BabyDumpling was due on May 13, 2017. The day passed uneventfully in our dumpling family. And the next day, and the next day, and the next.
On May 16, 2017, I had an appointment with my OB. They gave me an ultrasound to check if everything was all right with the baby. It was. Everything looked healthy, I was just overdue, which is pretty common for the first child. I still hadn’t had a single contraction, and didn’t feel like the baby was coming out any time soon. I could easily imagine BabyDumpling coming out a full week late.
At the ultrasound, they estimated that her weight was 8.5 lbs. This terrified me. Babies gain weight very quickly towards the end of the pregnancy, which meant if BabyDumpling was another few days late, she could easily be 9 lbs at birth. That is a lot of baby to push out! My OB didn’t quite believe the estimate from the ultrasound, insisting that based on the measurement of my belly, my baby was likely around 7.5 lbs, “unless she’s very tightly packed in there,” my OB joked (turned out she kind of was).
My OB gave me a cervical exam and determined that I was now 3cm dilated. Full dilation, which is when you are ready to start pushing, is 10cm. 3cm is a lot to be dilated without feeling a thing. Both my mother and mother-in-law had gone into labor with 0cm dilated, and every 1cm dilation took over an hour of painful contractions. So, they were understandably confused and jealous that I was somehow already 3cm without feeling any pain.
During the cervical exam, my OB asked me if I wanted a membrane sweep. It is basically the doctor making a “sweeping” motion with her fingers during a cervical exam across the membrane or sac holding the baby, which is believed to help release natural hormones that may trigger labor. She told me it might result in spotting (light bleeding) and some pain. It’s not guaranteed to work, but I decided to give it a try.
A few hours later, I immediately regretted my decision. As soon as I got home, I started to feel a lot of pain. And it wasn’t contraction pain, it was just constant pain in my lower abdomen, like a period pain. And it seemed like a lot of blood was coming out considering that she had described it as “spotting.” Worried that this may not be normal, I turned to Google, and found other women describing the pain I was feeling after a membrane sweep. Some had it for 24-36 hours and they didn’t even go into labor. 24-36 hours?! I did not want to feel this way for that long, especially if it wasn’t even going to get me into labor.
I decided to take a shower, as warm water is said to help with some of the pain, while I cursed my OB. Then, halfway through the shower, I noticed the pain changed. It was no longer constant. It seemed to come and go. Could they be… contractions? I couldn’t be sure, I could barely feel them, and they were still in the same spot as the “period pains,” whereas I had been told that contractions would hurt across your whole belly, including your lower back, and were unmistakable. These seemed… mistakable.
Soon after my shower, the contractions increased in both intensity and frequency. We had been told that contractions in early labor may be far apart and irregular, and that it would ramp up in intensity, getting closer and closer in time and lasting longer. When each contraction is 1 minute long, and they are 5 minutes apart, and you’ve been having them for at least an hour (at this frequency and duration), then you are supposed to go to the hospital (the so-called “5-1-1” rule). If you go earlier, it would be a wasted trip, because they would be unlikely to admit you and you’d have to go home. So, I wanted to make sure we went to the hospital at the right time. However, my contractions seemed like they were coming far too quickly. They didn’t last a full minute, but they were coming 3 minutes apart, and then it became 2 minutes apart. After an hour, we called the hospital and asked if we should come in. The doctor on the line said that we should, but I wasn’t even sure if what I was having were contractions. “I only feel the pain in my lower abdomen, not across my whole belly – are these actually contractions?” The doctor chuckled at my (probably stupid) question and said, “Yes, they are.”
Once we got the green light to go to the hospital, we immediately started getting ready. Despite having packed our overnight bag ahead of time, PapaDumpling was not “grab-and-go” ready. He had to pack his camera gear, prepare the guest bedroom for my parents to come, etc. It took about 30 minutes for us to leave the house, and those 30 minutes, and the subsequent 20-minute car ride to the hospital, were the most painful for me. My contractions had reached a new level of pain. Each contraction had me writhing and whining uncontrollably. I didn’t really want to scream, but it was hard not to make any sounds with that kind of pain. I was now feeling the pain in my lower back, and that was more painful than the pain in my front. PapaDumpling asked me what the pain felt like, and all I could say was, “It’s like nothing I’ve ever felt before.”
