I wasn’t going to share this story. I was going to keep this story private and amongst close friends and family only. However, as I begin to process what was the most life-changing moment that will ever happen to me, I realized that perhaps I really do want to share what happened as I welcomed my precious baby bean into the world. I know I am not alone in my experience, and I’m sure several of you will be able to relate to what I went through. I’ll give you a little premise: my labor and delivery did not go as I had expected, but nevertheless it was all an experience I will re-live in my mind over and over again despite any chaotic or anxious moments.
Pregnancy was one of the most incredible experiences of my life – regardless of the good or bad. Physically, pregnancy and me did not agree. I was nauseous and vomited A LOT, my usual heart condition was aggravated, I developed severe anemia despite an iron-heavy diet and supplements, I fainted many times (including one time on the MTR when I woke up on the floor of the train surrounded by concerned passengers and medics), and my pregnancy rhinitis was so severe that I wore nose strips nightly and constantly took COVID tests because I was paranoid I had an actual virus. But while I may have struggled physically with pregnancy, in all other aspects I’d say pregnancy was one of – if not the – highlight of my life.
I did suffer from several bouts of antenatal depression during my 9 months of cooking my little bean, but thanks to having a great support system around me I was able to work through some of the toughest moments. At times where I felt my lowest, that’s actually when I felt connected to my baby bean the most. She would kick, roll, or hiccup to let me know she was there, and an uncontrollable, involuntary smile would automatically appear on my face. In fact, the beau could always tell if baby bean was moving because it was a very distinct smile.
From the moment I found out I was pregnant, I found myself uncharacteristically calm and unnerved about the upcoming birth. I had always assumed that I would be full of anxiety and dread since giving birth is no easy feat, but I was surprised with how at ease I was. Despite that, the beau and I decided to work with a doula during the last few months of my pregnancy to keep me feeling prepared, calm, and at peace. It was also helpful having our doula around, who luckily lived nearby, because at the time whenever the beau had to go to work (he’s a pilot), it was the law that he needed to quarantine in a hotel room across the city for several days before being allowed to return home. This left me alone and isolated most of the summer when I was at my most vulnerable health-wise. Having our doula around was a great comfort for us both should something scary happen (and something did.. but luckily everything was okay).
As I approached my due date, my curiosity about labor and delivery piqued. What would it feel like? What day will I give birth? Will we be able to follow my initial birth plan? For the last couple of weeks of my pregnancy, I had been going on nightly walks with the beau, Argos, and Luca where I made sure to spend at least 5 minutes doing some “curb walking” to help move baby bean into position. I had been mixing some dates in with my protein shakes and drinking raspberry leaf tea every day (I did not eat dates every day, as the high sugar content scared me). Dates supposedly help to soften the cervix and raspberry leaf tea supposedly strengthens your uterus to withstand contractions. I had also been doing squats in the afternoons and bouncing on a yoga ball at night to help ease baby bean into position. We also made sure to do perineal massages every other day (which are NOT pleasant) to help reduce potential tearing. I was doing everything I could to prepare my body for labor.
I went into labor on a Sunday evening, after a lengthy walk with my boys. I was sitting on the couch when I suddenly felt a very strong period-like cramp, something I had not felt in 9 months. It was a week and a half before my due date, so I assumed it was just my body preparing for labor. 10 minutes later, I felt it again and mentioned it to the beau. He asked if we should start timing them, but I wasn’t sure. To be honest, I was not convinced I was in labor. It didn’t feel like what I was expecting it to. Let’s just say Hollywood has gotten it all wrong. I went to sleep that night still feeling the cramps once in a while, but nothing consistent or increasing in strength. Because of that, I still didn’t believe it was truly labor.
The next day, the cramps had not subsided and were still coming irregularly. I texted our doula and her excited response still did not convince me this was labor. However, she met up with us and we all went to get our Covid PCR tests that would be required before entering the hospital whenever we decided to go. I took it easy during the day, showering often since the hot water was relaxing, drinking tea, and cuddling Argos and Luca. The cramps were not increasing in strength yet but they were still coming, so I went to bed as usual. Throughout the night, I woke up needing to do some yoga positions to try to relieve some pain in my lower back. This truly convinced the beau I was in early labor.
