American healthcare recognizes that I only have one boob.

Thanks to former President Barack Obama, women across this country who are employed by companies of a certain size were entitled to dedicated spaces for pumping breast milk after coming back from maternity leave. On top of that, they were also entitled to having their breast pump covered by insurance, as well as replacement parts, every few months after the initial purchase. I placed my order via insurance for my breast pump back in November, and the company they are going through notified me a week ago that I was ready for replacement parts if I’d like them, so of course, I requested them. What I was not prepared for was that the replacement parts were just for one breast.

This is what the box says:

Spectra Premium Accessory Kit


Breast shield

Back-flow protector




Bottle Cap


Bottle Cover

So in case you are not familiar with pumping, the ideal setup, especially if you own a breast pump that allows for double pumping, which means pumping milk from both breasts… is that you WILL double pump for more efficiency. So the above contents are just for one breast, as each piece is singular. So what does this mean — American healthcare via my health insurance recognizes that I only have ONE boob and not two?????

This is truly American healthcare at its finest. This is beyond embarrassing that to call this a SNAFU (situation normal: all fucked up) would genuinely be an understatement.

And if you are pumping exclusively or pumping as much as I do (that’s 6-7 times per day), it’s recommended you replace your parts every month, not every three months as insurance will cover. And you would need to replace them for both boobs. So thanks, American health insurance, for only recognizing half of my boob inventory.

What postpartum really looks like

All the nurses really emphasized not only making sure that baby was well taken care of and fed, but that mom was prioritizing mom and mom’s recovery. I really had the best care with nurses at Lenox Hill and am so grateful for all their kindness and support, in addition to their hoarding endless supplies for me to take home (which is apparently against official hospital policy, but like I care?). They advised me to do sitz baths to take care of my healing vagina and rectum, to apply heat pads to my breasts before breast feeding, as well as to my stomach during and after breast feeding since feeding baby would cause my uterus to contract. This was actually a good thing, as this meant that breast feeding would “tell” my uterus to contract and reduce down to pre-pregnancy size. The bad news here, though, is that those contractions would feel like menstrual contractions, and thus would likely be painful. They also suggested using nipple butter, shea butter, or lanolin on my nipples post feeding and pumping, and to walk around with my breasts out to “air” out my nipples to prevent cracking or pain.

And that rectum pain can be felt in ways I didn’t even think about. In the days after baby’s birth, it hurt down there every time I coughed, sneezed, or laughed. The sneezing caused the worst pain; I wasn’t sure if something was going to come out of my anus, whether it was poop or something else! I hoped this wouldn’t last too long.

Postpartum is not sexy. It does not look Instagram or social media ready at all and is anything but glamorous. So, Chris took a photo of me post feeding the baby, and this is basically what it looks like: heat pads on both breasts and my stomach, as well as my sitting on that inflatable butt cushion the nurses gave me and on top of the couch. A filled to the top water bottle is on a stool next to me. The baby is on the side of me in her lounger. This is definitely what postpartum looks like.

When the gifts flood in

Since we let family and friends know of Kaia’s birth, the number of gifts that have been delivered, not to mention the cash gifts that have been sent, have been completely unprecedented. Neither of us is used to getting this many gifts, and it was obvious how much excitement was around this baby’s birth given the number of package notifications we kept receiving from the building. She has had endless clothes, blankets, bathing sets, stuffed animals, and children’s books sent her way, some of which were even personalized. And some very thoughtful gift givers even gave gifts for us new parents, including cupcakes, cake, champagne, and cheese. While I was initially worried that she didn’t have enough 0-3 month clothes, now, I clearly no longer need to worry about that because endless tiny onesies and 0-3 month outfits were sent to the point where now, I don’t even think we’ll be able to have her wear all of them, especially the ones that are more meant for summer time (courtesy of her Aussie family in the Southern hemisphere, where it is currently summer).

Since she was low birth weight given her gestational age, she can’t even fit the 0-3 month clothes yet, and the two newborn Christmas onesies I got her are even a bit too small, which made me feel a bit sad. She is so unbelievably cute, but because of her size, she seems so fragile to me. I want her to fatten up and gain weight ASAP so that she can at least fit some of her clothes. I have no idea if she is gaining weight right now, but it’s normal for her to lose weight (up to 10%) immediately post birth. She needs to regain that weight by 2 weeks, though, so that’s our goal now.

When baby comes home

The first two nights with baby home were pretty reasonable given all the nightmare stories I’d heard of newborns with first-time parents. It obviously helped having our night nurse with us overnight for the first two nights, so night three was when we’d be on our own. It made me a little nervous, and like most first-time parents, SIDS was on the very back of my mind. Every time we put her down to sleep, I felt a bit weird and just wanted to watch her for at least five minutes to make sure she was not in a position to potentially get face down or suffocate herself on the side of the bassinet. Even though Chris said nothing, I could tell he felt a bit wary, too, every time we put her down. Somehow, this is not really a worry of mine during the day even when she sleeps during the day obviously. Newborns usually sleep 15-17 hours per day, with the rest of the time spent eating and occasionally getting to know the world around them, plus their limbs. Night time always feels scarier.

A colleague messaged me to ask how things were going. I told her I was having a little back of mind anxiety about putting her down at night. This colleague has a 5-year old and an 8-month old at home. “Honestly, I still feel nervous, and my oldest is 5 years old. I still check to see she is breathing now!” she messaged me back. “It does get easier, but those freak incidents do worry me, so I still check even though it sounds crazy.”

Being a parent is always full of uncertainty and some level of worry. I just need to keep calm and do the best I can with what is within my control.

The first poop and pee post birth – for me, not the baby.

Everyone warned me that the first pee and poop post giving birth would be brutal. A small number of moms had told me that their first poop was more excruciating than labor, which absolutely terrified me. I even heard one nightmarish story of a woman who pooped not just actual poop… but a part of her UTERUS. And she almost tried to pull it out!!

I hoped for the best, though, as I felt quite good after birthing Kaia and was able to get up on my feet within a couple hours of pushing her out. I was also more optimistic about it since I had taken no medication, as I was told an epidural would have made the poop/pee even more challenging for me. All of the nurses were shocked when they heard I hadn’t had any medication at all and no epidural. It was like a feat, they said, and congratulated me for how brave and strong I was. They were initially weirded out when they saw how mobile I was, bending down and walking around without assistance, so it made more sense when they heard I had no meds.