We arrived at the hospital around 8pm on May 16. I was in so much pain I could not walk. They pushed me to the Labor & Delivery Unit in a wheelchair. At first, I protested getting into a wheelchair, out of some weird reflexive aversion to being dependent on someone pushing me around. But once I got into the wheelchair, I was like, Hey, this is awesome! I should get pushed around in a wheelchair more often.
I was first examined in the triage area of L&D. The nurse and doctor there determined that I was now 4cm dilated. My contractions were 2-3 minutes apart (and they were indeed contractions). They decided I was ripe for admission. Somewhere during all of this, PapaDumpling and I took a selfie, in which I am actually smiling quite normally. I have no idea how I managed that in-between contractions. When I came in, the nurse had asked me what my “labor plan” was. I wasn’t sure what a labor plan was. Was I suppose to bring in a written document outlining how I planned to give birth? What do they mean by “plan”? Don’t you just… do it? I decided to tell her “natural childbirth” and she seemed to accept that answer. As they were preparing to move me to a room, the nurse told the doctor I wanted an “NCB” – almost as if it was a bad thing, or at least an unusual thing – and the doctor then said to me, “Let’s have the anesthesiologists come talk to you anyway.” In that split second, I realized that NCB or natural childbirth meant no pain meds, no epidural, no nothing – and that was not what I meant at all. Realizing the misunderstanding, I shouted out, “No, no! I want the pain meds!” Puzzled, the nurse said, “I thought you wanted a natural childbirth.” “Oh, I meant natural as opposed to c-section.” The doctor then burst into laughter. “Ohhh! You meant vaginal delivery!” I didn’t know what was so funny, but the doctor seemed particularly amused. “I’m glad we cleared that up. That would have been a terrible miscommunication.”
Once they settled me into my room, a team of anesthesiologists immediately appeared. I was still having very painful contractions every 2 minutes so it was hard to concentrate on what they were saying. At some point, someone stuck a form in front of me and told me to sign on the dotted line. I could have been signing away my first born for all I knew, but I signed without question. They ushered PapaDumpling and my mother-in-law out of the room, and more anesthesiologists appeared. The room was now filled with at least eight anesthesiologists. They told me to sit on the edge of the bed, hunch forward and try to push my lower back out, and stay still. I could only comply with the sitting part. I had no idea if I was pushing my lower back “out” and I really could not sit still through a contraction. We practiced through two contractions, and when they deemed I was still enough, they started swabbing me and poking my spine. I thought putting in the epidural would hurt more, since it is theoretically sticking a needle in your spine, but it didn’t hurt much at all. They gave me some kind of local anesthesia to numb that spot in my spine first, asked if I could feel it when they poked me, gave me some more until I couldn’t feel any sharp poking pains, and then proceeded to do the rest of the procedure for getting an epidural in place. In the end, it turns out an epidural is a very thin, soft, catheter tube that runs out from your lower back and is attached to an IV drip filled with the pain medication. It was timed to automatically release a dose every 40 minutes, but they also gave me a button that I could control to release doses in-between the timed doses. The button only works periodically, ensuring that I wouldn’t be able to overdose myself.
After they had the epidural in place, they asked me if I could feel anything in my legs and feet. I felt tingling in my feet, and was soon entirely numb from the waist down. One of the anesthesiologists explained that they had actually given me a one-time injection of some kind of anesthesia, which was working right away, which was why I couldn’t feel anything below my waist already. The epidural itself would have taken longer to kick in, but since I was in so much pain already, they decided to give me a shot first. I basically couldn’t feel my contractions at all now. However, I started to shiver intensely. My entire body was shaking and my teeth were clattering together violently. They gave me a warm blanket and turned the heat up in the room, but I thought it was more than just being cold. This kind of shivering was definitely not normal. I didn’t really say anything at the time, since I figured that if this shivering was a side effect of the epidural or something to be concerned about, one of the many doctors in the room would have said something.
