“Wow! If you had forceps last time, the next one will just FALL OUT!” (or, crazy predictions and expectations about second births)

I’ve attended so many second births recently, and I have 8 previous clients pregnant at the moment. So, I wanted to convey some of the joy and excitement of working with these second-time clients. I also wanted to talk about predictions and expectations surrounding second births.

So, today, for inspiration, I called a very special client whose little one is now about 18 months old. She picked up the phone and we both started grinning from ear to ear. “I’ve been thinking about you all this week!” she laughed. That’s the joy borne out of spending such an intense and sacred time together during her labour in 2004.

I love what I can do for a repeat client heading into the birth of her second child. If she has any lingering worries about the first birth, we can work on it together - because I was there! If it was a smooth and easy first birth, she may be worried about tempting fate: “It couldn’t possibly be THAT good TWICE!” We get to spend the whole nine months (and more) talking about what to expect. I get to remind her that she’s already a great mum, share stories about our children (who cares that there’s a 20-year gap), have tea, chat on the phone, and plan for all eventualities. The doula role can expand from its intense focus on the “birth-day” to a broad look at “the big picture.” We can talk about mothering, families, and careers, while making it all relevant to the second birth.

Here are a few of the questions that usually come up during these chats:

“Ah, but how can I love a second child like I do my first?” This whispered question, like a deep secret, is always asked. The love for the firstborn is so profound that it can be scary entertaining the thought of loving another. But, just like the Grinch’s heart was able to expand, our hearts just miraculously DOUBLE in size when that second baby appears. Voila! It just works!

“And how will my firstborn be able to cope with the birth of a sibling?” Especially if there have been more than 3 years between children, the firstborn remembers how good life was before the new baby arrived. “You’re ALWAYS feeding the baby,” said my brother, as he walked past my mum in a huff. My own daughter got creative with a black indelible ink felt pen on the walls of our townhouse - up the stairs, around the corner - then signed it “saraH.” “No, it wasn’t me, mum. It was the other Sara down the street.” “But Sarah, her name doesn’t have an “H” at the end. Now, you obviously need huge swaths of paper to express yourself these days, don’t you?” And so you adapt, you cope, and the firstborn adjusts, too.

Remember, the firstborn is viewing all of this with the eyes of a small child, NOT the eyes of an adult. After a month, my daughter, then 3 1/2, said, “I liked it better before HE came.” I held onto that comment for years, worrying whether she still resented her little brother. Recently, I asked her about that comment. “Oh, mum, I was 3! That was a comment made in the moment. I would have loved him utterly the next day!” Hmmm.... Right.

“I’m confused. What’s with all these contractions?” This birth will follow a totally different rhythm from the first, and that may play with your mind, and your emotions. But remember, the body doesn’t know you have a brain that is constantly trying to figure out WHEN this labour is going to start. With a second baby, your body may be happily trying to get most of the work of labour done IN ADVANCE of the big day. Cool, eh? Your body can give you mild irregular contractions, or quite a bit of pelvic pressure, over the last few weeks. Your cervix may be quietly thinning, softening or dilating in advance. So, thank your body, let go of trying to figure out WHEN it will shift into active labour, and trust that the signs will be VERY CLEAR. Remember, you can page me whenever you like and we’ll figure it out together!

“I’m 4 cm. already. I’m sure the baby will come today.” During the last few weeks, you may be told “Your baby is really LOW,” “Your baby is really BIG,” or that “You’re 2, 3, 4, or 5 centimetres dilated ALREADY.” Please remember that these aren’t necessarily predictors of an imminent or speedy labour. They just mean that your body works beautifully. Who knows how long you’ve been 4 cm. dilated? You may have been this dilated for weeks. So, please think twice about your decision to have a vaginal assessment prior to labour with a second pregnancy. Think about what you will do with the information once you have it, and if it might negatively affect you emotionally. Then make your choice.

“So, are there any rules for a second birth?” Sure, everyone says that this birth will be about half the length of your first. But, I seem to spend about the same amount of time with both first AND second-timers. What’s that all about? The difference is in what we’re doing during those hours. There’s a lot more tea-making, chatting, walking, and playing with children during the second labour. There’s a lot of waiting for the labour to move from “easy-going early stuff” to the “wild and crazy finish.” Infinite patience and trust in the body are required during this birth. Because, when you least expect it, this labour will finally shift gears, and the baby will arrive with a splash.

There aren’t any rules for a second birth, but here are some helpful notes:

  • You may be piddling around in prelabour for days and days (Don’t worry, it’s all going to help in the long-run). Let's just think of it as normal second baby "end of pregnancy stuff"
  • You can shift from prelabour to labour in a heartbeat (Watch for this shift in gears)
  • Once you're in active labour, it will probably be MUCH shorter than last time
  • Dilation is not a reliable indicator of when the baby will be born (You can go from 2-10 cm. in 15 minutes, or sit for weeks at 5 cm.)
  • If you say “The baby’s coming!” it’s coming within MINUTES, not HOURS
  • Pushing out a second baby is all about BREATHING it out, not actively thinking about “PUSHING”
  • Trust your body...it will surprise you!