So when I finally braved out the bathroom trip, of course it was a pee for me. The nurse gave me a peri spray bottle and told me to fill it with warm water and to spray it on myself as I peed as well as after. It would remove any stinging and make any pain more tolerable, she said. I went to the bathroom with the peri bottle and did my thing. Well… at least, I tried. It took me at least 10-15 minutes to finally get the pee out. And it came out slowly, initially as a drip, and finally as a general spray. It was SCARY. I was like, is just pee coming out, or is anything ELSE going to come out, as well…?! I knew I just had to be patient with myself and not rush any bathroom trips, as if I did, it could mean hemorrhaging or other postpartum complications.

This is the crap no one really tells you openly about child birth – exactly how long it takes to recover not just in your vagina/urethra area, but also your rectum. My rectum was sorer than sore, and sitting down really hurt after. It just feels like a massive bruise, ALL OVER down there. Luckily, the nurses packed an insane amount of stuff (this stuffed a carry-on luggage, my Lo and Sons bag, and two massive shopping bags to the brim!) to take care of both baby and me, even including a sitz bath to place on top of the toilet to help my nether region healing, as well as an inflatable butt cushion to put everywhere I sat. And I would put both to very good use.

A child is born

It’s all a bit of a blurred whirlwind now, but on the day baby Kaia was born, I couldn’t believe how relieved and happy I was — so relieved that she was born happy and healthy, that she could breathe completely fine on her own and that her heart had no issues. Potential heart issues had been in the back of my mind since I was admitted into the hospital in November for a night of continuous fetal monitoring, so I was hoping that wouldn’t be an issue again during laboring in the hospital as well as after she was out of my uterus. In later videos that Tina had recorded of us post birth, I could hear the hospital staff noting her time of birth, that she was a Well Baby newborn and not a NICU newborn, and the number she would be tracked by and have on her little hand and ankles until hospital discharge. Her little tag read: Wong, GIRL Yvonne; age: 00 days.

After we had some immediate skin to skin time once she was born, I was excited to see her immediately latch onto my right nipple and suckle quite a bit. Thank god, I thought. We don’t have issues latching, as a proper latch was something that was emphasized in all my breastfeeding research and the course I took. It wasn’t painful at all, as it just felt like a like suckle on my breasts. Just the feeling of her teeny tiny mouth suckling my nipple and her warm little body against my bare chest was likely sending oxytocin through me.

In the day of her birth, she went through many tests, a few immunizations, and we had a number of blissful moments of cuddling and breastfeeding. The first day out of the womb, babies tend to want to sleep A LOT, so parents could erroneously assume their babies are total angels. I knew not to think this. The amazing nursing staff at Lenox Hill helped with positioning the baby around my chest and nipples, ensuring comfort for both me and the baby and making sure she was sucking, swallowing, and latching properly. Another nurse helped show me how to change her diaper for the very first time, and it was as expected: full of black, sticky, slimy meconium, which is baby’s first poop based on food she “ate” through the placenta while still in the womb. It was the first time I’d ever changed a diaper in my life.

There were some concerns about her jaundice level after she was examined by a pediatrician, but after some further blood tests, they concluded her jaundice level would not prevent her from being discharged on time, so on Saturday afternoon. But because she still had not peed, they strongly suggested we give her some formula and take some home to supplement her to get her more hydrated. I wasn’t thrilled with this, as my goal was to exclusively breast feed her, but I relented; this wasn’t about me. This was about the health and well being of my child. This also made me worried; I wasn’t sure how much colostrum my breasts were producing, as when I squeezed my breasts and the lactation consultant at the hospital squeezed, we couldn’t see anything come out. The LC did say she knew my right breast was producing it because she could see some glistening, so at least that made me feel better. In addition, we had to wait until my milk came in before we’d know for sure that she was getting enough from my breasts. That would take anywhere from 2-14 days, so I was hoping the milk would come in sooner rather than later.

And we took her home on the afternoon of the 11th as originally planned. I’m not sure how we were trusted to take our baby home, never having taken care of any babies or children ever before, but hey, here we were on our way with no choice. At least we had the help of our night nurse, who would be with us our first two nights home with baby Kaia.

My birth story with baby Kaia

At 2am on Thursday, the 9th of December, I woke up for what I initially thought was a usual middle-of-the-night pee that tends to happen at least 2-4 times throughout the end of pregnancy, but when I got on the toilet, I realized the sensation was completely different. Not only did I need to pee, but I had a strong sensation of constipation, except nothing seemed to come out from the other end of me. In addition, the lower part of my stomach hurt, and my lower back felt a strong aching sensation. I sat on the toilet for about five minutes, wondering if I really did need to poop.. or if something else wanted to come out. And it dawned on me ten minutes later while still on the toilet that this actually could be early labor.

The pressure on my rectum was unbelievably strong; I had never had even a fraction of this sensation before. I had already been feeling the pressure increasingly over the last few days, and none of it was a shock to me since based on the most recent ultrasounds both at the doctor’s office and at maternal fetal medicine (MFM) center at the hospital, everyone was noting how low in my pelvis the baby’s head was. The doctors and sonographers kept saying in the last week and a half, “Any day now!” On Wednesday at MFM, the specialist smiled and said, “Well, no need to schedule another scan. This baby just needs to come out and be born now!” And it appears that “any day now” had finally come.

In the last few weeks during my multiple night time pees, Chris had been more attentive and stirring whenever I went to use the bathroom, and he’d often ask me if I was feeling okay and if everything was all right. For the most part, it was… until this early morning. He asked how I was feeling, and I told him I was experiencing a lot of pelvic pressure and a major feeling of constipation. After about three hours of feeling contractions and still having that nagging constipated feeling at around 5am, I texted my doulas and told them what I was experiencing. They suggested this might be early labor and encouraged me to get into positions that would be more comfortable, continue hydrating and breathing. Chris continued asking me every hour how I was feeling and suggested he not go to the office today.

7am: contractions were getting stronger, but still irregular. Chris started using his contraction tracker app to track my contraction frequencies and lengths. I shared screen shots with my doulas to see their thoughts.