It was 10pm by the time they finished the epidural procedure. For the next few hours, I was pain free and marveling at the magic of modern medicine. The only pain I could feel was where they had stuck the IV in my arm (they apparently didn’t do a very good job of that, since an IV line doesn’t usually hurt), since that was above the waist. They had also strapped two monitors on me – one to monitor the baby’s heartbeat, and the other to monitor my contractions.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, the epidural ended up prolonging my labor. In hindsight it was probably because my body wasn’t feeling the urgency of getting this baby out anymore. By midnight, my contractions slowed down to 5-6min apart, and I was still 4cm dilated (the same as when I was admitted). The doctors wanted to speed things up, so they asked if I wanted medication (Pitocin) or have them break my water. I wanted to delay breaking my water if possible, so I chose Pitocin, which is supposed to help bring my contractions closer together. However, after 2 hours on Pitocin, I was still only 5cm dilated, which was apparently not as far along as they hoped. A young resident came in and decided to break my water. They poked me with a plastic hook and apparently my water was broken (again, I didn’t feel much down there). They stopped the Pitocin and we waited. I was suppose to be sleeping overnight, to try and get well-rested for what was ahead, but it was hard to sleep in the unfamiliar hospital room, especially with nurses and doctors coming in and out to do things to me. It was reassuring to hear the baby’s heartbeat on the monitor, so I just focused on that for most of the night. My mother-in-law had gone home earlier in the night, but PapaDumpling stayed beside me the whole night, sleeping in a cot next to the hospital bed. I could hear him snoring occasionally – at least somebody was getting sleep, if not me.
At 4am, I had severe shivering again. They wrapped me in more warm blankets, but the nurse had no explanation for why I was experiencing these chills.
At 6am, I threw up. I had had some apple juice because I was feeling hungry (but I wasn’t allowed any foods, only clear liquids), and all of that came up. Apparently, vomiting is a normal part of labor for some. They examined me and told me the good news, I was 8cm dilated! The bad news was that I had a fever and the baby’s heart rate was elevated (likely because of my fever – since my whole body was now warmer, including the uterus). They said the fever could be due to a number of things, but one possibility was infection in my uterus, because my water had been broken several hours ago. This made me kind of mad, since I hadn’t wanted them to break my water so early, but they didn’t even present it as a choice to me, and they never mentioned the potential risks of having my water broken (i.e. an infection). I started to think that the chills that I’d had earlier may have been related to the fever I now had. They drew some blood to check if it was indeed an infection, but the results would come in over several days they said, so they started me on antibiotics just as a precaution. The baby would also have her blood drawn once she was born, and would also likely receive antibiotics as a precaution as well. The thought that my baby would have to be put on antibiotics right away after I was born because of this fever, and the unsatisfactory explanation they had for my fever, did not make me pleased.
In some ways, I was glad that my labor was taking a long time, because my parents hadn’t arrived yet. We had told my parents when I started contractions at 6pm, and they left Toronto around 7pm, driving through the night to Boston. They got to the hospital just before 8am. I was only allowed three visitors in the L&D room, so I decided to have PapaDumpling, my mother-in-law, and my mother as my three designated guests. My father would just have to wait until after the baby was born to see me.
At 11am, I was finally 10cm dilated! Hurray! I had had a headache, so the nurse had given me Tylenol and wanted to wait until it kicked in before we did any pushing. They wanted me to be as comfortable as possible for the very uncomfortable ordeal ahead. At 11:30am, we wanted to start, but the doctor wasn’t available. It turned out my regular OB was working the day shift on the L&D unit that morning (she had come in earlier to chat with me) and she wanted to be the one to deliver my baby. So we waited for her, but at almost 1pm, she was still not available, so the nurse decided we should just start without her. At 1:15pm, I started pushing.
We had been taught a lot of things in our prenatal classes, but they never really taught us anything about pushing. They told me that even with the epidural, I should still feel an “urge” down there, as if I want to pass a bowel movement. I did not have an urge down there. I did not have any feeling down there to be honest. I was supposed to push with each contraction but I couldn’t even feel my contractions. So, the nurse told me when to push, but the contraction monitor is delayed, so by the time it’s showing the beginning of a contraction, the contraction is already halfway over. And I am suppose to try to push three times with each contraction, but if I start halfway through a contraction, there isn’t much time left for me to do three pushes, so it wasn’t an ideal situation. Also, the actual pushing was quite tricky. She told me to take a deep breath and hold it, and then push down there, towards the ceiling. The first couple times I tried this, it basically felt like my face was ballooning from the pressure of holding my breath and pushing, but I couldn’t actually feel that it was doing anything down there. It didn’t help that my nurse was very judgmental about each push. Sometimes she would straight up say that “that wasn’t a good push” and other times, she didn’t have to say it, but she would click her tongue and I could see the disapproval on her face. Once in a while, she’d tell me I had a really good push, but most of the time, it seemed like my pushes did not meet her expectations. She often told me to push harder, or hold it for longer – and while this was all coming from good intentions, it was not helping motivate me at all. Every time I heard her say “Push harder! Hold it! You have to hold it longer!” I would think, Duh! If I could push harder or hold it longer, I would! It was extremely irritating to be told what to do when I was already trying my best to do it. PapaDumpling was much more supportive, helping me hold my leg up and encouraging me the entire time. He never told me I had a bad push, but he would tell me when a push was particularly good. He could see my vagina opening and the crown of the baby’s head through the opening, so whenever he saw the baby’s head, he would exclaim, “Oh my god, I see her! I can’t believe you’re doing this! Keep going!” That was very encouraging.