The next morning, the cramps had now increased slightly. They were still irregular, but they were definitely stronger. The beau called the hospital describing what I was feeling and to ask what we should do, especially since we do not live close to the hospital. They suggested we plan on coming in later that day, since this sounded like it was the start of labor. Our doula immediately came to our home, performing acupressure on pressure points that help stimulate the uterus and encouraging me to focus my mind on opening up. Despite the pain increasing, I was talking normally and behaving normally so I STILL was not convinced I was in labor. My doula was shocked that I was still not convinced yet. We kept having a laugh about it. “Are you sure this is labor?” “YES!”
I had now been in labor for 2 days, but my water had not broken so we endured most of my labor at home before finally departing for the hospital at 9 pm. I listened to the soundtrack of House of the Dragon in the backseat of the taxi as we drove the 50-minute drive to the hospital. The hospital is located on top of a mountain overlooking all of Hong Kong, so it was really wonderful getting a bird’s eye glimpse of the city as we were driven up to the top. My daughter was about to be born in Hong Kong. This would be her city too.
It’s almost as if my body knew we were close to the hospital because my contractions’ strength increased in the final minutes in the taxi. As we entered the hospital, we needed to take another quick Covid test to determine if I would be going into the ICU or the maternity ward. Since we were negative, we were escorted to the maternity ward and brought to what they call the “delivery spa.” There, we were set up in our labor and delivery room, which was already prepared for nighttime with my bed covered in pillows and blankets, and the beau’s single bed set up beside mine.
I could hear a woman screaming from the room next door, and the midwife setting us up in our room said our doctor was just next door delivering a baby. I immediately got emotional, because NOW it had finally hit me that this was truly happening and that pretty soon I would be the one delivering. After delivering our neighbor’s baby, our doctor came to say hello to us before he went home for the night. It was comforting to see a face we knew, especially someone who knew every detail about my health and my pregnancy for the last 9 months. He checked my cervix and said I was not dilated yet, but that my contractions were coming in strong so I should not worry, and I’d be checked again in the morning. We then got ready for bed and went to sleep, dreaming of our baby bean that we would get to meet very, very soon.
However, the next morning didn’t bring news I was hoping for. The midwife checked my cervix and I was still not dilated, but my contractions were now very strong and very regular. Our doula arrived just before lunch and we quickly got to work. We walked around the maternity floor, I walked sideways up and down the stairs several times, I used a stepstool in the delivery room for stationary “curb walking”, I took a warm shower, I listened to some ASMR, and I did some positions with my doula to help get baby more into position. The beau held me, slow danced with me, massaged me, and more to help my oxytocin levels rise to get things going further. In the evening, my doctor returned to check my cervix after spending hours dedicated to getting things moving along. To my discouragement, I was still not dilated. But baby bean’s heartbeat was steady and strong, and she was not in distress. So I was ready to keep going.
Before we went to sleep for the night, the midwives pulled the beau and my doula to the side and tried to get them to encourage me to take pain medication, specifically an epidural. At this point, I had been in labor for 3 days and had taken nothing for the pain. I had asked the midwives not to suggest or offer me any pain medication unless I asked for it. The beau let me know the midwives were trying to encourage me to consider an epidural, but I said no because I wanted to feel any progress. If I still wasn’t dilated, I wanted to feel if anything changed so I could let someone know. I wasn’t trying to be a hero, I just wanted to be able to feel it. I was also concerned an epidural could slow things down and things were already moving too slow for my liking.
I only managed 2 hours of sleep because the contractions had now increased to an intense level. On the TOCO meter, it showed I was way past active labor. The midwives were shocked I wasn’t crying out in pain. I was actually used to these contractions at this point, and found them annoying more than anything else. But since my contractions were measuring quite high on TOCO, this must mean my cervix has finally dilated and I should be ready to push soon!
