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.

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. 

Love, 

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.

Almost 39 weeks

Well, it looks like the daily pep talks with Pookie Bear worked: she has stayed cozy and warm inside my uterus through December, and now we are on the eve of our 39th week of pregnancy together.

I’ve felt and thought this the entire pregnancy, but I am so happy and grateful to have had such an enjoyable and relatively smooth pregnancy to date. I still can’t believe she is coming, and soon we will meet our little Pookie Bear baby. I’ve also enjoyed every single one of her movements, whether they have been kicks, pounds, squirms, wiggles, turns, and even her tiny little hiccups. Even when they have been painful, like when she’s kicked me in my ribs or given me sciatica or piriformis pain, I still love each feeling and just feel so blessed to have gotten this far with her. Sometimes, I just can’t believe how lucky I am, and I rub my belly and remind myself that this is all real, that my little baby is almost here.

In the beginning when I could feel her movements, she would get excited and move a lot after exercise, meals, cold drinks, at bedtime, and in the middle of the night. I still fondly remember waking up feeling startled, just to her little somersaults in my uterus. As time progressed and she got bigger, she’d get excited on plane rides, especially during ascending and descending. She loves being in festive, rambunctious events like Auria’s backyard food and beer event, and she moves a lot during those events, as though saying she wants to be included in the fun. She also kicked a lot during calls and presentations when I did a lot of talking. And she absolutely loves comedy and live theater; she never stopped squirming and turning during those live events.

I hope this is all indicative of the person she will become: someone who is lively and boisterous, loves good conversation, live theater, comedy, music, and events, travel, and delicious food. I’m so excited to meet my little Pookie Bear, and she has a throng of people who already love her and are eagerly waiting to meet her, too.

Cooking frenzy

I pride myself on productivity and efficiency. It’s a little disgusting to think about it, but I do. I have a hard time not doing things, and I know I get it from my mom. Chris calls me out on this all the time, as does my best friend, and this obsession certainly has not let up with Pookie Bear’s pending arrival. In fact, I think her pending arrival has only made the obsession worse with my to-do/checklist.

I was able to get my hair cut and highlighted yesterday, so that ticked off another big thing I wanted to get done before baby’s arrival. So what next? MORE FOOD! This afternoon, I made chicken satay and its accompanying peanut sauce with Sambal Lady’s new spice blends, stir-fried Chinese pea shoots, two mason jars’ worth of XO sauce using Eat Cho Food’s simplified recipe (the entire apartment smells like seafood now in the form of dried scallops and shrimp!), scallion oil noodles mixed with seaweed, and Instant Pot masoor dal. That’s six things in the span of one afternoon. And I still want to make tomato onion masala and potato leek soup (with the remaining leeks from Thanksgiving). The freezer is running out of space for me to add prepared food into, so now I’m going to need to figure out where to put all this tomato onion masala for quick Indian meals once I make it. The nesting instinct has gone on overdrive.

Belly attention from a little boy

I got into the elevator this morning to go down to the gym for my workout session, and my belly was clearly on full display. We’re at a point of the pregnancy now where it’s pretty hard to hide my pregnant stomach. And keep in mind that most of my workout tops are pretty loose fitted, yet despite that, the belly is *still* sticking out. In the elevator when I got in was a dad and his young son, who I later learned was 3.5 years old. As soon as the little boy saw me (or, well, my stomach), he broke out into a huge smile (that I could notice even with his mask on), and he immediately started patting my belly and hugging it with his short little arms. He then started repeating, “baby, baby,” and put his face into my stomach.

I thought this was the cutest, most adorable thing in the world. Granted, yes, there is something to be said about learning that touching a stranger, especially someone’s stomach, is kind of inappropriate, and this kid likely needs to learn about physical space and boundaries. But I couldn’t help but find this completely endearing and amusing. It was so heart warming. The dad was immediately mortified as you’d expect, and he lightly scolded the boy in Japanese to stop and to get away from me, which the boy reluctantly complied with. The dad then explained that the boy’s mom was pregnant with their second child, and that the boy really loved patting and holding the pregnant belly, so he was likely excited because of that when he saw my belly sticking out.

Oh, kids. They just do the darndest things.

Goodbye to a matriarch

This afternoon, we received the sad news that Chris’s paternal grandma had passed away at age 92. Last year, she celebrated her 91st birthday, and about 20 years of living independently on her own in the house she once shared with her husband, who died in 2000 from cancer. Shortly after that, she suffered a fall at home and decided the time had finally come to move out of this home and into an aging care facility. She seemed to have been in good spirits about it all, and from photos we’d seen, she looked to be in relatively good health. But in the last couple of days, she had been hospitalized for a high fluid build-up, shortness of breath, and extreme fatigue. Her heart has a leaky valve, and so the doctors said she needed hospital care. Despite her fluid levels decreasing and her breathing becoming more easy, she didn’t make it. And after requesting a shower, she peacefully passed away on a chair in there, with the nurses finding her.

It is sad that this global pandemic prevented us from seeing her last year. It’s sad that she wasn’t able to see a lot of her loved ones as often as she would’ve liked last year due to COVID-19. Chris always said that each time he saw Nana, he feared it may be the last time he’d ever see her. And in December 2019, it really was the last time we’d ever see her in person again.

