I’ve never dabbled in any sort of illicit activity; alcohol and caffeine have always been my drugs of choice, but I can’t imagine the high of any drug to be greater than the euphoria I felt during the moment of Kara’s birth. However, it might not have gone that way had I not had the advice of women who blazed the parenting trail before me.. I’ve listened to both beautiful and difficult birth experiences and have been saddened to see how, in the case of the difficult experiences, the women wished things would have gone differently. I’m hoping that by sharing my experience – other people will feel empowered to make the birth of their children the beautiful moments they should be.
Planning A Birth?
I used to think giving birth was frantic, rushed, and SCARY. That’s how it is in the movies. Once the woman’s water breaks – it’s a frantic break for the hospital (usually in the back of a cab, or screaming in the passenger seat of a car). I never thought it could be so different and so much more calm. Although we live in a world where EVERYTHING can be customized, from the way you like your morning latte, to the details of your wedding, no one really ever talks about how you could plan for something so much more important – the birth of your child. I had never even heard of a birth plan until a close friend got pregnant and even then – thought maybe it was a little too much. That is – until my sister told me about her birth experience.
The day I found out my sister was pregnant – I kept reminding myself that at 26 years old, she was no longer my “baby sister.” Throughout her glowing pregnancy, I was moved to tears seeing how much more beautiful she was becoming as her body and soul prepared her to be a mother.
Finally, the day came and my niece Charlotte was born…more than 3,000 miles away in a hospital in Manhattan. We received news via text messages and pictures from my mom who was out there with them. Charlotte was beautiful – my sister was beautiful…it all seemed…so wonderful. It wasn’t until well after her recovery that she finally told me how traumatic her birthing experience was. She told me she wasn’t ready at all – she came in for a routine checkup when the doctor suggested she be induced – forcing her body to go into labor when it wasn’t ready. Because her body wasn’t ready – she labored for over 24 hours – hadn’t eaten (as most hospitals – they wouldn’t allow her any food) and finally – the doctor threatened that if she couldn’t deliver the baby vaginally – he would have to do a C-Section. As she was telling me this – I didn’t really know what to think. I was sad that she had to go through this, but at the same time – thought hospitals know best, right? Then she told me to watch the documentary, “The Business of Being Born.” She said she felt most of what happened to her once she reached the hospital is explained in the documentary. So I watched it – and it scared the shit out of me. It scared me to realize how much we trust the medical system where we no longer question something when it doesn’t feel right. We silence the little voice in our hearts and tell ourselves our instincts do not matter. I’m not saying do not trust your doctor, but do ask questions the way you would about anything else in your life. You have more of a choice in how you meet your child than you realize. Empowered by this knowledge, once I became pregnant – I told myself that my birth was going to go my way and the way nature designed it to go. And for that to happen – I had to make a plan.
Once pregnant – I started asking the women around me to tell me about their birth experiences. A lot of them did not have pleasant experiences – and about half of the women I knew had an “emergency C-Section.” I knew I wanted something different – so I started planning for an all natural birth. I was lucky to not only have my sister guide me, but also had other close friends who had just given birth share their experiences. It was like a whole new world. I heard the terms, “doula”, “birth plan”, “cord clamping” and even “mucus plug” (for those of you who don’t already know the last term – I wouldn’t recommend googling it) for the first time. I picked and chose what I liked about the positive experiences and as part of my plan – even changed hospitals. The hospital I left had an impressive record of delivering babies, they had a beautiful facility, and was considered by most people to be the “nicest hospital” to give birth in. However, they also had one of the highest C-Section rates in the county. This, combined with the prenatal care I received during my first trimester, where the OB-GYN rushed me through my appointments and made it very clear he was uninterested in the details of any birth plan, made me realize early on that in order to optimize not only my prenatal experience, but also my birth experience – I had to find a hospital that “had different priorities.” I chose the UCSD Hospital for its midwifery practice, evidence-based approach to medicine, and more importantly – its “birthing center”. After spending almost half of my pregnancy at an OB-GYN practice, switching over to a midwifery practice was like a breath of fresh air. When I met with one of the midwives for the first time – she actually READ my birth plan. SHOCK. They saw me as a mother-t0-be and not as another patient and they expressed a sincere interest in my interests. I knew I made the right decision.