10am: Contractions were getting stronger and more frequent. I tried showering and barely survived standing up in the shower. In fact, I ended up having to get on all fours at multiple points during my shower, fearing that I might end up toppling over and hurting myself and the baby. When I got out of the shower, standing, sitting, and lying down all made me feel worse. The only position that was even seemingly comfortable was on all fours.

4pm: I was frequently in pain, wondering how long these contractions would keep going. Why did all these people who had given birth tell me that when they were in labor, they were able to do everything from work to meetings to even cooking and exercise? I could barely focus on anything and could barely even send a text during my contractions; voice to text would have to do, and screw it if Siri didn’t get the grammar/spelling correct. It was very clear to me that these were not Braxton Hicks contractions, but I wasn’t able to focus on anything other than my contractions since I woke up at 2am this morning. I thought all those dates and red raspberry leaf tea I ate and drank in the last four weeks were supposed to give me an easier, shorter labor?? THEY ALL FAILED ME. My doula suggested that Chris push my hips together every time a contraction came. It provided a little relief because if he didn’t push my hips together with his hands, it really felt like all my insides would come out. And there’s no way I am dying, I thought to myself. I went through hell to get pregnant, and I’m going to survive this insanity!!

6:30pm: Oh, crap. I think I finally reached active labor. Contractions were getting more and more frequent, and lasting far longer than 1 minute. They were more like 3-6 minutes long, and it felt like all my insides, all my internal organs and the baby, wanted to fall right out of me. I felt like I was going to hemorrhage. Is this what child birth is supposed to be like?! Pain with a purpose, pain with a purpose, I kept repeating to myself in my head. I tried my best to approach this from a meditative standpoint to get myself through the agony and the excruciating pelvic pain. Whoever said that labor felt like menstrual cramps multiplied by 100 was a thousand percent correct — just move those pains further down in the pelvis as well as in the lower stomach. This pain will end. This pain has a purpose. This pain will bring my baby. I am not going to die. I am not going to die. Even though it feels like I am dying, I will not die. I will survive this and be with my baby in the end, who will be born alive, healthy, and well. I need to get through this to see my baby. My baby is almost here. My baby is almost here. BUT WHEN WILL SHE FRICKIN’ GET HERE? I don’t know how much longer I can take with these long-ass contractions that no one warned me about!!

I called my doula and asked her to come ASAP. She would be traveling from Brooklyn, and it would likely take her over an hour to get here. I have to be at least 4cm dilated by this point, I thought, and 4cm is the minimum needed to get admitted into the hospital. If I am not at least 4cm dilated, I will go crazy. There is no way I am less than 4cm dilated, right…?! I have to be as far along in active labor as possible, otherwise those crazy American healthcare workers in the hospital will try to push every freaking unnecessary intervention on me, and that is NOT what I want or signed up for. I’m a low-risk birthing person, for God’s sake! Need to stay at home for as long as possible. Need to stay at home for as long as possible. I will NOT get turned away at the hospital. There’s no way in hell they are going to turn me away and tell me to go back home once I get there! I thought. I called my doctor and told her I was definitely in active labor, and she encouraged me to labor a little longer at home, to wait for my doula to arrive, and to call her back then.

If I recall correctly, my doula Tina arrived around 8:30. Sometime between 5:30 and 8 (well, I think?), Chris went out to get us some food, which were lamb gyro wraps from the food cart just a block away in front of Fordham. He said it would be quick and easy for me to eat between my contractions, and despite all the pain I was in, he was right: it was easy to eat with one hand, tasty, and somehow I was still able to enjoy the flavor between contractions. I even appreciated the bit of crunch from the iceberg lettuce in it, too. Between contractions, Chris was slowly, surely, and quietly getting everything in the apartment tidied up, putting away different packaged goods, food items, stowing away baby items, and doing who else knows what. He also prepared the hospital bag, luggage, and coats to get us ready to go and had the car seat waiting at the door.

When Tina finally arrived, I was moaning at every contraction onset and still beyond miserable, with both knees on the living room floor, kneeled over the sofa with my elbows resting on the seat of the couch. My misery truly felt like it had no end, and I wasn’t sure what to make of myself. Is this what having a child is all about? I wondered to myself between contractions. How do people birth so many kids – 2, 3, 5, 10???? HOW DO THEY GO THROUGH THIS? IS THIS REALLY WORTH IT?? Maybe Chris was right: maybe having just one kid is ideal because then, I’d never have to go through this excruciating pain ever again! “One and done” doesn’t sound so bad after all right now!!!

Tina provided near immediate relief when she arrived, using her full hands to squeeze my hips together with an extremely strong force. She was truly like a God-send. Does she work as a masseuse in her free time? I thought to myself. Her hands are super powerful and made Chris’s fingers seem wimpy in comparison! She was also like those birth doulas you read about in books, slowly saying little mantras to me: “You’re getting closer to your baby.” “You are stronger than this contraction.” “You are strong. You are fierce.” It’s almost like she was either made to be a meditation guru or a doula because she truly had the most calming voice possible during my labor. After a number of intense contractions with Tina present, somehow between contractions, which sometimes felt just one after another with little break between, I finally called my doctor again, who was on call at Lenox Hill, and she suggested I slowly make my way over to the hospital.

We slowly made our way down to the lobby of our building, and while Chris carried all our bags and the car seat, Tina guided me to the Uber Chris called for us. Given I was having intense contractions in active labor, Chris even got us an Uber XL for more space and comfort. I found out later that we were charged about 4.5 minutes of ‘wait time’ with the Uber, so I guess that was the cost of contractions en route to the hospital! Sam, one of our doormen, immediately realized what was happening and if I remember correctly, said something to the effect of, “Oh, snap! Good luck! We’re thinking about you and praying for you! Wishing you the best!”

The ride cross town to Lenox Hill was brutal. I felt every single bump and pot hole on the road, and I moaned throughout the ride, attempting to keep my moans quieter so that the driver didn’t lower Chris’s Uber rating (he’s VERY intent on keeping his rating very high!). Contractions in a moving vehicle are NO joke. The driver, who happened to be female, which is rare, noticed I was moaning and asked what was wrong, and Chris explained to her that I was in labor. She finally realized why we had an empty car seat put in the trunk and started getting excited and gave us many well wishes as we left her vehicle.