Half an hour after I started pushing, my OB doctor came in with a med student. They got involved and started telling me how to push. Now there were four people telling me how to push. I still had no idea what kind of progress I was making down there, but I could start to feel my contractions so I timed the pushes myself. We tried different positions, but an hour after I started pushing, I felt like I hadn’t made any headway. They would tell me they could see the crown of the baby’s head, but it didn’t feel like it was actually coming out. I still didn’t feel the “urge” down there, and frankly, I was wondering if I was pushing wrong and wasting time.
At this point, the OB convinced me to look down there myself. She brought in a mirror, placed it at the foot of the bed, and we were at it again. When I saw the black hair of the baby myself, it definitely helped with the pushing. Even if I couldn’t feel the progress I was making, I could see it. So my pushes became better timed, and I was often motivated to do a fourth push even when I was exhausted. Eventually, the top of the baby’s head started to emerge. It was still a long battle though, because every time I stopped pushing, part of the baby’s head would slide back in. So, each set of pushing was like two steps forward, one step back. Also, one of my butt muscles started to feel unbelievably sore, to the point where I was wailing in pain even in-between contractions. My mother and PapaDumpling helped massage that muscle in-between my contractions, which helped bring some relief, but between the pushing and the butt pain, I was very cranky.
I had lost track of time by this point, but I am assuming that around 3pm, things started happening. The baby’s head was coming out more and more, and when it got to the point where it wouldn’t recede back inside after each contraction, the OB announced to the other doctors and nurses that it was time to change into surgical scrubs. As I continued to push, and saw more of the baby’s head emerging, more people entered the room in the background. Things started to happen very fast. As the head started stretching my vagina, I was feeling a sharp pain down there regardless of the epidural. I had stopped looking into the mirror, as the most effective pushing I was doing was holding my breath and my eyes closed. PapaDumpling continued to encourage me, unable to believe what he was seeing down there. I vaguely recall that the lighting in the room was turned off and a spotlight was turned on aimed directly at my vagina. The medical team quickly assembled around my nether regions, with the med student front and center ready to receive the baby. My nurse was all up in my face, telling me how to push, blocking everybody and all the activity below from sight. From the reactions of PapaDumpling, I could tell that the baby was really coming out now. My nurse told me to stop pushing hard and start pushing in smaller, gentle bursts. “It hurts! It hurts!” I cried over and over to my nurse. “I know,” she said, “just a few more pushes, you’re almost there.” After a few small pushes, she told me to push hard again. I heard PapaDumpling squeal in surprise as I felt something large pass through down there. I thought it was over, but apparently it wasn’t. They told me to push again. And then something else passed through, and before I knew it, I heard the first cries of BabyDumpling. When I realized the baby was out, I began to cry uncontrollably. I was sobbing so hard I didn’t even realize when they placed the baby on my chest. And when I did, I sobbed harder. It was the most intense emotional moment of my life.
PapaDumpling cried as well, and was so distraught that he didn’t notice when the doctors asked him to cut the baby’s umbilical cord. He did end up cutting it, although I didn’t actually see it.
