A couple of Wednesdays ago I was waddling around Stockholm a couple of days overdue, but not unpleasantly so. I had been more worried about this baby showing up early than anything else since I had so much to get done before his arrival.
I’d been plowing through a mighty to-do list slowly but surely, and in the days before I went into labour I managed to tick of all of the remaining essential items thanks to this method, which I will surely be implementing when I get back to business as usual.
That week I’d managed to assemble the remaining portion of our double stroller and optional standing board, and converted Niko’s old crib back to an infant configuration, both of which were sweaty, grunty tasks hunched over a more-than 40-week pregnant belly.
On Wednesday morning I finished up some bookkeeping and packaged my business expenses to send over to my accountant, something I needed to do to provide proof of income for my maternity leave (the joys of self-employment). I met a friend for lunch at one of my favourite restaurants in Stockholm where we joked about smoking this baby out with a spicy meal.
We finished lunch with pistachio gelato from the killer ice cream place next door, and made plans to meet the next day to see a matinee (A Star is Born, which I’d already seen the previous week and couldn’t get out of my mind – SO GOOD!) and I said that I’d see her there unless I was busy having a baby… (dun dun dun!!!)
On the bus ride home I noticed that I was having a bit of pain in my lower abdomen, and I wondered if it was my maternity jeans cutting in, since I’d basically been living in yoga pants for the past several weeks. I stopped by the post office and dropped my receipts in the mail, grabbed a few groceries, and headed home, where I changed back into my yoga pants. But the twinges of pain persisted.
Paul arrived home shortly after I did and asked how I was doing and I was like, I dunno, twitchy? And said I’d meet he and Niko in the playground shortly. Once I got to the playground I felt like I might, maybe be having some contractions, but they were super mild and not really worth noting. Besides, I hadn’t lost my mucus plug yet or had any of the other signs that labour would be imminent that I had with Niko.
I felt an urge to walk, so was pacing around the playground as the kids played. One of the other dads nudged Paul and asked what was up with me, and he just shrugged. But by the time we got home to give Niko dinner I told Paul that maybe, just maybe, something might be happening. I texted our babysitter to give her a head’s up just in case we had to call her for real that night, and she told me she had a funny feeling earlier in the day and had turned around to grab the keys to our apartment just in case.
I made dinner for Niko (macaroni from a box – gimme a break, I was in labour!) and decided it was probably time to start timing my contractions. Just like with Niko, they were fairly close together (2-3 minutes apart) and consistently 30 – 45 seconds long from the beginning, but not yet super intense and I could easily breathe through them.
I gave Niko a bath, knowing it was probably the last time I’d bath him as an only child, and knowing his whole world was about to be turned upside down, and feeling extra nostalgic about it. I gave him extra snuggles and an extra bedtime story and extra kisses and he was like, mom get out of my face already!
Paul, having heard enough stories about second babies born unintentionally at home or on the way to the hospital, was getting antsy about calling in, but I didn’t feel like it was time yet. I had a super straightforward labour with Niko and a really fast second stage (less than 9 minutes of pushing) so I’d been cautioned to not wait too long to go in this time, but it still felt really premature.
I paced around the apartment, made a few phone calls, unpacked and re-packed my hospital bag, tied up a few loose ends on the computer, and paced some more. When I was in labour with Niko from really early on all I wanted do to was be bent over on all fours, but this time I really wanted to move!
I finally agreed to call the hospital at around 9pm, because that’s the time I normally take a dose of medication and I needed to consult them about whether or not to take it (taking it would mean no epidural for 12 hours after the last dose, and I wanted to have that option open if possible). I explained that my contractions were close together but pretty mild, but that my first birth had happened quite fast, and also that we had to call in a babysitter before we came so I wasn’t sure what to do.
They recommended I call the babysitter, and then just head in whenever it felt right. It was a good call, because by the time our babysitter arrived 30 minutes later, I was ready to head out the door. We called a taxi, and got to the hospital at about 10pm.
Now, most people that I’ve talked to had been 3-4cm dilated when they got to the hospital with baby #1, and 7-8cm with baby #2. So I was mega bummed when I got to the hospital and they said I was only 3cm! What?! I felt like I’d been rocking the labour so far but I still had so far to go.
Again I just wanted to pace, and I wanted people to stop trying to make small talk (the nurses) or say stupid encouraging things to me (Paul), so I put my earphones in and blasted this LCD Sound Systems song into my earballs as loud as I could, and paced the delivery room non-stop in figure eights. The midwives were kind enough to give me a wireless monitor so I could move around as much as I wanted.
After about an hour of pacing things were getting more intense. My legs were getting tired (really, I’d been pacing for approx 5 hours at that point if you count the playground and at my apartment as well) and shaky, and I felt like I needed to try something different, so I asked about trying the bath.
