Why I Planned to Birth Naturally

Prior to getting pregnant, whenever I thought about giving birth, I thought it’s something you do in the hospital, with an epidural, and definitely with a doctor/OB-GYN. I just assumed that’s what you do because that’s what everyone I knew did. How we do anything we haven’t done before is often and largely determined by the way those in our culture and community did it. I wanted to write this post to encourage women to get knowledgeable on the decisions they make surrounding birth (and understand that there are many options!). There is no right or wrong way to birth, and how you plan to birth (because not everything goes according to plan) is a personal choice. What I’m hoping is that instead of just following the status quo without thought, you consider all the factors involved and decide how you want to birth such that you can make an informed decision and hopefully look back on it as a positive experience. This is going to be a lengthy post because there’s a lot to consider, but I will lay out the format so you can skip around if you’d like.

Format: I’ll start with how I came upon this route, then a background on birth culture in the US, followed by the section on the reasons I chose to pursue a natural birth. I will start that section with a tl;dr list of bullet points, followed by more elaboration on each point. Finally, I will include a list of informational resources and some concluding thoughts.

I love talking about birth and babies so please feel free to reach out to me if you want to talk about anything on this post or anything surrounding these topics. Thanks for reading!


How I came upon this route

It started with a simple curiosity of what it would be like to birth unmedicated. I thought, “Everyone in the old days used to do it, so it could be done…” but little did I know of all the benefits that come with natural birth. I was maybe 10-12 weeks pregnant when Peter and I met up with our then-new friend Elizabeth for coffee. She started the conversation by saying she would have more kids “just to go through labor again.” Wait, what? Who says that?! She then talked about how she had both of her boys at home – both were planned water births, though the second came so fast that there was no time to fill the pool. :p

It was the first time I’d heard someone talk about labor/birth with a SMILE on their face and with excitement. Peter and I were both shocked. Elizabeth then went on to share her experiences in detail and talked about the reasons she loved her labors. For her, they were spiritual and empowering. She then shared an amazing book with us – Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. That was all I needed to get started on my journey. (I recommend this to anyone and everyone who’s having a baby!) The book opened my eyes to a whole new way of viewing birth, as something that is beautiful, positive, not to be feared, empowering, and natural (not medical or pathological).

Following my reading of the book, Peter and I enrolled in a Bradley Method course, and there, we got an even more in-depth education on birth methods and grew more and more confident with our decision to plan for a natural birth. If I had a large place and didn’t live at the top of a 5th floor walk-up, I might have even planned a home birth, but I didn’t want to startle my neighbors and there’s a great birthing center super close to us, so we decided to go there. It’s about as close to a home birth experience you can get, but it is in a hospital, so if circumstances were to require medical intervention (quite rare with home births), we’d only need to go up one floor on the elevator.


Birth culture in the US

Today in the US, most women give birth in hospitals (with a OB-GYN physician). In fact, less than 1% of people gave birth at home in 2004 (though this number grew to 1.5% by 2014 as people are getting more interested in natural birth today). Prior to the 1950s however, nearly everyone gave birth at home, and with a midwife at that (no doctor). It was only when hospitals realized what a huge money maker it could be to monopolize obstetric care that they began a huge smear campaign against midwives and home births and told everyone to instead come give birth in a sterilized, clean facility with doctors with medical degrees. They painted midwives as “dangerously uneducated” and birth as a “pathologic” process requiring scientific knowledge and hospital equipment. (See more about this here and also in the documentary The Business of Being Born.)

Thus began a shift in American culture where women stopped giving birth at home and started moving to the hospitals. Birth via midwives became much rarer, such that in the present day (well, 2014 is the latest data I found), only 8.3% of total US births were attended by a midwife. Compare this to Great Britain and Japan, for example, where midwives deliver half of all babies, and Sweden, Norway, and France, where the majority of births are attended by midwives. You would think that, with how medically advanced the US is, we’d have better birth outcomes, right? Yet, the US has one of the worst infant and maternal mortality rates in the world (all the aforementioned countries have done significantly better than us). In the US, severe maternal complications have more than doubled in the past 20 years. When medicine is getting more and more advanced, why are we getting worse and worse at giving birth?

The data speaks for itself that the US has over-medicalized birth. The US cesarean section rate is over 33% of all births. The World Health Organization has suggested that the rate should not exceed 10-15%. In Ina May’s practice (which only consist of planned natural births), their c-section rate is below 2%. How can there be this big of a difference in rates? Even comparing US rates over time, the c-section rate went from 20% of births in 1980 to 32.8% in 2011. These numbers suggest that doctors may be performing them based more out of habit, training, expediency or worry about lawsuits than out of medical necessity.

And the majority of women also prefer an epidural for labor, which can easily and often does open the door to more medical interventions. The number of instrument-assisted deliveries (i.e. use of vacuums or forceps to extract babies) is also quite high, at 3% in 2011, compared to 0.8% in Ina May’s practice through the same time period. Finally, inductions are a regular practice in US hospitals, which very often lead to a cascade of interventions and is correlated with c-sections as well (read reason #4 down below!).

Now, it’s a godsend that we have all this technology for the cases where the tech is really, truly needed. Yet, it was shocking to learn the comparative rates across different cultures, countries, etc. and of facts like c-sections being most commonly performed around 4pm and 10pm (the first set for doctors who want to make it home for dinner, the second set for those that don’t want to wait overnight in the hospital for their patients to get through labor and delivery). The data overwhelmingly suggests that hospitals and OB’s over-utilize many of these practices that should only be reserved for cases that really need them. They are also quite risk-averse and so often opt for using interventions because they feel safer to them.

