Daniel knew that Eira would be some magical creature born on the Father’s Day that fell on a full moon eclipse. As a true scientist would, he hypothesized that there was a 100% chance of this happening. Instead, she was born on her due date, which is the case for only 4% of all babies. So I guess she is special after all.
But let me back up a bit. I didn’t believe that our snowpea would be born on her due date either, but on the night before she was supposed to arrive, I woke up in the middle of the night to an odd sense that my uterus had been tightening. But I wasn’t sure if it was a true physical sensation or something my subconscious had manifested.
During the day, though, I started to sense that it was really happening. On and off, I felt light menstrual-like cramping that would come at irregular intervals, then dissipate. I pulled out my stopwatch app out of curiosity and found that these cramps lasted exactly 30 seconds each time.
“Oh no, I know what this is…” I said to myself. Then, aloud to my belly, “Please snowpea, just let me finish editing these videos, then you can come.”
Before her arrival, I had been determined to finish uploading the pre-baby portion of my maternity leave project: a boatload of prenatal yoga videos and meditations expressing my love for growing my bump. Like clockwork, the minute the last video was up, labor began.
It was 6 pm and I had just closed my laptop for the day when I realized that this sense of periodic tightening was becoming difficult to ignore. It was also becoming regular, clocking in now at 30 seconds a perfect 10 minutes apart. I tried not to worry Daniel when I described the feeling, asking him, “Isn’t this interesting?”
I also did not intend on keeping my parents awake through the night. Instead, I smiled through two contractions when I called my father on FaceTime to wish him happy birthday. I tried to continue with my usual evening routine – after all, this could be nothing.
Daniel and I managed to eat dinner – leftover pasta and homemade cinnamon rolls for dessert – although they tasted far from appetizing. Then, as we walked near the river with Blue, I observed the tightening was beginning to occur at closer intervals.
“Again?” Daniel asked apprehensively when I hit my stopwatch app for the second, then third time during our short walk.
After securing puppy care for tomorrow (“just in case”), we resumed watching our Novela on Netflix. We have been engrossed in a range of Spanish-language drug trade dramas, and many episodes happen to include torture scenes. As I’ve watched them, I’ve thought, “If they can survive the pain of having their left hand cut off, I can certainly withstand labor.” I don’t remember what happened in our show that night, but I know I had to turn away several times because as the tightening came – not because of any violence that occurred but because the shaky handheld camera angles made the waves of tightening unbearable.
When I tried to sleep at 11 pm, the tightening was arriving at 1-minute intervals every 5 minutes now. And if I was being honest with myself, the sensation was beginning to change from tightening to something more extreme: I have no other way to express it other than intensely heavy period cramps combined with the urge to poop out a horse that was stuck inside of me. Instead of sleeping, I showered and finished packing my hospital bag (again, “just in case”).
One restless hour later, I knew I had to call the hospital. I wasn’t quite ready to go in yet, but I could no longer deny that this was happening. The midwife on call told me to wait it out at home a little longer if I could, explaining that most first-time parents will experience contractions at 5-minute intervals for several hours before things really get moving.
Although the contractions were inching up in intensity, I knew I needed to try to sleep. Daniel told me I should stop timing my contractions, and reluctantly, I put my watch on its charger. I hoped to use a few techniques from my yoga nidra and hypnobirthing toolkit to cope with pain during labor, and I was delighted to find out that they allowed me to quickly fall asleep between contractions – only to be rudely awakened by sharp tightening a few minutes later. This continued through the night until around 4 am when the pain prevented me from sleeping comfortably. I took another warm shower, which bought me a few more 3-minute intervals of sleep.
At 5 am, I was ready for a change of scenery. I called the midwife again, and she asked me if I was ready to come in. “I think so,” I replied.
I paced the house between contractions as Daniel walked Blue and made himself an early breakfast. I convinced myself to eat a strawberry cereal bar while I could still stomach it. I had a feeling I would need all the strength I could muster today.
When I arrived to the hospital around 6 am, the night shift showed me to a small room enclosed by a curtain. Here, a nurse took my vitals and strapped me to a fetal heartrate monitor for 20 minutes. Snowpea’s heart was beating beautifully, so they said they would stick to intermittent monitoring for now.
The nurse asked me to rate my pain during contractions. I tried to politely explain to her that I despise the 1-10 rating scale because it’s subjective, but she told me to do my best. Fearing this was some kind of test, I told her, “6, I guess.”
Another nurse came in and stuck a hep lock into a vein that ran through my forearm as I breathed through a contraction. “This truly is torture,” I naively thought.
The night midwife came in and asked if she could examine me. She seemed happy to see that I was 4 centimeters dilated and 100% effaced. Through a contraction, I breathed a sigh of relief and uttered, “I was so scared I would only be a 2.”