My legs were still spread and things were still happening down there, but I barely noticed it now that I had the baby right in front of me. As I cried with the baby on my chest, I felt something else gush out and guessed it was probably the placenta. The medical team was busy going to work on me, pressing on my abdomen (probably to squeeze the rest of the blood out of my uterus), checking if I had any blood clots, examining the tear, and eventually, stitching me up. All of this was happening as I held the baby in my arms for the first time. They really believe in “skin-to-skin” contact with the baby as soon as she is born, so they took off the top of my hospital gown, and without cleaning the baby or doing anything to her, placed her directly on top of my chest. Once I wiped away my tears, I could see her clearly for the first time. She was so beautiful. I think everyone thinks that of their own child, but it’s hard not to. It was unreal that I had made her, that I had been carrying this creature inside me all this time, and now she was outside of me, and she was a living, breathing person! She had a full head of black hair, which was very surprising, and super chubby cheeks. She had a white pasty powder on her, probably the dried fluids from being in the uterus, which sounds disgusting but she looked perfect to me. She opened her eyes and looked at me. I didn’t know if she could even see me, but it felt like she could. “Hi, I’m your mommy!” I told her. But it didn’t need to be said. She was familiar with my body, my scent, my heartbeat, all of which she could feel lying on my chest. I was the most familiar environment to her, even though she had just been yanked out of her comfort zone into this new world.
I think I did a little breastfeeding in that first hour after she was born. I honestly can’t remember, but I assume it happened because in our prenatal visits and classes, they insisted how important it was to breastfeed within the first hour of birth. I do remember that the medical team spent a long time in my nether regions. No one told me a thing, but I caught snippets of a conversation my OB had with another doctor about finding large blood cots still inside. They apologized, said they had to get them out, did some more stuff down there, and finally started stitching me up. I found out later that I had lost 600 ml of blood from the delivery, which was higher than normal for a vaginal delivery. There was no real explanation as to why I lost more blood than normal, but they did monitor me closely post-partum to see if my body would replenish my red blood count on its own or if I needed a blood transfusion.
After they were done stitching me up, I felt utterly spent. I had never felt so exhausted in my life. I was still holding the baby, and I had originally wanted to hold her for the full first hour after delivery, but I was afraid of passing out with her in my arms. So I gave her to PapaDumpling, and as people in the room started to clean up and file out, I passed out.
The rest of my time in the L&D unit is somewhat of a blur. I passed in and out of consciousness. At some point, some pediatricians weighed BabyDumpling and announced she was 3.63 kg (8 lbs). A large baby indeed, everyone said. She also had a bit of a fever, 100.3°F, so they took her to the newborn special care unit to start her on antibiotics.
I felt terrible that my baby had to go on antibiotics right away. It felt like I had already failed her as a mother, because I’d somehow gotten a fever during labor, and we still didn’t really know the cause. Maybe it could have been avoided if I was more careful, or if I’d insisted with the doctor that they do not break my water until I was at least 8cm dilated, or… something. I tried not to think about what they were doing to her in the newborn special care unit, but I was anxious to see her again. I felt like I didn’t get a good look right after the delivery, because there were so many things happening at once and I was so exhausted. I wished I could have had a moment alone with my daughter, just to take her all in.
It’s still unbelievable to me that she came out of my body. There really is no other word to describe childbirth other than as a “miracle.” First of all, she is so big – like how did all of that come out of the tiny little hole down there? When people in the hospital looked at her and then looked at me, they were like, “Wow, how did you push her out? And you only have a second degree tear? That’s amazing.“ I am not a large person by any measurement, and I don’t have particularly wide hips, nor is there anything particular about my body that screams “made for childbirth!” – but mother nature is amazing and she knows what to do. Second of all, BabyDumpling came out and was already perfect. Obviously, this is not like an Ikea furniture situation where you have to assemble her, but I am still in awe of what a perfect miniature person she is. She came out with a full head of long black hair, she had long fingers and toes, and she already had these cute little nails as well.
Thinking back to the actual delivery, it all feels so surreal. Yes, there was some pain and frustration, but it really pales in comparison to the reward of having BabyDumpling at the end of the day. I think I now understand why mothers don’t really focus much on the pain of labor and delivery, when that was all I could focus on before I became open to the idea of having children. My aversion to pregnancy was largely due to how horrible childbirth sounded, like Why would anyone willingly put themselves through that? But now it seems silly that I was so focused on the pain of contractions, the pushing, the vaginal tearing, etc. because all of the physical pain is temporary – whether you experience that for a couple hours, a couple days, or a couple weeks – you can tell yourself “It will be over soon” and then you will have brought a person into this world, permanently.
Mommy and Daddy are so thrilled you have arrived. We have been anxiously awaiting your arrival for quite some time. I want you to know that from the moment you were conceived, you were loved. You are very lucky, and we are blessed as well. You are entering a loving family, one where Mommy and Daddy love each other and love you very much. We will always be here to protect you, care for you, teach you, learn from you, and do our best to ensure your happiness. Happy birthday little one!