Finally, there’s something to be said about the FEAR CULTURE built around birth in the US. In movies and on TV, birth is always portrayed as an excruciating experience with the mother screaming and crying and gritting her teeth. But did you know that some women find birthing so pleasurable that they describe having had an orgasm during it?! (That certainly was not the case for me, but I do look back on my experience as a really pleasant one.) The reason the media portrays birth this way is because UNBEARABLE BIRTHING PAIN is intriguing, it’s dramatic, and it sells. And, often, the stories you hear from friends and friends of friends are all the scary, dramatic birth stories. The others may have felt non-eventful (i.e. “I went to the hospital, got the epidural, pushed, and the baby came out”) and thus are not really shared. And the positive ones? You don’t hear too many, but if you seek them out, they are out there. A ton of them are from natural births!

Because there is a culture of fear around birth, it is self-perpetuating. Your attitude towards birth matters. If you fear it and think it will be painful, it will be. Take the simple analogy of getting a shot. If you get nervous and tense up, the needle is much more painful when it enters your skin vs. if you were relaxed and your muscles were loose. Scientific studies have found that people who fear pain are more likely to suffer it. In the book Childbirth Without Fear, Grantly Dick-Read pointed out that “unbearable labor pain was almost always associated with fear; fear and lack of good preparation during pregnancy, and perhaps lack of understanding care during labor.”

The point is, if you seek out the scary stories, you’ll find them and they will scare you. But if you seek out the positive stories, you can also be encouraged and find new bravery (and mentally prepare for your labor!). The latter is what I decided to do, and it was a game-changer. Let’s all share more positive stories and diminish this fear culture around what is a completely natural thing that only women have been able to do for all of mankind’s history.


The reasons I chose a natural birth

Here’s a quick summary of the reasons, followed by more in-depth explanations. Some of them overlap and blend into eachother (b/c a lot of these things are correlated) but I tried my best to make discrete bullet points.

NOTE: The comparative facts listed below are obviously not guaranteed in every natural birth and are not exclusive to natural births either, but they are general correlations that have been scientifically found compared with a medicated or medicalized birth. For many of the facts I wrote, I tried to link a study supporting each, but note that the links are not meant to be comprehensive. There is a LOT of research out there supporting these facts and I encourage you to look further into the ones that pique your interest.

  1. It’s a normal biological process that my body has been equipped to handle
  2. More efficient labor, including from the freedom to move during labor, ability to receive my body’s instructions, and birth in the most optimal position for me
  3. Ability to eat and drink during labor
  4. Less drugs –> less medical interventions (this one bleeds into so many of the others)
  5. Better breastfeeding outcomes
  6. Avoid side effects of and risks entailed by epidurals to both myself and the baby // not exposing the baby to drugs
  7. Quicker recovery
  8. FEMALE EMPOWERMENT & happiness with birth experience

1. Normal Biological Process

Women have been giving birth since the beginning of time (except maybe after Adam & Eve ;)). Whether you believe in God or just mother nature, we were made for this (not only for this, but with this for sure in mind). The female body is a frigging crazy glorious machine, that knows, without instructions, how to expand the uterus from pear to watermelon size to accommodate a baby, grow its fingers, toes, organs, and brain, then knows when the baby is good to come out, contracts on its own to help push it out, then afterwards, starts producing FREE FOOD for your baby; need I say more?

Contractions, while painful, are a good type of pain. We always think that pain is a negative thing and something that has to be resolved / diminished. However, labor pains are natural and in this case a good thing; they are a sign that things are progressing and are the body’s way of pushing out the baby. (Watch this ping pong balloon video to see how contractions work in labor!) As my contractions grew stronger with the passage of time, I knew my body was doing the work it needed to help me see Taylor.

2. More Efficient Labor

Epidurals usually numb the lower half of your body. This means a number of things. First, you don’t really walk around or move much at all, but labor is meant to be an active thing. Moving around helps progress labor, moves the baby further down, is a way to deal with labor pain, and is what all mammals do naturally during labor (including humans when unmedicated). Secondly, if you stay numb through the pushing stage, you don’t know when to push. Doctors/nurses usually have to coach you. When unmedicated, you feel each contraction and, when the time is right, the urge to push, so you can work with your body and push more efficiently and effectively.

Also, when under epidural anesthesia, women are laid on their backs to birth. This is actually the most inefficient position for birthing. If you look at natural birthing positions across time and space, they are almost always in some sort of squatting or bearing down position (I gave birth on my arms and knees too.) These are not instructed positions, they are what comes naturally to each individual woman. It makes common sense too, as you need to push a baby down out of your body. Gravity will help if you’re upright, not on your back. But at the end of the day, your body will tell you what’s the best position for you, if you are unmedicated and can feel it.

Finally, epidurals often slow down your labor. It can be from your inactivity and laying on your back, or from the dilution of blood causing a slowdown in the body’s natural contraction-causing hormones (oxytocin).

Whether the above reasons are to cite or not, studies have found longer labors by as much as 2 hours for those with epidurals vs. unmedicated (though some studies where the sample size was in the low 100s didn’t find any difference, the studies with participants in the tens of thousands found such a correlation; granted, research methods were different in any given study).

3. Eat and Drink During Labor

Labor is physical activity. As with any intense exercise, a woman who’s well-hydrated and nourished will have more power and endurance. Also, have you ever been hangry? Imagine if your entire labor is 17 hours (the average for first-time moms) and you can’t eat or possibly even drink for that time. Many hospitals don’t allow laboring women to eat and/or drink. It’s an antiquated practice that in short, was put in place because mid-20th century women who were put under general anesthesia had an increased risk for aspiration (food/liquid inhaled into lungs), so just in case a labor would turn into a c-section requiring general anesthesia, they didn’t let any laboring women eat or drink.