We finally arrived at Lenox Hill and went up to the labor and delivery / maternity floor. They got me a wheelchair right away and wheeled me into triage for evaluation. Unfortunately, support people and doulas are not allowed in that area, so I got separated from Chris and Tina at this time. And I was pissed — not because I got separated from them, but because they treated me like I was not in labor and just there feeling normal. They asked me too many questions that were already answered by my hospital pre-registration (identity, health insurance, weeks of gestation and due date, etc.), which was completed over a month and a half prior to this day, and asked me to fill out more forms. WHY DID I EVEN DO HOSPITAL PRE-REGISTRATION WHEN THEY ARE TRYING TO GET ME TO FILL OUT THESE STUPID FORMS WHILE I AM IN ACTIVE LABOR AS WE SPEAK? WHAT IDIOT WOULD NOT RECOGNIZE I AM IN MASSIVE PAIN RIGHT NOW?!! I gave them some cutting remarks before they eventually went to Chris to have him fill out forms for me (I didn’t realize they did this until the next day, when Chris told me they went out to him to ask him to do this, making it clear I was in no state of mind or body to fill them out myself at the time. OBVIOUSLY).

They brought me to the triage beds and checked my blood pressure, hooked me up to a contraction and fetal monitor, and then a resident doctor checked my cervix to see how dilated I was: 6 centimeters. THANK GOD, I thought to myself when they told me. I’m 60% of the way to pushing! You need to be at 10 centimeters, which is full dilation to start pushing. I immediately texted Chris to let him know. While I waited to be admitted officially, some nurses came over during contractions to ask if I’d like an epidural for pain relief. I immediately said no without hesitation, and when they asked me if I was sure, even during contractions, I insisted I didn’t want an epidural. I’m not sure if it is standard at Lenox Hill for the nurse manager to check in on patients who are in labor, but the nurse manager came to my triage bed to introduce herself, and she explained that if I did change my mind and wanted an epidural, it would require that my body absorb two bags worth of fluid via an IV before the epidural would be administered into my spine, so I needed to be aware of that if I wanted to decline it. Apparently, I tested positive a few weeks ago for Group B Strep, so regardless, they’d need to get me hooked up to an IV anyway to ensure that antibiotics were going through my system that would be passed onto the baby so she wouldn’t catch it from me.

After all this was explained, they officially admitted me and moved me into a delivery room, where Chris and Tina came to meet me. On the wheelchair ride to the delivery room, I felt every bump yet again and thought I was going to keel over. When I finally got to the room, Tina started stringing mood lights around the window area and took out a bunch of things to help with my stress and pain: peppermint and lavender oil, fans, cold compresses, combs to grip for acupressure. She took a look at the birthing items in the room, such as the peanut ball and birthing ball, and she immediately suggested I get on them for relief.

I switched positions a lot with Tina’s and Chris’s assistance, from sitting on the birthing ball to side lying with the peanut ball to hands and knees on bed to attempting to squat (OH, BOY, THAT WAS SO PAINFUL. That REALLY felt like my insides were going to come splattering out of me all over the bed and onto the delivery room floor). The pain just got worse and worse, and the pressure on my rectum was so great that I could barely stand it anymore. Fuck this, I thought. I already have the IV with the fluids hydrating me. I NEED THAT EPIDURAL. I kept looking eagerly at the slowly dripping bag of fluids via the IV, and Chris kept asking me why I continued looking in that direction. “I need that bag to fully drain and another bag to get an epidural,” I responded sluggishly. “I can’t take this anymore!” Tina reminded me that we could try some other positions and pain alleviating techniques, but I felt so drained that I wasn’t sure I’d make it. I really thought I was going to die bringing my baby into the world without medication.

And that’s when all the self-deprecating comments in my head started. You thought you were so almighty and special, wanting an unmedicated birth. Who did you think you were – special and different for not wanting pain meds or an epidural? Like your friends said — science exists for a reason, and who the hell wants pain when pain can be solved for with medication today?? Such hot stuff — and look at you now! Miserable and feeling near death! An epidural would have been a DREAM now! You wanted to live and be in the moment and feel everything? Well, here you go – you’re certainly in the moment now, you idiot! How stupid and naive can you be? Why were you so adamant about not having an epidural even after the nurse manager came in to confirm with you for the third time in triage?? I was so mad at myself for refusing pain medication that the internal conversation in my head was filled with rage and defeat.

I was also feeling like any time Chris and Tina were not pushing my hips together that I was really going to have all my insides fall out. It was a constant, nagging, excruciatingly painful feeling. The pain got to a point where it wasn’t even enough for just one of them to push my hips together with their hands; eventually, BOTH of them had to push my hips, one of them on each side of me, to keep me somewhat contented. They apparently had to use ALL their arm and upper body strength, as Chris told me later. When they were not there during one of my contractions to push my hips, I would yell and ask where they were. “WHERE ARE YOU? PLEASE PUSH! PLEASE!!”

When Fetessie, my assigned labor nurse came to check in on me, I asked her if I could get an epidural. She looked at me sympathetically and said we’d have to wait until the fluids went through my system through the IV and that they’d check after that to see how far dilated I was. Later, she told me that I was too far along in terms of dilation for an epidural to make sense, but she didn’t want to tell me that while I was in active labor in so much pain. My doctor eventually came into the room. I had no concept of time at this point because there was no clock in the room, and at that point, who the hell knows where my phone was.

“Yvonne, how are you feeling?” I could hear Dr. Ng’s voice, which sounded faint and very far away, but it’s likely she was right there when she walked in.

“I feel miserable,” I responded slowly while on all fours, with my face stuffed into a pillow. “I feel like I want an epidural.”

“Okay, well, let’s check to see how far along you are,” she responded slowly. I spread my legs, and she checked my dilation. It hurt so bad to have this checked even between contractions that I yelped loudly.

“You’re at 9 centimeters,” my doctor said eagerly. “We’re 20-30 minutes away from pushing! I’ll be back soon!”

It was too late for an epidural. I was going to have the natural, unmedicated birth I romanticized about all along whether I liked it or not.

“You’re getting closer to your baby, Yvonne,” Tina cooed, fanning me and trying to keep me comfortable. “No one has said anything about pitocin (the artificial version of oxytocin used to speed up labor). Your body is doing exactly what it needs to do. You’re doing this. You’re giving birth to your baby.”