After a few visits – one of the midwives asked if I thought about taking any birthing classes. They didn’t have any specific recommendations so I asked around when my best friend lent me her “Hypnobabies” self-guided course. It was almost a little “too holistic” for me, but a lot of it lined up with how I wanted to give birth so I gave it a shot. I laughed the first few times I listened to the audio tracks – the woman’s voice, meant to be soothing, was borderline pornographic! The skeptic in me really didn’t know if it was going to work – but the optimist in me told me it couldn’t hurt. So I stuck with it – and fell asleep to it – and focused …. and focused… and it paid off.
Waiting for Kara
No matter how much you hear or read, you really have no idea of what birthing your first child will be like. I scoured the internet for clues to try to understand what it was I would be feeling. Some say it feels like menstrual cramps. A co-worker, who delivered her two babies naturally, described the image of a uterus contracting and pulling at the same time – almost like a squeezing motion. My hypnobabies course described contractions as birthing waves”. While others simply said, “you’ll know when it happens.” I tried to memorize the frequency and timing of contractions. In the end – nothing came close to describing it. I had braxton hicks about a month before Kara’s birthday…I remember because the first ones I felt were while trick-or-treating with the nieces and nephews. I was excited because finally – I had an opportunity to practice my hypnobabies relaxation methods. Each time I felt the sensation – I would close my eyes, count backwards from ten, and imagine my “happy place.” For me – that happy place was sitting under the shade of a tree with the ocean in the background and my baby in my arms. Every time I felt any sort of sensation – or even pain – such as the random leg cramps I’d get in the middle of the night – I’d practice redirecting it.
These “braxton hicks” came and went throughout the month. Three days before Kara was born, I went in for my 41 week checkup. Most hospitals would have scheduled an induction by now, but thanks to my sister- I had chosen a hospital that practiced a more evidence-based approach to obstetrics and would allow me to have the most natural birthing experience possible. I told my midwife about all the sensations I had been feeling and so she asked if she could check to see if I was dilated. She was surprised to see that I was about 3 cm. Apparently, some of those sensations I’d been feeling was actually getting my body ready! Over the next three days – right around dinnertime, those sensations would get stronger and more frequent. Each night, I’d call my midwife and they’d tell me to get some rest and see if the sensations progressed. So I’d put in my headphones and fall asleep to hynobabies. I’d wake up in the mornings – partly disappointed (I was almost 42 weeks by now and really wanted to meet my baby) because I thought I had “hynobirthed” my contractions away! I grew anxious…I HATED it whenever someone asked when my baby was due and then give me a strange look when I told them my estimated due date had passed. I was at a birthday party where a nurse joked that if I didn’t give birth soon – she was sure the hospital would induce me because no hospital staff wanted to work on Thanksgiving. Thankfully – I was not a patient in her hospital.
The Fun Begins: First Stop, Krispy Kremes
On the morning of November 23, 2015, I woke up from another night of contractions that seemed to disappear at dawn. Figuring we didn’t have much alone time left, we decided to go catch a matinee showing of Spectre, the latest 007 flick. It was the most uncomfortable movie I’ve ever sat through! Every 15 minutes or so – I’d feel what I thought were more “practice” contractions and I couldn’t sit still. All I could do was close my eyes and focus on relaxing. By the time the movie was over, my lower back was killing me and I just wanted to go home. When we got home, Khoi used an electric handheld device to massage my lower back. I found sitting on an exercise ball helped a lot during these sensations, so as I sat, Khoi massaged my lower back. Ten minutes later, when I stood up to go to the bathroom – my water broke. Khoi squealed (yes – SQUEALED…like a a happy lil schoolgirl) in excitement, tears welling in his eyes. We were so close to meeting our lil frijolito (the name we gave Kara while she was in my womb). I reminded him we were to stay calm and asked him to call the midwife while I took a quick, warm shower. She told us to come in whenever we felt ready. It was about 5:30pm so I told her we’d be there around 7pm. We checked to make sure we had everything (the baby bag had been packed for weeks by now and the car seat was already in the car) – and we were on our way.