Since first visiting Australia with Chris in 2012, I’d seen Nana nearly every year, with the exception of 2017 when we went to Hamilton Island for a cousin’s wedding, and 2020, when we were prevented from going back due to the global pandemic. Every year, I marveled at how healthy, happy, and alert she seemed. Despite her advanced age, she was always so sharp. She knew where the smallest and most insignificant things were in her house. She shared very detailed memories from Malaysia and her time adjusting to living in Australia. She still cooked and cleaned and gardened. She had the help of a family friend nearby, plus all her family. She was fortunate and blessed enough in her 92 years to live in three different countries, raise three children, who each had their own children, and some of those children were able to give her great-grandchildren. She lived a full and happy life and was always so positive. She’s definitely an inspiration not just to her family and friends, but to those who knew her. Every time I saw her, I thought, wow. If I could grow old to her age and feel that accomplished and loved and full of life, I think that will be a life well lived.

I’m sad that this little baby that is growing in my body will never be able to meet Big Nana, and that Big Nana will never have the chance to meet her. But I know for sure that Nana has left quite a legacy behind that this future child will hear plenty about.

5-year wedding anniversary

Today marks five years since our wedding. We technically got together as a couple in January 2012, which is the anniversary that Chris says counts more. That has a lot of validity, but the wedding anniversary still “counts” to me. We don’t really do anything to “celebrate” it, as in we do not exchange gifts or go out to a fancy meal for this anniversary. In fact, if I remember correctly, for our first wedding anniversary, we just got halal food that cost $6 per box from the famous 53rd and 6th Avenue cart. Yum, chicken/lamb and rice, although they have since gotten rid of the lamb as an option because they said it’s too expensive.

It’s made me sad to hear all the stories that my friend’s been sharing when she felt unappreciated, unheard, and unseen by her boyfriend of 10 years. One of the recurring issues seems to be when she’s been in a bridal party at a wedding or performing dance at a wedding, and because of her involvement, she misses some of the drinks or canapes during cocktail hour. While she’s scrambling around, she’s hoping her partner would have saved her some food or at least a drink, but wedding after wedding (and there have been at least 3 or 4, including my own) where she has performed or been in a bridal party, he’s failed to deliver. Even after the first or second time when she’s asked him to do it next time, he would make excuses, get defensive, and say he “had no place to put it!” She would try to brush it off, but after so many times of it happening, she realized that he didn’t even want to try to do something she wanted.

I thought about the one time I was in a bridal party and how Chris saved me food and drinks during cocktail hour while I was busy taking bridal party photos. I had at least one of each canape on a plate ready to be eaten. And when I got into bed this evening, I told him I loved him and appreciated him always saving me food.

“Huh? Ythi, you’re going nuts… talking to your friend and thinking about your own situation,” he mumbles sleepily in his half-asleep stupor.

Well, appreciation also needs to be stated…

When life ends during the pandemic

In the last year, a lot of people around the world have died due to COVID, whether it’s directly or indirectly. But regardless of COVID’s spread globally, there are also people who have died whose deaths had nothing to do with the Coronavirus. A friend’s dad passed away after a multiple years’ long illness last November. And this past week, my mom’s best friend’s husband passed away. He’d actually been sick since 2015, which is why they couldn’t travel to our wedding in 2016. So while his prognosis wasn’t great in 2015-2016, when I look back, it’s at least a comfort to know that he got six more years of life with his loved ones than anyone had originally predicted. It was sad news to hear for me, especially since, regardless of only having seen him a number of times during my visits home, he always held me in high regard and frequently asked about me and talked about me, apparently almost like I was his own daughter. He even used to watch all my YouTube videos as soon as I’d upload them. He and his wife had the notifications on my videos turned on, so they always knew immediately when I launched a new video. His wife would message me every now and then on Facebook, letting me know how excited he was to see me on their big screen TV. It was always so sweet.

Every time someone from my parents’ generation passes that I learn about, I get a little bit uneasy. We all know that in a regular, conventional life, parents will pass before their children, so it’s only in time that I will have to experience the terrible pain of eventually losing my own parents. And that reminder is really scary. Even though they live 3,000 miles away, I still think about them every day, and I still speak with them at least once a week. You can’t predict the future or when events will happen, and that unknown just kind of sits there in the back of my mind. It is not a great feeling. So the next thing I think about is… what am I supposed to do with the time I’ve got left with them? What else can I do?

Treats galore

In a holiday season when a pandemic continues to loom over us and we cannot travel while still being socially responsible, we are unfortunately home bound… with no line of sight into when we will be able to safely get on a plane. Being unable to see family and friends, not to mention travel, has been pretty awful. Yet somehow, they’ve still thought about us and have sent us delicious gifts. Yesterday, Chris’s cousins sent a cheese and cracker gift basket. Today, we received Magnolia Bakery cupcakes and banana pudding from Chris’s parents. I still have Levain cookies and brioche I got with my team bonding credit from yesterday, plus our leftover baked goods that I made for our building staff. We have endless treats in our apartment, but with just the two of us to eat them…. who know when we will ever get through all of this?!