One of the nurses explained that dilation is often 1 centimeter per hour. Daniel put on his scientist cap and generated another hypothesis: We’d surely be done by noon.
As the daytime shift came in, Daniel and I were showed to a room with a view of the city skyline. I chatted with a nurse named Nicole through a few contractions and through a COVID-19 test, which she warned me would feel like she was picking a Q-tip up my brain. She seemed to be excited that I was a yoga teacher – it would make me the perfect patient. And I was the perfect patient then – breathing through contractions like a lady in my mask and my neatly laced hospital gown. Only a few easy hours left to go.
But when Daniel and I were left alone, things started getting a little harder – although not to the same intensity that I had felt a few hours earlier at home. Following my neatly typed birth plan, I smeared passion-scented essential oil on my wrist. It smelled nice, but I wondered how this would possibly help with pain.
Not long after, someone from hospital staff brought me breakfast. I gagged at the smell of the eggs, but I managed to nibble at a pancake and a banana.
Still 4 centimeters
At 10:30 am, Ellen, the daytime midwife, checked me. I was still 4 – maybe 4.5 centimeters. I was incredulous and disappointed. She swept my membranes, but it did little more than make me bleed.
Nonetheless, I fell into a rhythm, using yoga nidra and hypnobirthing to nap for 3-minute intervals.
“The sound of the air conditioner… the sound of my breath –” I would think before passing out from pain into a deep trance.
But then, I would abruptly awaken from sleep with a contraction. “Oh my God!” I would startle and jump up from side-lying. The only place my body could find semi-ease during each contraction was leaning forward over the hospital bed. Daniel usually had his hands somewhere on my body, but I was oblivious to their precise location. I tried to relax my body, but I couldn’t manage to stop furrowing my brow, clenching my jaw, and tensing my shoulders up to my ears.
Only 1 minute of intensity. I could do this. Just 6 slow breaths, and the finally, the pain would fade. I would flop back down into bed, and the cycle would restart.
“Warm oil running down my shoulders… upper arms… elbows,,, forearms… wrists –”
“Oh my God!” Another contraction – harder this time.
“Waves of breath moving up as I inhale… waves of breath moving down my body as I exhale… moving up… down… up –”
“Oh my God!” And another one.
“A rose opening… opening… opening –”
Oh my God!” And another. I eventually became frustrated. Visualization was meant to ease the pain, not cause me to lose consciousness between contractions. But I guessed that my body did need the rest.
At some point during this routine, Nicole brought in a birth ball and the hospital staff brought in lunch. I was handed a tofu vegetable stir-fry in a sesame sauce so thick and pungent that one whiff made me want to empty the remaining content of my digestive system. A few bites of a cookie would have to be enough to keep me going through the never-ending day. I tried sitting on the birth ball as Daniel ate his meal, but it made the contractions feel like they placed unbearable pressure on my pelvic floor.
Eventually, I started to shake during each contraction. I felt so cold after each one passed. I couldn’t believe I had brought a silly lavender spray bottle, and I couldn’t fathom spritzing it on me now.
At 3:30 pm, Ellen returned to check my dilation. Although she was masked, I could tell from her eyes that she was frowning. I was 4.5 centimeters. She said unfortunately, if I didn’t progress by 7, they may have to start me on Pitocin. A nurse in the room said I should think about starting medication for the pain. The room fell silent upon this suggestion. Everyone seemed to be watching me.
I was shattered, and that was evident. I wanted to cry but was in too much pain to do so. I hesitated, then replied, “No, I’m okay for now.”
Nicole also looked broken when she returned to check on me later. I felt as if I were a child prodigy who had just flunked out of elementary school. I had been doing prenatal yoga after all, I was supposed to be good at this! And yet here I was, “failing to progress” despite – or because of – my need for approval.
Knowing that she could do nothing to ease my suffering, Nicole suggested giving the birth ball another try. Even sitting momentarily on the birth ball made the contractions more intense. My 6 discrete breaths during each contraction turned into loud moans and swearing. Off with the mask – literally.
“It’s like your body is torturing you,” Daniel observed.
I wondered, “Did it look that extreme?” I certainly hadn’t had any body parts severed yet.
Pressure started to wrap around to my sacrum and my pelvic floor. I could no longer sit or lie down in any position during or between contractions. Everything was becoming too intense, and I was starting to get panicked. I needed the midwife to check me now. Unfortunately, she was running late because another person beat me to birthing.
Still 4.5 centimeters
Finally, at 7:30 pm, the night shift arrived with Ellen. She apologized for the delay and got right to the examination. I was still 4.5 centimeters.
“How could this be possible?” I thought, frustrated and dismayed. But before I had a chance to express my concern, she told me my water bag was bulging, and if I’d like, she could break it.
