelia (whose eyes had not been open for some time by this point) to look. She did look, and she yelled. It was shock and relief and longing all at once, a pure and guttural shriek. “That’s my baby!”, she proclaimed a few seconds later (after regaining the capacity for language). Newly invigorated, she gave one more push, and the baby was out.
The baby’s first few moments out of the womb are probably startling, but they’re also sweet. The baby was dragged up Amelia’s torso and laid on her chest, the baby never leaving contact with her mother. She stayed there for half an hour while the doctor and nurses tended to their business – clamping the umbilical cord, towelling the baby off, injecting Amelia with oxytocin to encourage delivery of the placenta, stitching Amelia up (“ten internal and three external!”, Amelia proudly notes), and so on. But there, in the inches between mother and baby, was an oasis of calm.
The baby got her first taste of mother’s milk (colostrum, a special blend for newborns) and then got whisked away for weigh-ins and cord-cutting (I cut the cord!) and paediatric examination. The baby was quickly back in her mother’s arms, father hanging just overhead (and, when mom was willing to give her up for a moment, taking a turn holding her as well).
Soon we would be sent back to the maternity ward, baby in hand. But arranging that took some time; we would not be moved for a few hours, long after the medical staff had finished tending to the new mother and baby. So, for a little while, it was just us – the three of us, Amelia and Christopher and Christina.
Christina was born at 5:40am, weighing six pounds fourteen ounces and measuring 49 centimetres long. Both she and Amelia were healthy, if somewhat perturbed by the events of the morning.
And… that’s it. Pregnancy’s over. After so many long months of adapting to all the changes pregnancy brings, the sudden jump into non-pregnant life, and a non-pregnant body, is jarring. Parenthood is an entirely different thing, one that I’ll leave for a follow-up entry (or entries). But still, jarring and tumultuous though it is, the end of pregnancy is picture-perfect.
For Christina, we would do it all over again.