When I had Niko, the labouring in the bath was the one thing I was adamant about trying BEFORE I was in actual labour, and the only thing I didn’t try. So this time I really wanted to give it a go, especially since so many of my friends had raved about labouring in the bath and how much relief they got from the water.
Folks, those bitches are crazy! The bath did NOTHING for me. But I will say, with both of my labours I was really really uncomfortable ever being on my back or reclined at all, so I may not have experienced the full effect of the bath since I refused to lie down. It did give me something to do, though, and I found that I could apply good counter pressure during the contractions by kneeling in the bath and pushing my legs out into the sides of the tub as hard as I could.
The bath is also when I entered what I refer to as the screamy stage of labour. If there are birthing archetypes – and I’m sure there are – I’m for sure The Screamer. At a particular stage I definitely lose the ability to breathe through my contractions, and instead of in through the nose, out through the mouth breathing, it’s in through the nose, out through the AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. They probably walked back to the nursing station and were like, oh geeze we’ve got a screamer in 305.
Yes, and that screamer was me.
I felt like I’d been in the bath for approximately 10 minutes, but apparently the cadence of my screaming had lured the midwives back into the room and they told me it sounded like it was time to get out. They said I’d been in the bath for approximately 45 minutes. And guess what? I was 8cm dilated at that point. Boo-yah!
So I moved from the bath to being sort of draped over a bean bag up on the bed, where I found that once again I could apply counter pressure with my legs into the mattress and sides of the bed.
The midwife told me if I wanted an epidural it was now or never. The thing was, she said, my water hadn’t broken yet, so yes I was 8cm, but the baby was still up quite high and we had no idea how long I’d be there for. Still, it seemed silly to get an epidural at 8cm, and when the assistant midwife suggested we try cranking up the laughing gas I decided to give that a go.
For those of you who haven’t tried it, laughing gas during labour is like putting one of those stupid useless little round bandaids that comes in the mixed box on a spurting jugular, but, much like the bath, at least it gave me something to do. To be fair, it did make me hear some pretty cool techno music that most definitely wasn’t actually playing in the room, and tolerate a shoulder rub from my husband which I would have otherwise refused.
Then I spent the remainder of my labour yelling at myself inside my own head for not getting an epidural. WHAT THE FUCK WERE YOU THINKING? THIS ISN’T IMPORTANT TO ME! I’M NOT ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE WHO CARES ABOUT HAVING A DRUG-FREE BIRTH! WHAT THE FUUUUCCCKKKKKKK???!!!
To be honest, things were progressing so quickly that I think had I requested the epidural by the time the anaesthetist arrived it probably would have been too late, so I think it ended up for the best I decided on my own to forgo it.
At 9cm, POW! My water broke, and I soon started experiencing an urge to push. The midwife said I wasn’t quite there yet, and suggested I move onto my side to take some of the pressure of the baby’s head off of my cervix. I did, and it helped for a bit, but I also found not being able to push my legs into the bed anymore made the contractions tougher to handle, so I definitely became a lot more screamy at that point – and I was already very, very screamy.
Soon I was given the all-clear to start pushing, and push I did. They kept yelling at me to stop pushing between contractions because I was just giving ‘er as hard as I could, but once I focused I was able to push when I was supposed to and stop when I needed to. After a few minutes they told me the head was out and the baby was looking around, which sounds SO CREEPY to me. Another couple of pushes and plop! Out he came. Little Odin TKro, out in the world.
They told me it was a total of four minutes of pushing, and that’s including the entire descent down the canal. We got to the hospital at 10pm and I was 3cm when I arrived. He was born at 12:40am, so I am grateful that we went in to the hospital when we did. If I had waited until things got really intense, we probably wouldn’t have made it.
The midwives asked Paul if he wanted to cut the cord, and he declined, just as he did the previous time (I’m not that kind of a doctor, isn’t it your job?!) and then they asked me if I wanted to, and I was caught off guard and said no. I’m bummed that I didn’t! The placenta chapter was one of my favourite parts of Like a Mother, and when I had time to reflect on it I felt like it would have been a powerful action to be the one to sever that ultimate connection between mother and child. Oh well.
Then a quick clean up, an inspection to see whether I needed any stitches (I did not, yay Epi-No!) and then we were discharged to the baby hotel, an actual hotel on the hospital grounds that has a floor dedicated to maternity care. You stay in a proper hotel room with a queen-sized bed, a tv, a fridge, and a little bassinet for the baby. The bathroom is stocked with all of the usuals, plus a diaper changing station with tiny diapers for the new baby and gigantic pads and mesh underpants for the new mom. I think that Sweden is undeniably one of the best places in the world to have a baby.
Over the years several people I know have talked up how great it is to give birth without an epidural. The adrenaline rush! The incredible connection with your baby! You gotta do it!