About 30 minutes later, my doctor came back and checked my dilation again. I was fully dilated as she predicted. As soon as she got into me, I felt a huge burst of water come out and completely soak the mat under me. My water had just broken. Fetessie quickly and swiftly cleaned it up and got me a new mat to protect the mattress. And we started the pushing phase.

Tina suggested I try pushing while in a squatting position facing the head of the bed, but while I attempted to get into that position, I failed miserably even with both Tina and Chris’s assistance. It hurt even more than any other position, and it really felt like all my insides were going to come out in that position. Was I going to die getting into that position?! I just couldn’t do it even if gravity would have been on my side in that position! There was just too much pressure in my rectum there. The pressure at this point of labor on my rectum was by far the strongest and the worst. Chris told me later that I was likely hallucinating, but I had the worst thoughts at this point going through my mind. Am I going to survive this? Is my baby going to come out alive? What if I end up dying in the process of birthing my child? Chris will end up being a single parent, and my daughter will never know her own mother! I will have gone through all of this with nothing to show for and be dead in the end!

I always thought pushing would be quick… because so many moms before me told me that pushing would be the shortest part, that it would go quickly. Thirty minutes! Twenty minutes! Ten minutes! She’d be out before you knew it! And for me, although a nurse later checked my chart and told me it lasted about 1.5 hours, which was under the 2-hour pushing average for most first-time moms, it felt like a fucking eternity. I swear that I thought that part of labor lasted at least four or five miserable hours. The position that ended up being the most comfortable for me was half sitting, half lying down, with both feet held up high in the air, one by Fetessie on one side, and the other by Tina on the other side. Chris stayed near my head for support and to keep a cold compress on my forehead, plus to replenish my fluids via my water bottle.

My doctor, Fetessie the nurse, Chris, and Tina were there the whole time, even during my breaks between contractions and pushing. If you want to know what pushing out a baby feels like, just think about it like this: you are pushing the biggest piece of poop out of your body — EVER. My doctor kept coaching me, counting to ten (and really wanting me to push beyond ten), insisting nothing mattered if I farted, peed, pooped. I mean, she’s seen this all before, right? It was definitely tough Asian mom love because with each push, I could tell when she was satisfied with my progress or not. When she wasn’t happy, she gave pointers on how to maneuver my feet or just said “okay.” When she was satisfied with my performance, she praised me. “YOU CAN DO IT, YVONNE!” she kept yelling over my own screams. I was definitely screaming for the first handful of pushes, but after that, my vocal chords got so exhausted that I ended up stopping all the yelling and was just silent with the following pushes. In my silence, I just felt like my whole face was going to cave in with each push.

“Am I actually making progress?” I kept asking, paranoid that I’d be diagnosed with “failure to progress” and be forced into an emergency c-section. “Why does it feel like nothing is changing?!!!”

To be frank, I wasn’t even sure at that point what hurt more: the contractions themselves, pushing, or the fact that my doctor literally had her entire hands IN my vagina with each push. The pain from her entire hands being at my vaginal opening was more than excruciating, and I hated it so much. At one point, she told me to push my feet down to get the momentum going instead of forward, but in my head, I thought, maybe the reason it seems like I am about to kick you with my feet is because of how much it hurts that your hands are inside of me!!

Fetessie and my doctor insisted I was making progress. “That’s why we’re moving the fetal heart rate monitor lower and lower!” Fetessie said, optimistically. “You’re getting closer!”

It did NOT feel like we were getting closer even if the heart rate monitor for baby was moving lower and lower. I felt like I was failing, like I wasn’t able to push fast enough, hard enough, or efficiently enough. And this is when the negative thoughts came back into my head: What the hell is wrong with you? Why are you taking so long?! Are you ever going to get this baby out of you?! Well, a c-section would have been so simple. No pushing! None of this pain! I’d be numbed and baby would be taken out! Piece of cake! Who cares if the recovery would be longer because this is absolute hell! Remember how you told them via your birth plan that you wanted no vacuum and no forceps to take baby out? Well, how good does a vacuum sound now? The baby could be sucked out of your vagina, and the pushing would be all done in one go! Maybe medical interventions aren’t so bad after all!

The doctor kept saying she could see baby’s head: a whole head of hair. OMG, I thought. Her head can be seen. I need to get my shit together and breathe and push her out ASAP! And finally, the doctor said it was finally time for her to come out. They lowered a table near the end of the bed for baby and put on head coverings and additional scrubs, and I knew it: this time, it HAS to be all in one go. I pushed like that was all I existed for. I AM GOING TO SEE MY FREAKING BABY NOW.

And with one final, long and hard push…. She came out — at 2:52am early on Friday morning, the 10th of December. I felt her descend and escape my body, and immediately when the doctor held my little baby’s squirming body up, I heard what I had been waiting to hear for the last 2.5 years: my sweet baby wailing and crying, with her umbilical cord still connected to me. My little baby Pookie Bear was covered in amniotic fluid, blood, and a thick layer of vernix all over her face and upper body. I had never seen anything so amazing, wondrous, or beautiful in my entire life.

I always imagined that when I’d see my baby for the first time that I’d immediately start crying, but that wasn’t what happened. Instead, I was so exhausted from the labor and pushing that I was just in shock that she was finally here. And I felt immediate relief: all the contraction pain was gone just like that. It took me a couple minutes to realize what had finally happened – delayed reaction, as Chris always says about me. The doctor immediately placed her on my chest, and I was still heaving and breathing heavily as Chris patted the cold compress on my forehead while admiring our little baby girl on my chest. I patted her back and arms, marveled at the thick sticky layer of grey vernix on her, and said hello to my sweetie pie for the very first time. The doctor had Chris cut the umbilical cord once it stopped pulsing minutes later; he successfully cut it on the second or third try, he later told me. And within minutes, we were skin to skin once the nurse undid my gown, and Pookie Bear immediately latched on to my nipple and started suckling.

I was in heaven. And my pain was over. Even when the few stitches were being done on me in my vagina by my doctor and a resident doctor, as I had a minor 1st degree tear on the inside, which the doctor said would heal faster on average than most, I could feel nothing down there. All I could feel was the little warmth and breathing of my newborn baby girl. Tina misted my face with rose water afterwards, which felt cooling and refreshing.