The first thing I wanted to do was stop at Krispy Kremes. That might sound ridiculous, but I had read that if you treat your hospital staff nicely, it makes their night go by a whole lot better, plus they might pay a little bit more attention to you! We bought two boxes, one for the night staff and the second for the morning staff. By the time we got to the hospital parking lot – about 20 minutes later – the sensations were really picking up and started radiating throughout my body. THIS is what they meant by – “you’ll know it when it happens.” I didn’t have to “time” these – I could barely catch my breath! I had my headphones on the whole time, listening to my hypnobabies tracks and just kept focusing. Khoi asked if he should drop me off in the front, but I knew that it was better to walk so we both walked from the parking garage to the hospital. By the time we checked in, I was in the zone and had to focus on my breath – Khoi became my mouthpiece. The midwives were so patient and kind – stopping their questions until after a contraction was over. We got checked into our room – which was equipped to look as much like a regular bedroom as possible, complete with a queen sized bed! I wasn’t sure what was going to happen once we got to the hospital – even though I chose a minimal intervention birth experience, for some reason, I thought there would be more going on, but there wasn’t. They just left us alone and told us to relax and let the nurses know if we needed anything.
I laid in bed for a while and tried to get some rest. It was about 8pm, and I think I might have dozed off a few times. All I know was the hypnobabies tracks kept playing over and over. The nurses kept saying, let them know if I felt the urge to push. I wasn’t sure what that meant, because I thought I felt it by now, but since I was so relaxed – they seemed skeptical.
The Wonders of Water
By about midnight – I asked if I could labor in the water bath. They called a midwife in to check out how far I had dilated. In order to labor in a tub – they recommend patients to be closer to the transition phase of labor since sometimes getting in the water relaxes your body so much, it slows the process down. However, when the midwife checked – I was almost 7 cm dilated. They quickly started to fill the tub, but let me know that it takes a while to fill up and if I wanted to, I could try laboring in the shower. Khoi helped me get undressed in the shower and turned the water on for me. I fully expected him to get undressed, too, or at least pack his swim trunks (it was a point of discussion while we were packing our baby bags, but I knew he wasn’t really going to do it) because there was no easy way of trying to support me AND stay dry. At one point – he accidentally pointed the shower head in my face and I was going to rip his head off. Just thinking back to that moment and the terrified look on his face makes me bust out laughing as I write this. I’ve never seen him apologize so much and he quickly undressed and hopped into the shower with me. Something about the warm water made my body go ape shit – and after a few minutes – I couldn’t really stand any more so we got out of the shower and went back into the room. The tub was ready – but in their haste – didn’t check the water temp so the water was really hot. They had to scoop some water out and fill it back in with cool water and at this point – I was partly irritated, but had to remind myself to keep relaxing and JUST BREATHE. By this point – the volunteer doula the hospital provided (who was AMAZING) turned my hypnobabies tracks on the speaker system in the room so I no longer needed my headphones. I climbed into the tub and once I was fully submerged – I felt completely relaxed, but at the same time, like I could no longer control my body any more. It was like I was floating outside of my body – watching myself for the last few moments on earth before I became a mother.
