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.