“Is that going to make things more intense?” I asked in terror, already knowing that it would.
“Yes, but it also might get things moving,” she replied.
I reluctantly agreed. Another contraction came as she moved a needle inside of me. The needle wasn’t painful, but I nonetheless screamed, startling at the sensation. An astonishingly red, hot liquid spilled out of me – nothing like the clear, sweet “water” I had expected. Ellen seemed to scurry off, and I laid on my back for a moment in shock. Daniel helped me up, and another contraction hit me – hard.
Denise, the nighttime midwife, directed me through this one. She said to widen my legs a little, bend my knees, make my swaying bigger, soften my face, and let the energy move downward. “Oh…” I thought, “I’ve been doing this wrong all along.”
After that contraction, Denise quickly helped me into the bathtub. She directed me to lie on my side with one arm over a floating pillow. Then, she handed a cup of ice water to Daniel. She told him to give me a sip through the straw every other contraction. “Don’t ask her if she wants it because she won’t be able to talk,” she instructed.
Before Denise left the room, another contraction came, and she gave me a welcome reminder to soften my face. She asked if I had any questions after the contraction passed. I said with desperation, “How much longer?”
She smiled and said that’s the one question she can never answer but that everyone wants to know.
The hot water seemed to ease the pressure in my low back and pelvis, but the contractions reached an unbelievable level of intensity. They were not necessarily more painful, but they consumed every ounce of my energy and attention. I no longer had the option to fight these contractions. Instead, although it was terrifying, I had to let go as they moved through me with an incredible force. It felt as though energy was involuntarily moving downward each time they arrived. I don’t know how to describe the sensation other than this: My stomach would hollow inward as if I were retching to vomit; and my entire pelvic floor felt like it was opening, as if I were simultaneously peeing, pooping, and letting an exorcist move out of me.
At the beginning and end of each contraction, I would loudly moan, “Oh my God, it’s so intense.” Daniel asked me to describe how it felt, but I couldn’t lift my glazed-over eyes to meet his. I had no words to provide him. He reassured me, “It’s okay… I can’t wait to read about it on your blog.”
In the periphery, I heard Denise scurrying about the hospital room, busily setting things up. She intermittently returned to check on me and showed Daniel how to reheat the water. As she drained the cool water out of the tub, my entire body trembled wildly. I stepped back into the newly heated tub and started writhing as I sank into another contraction.
Observing me closely, Denise smiled warmly and guaranteed me that even without checking me, she could see that I was 7 centimeters at least. But of course, after a day of disappointment, I didn’t believe her. This wild and terrifying time in the tub went on for at least 2 hours, but at the time, it felt like an eternity.
Denise promised me that I would be checked again at 11 pm, but as it neared 10’o’clock, the sensation became unbearable. I felt like I was beginning to overheat in the tub, although I still shivered violently after each contraction. I needed an epidural, a c-section, or an exorcism immediately – something to take the feeling away.
Daniel asked me if I could make it through one more contraction. Reluctantly, I agreed, and it came on with even greater intensity. After it passed, I bolted out of the tub and politely told Daniel to get the fucking midwives right away. I heard Denise enter the hospital room’s door as I said this, but I was beyond the point of caring that my speech was vulgar.
Unmasked, naked, and moaning profanity, I sat down on the toilet. Although my insides were empty, I felt like I needed to pee or poop or something to release this feeling. Instead, all that came out was more noise as another contraction consumed me.
Denise knocked on the door, and said the midwives were all here for me now. I shook as she draped a clean hospital gown over me, and I followed her into the room.
My panic melted into calm as I looked around the room. I couldn’t place what had shifted, but there was something in the blurred, hazy air that made me feel as though I were no longer in the clean confines of a hospital space. The lighting was dim, and I could see Boston’s city skyline through the wide window. A rose that I had packed lay in the windowsill atop my watercolor painting of the Mediterranean Sea. Its delicate petals were now beginning to fall away from the stress of the daylight. My tiny stereo had been playing radio of a first chakra playlist for hours now. I didn’t recognize the song, but it sounded like some kind of mystical chant. Daniel later told me he thought he had walked into some kind of witchy ritual, and I couldn’t agree more. For a fleeting moment, I even wondered if there were spirits in the room – somehow, my grandma and Nicole both felt close.
I slid into bed, still shivering and sweating in equal proportion. My brow knitted into worry as a midwife named Amy examined me. Her face lit up. She announced happily, “You can’t see it from underneath my mask, but I’m smiling. You’re 10 centimeters!”
I glanced at Daniel, and we exchanged a look stunned disbelief. Amy donned a clear shield over her mask and said, “Okay, you can start pushing when you’re ready!”