A lot of hospitals are changing their policies to allow women to eat/drink certain or all foods/liquids, but each hospital is different. Our hospital didn’t allow eating on the L&D floor, but in the birthing center, I was free to eat and drink as I pleased. I knew I would need lots of energy to get through birth so this was important to me. My friends that gave birth on the L&D floor all talked about how they were starving and how they had the best meal ever after birth cuz they hadn’t eaten for basically a day. Haha.

4. *Less Medical Interventions*

This was one of the most important reasons for me, especially because it blends into so many of the other ones.

First off (and this goes into why I chose a midwife over OB as well), doctors/hospitals are incentivized financially to push more interventions on you. It means more line items on the bill / more things to charge for. My friend recently just found that her epidural cost her an extra $1600 on her hospital bill. It’s also kind of disgusting to find that the hospitals with the highest c-section rates are those that are financially distressed.

But it’s not just financial; many doctors also push interventions out of their own risk aversion and/or convenience. Why wait around for a woman to naturally labor for 18 hours, when they can do a c-section, be in and out in 20 minutes, and make it home in time for dinner? Also, if any sign is not optimal, such as a drop in mom’s blood pressure (which is a common occurrence after injection of the epidural), the doctor doesn’t want to risk anything with a vaginal birth so they will recommend c-section (because that’s what they’re good at). Recovery for the mom is also longer with a major surgery obvs, so the hospital can bill for the extra nights you stay in the hospital. These incentives all stack up and the numbers/data show it. (Highly recommend The Business of Being Born and simple Google searches if you are interested in learning more about this.)

Many women report having felt pressured during their labor to opt for any given intervention. When a doctor says, “I think the best option for the baby would be X,” with all the craziness going on and just wanting a healthy baby, no mom would want to go against what a doctor says they think is best “for the baby.” I wanted to avoid any mental pressuring and questioning of motives, which is why I opted for a midwife who I knew valued natural birth and would be more conservative in recommending interventions.

Next, let’s talk about pitocin & oxytocin. Pitocin (aka “pit”) is a drug that is the synthetic version of the hormone oxytocin. Your body naturally releases oxytocin during labor to make contractions happen and get the baby out. (It’s also the hormone that’s released during sex/orgasm, and your body is flooded with it when your baby is born naturally and during breastfeeding.) It’s the hormone that creates feelings of love and bondedness, and once a mother, very strong protective feelings over your baby; the mama bear hormones.

Pit is used so regularly in hospitals today. It’s used to induce labor (i.e. when you’re nearing or past your due date) and speed up labor (i.e. when a doctor finds your labor is moving too slowly / taking too long). Note that epidurals often slow down labor, so they frequently lead to the use of pit. BUT, pit is pretty intense as it creates super strong contractions, so many women need their epidurals upped (or request/are recommended one after getting pit if they hadn’t had one before). These steps sometimes repeat (more pit, more epi, more pit, more epi). Pit also distresses the baby because the contractions are so suddenly strong and frequent (instead of the natural progression in labor). In fact, a link has been found between use of pit and lower Apgar scores of the baby and higher rates of admission to the NICU. Another study found that babies whose mothers had pit were twice as likely to have A.D.D. and a third study found a 30% increase in morbidity (all discussed here).

The use of epidurals and pit each inhibit the body’s natural release of oxytocin in both labor and lactation. This produces effects beyond just labor/birth. It can affect your feeling of bondedness, maternal mood, mothering behaviors, stress reactivity, breastfeeding relationship, milk production, and more. Please look at the research on this.

Finally, use of pit and epi make c-section more likely, whether it’s due to maternal or fetal distress, simple exhaustion on the part of the mother, or other (check out the studies). And having an OB makes c-section much more likely. And which hospital you go to will affect your likelihood of getting a c-section. C-section is major surgery. It has all the risks that come with surgery such as infection and hemorrhaging, and entails longer recovery time than a vaginal birth. It also has higher maternal mortality rates. C-sections also increase baby’s risk of having breathing problems, allergies, and autoimmune diseases such as diabetes and MS, and c-sectioned babies have higher NICU admission rates. Mother-infant attachment and breastfeeding can also be delayed.

With natural birth, you are much more likely to avoid this cascade of interventions and their effects on you and your baby.

5. Better Breastfeeding Outcomes

Natural births have been found to be linked with better breastfeeding outcomes. Breastfeeding was something I really wanted to do so this was also an important factor for me. As mentioned above in #4, oxytocin release is strongest in natural birth, while it is often hindered or inhibited by interventions. Breastfeeding takes a lot of work and both a physical and mental toll on your body (especially in the beginning), so you need all the oxytocin you can get. How much oxytocin you release also affects the length of your breastfeeding journey.

Breastfeeding success has been found to be negatively associated with epidural use (as well as pit use). There are multiple reasons for this, but one that I was surprised to learn about was the fact that the epidural affects your baby, as the drug crosses your placenta. Babies whose mothers have had epidurals are slower to suckle / find the breast than their naturally birthed counterparts because they are drugged too (not just you).  They are less alert and oriented and their tiny livers must work hard to process the drugs.

The mothers are less likely to initiate breastfeeding within the first few hours of the baby’s life as well, and the start of breastfeeding is delayed, including due to delayed milk production (with both epi and pit). Also, studies have found that the larger the dosage of pit a mother received during labor, the less natural oxytocin she had thereafter, the less she released during breastfeeding thereafter, and the shorter the breastfeeding duration, Check out this read on oxytocin, bonding, and breastfeeding for more.

If you’re still reading, you’ll start to notice a trend – all these things are linked. More interventions lead to less oxytocin, which affects bonding, breastfeeding, baby’s future health, mom’s postpartum journey, and the list goes on.