Nope. My cervix was still firmly shut. It was shortening, but there was no dilation. My heart sank. My water still had not broken, and my doctor was scheduled to arrive later in the afternoon, so I decided to dedicate my morning to trying to increase pressure on my cervix. I went back to the staircase and walked up and down them sideways about 30 times. I continued bouncing on the yoga ball. I even walked to the nursery thinking that maybe if I stared at other babies it would entice mine to come out. Instead, as I stared at those sweet little sleeping faces behind the glass, all I felt was jealousy. Why wasn’t my baby here yet? It had now been 4 days of labor, and I could feel the strength I had inside me dwindling. While walking through the maternity ward with my doula as the beau took a quick nap (poor guy had been up all night helping me), I looked at her feeling quite defeated and said, “I didn’t want this option because I didn’t want to endure the recovery, but I have a feeling this is going to end with a C section.” My doula comforted me and said, “And it’s perfectly okay if that’s what happens.”
At 3:30 pm, my doctor came and checked my cervix again. His face behind the mask said it all. I was still not dilated. However, my contractions were coming in as if I was fully dilated (kudos to raspberry leaf tea?), so he ordered an ultrasound so we could see what was going on. Baby bean was still not in distress, but her head was not in the right position. She was hugging the umbilical cord in a ball under her chin (luckily it was not wrapped around her neck), thus tilting her head back and not tucked in. She was not far enough down to put enough pressure on my cervix to dilate.
My doctor looked at me and said I could keep going naturally for another 12 hours to see if I could get her to move, but his concern was that I would get too tired after 4 days of labor, that baby bean would get tired, and that my uterus would get tired from contracting so strongly for so long. At this point, I was really tired. I had had no pain relief at all for 4 days. I had done everything I possibly could to get things moving. The only times I laid down in bed was to sleep, otherwise I was on my feet doing exercises to help my labor progress. None of it worked. I was desperate to meet my baby. I had thought she would already be here. I had begun to hate the delivery room because I didn’t expect to be in there for 2 days. There was really no other option; unreservedly, I said yes to a C section.
We were informed that the surgery would take place at 6 pm, so the midwives suggested I have a long hot bath to relax (my water had not broken and was not going to break). The beau began to pack up all of our things while our doula helped keep me calm as I took a bath. Ironically enough, I began to mentally prepare for the possibility of needing an emergency C section in the weeks leading up to the birth. I’m the type of person who likes to be prepared for any scenario to try to minimize the anxiety when the unexpected happens. A C section wasn’t my first choice for delivery, but at this point I was ready. I had brought my favorite Diptyque candle to sniff just before delivery (lighting a candle in the hospital is an obvious no-no) but it would be too large to bring into the operating room, so the beau found a toothbrush from the hospital toiletry bag and our doula began aggressively swirling the toothbrush inside the candle to get the scent on it.
At 6 pm, it was time to head down to the operating room. I had changed into a special delivery gown, and the beau was dressed in scrubs. I chose to walk down instead of being wheeled in bed or a wheelchair. Our doula walked with us as we were escorted down, but she could not come into the operating room. I hugged her before we went in, and she went back upstairs to wait for us when we would return with our baby.
As we entered the “lobby” of the operating room, that’s when my wall of strength began to crack. I started to shake a bit, but all the nurses spoke calmly and softly while assuring me everything would be okay. After signing the initial paperwork, we were then escorted into the operating room itself. This was where my wall of strength crumbled completely. All the calmness I had been feeling until now completely disappeared. As I walked into the room and saw the black operating table shaped like a cross that I would be laying on while being cut open, I immediately turned around and tried to run for it. The beau held me in his arms as I crumbled and cried. He looked me in the eye, stroked my head, and assured me I could do this.
When I regained my composure, I made my way to the table shaking like a leaf. Our anesthesiologist, who is probably one of the kindest people I have ever met, helped to comfort me as he prepared everything that would numb me from the chest down. He described everything in detail, step-by-step as he inserted what he needed to into my spine. I felt myself losing it again and began to shake, until suddenly I saw my doctor appear in his operating garb. Through his mask, I could see him smiling at me. Seeing him brought some comfort, since it then hit me that he has done this hundreds of times before. He told me everything was okay and that all would be well.
The numbing sensation happened pretty quickly, and within seconds I could not feel anything below my chest except warmth. I was flipped onto my back and the beau remained close by my head. He assured me everything was fine, and then brought out the toothbrush covered in my favorite Diptyque scent and held it under my nose. When the curtain went up, I began to hyperventilate a bit and the beau did his best to comfort me. Since I could not see or feel anything, it felt like nothing was happening which increased my anxiety. But our sweet anesthesiologist looked at me and said, “We’ve already started! He’s already cutting the uterine wall. You’re seconds away from meeting your baby!” I felt a bit calmer, knowing it was almost over. But that calmness was temporary.
