Around 32 weeks, call me a bad mom to be, but I was over being pregnant. I had horrible heartburn where even water would trigger a fiery wrath all through my insides. I couldn’t eat any of my favourite foods – Indian, Hakka, Italian (pizza included). I had horrible rib pains where I couldn’t sit for longer than an hour without having sharp pains, so going out to nice dinners or for a movie were out the window. I was desperately hoping upon full term (37 weeks) she’d come out at any time.
So the labour inducing tactics began – primrose oil, walking, squatting, nipple stimulation, cupressure, and even the activity that got me here in the first place, you name it! I know that there are no clinical studies that will prove that any of these old wives tales actually work, but you think, it can’t hurt to try. Thirty-eight weeks went by, still no baby. Thirty-nine weeks went by, I got some contractions that would last even up to 2-3 hours, but then they would stop. At my 38 week appointment with my OB, I was 50% effaced and 2cm dilated. At my 39 week appointment, I was 4cm dilated. You learn dilation means nothing, because apparently, the baby comes when it wants to come. Despite all the progression we’ve made in modern science, the entire birthing experience remains a miracle that science still can’t fully explain. No doctor can with 100% certainty predict when the baby will come, it’s all a best guess.
My due date, Saturday, December 10th came and went, and I felt so defeated. I was about to start week 4 of my maternity leave and was bored out of my mind. As a person whose been working full time jobs since she was 18 years old, I didn’t know what to do with myself. My husband was on and off working from home thinking it can happen any moment and as each day passed by, it just wasn’t happening. All friends and families were checking in to see if baby was on its way which lead me to start ignoring texts, calls and even deleted some of my social media off my phone (I know, I’m a bit dramatic…but c’mon, I’m hormonal!).
In order to go into labour, your body produces a “love hormone” called oxytocin, which causes contractions. I started thinking that perhaps my body is incapable of producing oxytocin. My google search started resembling the likes of, “Is it possible for your body to not produce oxytocin?”. I would ask my husband if I’m a heartless person and can’t produce oxytocin, which means I’ll never naturally go into labour? Of course he ignored me thinking I’m nuts (just another day in the life of our marriage).
The Sunday after my due date, my husband asked if he should work from home on Monday or should we arrange to have a family member over just in case. At this point, I had spent my Friday night going up and down the stairs for 30 minutes like a mad woman, my Saturday night going on an hour walk outdoors in the freezing cold and half of my Sunday using my breast pump to stimulate my nipples. I was feeling nothing, so it was best we all carry on with our regular schedules.
On Monday, December 12th, Akhil left for work and I woke up at 7:56am to use the washroom. As I sat back down to lay back in bed, suddenly I felt a gush, and pool of water came out. Then came another gush, and another pool of water came out. I called Akhil right away to let him know that I think my water broke and he should head home right away. Luckily he was en route to work and only one Go Train stop away. I called Labour & Delivery (LD) to let them know that I think my water broke and asked them if I should come in. I was advised to come in for an assessment. I went back to lay on my bed and another gush came flowing out, now I was 100% certain my water broke. I went to the washroom to brush my teeth (cause who wants to give birth with stinky breath?) and water kept gushing out of me, so I sat on the toilet and called LD again to see if it’s okay to sit on the toilet because your water breaking is quite a messy feat! I was advised not to, in case the umbilical cord is hanging out and instead to put a towel on my bed and lay down. Which I did, only for two more gushes to come out. That’s when I called my mom to let her know that my water broke.
At 8:30am, my contractions started and I went straight into active labour. They started 7 minutes apart, 30 seconds long and not long after went down to 5 minutes apart, 1 minute long. My husband and parents arrived around the same time, and while they were rushing me to the hospital, I knew I’d be admitted right away as I was already 4cm dilated the Thursday before, so I was preparing to take a shower. I took a quick hot shower, moisturised my body, brushed my hair, did a condensed version of my 12 step Korean Skin Care regime, changed and we were on our way. It was game time!
For those who are wondering what contractions feel like, everyone experiences it differently. Only 1 in 10 women’s water actually breaks and some women feel excruciating pain, while others feel moderate pain. I am plagued with horrible menstrual cramps and the beginning of my active labour felt less painful than my worst menstrual cramps. I arrived at the hospital around 9am, and was checked out by the doctor on call by 9:30am. I was 5cm dilated, having contractions 5 minutes apart, lasting 1 minute and was admitted by 10am.
My birth plan was always a hierarchy – no epidural, epidural, emergency c-section. I recognize that birth is very unpredictable and birthing plans hardly go as planned, and as this was my first, I had no idea what to expect, so it was best I kept an open mind. I was hoping to get through it without epidural – as some labours can progress really quickly and was hoping to manage the pain by walking around and trying different yoga and breathing techniques. In the event my labour wasn’t progressing quickly (on average, first time moms are in labour for 12-24 hours), then I would consider epidural. I wanted a c-section to be avoided at all costs, but ultimately a healthy mommy and baby were the number one priority.