That early morning, I birthed my baby girl. And on that early morning, I birthed a new side of myself that I had never known existed before. I never realized happiness to this level could possibly exist until this moment, as trite as it sounds. I was happier than I’d ever been in my entire life. That entire 25-hour labor, with 9 active hours and 1.5 hours pushing, was a thousand percent worth it to have this tiny human in my life today. I would not trade that experience for anything else in the whole world.

And I had the birth I wanted in the end: completely unmedicated, with no medical interventions, with Chris and my doula at my side, unmasked. The amount of gratitude and love I had in those hours after she was born was nearly bursting out of my body. I felt like my life was complete.

39-week appointment

Yesterday, I had my 39-week appointment at my OB-GYN’s office. Based on today’s visit, I am still 1 cm dilated, but incredibly, I am 60 percent effaced, so my doctor predicted that I would go into labor between now and the end of this weekend. We scheduled a 40-week appointment on Monday, just one day shy of exactly 40 weeks, but “I don’t think you will get there,” my doctor said yesterday. “I’m pretty sure you will go into labor in the next few days based on how things look now.” She suggested going for long walks and doing squats to get things moving.

I ended up walking all the way home from 87th St and 5th Avenue back to our apartment since the buses were being insanely slow, and along the way, I took a look at the Christmas lights along Fifth Avenue, the fountain decorations by the Plaza Hotel, and also stopped by the Japanese market on the way home to buy some seaweed to make Korean seaweed soup (it’s supposed to be a popular soup women drink after giving birth to help increase milk supply for breast feeding). I had also been doing far more squats in the last week or so to get things moving along in my pelvic area, too, to get the baby’s head to further descend downward.

Welp, it apparently all worked.. because I went into labor at 2am today. Who would have ever thought that the first signs of labor for me would not only be contractions, but also the most massive pelvic pressure and constipation I’d ever known before.

A letter to my unborn Pookie Bear

Written during week 38 of gestation – beginning 30 November 2021

November 30, 2021

Dear Pookie Bear, 

I am currently 38 weeks pregnant with you, my little love. While you will eventually read this when you are a blossoming, beautiful, and vibrant nearly grown young woman, I wanted to write this letter to you before you were born so you’d know about our journey to have you, and you’d realize exactly how much you are loved and wanted in your daddy’s and my life. 

In the ’90s, there was this popular boy band from Australia called Savage Garden. They wrote this song called “I Knew I Loved You” (before I met you). While your mama is a bit cynical and doesn’t believe in love at first sight (she does believe in lust at first sight, as that makes far more logical sense), she certainly felt this about you. I felt this when I saw the picture of you as a little embryo/blastocyst, a bunch of cells expanding after being thawed out from the freezer. I felt this during my first obstetrical ultrasound, when we saw you as just a little blob on the screen, a small gestational sac floating around the inside of my uterus. And with each subsequent ultrasound, more and more of you was forming and taking shape, and with each printout I got, I kept it close to my desk while working to remind myself how blessed I was to have you growing, slowly and surely, inside me.

My mother, your ba gnoai, always told me that I’d never quite understand how much she loved and worried about me and your late uncle until I had my own children. And while I debate most things your ba gnoai tries to lecture me on, as you yourself know how stubborn your mama is, I will willingly admit that she was right on this point. My worries about you began even before I was pregnant with you. 

Pookie Bear, I’ve thought of you and been wanting you since 2018, though to be honest, your dad got cold feet and stalled until the middle of 2019, much to my annoyance and dismay. Little did he know then that getting pregnant wouldn’t come easily to us.

You see, we didn’t conceive you the “old-fashioned way” as much as I hoped that would’ve been the case. We started our TTC “trying to conceive” journey in the middle of 2019. After about five months of trying and each month ending with my period, I just had a sense something was wrong. I immediately went to my doctor to get tested, and she said everything was normal on my side, so I had your dad get tested, as well. And that was when we found out that things were not ideal there. I went back and told my doctor, and she was still hopeful. “It’s not impossible, but it may just take longer,” she said. She suggested we try for a few more months, and if it still didn’t work, IUI would be a good first step at a fertility clinic.  

When I first entered that fertility clinic she recommended for an initial consultation in September 2019, I felt hopeful, too. IUI didn’t seem that invasive, and if “he just needs a little help” like my doctor said, within a few cycles, we’d get pregnant. But with each subsequent sperm sample, the results just got worse and worse. The second and last IUI, the sperm results were just one level above what they would have suggested to cancel the cycle entirely. I felt physically and mentally crushed as I sat in the room, undressed from the waist down with a covering over me, waiting for insertion, hearing this come out of the reproductive endocrinologist’s mouth. I wanted to scream, but I wasn’t sure who to scream at or blame for this. It just felt so unfair at the time that so many other couples were able to conceive so easily (and even accidentally), yet for us, it felt grueling and nearly impossible as each month passed. At the same time, I felt ungrateful and terrible, knowing full well that many other couples struggled for years if not decades to conceive with far worse prognoses than we had: closed fallopian tubes, poor egg quality, low egg count, azoospermia, completely immotile sperm, far lower sperm counts than what we faced. In total, we tried for about a year before I went to the fertility clinic. And after the second failed IUI cycle, your dad and I decided to forgo a recommended third IUI cycle and to jump right into IVF (in-vitro fertilization) since the success rates were much higher, though the treatment would be far more invasive, painful, and time consuming, not to mention much more emotionally grueling than IUI.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” your dad asked me after the IVF virtual consultation with the reproductive endocrinologist.

To me, all I wanted was you, Pookie Bear. I didn’t care that I’d need to go into the clinic for appointments nearly every other day for constant blood draws and transvaginal ultrasounds. Although I hated needles and the thought of self-administering follicle stimulating hormones into my body via 2-3x daily injections in my stomach scared me, all I thought was: all these other women before me have been strong enough to do this, so if they could get through this, so could I. I was strong enough, right? I could do this… just for the chance to have you. There were no guarantees as we were constantly reminded through this grueling process. But I remained hopeful because at the end, our goal was the same: to have you in our arms. We were also lucky in that your dad’s company at the time had amazing fertility coverage, which was rare for most health insurances and employers at the time in the U.S., so the out of pocket costs to us would be minimal. We had a lot of privilege, as I knew few people who had gone through fertility treatments at the time who had any coverage at all. 

