The last time I got to stroll around Hamburg all on my own felt like a gift from above. Any mom of a toddler who’s not yet in kindergarten would understand. I was in Schanze, where the cool kids hang out. It was warm and sunny, something you don’t take for granted in this neck of the woods. I had two hours to kill, so I wandered the streets, stopped by a few boutique shops and picked up a hot chocolate at Copenhagen Coffee Lab. My rare “me-time” was interrupted only about every ten minutes by contractions.
They were not particularly painful or, as a result, effective — which is exactly why the midwife at the hospital sent me on a walking city tour. Still, the realization that I am about to meet my second son was settling in. A man rode his bike past me. I gave way to an old lady dragging her shopping caddy. All they saw was a casually strolling pregnant woman. “You have no idea!” I thought.
If you did read me as far back as 2019, you know that I announced my first pregnancy and the birth of Kroshka, my first son, in the same manner. That is to say, a month after he was born. It’s a Russian thing. It’s also a me-thing. I don’t talk openly about anything that has not yet materialized in the world: not about upcoming trips, upcoming move to a new country, and definitely not about upcoming babies.
Which is why once I learned that I was pregnant I disappeared from the blog and social media for the whole of the first trimester. And — jumping ahead — I did it again in the third trimester. What kind of blogger goes off the radar for six months out of a year, and during the time that could potentially be used to post cute bump pictures at that? I’ll never be successful, will I?
It took two tests to establish that I was pregnant. My cycle was off, my stomach hurt, and feeling tired and sleepy seemed to be a daily occurrence. But it wasn’t until I was having coffee one fine morning and thought “How disgusting. Why am I drinking this? Oh wait, that happened before…” that I went out and bought a test. It was negative.
Naturally, I thought something was really wrong with me. I tolerated the pain and exhaustion for another week and resolved to go to the doctor if the second test came back negative too. And what do you think? Two lines! Actually, it was a plus sign. But that doesn’t sound as cool or self-explanatory.
The thing about the second baby is that it’s practically impossible to imagine that you can have another baby who is not your first baby, if that makes sense. Let me try again. When you have no babies, your fantasy runs wild and creates hundreds of possible visions of what the baby will look like. Once you have a baby, it feels like that baby — with his or her exact face, voice, and character — is the only possible baby you and your partner could ever make. Like if there was a math equation x+y=z. Not j, not w. It’s z and it has always been z. But life is more complicated than math. You take x and y and out come all kinds of letters, written in all possible fonts too.
Another thing about the second baby — or better said, second pregnancy — is how much more relaxed you feel. I did anyways. So relaxed, in fact, that I went to Sri Lanka for almost three months, missing all of my doctor appointments, including the second trimester screening.
So relaxed that I started searching for a midwife who’d be coming to check up on me and the baby after delivery— all covered by insurance by the way, Germany is pretty awesome — at seven months pregnant. Just to give you an idea of how late that is: when I called a company that employs dozens of midwives in March, they were all booked till October.
So relaxed I packed the hospital bag on the estimated due date. Which is better than the last time when I was throwing random stuff into a suitcase while amniotic fluid was running down my legs.
So relaxed I bought the crib on the day when my son was born. My husband went and picked it up at 12.00. I was at the hospital at 15.00. Which is when the midwife said that nothing is happening and I should go for a walk.
The walk wasn’t particularly effective, unless me being in great mood counts as helpful for delivery. I went home where, sure enough, the contractions became painful within half an hour. I won’t describe the entire birth story, but here are a few memorable outtakes.
I call a taxi when contractions are five minutes apart and ask — in German — to send a car with a child car seat. We would have to drop Kroshka off at a friend’s place on the way. “Das Kind is nur zwei”… wait, that’s wrong… “erst zwei!”. The kid is only two — I manage to notice a mistake and correct myself. Contraction. “Two days? Months? Years?” asks the operator, seemingly annoyed. Breath, breath, breath. “Years” I whisper on the exhale. “And how much does he weigh?” Breath, breath… “You don’t know that either? Oooook!”
“Woman, I am in labour! Will you give me a second? I know how much my child weighs” is what I wish I had said. Instead, I kept breathing until the operator confirmed the order and hung up.
I open the door of the taxi — contraction. I lean on the door and breath in and out loudly for a good minute. I get in, the driver starts the car, then says “Put the mask on, please” and stops the car until I do as he requires. What is with this taxi service?
I get out of the taxi — contraction. In front of the hospital doors — contraction. Elevator — contraction. I make it to the maternity ward and almost fall into a midwife’s arms — contraction. It dawns on me: I am at the hospital, I can ask for painkillers. And then I realize, I don’t know how to say “painkillers” in German. I know how to say “amniotic sac” and “uterus”, but I don’t know the word for “painkillers”.
“Painkiller, bitte?” I try in English. “Pee-pee machen?” replies the midwife. By the time she figures out what I am asking for, my husband, who took another taxi, runs into the delivery room. “Can’t give you any medication, it’s too late now” Great!
It was 23.25 when I arrived to the hospital. My husband made it by 23.40. Our second son was born at 23.50.
I realized only recently that I never quite explained what “Kroshka”, the way I refer to my first son in this blog, means. “Kroshka” is Russian for “bread crumb”, but can also refer to someone little. After the first couple of posts on motherhood writing “my son” and “my baby” interchangeably became too repetitive, but I still didn’t feel like revealing his actual name. So I came up with “Kroshka”.
With this post, I’d like to introduce you to Knopka, Russian for “button”, whom we couldn’t envision only a few weeks ago, but who now feels like the only possible extension of our family.
Congrtulations on little Knopka! I’ve been reading your posts on and off since you were nominated for Saveur. Thoroughly enjoy your writing! Best wishes x
Thank you, Nancy! Wow, it feels like Saveur nomination took place ages ago. I lived in USA and had no kids… so much has changed. Thank you for reading me all these years, it means a lot!