At first, I managed my contractions by walking around, taking deep breaths in and out. Staying mobile helped a lot with managing the pain. Within an hour, my contractions progressed from 5 minutes apart to 3-4 minutes apart, ranging from 45 seconds long to 90 seconds long. At this point, walking around and breathing in and out wasn’t doing the trick. The next two hours, I was managing my contractions by bending over, spreading my legs apart, swaying side to side slowly, taking a deep breathe in and a long breathe out, while listening to J Cole’s latest album. As the pain worsened, in addition to swaying side to side and breathing in and out, my husband applied a heat pack on my lower back. I would describe the pain at this point as the worst menstrual pains I’ve had. Around 12:30pm, the nurse did a check in and advised me that I was now 6cm dilated and recommended we manage the pain the next two hours in a Jacuzzi tub. At the end of the two hours, we would do another check in, and depending on how much I’ve progressed in my labour, we’d determine how to continue to manage the pain.
The Jacuzzi tub provided immediate relief and I found that the water really helped absorb the pressure of the contractions, thus reducing the pain. Two hours later, the contractions worsened (far worse than any menstrual cramps I have ever experienced) and were now 2 minutes apart and 2 minutes long. At this point, the Jacuzzi tub was no longer helping and the only way I could manage it was by standing on my tip toes and my husband had to apply immense pressure by massaging my lower back for the entire two minutes, where he was working up quite a sweat in doing so. I then finished up with the Jacuzzi tub, headed back to the delivery room and got a status update from the nurse. I was now dilated 6-7 cm (you have to be 10 cm dilated to deliver a baby), which means I was not progressing as quickly as I had hoped. The nurse estimated that I had another 4 hours to go and since I could only mange the contractions by staying mobile, she advised I take epidural to get some rest, as I’ll need to conserve energy for delivery.
In order to get epidural, you need to sit still for 10-15 minutes and once the process is complete, the epidural takes another 15 minutes to kick in. I was in so much pain that I couldn’t imagine how I would sit still for 15 minutes, but I knew I couldn’t withstand this for another 4 hours.
My epidural was administered around 3:30pm. It didn’t kick in at first, and I needed to get another dosage, which means an additional 15 minutes to kick in (so a total of 40 minutes of excruciating labour pains while sitting/lying still). As soon as it did kick in however, I felt NO pain. Some people say they still feel pain or immense pressure. Perhaps because I managed active labour naturally for 6 hours, so by comparison, the pain on epidural was nothing, but my personal experience was pain free. This pain free experience applied through the remaining of my labour and even my delivery. In my experience, the real pain began postpartum. My postpartum recovery has been very difficult and I feel that everyone talks about the pain of labour, but no one ever warned me about postpartum recovery. But that’s a whole other discussion.
I was able to get some shut eye and a couple of hours of later, my contractions had calmed down, so they injected a small dose of pitocin (synthetic version of oxytocin which causes your body to have contractions) to get things going. I was woken up by the OBGYN on call an hour and half later to discover that the baby had descended and I’ll be delivering my baby girl in 15 minutes.
When finding out that delivery was near, I was overwhelmed and shed a few tears. I couldn’t believe that the end of my 9 month journey was so near.
Around 7pm, I started pushing but the nurse noticed that her heart rate was decelerating after each push and would quickly go back up to normal at the end of the contraction. With every push, the baby would crown slightly, but as soon as I was done pushing, she would rock back into my pelvis, thus she wasn’t crowning. Apparently getting the baby to crown is more than half the battle, and the rest comes “easy”. Around 20 minutes later, the OBGYN was brought in and I was advised that the baby was tired and needed to come out ASAP, otherwise they would need to use a vacuum. I knew I had to stay calm, because panicking would not be good for anyone and I was determined to deliver her without the use of any vacuum or forceps. The doctor and nurse were great in guiding me and 5 minutes later, the doctor held up the baby in front of me. She was here, I saw a full baby – head, shoulders, arms, torso, legs, she was crying, she was here! With shaky hands, my husband cut her umbilical cord and I began to weep. Weeping may be an understatement, more like balling. I can’t describe the feeling I felt. I was so overwhelmed with so much emotion (and get teary eyed even as I write this bit) that the only way I could respond to it was by crying. On Monday, December 12th at 7:39pm, Ziana Diya Mago was born, weighing 7 lbs, crying and yearning for familiar comfort.
After being weighed, they laid my baby girl against my chest and she immediately calmed down. I could hear her inhale and exhale, with her tiny hands lightly gripping my chest. She was carefully listening to my heartbeat, a familiar sound she had been listening to the last 9 months while growing in my womb. With each heartbeat, her breathe became calmer and she closed her eyes. I laid there and wept tears of joy. Now I finally understand the beautiful feeling of bringing life into this world, a feeling that can’t quite be described with words but only be felt with a full heart.