Sure, I felt a lot of anger and resentment: it made me mad that even though nothing was wrong with me specifically based on the endless tests I had to go through that I was the one who had to go through these invasive treatments, which would end in an egg retrieval, which is technically a surgery. I don’t blame your dad; he couldn’t help his situation, but I couldn’t help but feel resentful. I was angry that in all fertility treatments, only women had to go through this and that the hardest thing any man had to do through this process was to masturbate and jizz into a cup (you can handle my language by now, can’t you?). It just felt so unfair. Women already must go through pregnancy and childbirth, and just to conceive when there is a problem, we must endure even more. This is what all women share: it is both a burden and a blessing to be able to get pregnant and give birth to a child. 

And so, we went through with one round of IVF to begin. It was 2.5 weeks of daily self-administered injections nightly, with nearly every other day visits to the clinic. Each evening, your dad tried to remain supportive by standing by me as I did the injections into my stomach. He always had a nice treat, usually a dessert or Aussie biscuit, waiting for me when I was done. Your mama was very lucky, as she didn’t experience any of the usual IVF medication side effects, such as bloated stomach (that appears pregnant), mood swings, or nausea. Work at the time was very busy for me, as well, so I was somehow able to compartmentalize IVF and focus on work while at (remote) work. And then after the retrieval, which happened on the last day that I could say I was 34 years old (January 16, 2021), though I had a relatively smooth and quick recovery, I was beyond crushed and broken to find out the initial results on my 35th birthday the next day: twelve eggs were retrieved, but only five were mature and actually viable because one of my hormone levels unexpectedly spiked at the beginning of the cycle, which the RE did not anticipate, and so all the eggs grew out of sync. And in the end, out of five mature eggs, only one after fertiliziation made it to the blastocyst stage for genetic testing. I was angry at literally everyone after this happened: at the RE and the clinic for not seeing this coming and not changing the protocol; at your dad for not having to experience all this physically and not having the burden of doing nearly all the work; at the world for why I had to go through all this for barely a chance for you. I was pretty certain that if multiple lives existed, in a past life, I must have done something pretty bad to deserve this awful karma. But when the results came back and you, my little embryo, were considered a euploid (NORMAL!), I couldn’t help but be a little excited. And I was even more heartened when I found out you were female… because as I immediately thought when I saw the unredacted sex results: Of course, only a girl could have survived all this bullshit. 

We debated doing another cycle, as I was scared we only had you, our one embryo, and if you didn’t “stick,” we’d have to start another IVF cycle all over again, from scratch. But your dad insisted we try with you first. He also did this because he was hell bent on having only one child, and I still wanted two. So, I finally relented because I was too exhausted to argue and debate after all this physical and emotional turmoil. I just wanted to move forward, and so we did that with you, our one survivor embryo. 

So we did more testing, and finally the embryo transfer happened on March 29, 2021. I felt optimistic about your sticking. I hoped and prayed every day, and as you would know, I rarely pray. On that day, I got a picture of you, my little embryo. You were already expanding after you had been thawed from the freezer. And because your mama loves alliterations, I temporarily named you Emmie the embryo that day. Then a week and a half later, we got the news that you had, in fact, stuck: I was pregnant with you, my tiny survivor, my little embryo that could. Your Auntie Crista was staying with us at the time, and she accompanied me to the clinic to get my pregnancy test done. We walked across the park and had a fancy and indulgent breakfast at Sarabeth’s, then returned home. When the nurse called with the positive pregnancy test results just before midday, we both cried tears of joy and jumped up and down at the news. I was four weeks pregnant. I just couldn’t believe it: I was ACTUALLY PREGNANT. WITH YOU. Your dad, though, was cautiously optimistic: “Upward and onward,” he tentatively said after giving me a kiss on the forehead. He didn’t want me to get too excited in case this pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. And unfortunately, we know too well from too many people we knew how common miscarriage was, so it was dangerous to get too excited. But I felt we had to celebrate the small wins amidst so much waiting and crap we had to go through.

At the 5-week clinic appointment, your Auntie Crista also accompanied me, and that was when I had my first obstetrical ultrasound… which uncovered that there was not just one, but TWO gestational sacs; my little embryo that could SPLIT! We couldn’t believe it; your Auntie Crista and I were squealing with joy and excitement. The sonographer said she wasn’t sure if the second “sac” was just excess fluid buildup or a second sac, so she said we’d have to wait until the next week to confirm for sure if the embryo had split. And then, at the 6-week appointment, which your dad went to, it was confirmed: my little embryo had split into two, and we saw two gestational sacs, two yolk sacs, and two positive flickers — your two heart beats, on the screen. I was in total shock and awe. You would never believe how happy and excited I was; I couldn’t even believe how bursting with joy I was. I almost felt like it was just meant to be that we would have two babies. Your dad, on the other hand, was shocked and terrified. He eventually warmed up to the idea, saying it must have been his “super sperm” that caused the embryo to split. I let him think whatever he wanted. I was just elated. 

In the moment it was confirmed I was carrying twins, this strong wave of protectiveness came over me. I immediately just felt this unwavering urge to shield the both of you from everything awful and ugly in this world. I know how unrealistic and helicopter-parenting that sounded, but I couldn’t help it. It was the Mama Bear in me revealing herself. 

Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. Two weeks later, at my 8-week scan that the RE did, he said that your tiny twin didn’t make it. The words that every pregnant person fears hearing were heard by us that day after a long silence and the doctor constantly zooming in to see closer on the ultrasound screen: “I’m so sorry. I don’t see a heartbeat.” 

In that moment, I truly just wanted to die, to disappear into thin air and away from this cold, hard world that took your identical twin sister away. Just days before, my body was nourishing and growing two little babies, and just like that, one of them had literally vanished, her little heart stopped, and her gestational sac shriveled against the tiny embryo she once was. They call it “vanishing twin syndrome,” and it’s actually quite common according to all the medical professionals we spoke with. Although it’s been known to happen for decades with twins at this stage of gestation, little research has been done on *why* this actually happens. Your dad, always the logical one, got angry that we weren’t warned that this could have happened and how common it was. But I just felt broken, and I couldn’t stop crying. We ended up going to see a maternal fetal medicine specialist the next day to confirm that you were okay, and thankfully, you were just fine, progressing normally as a singleton, as though your twin never existed. The MFM specialist said she had no concerns about you, and you looked healthy and on track for this stage. And thank God for that, Pookie Bear: you were what kept me going during that dark period. If I didn’t have you to live for, I’m not sure how I would have made it out of that awful time in our life. 