6. Risks of Epidurals

I’ll try to be quick and use bullet points. See this American Pregnancy source for more.

  • Can cause sudden drop in blood pressure, leading to more interventions, including c-section
  • You don’t feel your body’s instructions, so your labor can be inefficient and the pushing stage may be more difficult to complete. Both can lead to interventions (i.e. pit, instruments like vacuum/forceps, c-section, episiotomies)
  • You’re usually immobile which also slows down labor
  • Doubled risk of severe tears (not crying tears, though yes, those too; I’m talkin tears in your perineum – YOUR DOWN THERE RIPPING), in part b/c you are numb and can’t work/feel with your body’s timing, and less oxytocin (and prob a dose of pit) leads to less effective contractions
  • Effectiveness of blocking pain varies with each woman; some women feel everything even with an epi. Epidurals do not always work
  • Poorer breastfeeding outcomes both initially and down the road, including supply and length of BF journey
  • Baby is drugged and thus can be sluggish, less alert and oriented, slow to latch and suckle on breast, and its liver needs to work harder to process and clear the drugs out of its system
  • Reduced oxytocin levels
  • Can cause maternal fever during labor, which, the higher the fever, the increased risk to baby of likelihood of having poor tone, low Apgar scores, being weak, requiring resuscitation, and having seizures in the newborn period
  • Postpartum: shivering, backaches (some chronic), soreness where the needle was inserted, difficulty urinating, nausea, ringing of the ears
  • Rare risks: infection, severe headache, bleeding, permanent nerve damage

7. Quicker Recovery

Natural birth is linked with quicker recovery. Perhaps it’s due to avoiding medical interventions, having more oxytocin and endorphins, or from having simply birthed as your body was made to. Most people at our hospital stay a minimum of 2 nights on L&D (and 4 for a c-section), but in the birthing center, they let you get discharged as early as 12 hours from giving birth (a mom I follow on IG was home 4 hours after pushing at her birthing center!). And if you give birth at home, well, you’re already home with no hospital stay at all. 🙂

Taylor was born at 10:29 p.m. The next morning, our midwife cleared us for discharge at 8 a.m. The only reason we stayed til that evening was because the hospital required at least one bowel movement and one pee from the baby, and Taylor look a while to pee, haha. We still got home less than 24 hours after birth. For the first 36 hours or so postpartum, I felt pretty winded every time I stood up and walked, but felt totally normal while stationary. And after that? I felt back to normal pretty quickly. I also stopped needing those maxi pads after about 2 weeks postpartum, and completely stopped bleeding by about 4 weeks. I was really shocked at how quickly I felt unpregnant and back to me! (Granted I also did not tear or require any stitches so that’s also part of my short recovery.)

8. Satisfaction and Empowerment

You’ve heard the phrase, “No pain, no gain.” Although lack of pain may contribute to some women’s satisfaction with the birth experience, it does not guarantee a quality birth experience, and several studies show that women who used no pain medication actually report the most satisfaction with their birth experience. There’s really something to be said for this! Most people fear birth because of the pain (which is also why they get epidurals), but the people who experienced the most pain actually thought back most fondly on their experiences! (Quick note: increased satisfaction with birth experience is also linked with less likelihood of experiencing postpartum depression (PPD).)

Read the stories of women who birthed naturally. There is a kind of shared magic in all of them. This feeling of being part of something larger than yourself. As you’re going through the experience, you realize these pains/sensations/feelings have been shared by women all throughout history, from your ancestors all the way down to you. And the EMPOWERMENT. The feeling of accomplishment and pride and the confidence to handle anything in life. And in particular, female empowerment, showing the world that we women can do the hard work that only we can do! We don’t need drugs, we don’t need to lie down passively or to be coached by a doctor; we can do it on our own with our own God-given bodies. (This is not to discredit Jesus though cuz boy did I need him. HAHA)

I find the words from this post on indigenous birth particularly insightful: “So much of how women experience birth today has to do with how we are socialized,” says Blackowl, 36, whose first five children were born at home with the aid of certified and traditional Indigenous midwives. “We are told that you have to be hospitalized, that doctors know best, and that you can trust them with your life.” // “A lot of the time in hospitals, people don’t approach women in a way that says to them that they are the center of the birth, or in a way that gives the woman control,” says Nicolle Gonzales, 36, a Navajo nurse midwife from New Mexico. “When a woman is birthing, it’s her space, and we have to honor that space. But nobody tells you that.”

This is just to illustrate that we have choices. We don’t have to do what everyone we know does or did. And no, doctors don’t always know best when it comes to birth. They know what they learned in med school, which are all the medical ways to deliver a baby, and the overly cautious and impatient ways at that. I hope women can return to the center of birth and be in charge of their experiences.

And finally, going back to the shared magic — the love, the overwhelming love, for your baby. INSTANT attachment and bondedness the moment they come out of your body and straight into your arms. Oxytocin oozing out of everywhere! Endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, skyrocketing as you forget the pain you just endured for the sake of your baby. ❤


Recommended Resources

  • Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth
    • 2 other books commonly discussed in this community (but I haven’t read): Spiritual Midwifery and Childbirth Without Fear
  • The Business of Being Born, produced by Ricki Lake
  • Ina May’s TED Talk
  • Read up on the rates of successful birthing outcomes of births attended by midwives and/or doulas
  • Look up birthing culture in Japan. It’s the total opposite of ours. And they have much better outcomes statistically
  • READ AND WATCH as many natural birth stories and videos you can; they’re so inspiring and magical!