Well now I’ve done it both ways, and I call bullshit. I mean, to each their own, and if having a drug-free birth is important to you, then by all means, go for it. It’s not important to me, but for some insane reason I just kept going to the next stage and the next stage and the next stage, but I always had it in my back pocket as an option.
I do not feel that my bonding experience was any different this time around without it, and I don’t feel that the rush of giving birth was any better. If anything, it was a little bit worse because I was so shaky this time (I mean literally, my body would not stop shaking) and rather than feeling like I’d accomplished something I felt furious with myself for having suffered needlessly.
So don’t let anyone make you feel like you’re better at birth if you go drug free. You’re not! And the prize at the end is the exact same.
Ohhhhhhhhhhhh my goodness, the name.
We wanted a Swedish name, but something that our families in Canada could easily pronounce, which eliminates a LOT. Basically anything with a J or a Swedish vowel is automatically out, and a lot of the more traditional Swedish names won’t do. I was gunning for Axel, which Paul unequivocally rejected, and he was fond of Johan, which neither of us pronounce correctly as it is, let alone our families.
A couple of months ago I was sitting in my office when it popped into my head out of nowhere. Odin! Where had I heard this before? Oh right, Odin is a Norse god. He’s Thor’s father, the gatekeeper to Valhalla, and associated with war and battle. But he’s also the god of wisdom, healing, and poetry.
I emailed Paul and asked what he thought about Odin, and he replied Odin? Oh no!
A couple of weeks went by and I pitched it again. This time he replied saying that it was growing on him, and it continued to grow on us both as time went by.
I had a feeling that Odin might be a bit out there in Sweden. Though there are plenty of little boys named Tor (the Swedish spelling of Thor) I’d never met an Odin. So I started canvassing a select bunch of Swedes to try and figure out whether it would be too weird. Would this be akin to naming your kid Zeus or Jesus or something like that?
I think all in all I spoke to about 12 people, all of whom were super positive about the name, none of whom brought up anything weird about it.
The day after I gave birth I shared a photo of our new baby on Instagram and said that his name is Odin (we think) and got about 75 comments congratulating us and saying how great the name was. And then, as I was sitting in the breakfast room in the baby hotel – still sitting on one of those enormous maternity pads – eating some shitty hotel scrambled eggs and Swedish rye bread, I got a direct message from an acquaintance letting me know that the name Odin has racist connotations in the Nordics, along with a bunch of sad face emojis.
This well-intended but horribly misplaced message sent me into a weeklong tailspin of anxiety about the name, in which I started asking every Swedish person I know about this. And yes, it’s true, there are some hardcore nationalist groups that have appropriated the names of several Norse gods, but most notably Odin.
Here’s the thing. We spoke to about 50 people including friends, colleagues of friends, colleagues, parents at Niko’s daycare, etc, and of those 50 only two people were reactive to it, including the original message.
But I flipped and I flopped, we contemplated changing the name. We changed it and then changed it back and changed it again. We told our families our alternative name choice, which opened up more opinions. So many opinions about one little boy’s name.
It was fucking stressful, folks, and a massive dose of anxiety I really could have done without during that first week of snuggling my beautiful baby boy. I don’t care if someone you know names their kid Princess Fuckface the third, you have NO business bringing it up with them.
(I actually know someone who’s legitimate first name is Princess (though I doubt her middle name is Fuckface) and I used to work with a guy who’s first name was Nimrod. So I mean, there really are worse names).
Our runner up name was Mattias, and funnily enough, Niko is adamant that that is his brother’s name. ADAMANT. At one point we decided to let Niko decide, and called him Mattias for about two hours, but at that point, under threat of losing the name Odin, Paul realized how much he liked it and made the final decision to change it back.
I wondered if I would feel better if I finally replied to the message that caused all this drama in the first place, and you know what? I did.
Ultimately, most people we spoke to either didn’t have this association with the name Odin, or they knew of it but felt like it was MORE offensive to let these groups claim an important piece of Nordic history. THIS Odin is born to immigrant parents, the very thing these groups stand against. He’s born to a strongly feminist mother and with every breath I take I’ll be making sure that my two sons are going to be woke (as obnoxious as that term is).
Hate loses, love wins, and this beautiful boy’s name is Odin. Or Odie Podie Pie. Or Podes to shorten that. Or Odes. Whatever. He’s rad, and we love him.
(The middle name is Mattias (we think – we still haven’t filed the paperwork) since Niko likes it so much. We had chosen a middle name that was a family name, which, frankly, I still think was a better choice, but Paul likes the idea of changing it to Mattias so if he wants to he can choose to go by his middle name one day. Apparently we’ve become people who can’t make decisions. And like Niko he has both of our last names, which we shorten to TKro.)
I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about bringing home a new baby, and yet now it feels like we’ve just always had him. Funny how that works, right?
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