Given our journey to getting pregnant, IVF, and losing your twin sister, I remained cautiously optimistic as the weeks went by. But the days moved forward, and I held my breath at each doctor’s appointment, each ultrasound scan. With each week that passed, I was more and more thankful with all the good news that came our way. Other than fatigue and the occasional nausea in the first trimester, I was feeling very good. I felt amazing during my second trimester, and in the third, although I did have a temporary and painful 4-day bout of sciatica because of your position in my uterus, I was still so happy. Each visit, you were progressing well, growing, breathing, moving and kicking like crazy. One of the sonographers called you a “tiny dancer,” who made it difficult to get the still photos needed to evaluate appropriate brain development at times, but who always turned out okay. And as you got bigger and I could feel your movements, I could not believe how happy I was. Each day and night, I gave thanks for our progress, for having you growing in my uterus, happily and healthily. I had no idea I could be this happy, this thankful for my body, which was able to grow and sustain you as a new life. And as I started feeling your movements inside of me, your wiggles and squirms and turns and somersaults and kicks, I discovered a new amazement and new joy. Each movement felt like a blessing, and I imagined honestly being sad when you came out and I could no longer feel your movements so close to me like this. Before being pregnant, I had never known happiness like this one. 

So after we got to around 20 weeks of gestation, I didn’t think calling you “Emmie” fit anymore, even though I did love “Emmie the embryo.” So your name changed to Pookie Bear. Now, you probably hate it when I call you that, but you will always be Pookie Bear, my little baby, in my heart, no matter how old or how big you get. Your dad and I have a lot of hopes and dreams for you, but our greatest wish for you is to grow up to be a happy, healthy, independent, empathetic, and kind human. The world into which you have entered is full of negativity, ugliness, racism, prejudice, injustice, and darkness, and navigating it all will be a challenge. But we hope that we will be able to arm you with the skills to get through it and not just survive, but thrive and make the most of it. I hope you will be quick-witted like your dad; I’m unfortunately too slow with comebacks for the idiots out there. We hope you will embrace your mixed heritage being Chinese, Vietnamese, and Indian, and having two nationalities, both American and Australian. We want you to combat any racist, ignorant crap that anyone tries to say or send your way. You are blessed and privileged to come from cultures so vast and rich, with long-standing histories and influences on the entire earth. You are also extremely privileged to be able to hold two passports from two wealthy countries that have little restrictions when it comes to entering different countries. 

I hope you will be happy to know the story of how you came into the world, of how much your dad and I truly, genuinely wanted you. You have an entire extended family that has literally been waiting for years and years for your arrival (yes, this goes back to window guards on the second floor of your paternal grandparents’ home in Brighton, Victoria, in 2016; ask your dad for that story), and we all have loved you before we have even met you and want what’s best for you. I know there have been and will continue to be times when you will get angry with me, be mad about things I say or do, but I hope you will remember that I love you and always just want what’s best for you. I will always try my best to listen and be empathetic to your needs. I may not always do or say the right thing, but my heart and intention are always in the right place for you; I am human, after all, and humans do make mistakes. I can admit that, at least. I hope you will love and be proud of your parents, who have tried so hard to give you the best life possible, a life that is better and easier than even the lives we had, and magnitudes easier than the lives our parents and grandparents had. 

I love you more than anything else in the entire world. You and your dad are my whole world, my sweet Pookie Bear. As long as I have the two of you, nothing else matters to me. 


Your mama Yvonne

The Dream Team strikes again

My calendar has been pretty clear since the middle of November at work, so it’s actually left me with a lot of time to catch up on cleaning things up for organizational purposes for customer work, as well as personal tasks I wanted to get done before Pookie Bear arrives. I was a little befuddled when a colleague on my team sent me a calendar invitation with our names titled: “Last 1:1.” That was weird, I thought. We’d only had maybe one or two 1:1s leading up to my leave since she’s covering for a handful of my accounts, so I thought it was strange. So then I did some investigative work and checked about 10 other team members’ calendars at the same time/date to see what they had. Welp, it looks like they all had a private invite on their calendar for the exact same time. These deceptive fools planned a surprise baby shower for me!

So I got into the Zoom late this afternoon and of course, there are about 15 other people in the Zoom other than the colleague who originally tried to dupe me, and they all laughed and said, “well, we REALLY need to talk about ALL your accounts RIGHT now in case you go into labor!” It was super touching; I was nearly in tears when I got on the video chat. Even virtually, I felt so overwhelmed with love and appreciation. At previous companies, somehow, I had always taken the responsibility of planning things like surprise baby or wedding showers, organizing cash pool gifts for those celebrating the next phase of their lives. It was something I enjoyed because a) I love surprises and b) I like organizing events that make people feel seen and appreciated. The look on their faces when the event is sprung up on them always gets me.

And now, a handful of colleagues I am close to got together to do this… for me. None of us have ever even met face to face given the pandemic, yet somehow, I have felt more loved, appreciated, and seen at this company than any other company before. We talked a lot about babies, partners, changing relationships, sleepless nights, #teamnosleep, and endless cuddles. And they sent me a really generous Amazon gift card, put together a virtual card of well wishes and parenting advice, and said more was on the way.

Pregnancy has really made me feel so grateful for so many things. I can’t even believe how overwhelmed with happiness and gratitude I’ve been all along the way, not only that things have gone so smoothly with everything from pregnancy symptoms to doctor’s appointments and test results to Pookie’s anatomy scans, but even just so overwhelmed with gratitude for the people in my life: my friends, each of whom has been there for me in some shape or form to support me through my IVF and pregnancy journey; my colleagues, who have always checked in on me regarding how I’m feeling, how pregnancy is going, and showered me with gifts to welcome Pookie Bear; my family, and yes, even my mom for being there for me and checking in on me, even when I may not have consciously wanted her to; the professionals ranging from the bond I’ve built with my therapist to my doctors/sonographers/nurses at the fertility clinic and my regular OB-GYN pracice and my doula; and of course, Chris, my rock who keeps me going strong regardless of what obstacles we’ve faced. I have had no shortage of support in some shape or form, and I just feel so blessed to have everything I have in my life.

And I know once Pookie arrives, she will have a similar web of support surrounding her.