Concluding Thoughts

Whatever birth methods you plan on employing, I think the importance is in making educated decisions. Understand the risks and rewards with each choice – from the type of care provider, to the number and type of interventions, to the place of giving birth, etc. Understand that you have choices, even in the hospital. At the very least, you can make yourself comfortable, and say no to certain things if you want to.

That way, even if things don’t go as planned, you did your best to get knowledgeable and you planned for the route that made the most sense for you. How birth actually goes is out of our control, but we can do our homework and best preparation and work with whatever comes our way.

THANKS FOR READING!!! HAPPY BIRTHING!

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The Birth of TBK

This is the story of baby Taylor’s birth, which was a natural, unmedicated labor without interventions in a birthing center located within a hospital. Photos are at the bottom of the post.

{I will also write separate posts about why we chose to go the natural birth route, why we chose to have a midwife over an OBGYN, and why you should have a doula! I’ll also share about my postpartum experience and a subpost about breastfeeding (a whole other animal!). But not here.}

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After a day of walking 6 miles around the city trying to speed up the process of meeting our baby girl, my mucus plug came out around 9 pm that night. We were super excited at this first sign of labor, but knew that it could be anywhere from hours to another 2 weeks before actual labor would begin. We watched some TV then went to bed. At 4:19 am, I woke up from a strong cramp (very similar to menstrual cramps), but fell back asleep. About 40 minutes later, I woke to another one, then they began coming every several minutes. I let Peter know I was having contractions, but recalled that if early labor begins overnight, it’s good to try to sleep through as much of it, so that’s what we tried to do. However, they soon started to get stronger, and I could no longer sleep. We used an app called Full Term (free on App Store, highly recommend!) to start timing them.

Our friend Elizabeth who was functioning as our doula arrived around 7 am. From then on we began working through the contractions as a team. It was so great to have two people assisting me as one would help from the back and one would help from the front, and if one needed to deal with something else I still had the other to help me. Also, perhaps it’s because she’s gone through it herself, but often Elizabeth’s help was more relieving than whatever Peter was doing :p. Peter and I had taken an 8-week class on the Bradley Method (if you’re in NYC, we highly recommend it – Mindful Birth with Mary Esther Malloy, who is amazing) and so that was the main method of pain management we used, surrendering to the sensations, practicing total relaxation of all muscles in the body and deep abdominal breathing. I think this helped me through the majority of active labor (until I started to reach transition, where really no pain management technique could help anymore, but that’s the shortest part of the labor anyway). We also employed other techniques like the hip squeeze, massages, and use of scented oil and heat packs. Throughout the labor, we played worship music, Elizabeth read me encouraging Bible verses, and Peter and Elizabeth prayed over me. This was crucial in reminding me that even if I can’t do it in my own strength, I could do it through His strength.

We were told that the time to go to the hospital is 3-1-1, when contractions are 3 minutes apart, 1 minute long, lasting for 1 hour. In fact I was at 3-1-1 for already 2-3 hours when we headed to the hospital at 10 am, so we thought this would be a rather quick labor. However, when we went to triage, which was my least favorite part of the whole hospital experience (harsh fluorescent lights, separation from my birth team, uncomfortable monitoring (the gel actually gave me rashes on all the areas the monitors touched that lasted over 3 weeks postpartum), and being on my back / immobile through contractions), after 30 minutes of monitoring, they said I wasn’t dilated far enough to get admitted to the birthing center. The options were to instead get admitted to Labor & Delivery right now (the standard hospital delivery area), labor around in the hospital, or leave and come back later. Our midwife Gina told us we shouldn’t come back to triage for another 4-6 hours. We chose option 3 and headed back home (only 5 min from the hospital).

I should note that part of my birth plan was to not know how many centimeters dilated I was throughout the whole process. Knowing the dilation is nearly meaningless because it’s not a reliable measure of how far into labor one is. You can take anywhere from a couple minutes to several days to go from 1 to 10 cm, and you can regress as well (i.e. be 8 cm dilated and go back down to 2). Our Bradley instructor, who’s also a very popular doula in the city, talked about many women who got very discouraged and/or distracted in labor by focusing on dilation and we thought it was wise advice to skip knowing this randomly moving figure.

Since I didn’t know how far along I was and wanted to surely get admitted the next time we showed up to the hospital, I tried to labor for as long as possible at home. I think we stayed home for about 6.5 hours and by the time we got through triage it had been 7 hours since the last triage. At home, we tried a bunch of things to further the labor, including remaining active, going up and down the stairs, and “shaking the apples off the tree” which helps shimmy the baby lower. I realized later that the contractions I was having when we first went to the hospital were nowhere close to how they feel towards the end. They get exponentially stronger as you head towards transition.

What I looked forward to the most in the birthing center was the jacuzzi tub. I usually take baths for soothing my menstrual cramps or when I’m not feeling well, such as when I’m sick or hungover, so I knew I would need a bath for my labor too. Thus, I basically labored at home until I couldn’t go another hour without getting into the bath.

Around 6 p.m. we headed back to the hospital. This time, remembering how unpleasantly bright the lights in triage were, I wore a hat and sunglasses. That helped. We got through triage and were told we had made significant progress and were ready to be admitted, but some bad news: we can’t go to the birthing center because the L&D floor is very busy right now and needs all the staffed nurses working there. This was the one thing I was praying against – getting sent to L&D instead of the birthing center – because the L&D room is tiny, filled with medical equipment, offers epidurals, does not have a bathtub, and just screams “hospital/unnatural”. Peter apologized saying he knew how much I wanted to be in the birthing center but tried to encourage me. I also knew that regardless of the environment, I would be able to have this baby, so with faith I wrapped my head around the situation and tried to proceed with courage.