Stunned and exhausted, I didn’t even try moving from my back. That sounded wonderful, but I realized that there could be another problem now: I didn’t know how to push.
As if reading my thoughts, Denise reassured me, “Don’t worry, you won’t be pushing for long.”
“I guess I’ll just breathe the baby downward, like they say in hypnobirthing,” I thought to myself.
Seeing that I wasn’t going to move from my back, Amy began guiding me, “Okay, on your next contraction, you can bear down.”
A moment later, I felt the contraction rise. I initiated the push and let my body follow through. I smiled inside after it passed because pushing felt so good. I then thought how ridiculous it sounded to “breathe the baby down.” This baby was ready to be lovingly nudged out!
“Your baby loves pushing!” one of the midwives said as she assessed the snowpea’s stable heartrate when the contraction passed.
I braced myself for the next contraction. I didn’t want to budge from my back, even though I had practiced so many squats in preparation for this. I laughed at myself for choosing what I thought would be my least likely pushing position. Amy raised the head of the bed to allow gravity to assist me. Then she told me to wrap my hands behind the back of my thighs and tuck my chin into my chest on the next push. Daniel and another midwife held the outsides of my legs. I was more or less in a heavily supported happy baby, and it seemed to work for me.
As the next contraction came, and I initiated the push again. I observed how strange it was that I wasn’t doing the pushing; instead, my entire body was pushing for me.
Suddenly, I was ravenous and a little lightheaded. “Oh man, I haven’t eaten all day,” I said to Daniel. He waved a cracker at my lips, but I shook my head and brushed it away.
“What about some juice?” Denise asked and scurried off for apple juice for Daniel to feed me through a straw between pushes.
I didn’t have to push for long before Amy said she saw the head. She asked me if I’d like to see it in a mirror. I expected her to hold up a hand mirror, but instead, the midwives wheeled in a wide full-body mirror on a stand. I smiled at my disheveled self.
The midwives applied a warm compress to my perineum, and I continued with a few more pushes, following the same rhythm: a contraction would come, I would initiate a push, my body would follow through, and I would intermittently take in little sips of air to fuel the effort.
Soon, Amy asked me if I’d like to reach down and touch the head. “Oh my God!” I exclaimed as I felt something that was not me inside of me.
A few more pushes, and the baby began to crown. I screamed with elated surprise when I felt the “ring of fire” – a quick, sharp, and intense stretch of my labia and perineum.
“Just one more push,” Amy encouraged me.
I was ready. The next contraction felt like it took an eternity to arrive. Then suddenly, it was there. The head slid out. Then a shoulder, then the full body.
Meeting my snowpea
“Oh my God! It’s my baby! My baby!” I squealed in astonished delight as the midwives placed my snowpea on my abdomen. She looked nothing like the blue, cheesy-skinned alien with a cone-shaped head that I had seen in birthing videos. But she also looked nothing like me! I was so awe-struck to see that my body had been capable of growing this 6-pound pink-skinned, black-haired creature. I looked into her steely-blue eyes and we instantly bonded.
Snowpea gently wailed with her tiny lungs as she squirmed around on top of me. She began to calm herself as one of the midwives brought her higher up on my chest. Snowpea placed her delicate pink lips to my nipple, and I thought with wonder, “How does she know how to do that?!” This warm little being was so perfect. As I held snowpea, Daniel fed me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I was still famished and physically depleted, but that would have to be enough for now.
As all of this was happening, Amy slid the umbilical cord out of me for Daniel to cut. She cooed over it, exclaiming that it was “anatomically perfect!” The placenta came out in push so small I barely noticed it happening. Amy examined the placenta and held it up to the room, saying, “Look at this beautiful tree of life!” She was delighted to see that this placenta was some rare, heart-shaped variation. Next, she examined me and exclaimed that I had not torn at all. “That’s so rare for first-time moms!” she exclaimed.
After the excitement died down, Denise assisted me to a postpartum room, where Eira and I would spend the next two nights. Denise helped me up slowly from the hospital bed. The moment I stood up, I felt like I had just taken my first walking step after my first marathon. But instead of my quads being burnt and battered, my pelvic floor felt like it had run the race for me – it was as if I had just gotten off 28-hour jaunt on a horse that had a million spiky rose thorns in its saddle. This for a tear-free birth.
But I didn’t care about the afterburn or that my legs were still shaking or that I had to be wheeled down the corridor. I was elated, euphoric, and on a victorious endorphins-high. A nurse swaddled Eira and placed her in a bassinet beside my hospital bed. All night, I listened to the song of her suckles, squeals, and bountiful breath. I was bewildered by the wonder of my body and hers. I wished I could feel this way forever: awe-struck by the miracle that Daniel and I produced together and fully in love.