I think I was only in the tub for about 20-30 minutes before I asked the nurses when I should get out to start pushing. They told me, “whenever you feel the urge, we’ll call the midwife in.” I told them calmly I was pretty sure I felt that way, so they called her in. She came in with a mirror so I could take a peak at my progress and asked me to see if I could reach in to see how far I had to put my finger in before I felt the baby’s head. I was so excited – I could possibly touch my baby for the very first time! When I told her I could actually feel the crown of her head – she asked how far did I have to push my finger in – and I told her it was just the tip. She laughed and said we can’t really have the baby in the tub (due to hospital rules) so I quickly got out of there, dried off and made my way to the bed.
Towards the Finish Line
It was about 2am at this point and the 5 feet to the bed seemed very far. When I finally got there – I didn’t feel like laying down and told them I HAD to push. So on my hands and knees (it’s strange what feels comfortable in the moment) – I started to push. The concept of relaxing while pushing is very counter-intuitive, but per my “training” I kept trying to relax my muscles so that frijolito could make her way out. I just focused one breath at a time and kept telling myself that the more relaxed I was – the faster I could meet her. 20 minutes later – the midwife said that if I gave it one big push – she was practically out. I was surprised because I thought it would take a bit longer, but got SUPER excited. So I bore down – and instant relief fell over me as she crowned. Khoi said they had to quickly untangle the umbilical cord – but after they did, one more little push and the rest of her body came out. They told me to flip over carefully so that they could lay her on top of me. I felt like I had crossed the finish line to a marathon – the adrenaline still pulsing through me – but when I saw her – everything stood still. She was as perfect as I imagined she would be.
Kara Does the Breast Crawl
They lay her on top of me for a while and I watched her try the “breast crawl”. One of the amazing things I learned from my best friend while she was pregnant was that newborn babies are strong enough – if not drowsy from medication (which is one of the reasons I was adamant about not getting an epidural) – to find their way to their mother’s breast. I watched and cried when she did a little army crawl and found her way there and started to nurse. I think it took about 10 minutes, but no one was in a rush since we delayed her cord from getting clamped. Cord clamping – ANOTHER thing I learned when pregnant – is when they clamp the umbilical cord to prepare it for cutting. It’s best to delay clamping for as long as possible because the placenta is still pumping blood to the baby even after she is born. I did also learn that if you decide to bank your baby’s cord blood – or even donate it – you have to clamp it because you need to extract the blood immediately. We opted to not do cord blood banking, but it’s definitely something to consider.
After my second birth (ahem – the birth of the placenta) and when the cord stopped pulsing, they finally clamped the cord and asked if we wanted to cut it. I honestly cannot remember who cut her umbilical cord! I feel horrible for forgetting, but everything went by so fast and although I remember seeing it happen – I don’t know who was holding the scissors! The nurses wrapped baby up – handed her back to me while the midwife did some repair “down there.” I think by now my readers have had more graphic details of my body than they might have bargained for so I think I can forgo the details of that part. 🙂
The Beginning of Three
The nurses slowly trickled out one by one – with the doula saying goodnight last. The three of us were finally alone…for the first time. And for the first time in my life – I couldn’t imagine it any other way. I was exhausted beyond words – but energized with a strange obsession to keep staring at this little creature who was mine…all mine.
If you made it to the end – you know a lot more about me and Kara’s birth and I thank you for letting me share this intimate experience with you. I hope reading this brings you memories of the own birth of your children, excitement for the birth of your future children, but ultimately I hope you feel that birth is beautiful and not as scary as the media makes it out to be. I was inspired to write this after not just hearing about my sister’s experience, but also many other women in my life who felt birth was traumatizing and wished it could have been different. Birth should be anything BUT traumatizing. It is NOT a medical emergency (except – in very rare cases) and is something to excited about – and not feared.
There is no right or wrong way to give birth – so long as it’s YOUR way. I was lucky to have a hospital and staff supportive of my natural birth, but I know not everyone has or will feel that way. Just remember that you are not just a patient, you are a customer and your voice matters. If something doesn’t feel right – ask questions. Embrace the experience because it’s a beautiful beginning to an even greater journey.