But, five minutes later, Gina came in and said, “Good news! We found a nurse who can assist us so we’ll be getting you into the birthing center after all. She’s filling the tub for you right now as we speak.” These words were music to my ears and I knew God had heard my prayers. I couldn’t wait to get in the tub.

As soon as we got into our room in the birthing center, I took off my clothes and plunged into the tub. The water was really hot and relaxed all my muscles. I don’t know if it was the sudden change in environment/temperature or just the point of labor in which I was, but I began shaking or somewhat convulsing in the water. But I didn’t care, because it just felt so good to finally be in the bath.

I labored in the tub basically until I started to reach transition. It was there that I started to really experience the self-doubt that we learned in our class would be the emotional signpost of transition. I started thinking, “Why did I decide to do this? Why am I putting all these people (there in the room) through this? How have so many women before me done this? How did my mom do this 3 times? How much longer will this go on for? What if I end up having to get a C-section and this was all for naught? I am going to tell my friends NOT to do natural birth, it’s too hard!” I then realized I was thinking way too much and reminded myself to take one contraction at a time. I didn’t know the answers to my questions but knew I could handle one more contraction, and that’s how I got through the most difficult part – by shutting out the thoughts of self-doubt and just dealing with each contraction as it came. That, and basically begging, “Heeeelp meeee” to God in each one (literally out loud).

Suddenly, I started to feel the urge to push. It really just feels like you have to take a giant #2. I got out of the water into the bed (for sanitary reasons, you’re not allowed to give birth in the tub at the birthing center) and Gina checked my status. She told me I had made a ton of progress, but wasn’t quite yet at the stage for pushing. That discouraged me a bit because I thought how much further I’d have to go to reach the end. But just as I began to think that, she told me, “but you don’t have to resist those feelings of pushing if they come to you. You can continue to do as your body tells you” (or something along those lines). I decided to forget the first part she said and focus on that second part, to do as my body told me.

Well, my body kept telling me to push at the end of each contraction, so I did. A few contractions later, I started to feel the baby’s head emerging, and Gina agreed I should start actually pushing now. It’s funny that most people are afraid of the pushing when I realized that actually it’s the least painful part. The beginning of the contraction is so intense, it almost feels as if a giant wave is about to overtake your body, but at the end of it you get this urge to push, and when you do, it feels so relieving, and that giant, overwhelming wave disappears. It was quite amazing to feel the baby’s head crowning each time I pushed and then feel her go back in a bit during the rest between the contractions. They say pushing is two steps forward, one step back, and I really felt that. Also, because I was not medicated, I could really feel each time my body told me to push, and each time it told me to rest. I could also feel the exact limit of my skin stretching down there and so I would stop pushing when I reached that limit, and that would also be when the contraction ended and the baby’s head would go back in. (I thus ended up with no tears or stitches needed and my recovery was quite speedy!) You really don’t need a teacher for this, as your body tells you exactly what to do.

I think I really only pushed about 6 times when at the end of the next contraction, I didn’t feel the head go back in; it just stayed put. Gina then told me that if I work with the next contraction, I can birth the head. Well, that really amped me up, so with the next contraction I gave a really hard push, and out the baby came! Not just her head, but her entire little self just came out in one big, gloriously slippery second. 😀

I had pushed on my knees, laying the weight of my body against the wedge pillow and the headboard of the bed, so I didn’t see any of this as it happened; I only felt it. When the baby came out, I could hear her crying, and Peter and Elizabeth crying as well. Peter’s face was right next to mine on the right, and Elizabeth’s was on my left, and both were bawling and saying, “You did it!!” So naturally, I started crying as well, half because I was so happy Taylor was finally here of course, but the other half just out of relief that my work was done. Heh.

Gina then told me she was going to hand the baby to me between my legs (since I had my back to her) and for me to reach out and hold her. I felt her tiny little body in my hands and couldn’t believe it. This little girl was living inside me for 9 months and then one second later, she was in my arms, and I get to keep her forever!

We had just started skin to skin, when Gina said there are some things she needs to do. The first was a catheter to empty my bladder (it’s often hard for women to urinate for a while after giving birth so they will assist you by taking it out for you). The assisting nurse proceeded to poke 3 needles into my pee hole. 1, 2, 3. Ouch, ouCH, OUCH. But okay, I felt relief as the pee came out and then she took out the needles so that’s fine and all… what came next is what I was not prepared for.

Gina said there’s not nearly as much blood as should be expected with the birth, so she suspected I may have some clotting in my uterus. She said she had to check for the clotting, and that I wasn’t going to enjoy it. Not really knowing what that meant, I said “Ok…” and Elizabeth told me to just focus on my baby who I was hugging. BUT I DID NOT EXPECT/ANTICIPATE WHAT WOULD TAKE PLACE OVER THE NEXT SEVERAL MINUTES. Gina put her entire hand and part of her arm in to my vag and went up into my uterus, clawing around with her hand and exiting with a huge chunk of blood in her hand. It looked like a bloody organ to me; Peter thought it looked like a huge block of jello. Anyway, she said it was as she suspected, and she would have to go in again. I braced myself as she repeated the process. Her hand re-emerged with more chunks of blood. She then said she had to go in again. SHE HAD TO DO THIS 3 MORE TIMES.

And let me tell you how it felt. It felt as if she was pushing the baby back up into my uterus, and then my uterus thought, “Oh, she’s in labor, we have to contract and push this baby out” and so it contracted intensely each time. I felt this FIVE. TIMES. If you do a natural birth and your baby comes out, you think the hardest part is over and you don’t have to suffer another minute, so you can imagine how hard this was for me, particularly not having mentally prepared for it. GAHH.