A few seconds later, my anesthesiologist looked at me and said, “Okay, I’m just going to push down on your belly two times to help ease the baby out. You’re going to feel some pressure.” He pushed down, and that’s when I lost it. There was no pain, but I began screaming my head off. It felt like everything came up at once – the frustrations of my labor, my sudden anxiety about giving birth via C section, knowing I was cut open on the table, being completely numb from the chest down, the immense pressure I felt as he pushed down (they aren’t kidding about the pressure!), and the bizarre feeling that came along with it (I could feel the outline of baby bean’s entire body being pulled out).
And then suddenly – she was there. The curtain was lowered, and I watched my doctor lift my baby girl up from my body. She was calm, in fact she looked a little confused, and she made zero noise at first. The beau was crying happy tears, and I began to calm down from my screaming episodes. After the cord was cut, she was brought over to the side to be quickly wiped down and looked over by the nurses. That was where she let out her first cries. I stared at her as they prepped her, with the beau remaining close by my head and still holding the toothbrush. Honestly, in our birth pictures it looks like he was trying to brush my teeth and it’s hilarious! She was finally brought over to me and placed on my chest. The anesthesiologist was kind enough to help me lower my hospital gown so I could do skin-to-skin with baby bean right away. He then grabbed my phone from the beau and took the first photo of me, the beau, and our baby girl – a photo I will keep with me always.
Unfortunately, just seconds after our first photo was taken, I began to feel an extreme pain in my right shoulder from fluid rising up. As much as I didn’t want her taken from me, I was scared I was going to drop her. After they took her from me, the pain increased and my vulnerability was exposed once again. I began screaming hysterics. I don’t remember what happened after that, because I have no memory of it. However, the beau told me later I was asked if I wanted pain medication or to be sedated. I don’t remember being asked anything at all. I was overwhelmed, in pain (just in my shoulder – I couldn’t feel anything else), and incoherent, so the beau made the decision to have me sedated. I was unconscious moments later. The nurses were going to bring baby bean upstairs to the nursery for her measurements and initial shots while my doctor stitched me up, and the beau was torn on whether to stay with me or go with the baby. Since I was unconscious, my anesthesiologist encouraged the beau to go with the baby and that he would keep an eye on me should I wake up.
I vaguely remember being lifted from the operating table to my hospital bed, but I do remember slowly waking up as I was being wheeled to my recovery room, and I remember screaming in pain. I don’t know if I was imagining it or if it was real, but I felt severe pain at my wound where I had been cut. I was screaming for someone to help me, and I could hear people telling the beau that it was just in my head. However, he told them, “If she says she’s in pain, she’s in pain” so I was given an injection in my hip. My eyes were closed during all of this, and suddenly I heard my doula’s calm voice say my name. Then I heard, “I know what will make her feel better.” My bed was raised so my top half was more vertical, and the next thing I knew was the beau had placed our baby in my arms. My screaming immediately ceased, I opened my eyes and they immediately locked with my precious baby girl’s eyes. She then immediately began nursing, and I felt my entire body finally melt and relax. Oh my gosh, I’m a mom now!
My baby bean was here. My little sweetheart. My little girl. 9 months of pregnancy, 4 days of labor, and 1 traumatic delivery led us to this moment where I finally got to hold the little one I had been dreaming about for so long. Here she was – 10 fingers, 10 toes, a head of hair, the most adorable nose, a calm spirit (which surprised me, because she was wild in the womb!), and exceptionally healthy. My daughter. My baby bean. Looking back, I am still amazed at what I did to bring her into the world. I did not get the unmedicated vaginal delivery I initially wanted, but I did get to feel and witness my body go through the most powerful experience it will ever endure, and I did it all for her. I’d do it for her again if I had to. She’s worth everything and more.
Amazing, courageous work. Thank you for sharing this. I have heard that anesthesia can produce powerful emotional responses, and that seems to bear true for you. You’ve done an amazing thing.