The good news is she took out all the clots and it was a BIG PILE o’ clots I tell ya. That allowed my uterus to be clear of clots, which would help my postpartum contractions be effective and less painful (your uterus has to shrink back to the size of a pear after having grown to a size bigger than a watermelon; this is accomplished through more contractions, which feel like menstrual cramps as well (fortunately nowhere near the intensity of labor contractions)). But idk if I can ever forget the feeling of being (wo)manhandled. loL.

SIGH. Anyway, after that whole debacle, I got to nurse Taylor for the first time, then Peter and I videochatted our parents and siblings to introduce her to them. After all that, it was around 1:30 am and we had our first sleep as a family. It was the sweetest night. ❤

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John 16:21 NIV – A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.

I think this Bible verse is so true. For the first few days after this whole experience, I kept processing and wondering if it was worth it. Especially b/c of my traumatic blood clotting experience (you would think they’d have a small device that can go in and vacuum out all the clots… but I digress). However, with each passing day, seeing my beautiful, happy, healthy baby and experiencing the postpartum benefits of natural birth, I felt it was worth it and would do it again. After all, it was just one day of intensity for a lifetime of benefits, and I’m thankful I was able to give Taylor her very best start in life.

Praise God! Thank you for this gift more precious than gold or anything else in the world. 🙂

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Birth Team:
Partner: Peter
Midwife: Gina of Community Midwifery Care
Doula: Elizabeth (not an actual doula, but has had 2 home births herself and is the one that got us into natural birth)
Photographer: Sarah Tew (if you’re interested in being part of her natural birth photo documentary, please let us know and we’d love to put you in touch! she is looking for interested couples)

Daddy’s Girl

TAYLOOORRRRRRR!!!!!

I can NOT wait until you’re here, breathing in the beautiful smell , staring at all the normal people (or lack thereof), listening to the silent air, all in the heart of New York City! Hahaha!

Mom and I are super excited and right now, you’re getting so big. We pray daily for your health, development and growth, and of course beauty 😛 Every night we feel you  moving around and wonder, do you dream of us? We know you can hear things and now that you’re brain is developing rapidly, we can’t help but wonder, are you imagining your life with us? Writing this is starting to make me cry. I hope and pray that we can be the best parents that we can be. We already love you so much and everything related to you, we find so cute, かわいい!

When people ask what gender you are, mom is starting to get annoyed because I answer like this, “We, are having, a…. baby (rise in inflection) girl” and then proceeding to make a sad face because I already love you so much.

We’ve received so many presents from friends and family that will help you be comfortable and feel loved. Our family is excited to meet you and our friends already love you so much! We are encouraged at how much love and support everyone around us is pouring on us!

Mom is having a hard time moving and sleeping 😦 Your growth is having an impact on her lungs so she has a difficult time breathing also, BUT, she doesn’t mind because it’s all for you. Her body is changing to make sure that you are comfortable and well-developed. Don’t worry, mom is also eating everything under the sun so you definitely won’t come out skinny hahaha. Despite all these changes, mom still loves to move around and dance. In fact, she still goes to the gym with you inside her to dance and work out! Isn’t she amazing!? I will post a video of your mom dancing soon, when I get the chance.

You are just 2 months away. We can’t wait!

We love you, TBK ❤

28 Weeks

We just hit the third trimester yesterdayyy. Whoo!

Have not updated in a long time, sorry :(( but it has been a fun time! We found out the gender and we have named the baby Taylor. Is it a boy or girl? I will let Daddy write that post since he is the most excited person on earth. Haha!

The symptoms lately have been trouble sleeping, pelvic pain and just starting a couple days ago, trouble breathing. These are all normal and part of the game, so just pushing through it! My feet feel bigger too, shoes are tighter fitting – may have to get some 5.5 shoes! Also, I started feeling hiccups starting about a week ago. They feel funny. Also very quick, like every second. Baby is most active whenever I lay down. Feeling the baby moving around has been my favorite thing about pregnancy. Just feeling the life growing inside of me 🙂

We officially started our Bradley class yesterday. We went to one the week before as a make-up class b/c we will miss one in Feb, but yesterday was the first with our series / group of parents that we will meet with over the next 8 weeks. We really enjoy the class and the instructor is great. She’s also a doula and has been to over 400 births! Yesterday, we saw a short film of a home (water) birth in Mexico. It was very sweet and moving, and got us that much more excited for our future delivery.

What else? In December, we went to SF, Hawaii for our babymoon and LA (will make a post of the trip in the “Adventures” part soon…). Miri threw us a small shower and it was so fun, the food was delicious and Jaxon was all smiles. Miri gave some epic storytelling of L+D+post-partum. 🙂 We received sweet gifts and cards from our friends and played fun/funny games. Miri also gave me all her maternity clothes and a bunch of baby clothes! We are so thankful for her friendship and generosity. We are blessed!

Mom finished all her chemo treatments and will get a scan on Friday, with updates on status next Monday. We are praying for full recovery!

That’s all for now. Papa-to-be will post to Taylor. 🙂

Oh Baby!

It has been a really long time since we posted. And I have a lot to update about life, but first things first, we need to talk about Kuga so I can memorialize this for him/her forever (or as long as WP/the internet exists).

We are almost at 19 weeks with Kuga! One day, Peter and I were texting and I swiped the word “kids” (unrelated to anything about Kuga) but it was autocorrected to “kuga” and we don’t know why. But we really liked it so we have been calling Kuga Kuga since then. 🙂 ((after going through kakao history)) Interestingly, this autocorrect happened on the same day we found out about Kuga, but hours before! Cool!

Anyway. For posterity, my/our experience thus far — first tri, I did not have many symptoms. First several weeks I just felt like I was on my period. Cramps + sore bewbs. Then came loss of appetite. (IS THIS EVEN ME?) And ALWAYS ALWAYS tired. (Well, that’s definitely me.) But other than that, no symptoms – no morning sickness, most awesomely! 🙂 I had a few moments where I got nauseous, but I think it might have been due to prenatal vitamins and not actually the pregnancy itself.

Second tri (now), I had a few migraines in the beginning, and then headaches throughout the tri. Started feeling Kuga moving on the first night of week 15! 🙂 Just me doe. Not big enough for Papabear to feel. Kekekeke. Our special thing for now ^_^

What else? Oh I had a taemong in the beginning (though I didn’t know it was one – thought it was just a dream about mom being healed but after I told her she said it was also a taemong lol). I saw big city buildings (i.e. Manhattan) in front of me but it was a beach, where waves were coming in from behind the buildings and receding, and the floor was sand. I was barefoot and looked over to my right to see mom standing (also barefoot) by a huge, beautiful tiger. Compared to mom, it was the size of probably a hippo or so (like way bigger than her). She was laughing, playing around with it and petting it, with the water beneath their feet splashing around. It was a beautiful sight. After I told my mom about the dream, she said I’ll be having a son.

So Kuga, are you a boy or a girl? Can’t wait to meet you either way! :))

Perspective

NewCom Pastor Peter Hong 6/4

God’s silence is not his absence. His seeming hiddenness is not impotence or abandonment. The unbelievable truth we’re challenged with is, when things seem to be going the most wrong, that God is most working in our lives. So if we reject God based on the surface of our lives, because we can’t see what he’s doing underneath, we may be making the biggest mistake of our lives.

When life interruptions happen, we tend to ask:
1. Why is this happening?
2. When is this going to end?

But I challenge you to instead ask God:
1. What do you want to do in me through this life interruption?
2. What do you want to do through me in this life interruption?

God is less interested in my comfort than he is in my transformation. God will rarely give me what I want, but he will often give me what I need, in just the right time, in just the right way, in just the right proportions, to make me more like Him.

He gives grace to shake my confidence in me to put my confidence and trust in Him.

The story of Joseph is how a young 17 year old man grows up to be an emotionally and spiritually mature adult. Joseph, who started out an arrogant egomaniac, tells his 11 brothers who tried to kill him and sold him into slavery, “Now, do not be distressed or angry with yourselves for selling me here b/c it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance — so then it was not you who sent me here, but God.” Joseph is able to say to his brothers that what you did was evil, but God is so wise, so loving and so powerful that he took your evil and turned it into good.

You and I cannot have that perspective apart from the empowering of the Holy Spirit.

Genesis 50:15 – when Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they wondered whether he would pay him back for all the evil they did. So they told him their father gave them last words for Joseph to forgive them. Joseph then wept, b/c he knew they were lying. In weeping, he genuinely grieved and mourned the sadness and brokenness of his family.

True forgiveness can only come out of honest grieving.

Spiritually emotionally healthy people understand how their past affects their present ability to love people and to love God. The problem for most of us is that we don’t want to go back – some see it as a waste of time, or as too painful and would rather live in the denial they’re in today. You cannot truly and honestly forgive unless you genuinely mourn and grieve.

Joseph’s brothers came before him and threw themselves down and Joseph refuses to put himself in God’s chair. Here are the ways we put ourselves in God’s chair:

  1. We assume we can be our own moral authority.
  2. When you let people look to you to meet their deepest needs.
  3. Excessive worry – it is a refusal to give God kingship.
  4. Keeping a grudge – he only knows the facts by which to judge, and he’s the only one who is able to judge w/o being able to become evil himself. When you hold a grudge, the evil that was done to you moves into your heart.

“You intended to harm me, but God intended for good, to accomplish what is now being done — the saving of many lives.” Joseph is taking God’s view about the interruptions in his life. Viewing it from the top of the mountain, instead of from the bottom of the valley.

Joseph was able to ask, “Is there something God might be doing in the midst of this?”

How do we know that something people intend for evil can be meant for good? Look at the CROSS. The people meant it for evil, but God meant it for good, for the salvation of many lives.

If you ever lose hope b/c you just can’t make sense of it all, look at the cross. This means even we can’t mess up our lives. God will use even our sin, detour and mistakes to bring about good.

“The nexus of sin is man substituting ourselves for God. The essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man.” – John Stott

We put ourselves where God deserves to be, God puts himself where we deserve to be.

Happy Birthday Joyshie~!! 생축!!

A little late to the party (actual birthday was 6/17).

This is the third birthday that we celebrate together as a couple and I have to say, everything is lovely. Joyce, you are the best wife that any man could ever ask for. The amount of support and love that you provide, filled with so much laughter and good memories, I can’t express in words. I am so thankful for who you are and how you worked so hard to get here in life. A lot of people don’t see the struggles that you go through, or the exhaustive nature of trying to be there for everyone, but I do and I am so proud of you.

All our adventures through life are so filled with the holy spirit and I feel super blessed to be with you. What did I do to deserve someone like you and be so lucky? How did I end up with someone so goofy?

I know I’m not working right now and my confession is that because I’m not working… I feel that I shouldn’t be able to use money that I didn’t earn… I messed up and didn’t realize that concept is stupid. I should still have gotten you something, anything but my pride got in the way. Don’t worry though, I’m going to make it up to you even though your face and reaction to this is probably this –

I love you and thank you for loving me and understanding me unconditionally. I’m proud to call you my wife and my best friend. I’ll love you forever ❤

And don't forget that it was also a special birthday because the people you care about all contacted you by phone and cards, letting you know that they hold you dear in their hearts. Also the dancing at The Woods in Brooklyn! We had a great time and everyone, friendsies, squid, church people, CSM Tax Dept., and all of BK came out to show you love. It was a fun night!