I am really glad I made the deadline to join in on the fun for the second month of Letters to our Children! Here goes, this is a really really long one. Also, if you are uncomfortable with birth stories, then please do not read on.
My dear babies: My parents have never been keen storytellers nor particularly good at expressing how they feel. Perhaps it is stereotypical of many Asian parents. They keep their feelings to themselves and they reminisce about their past when they are in private. The handful of stories they have shared, I have thoroughly enjoyed - how they met, some of the things they liked to do before they had your aunt and I, how your gong gong learned how to cook and how cool and skinny your paw paw used to be before she had babies. But they never shared too many stories about the significant moments that made their life theirs nor much about the things they felt growing up and as they are aging. I crave more of these stories and experiences and I plan on asking more when I get a chance! And I think that's why these letters have become important and special to me. I hope through these, you'll learn more about me, not only as your mother, but as an individual.
My experience birthing the two of you transformed me - it made me a mother and it made me a new person, someone more proud, confident, and empowered. I think about both births often and I want you to tell you what these two journeys to bring you guys earth side meant to me.
Evie - You were born a day shy of 42 weeks. You were happy as a clam hanging out and I'll admit that I was also pretty comfortable. For the two weeks that you were late, your paw paw and I spent the day watching movies, eating out, and hanging out on the couch. Days went by past your original due date and the doctor didn't want to wait anymore. I had planned all along to have a natural birth and when the doctor recommended a scheduled C-section to us, I was devastated. I was disappointed that I couldn't experience a "real birth," I was terrified of being in the operation room, and I was worried that I was making the wrong decision - should I try for an induction? The doctor told us that there was a 50% chance that the induction would work, which would likely take us to the worst case scenario of having an induction plus an emergency c-section. Given that, we decided on the scheduled C-section. Your dad was scared and worried too, I remember him holding my hand as I sobbed about it, with tears in his eyes. It took me that day to reconcile all of those feelings. I wanted to process it all, so I won't be sad about it later. Two days later, we were back at the hospital around 6am. I was really nervous about getting the epidural and I remember taking my yoga breaths and clutching onto a pillow trying not to puke. Pretty soon, your dad joined me all scrubbed up and after what felt like 20-30 minutes and some tugging and pulling, I heard you at 9:11am. You were about half way out of my belly when you started crying and screaming loudly. The doctors laughed. You were 9lb3oz and barely squeezed out of my 4inch incision, they had to yank pretty hard. When I heard that you were healthy and okay, I cried tears of joy because I was so relieved that we were all OK. Evie - in giving birth to you, I became a mama and a new individual. A mama who knew that she could conquer anything if she can calm her mind and process things, a woman who was given yet another piece of evidence that she married right, that her partner is truly her rock in even the shakiest, scariest time. Thank you for that.
Max - my sweet VBAC baby boy. You are my success story after working so hard to achieve a natural birth having had a C-section the first time. When I found out I was pregnant with you, I knew I had to do everything I could to ensure my chances in having a natural birth. I wanted this, not only for me but for you as I learned more and more about the things a baby gains from being born vaginally. I continued doing prenatal yoga like I did with Evie and I added in acupuncture and chiropractic care. I switched to a group of midwives who had great VBAC success rates and to a hospital that was supportive of VBACs. And lastly, we hired a doula to up my chances.
For four nights before you were born, I had strong contractions. I'd time time, I sat on the exercise ball, did the cat cow yoga pose, took hot bath, breathed loudly while your father snored next to me. But by 6am, the contractions would subside. The doula told me that there isn't really a way to know if these were productive contractions. EEK. I was so exhausted that I'd sleep during the day to save energy. One or two nights prior to having you, I lost my mucous plug - the doula told me that that's a pretty good sign that your arrival was near. On your due date, also your birth day, the contractions I was having the night before subsided slightly but stayed. I still wasn't sure but had a feeling. That day was also my check up with the midwives. I asked your dad to pack Evie's backpack with clothes in case we needed our good friends to pick her up from school. We brought our hospital bag with us to the check up at 3pm. By then my contractions were bothersome, so I sat in the backseat to get more comfortable. When we got to the midwives, they told me I was 4-6cm dilated and that we could head to the hospital! We got admitted around 5pm and the doula arrived. When we got there, the nurse asked what my pain goal was. I said I was hoping to have an unmedicated birth, so that would be a 0 and I would swear that she snickered at me. If you know anything about your mother is that that is fuel for me to prove someone wrong. Contractions got closer and stronger and the doula Sara was amazing at helping me manage the pain - massages, hot shower, swaying. Her and your dad would take turn helping me manage the pain while trying to keep that continuous fetal monitor on. (I hope that by the time you guys have kids that they'll invent something that actually stays on, it was insanely annoying). I was nervous but also was just so ready and determined to do this thing that I had been preparing for for 40 weeks. At some point, the midwife told me that your heart rate was really high and recommended that I get an IV to stay hydrated to keep it low. I got nervous around then.
After a few hours of contractions, I was getting pretty tired and wondered if this was going to happen or if I'm headed for a long labor. The doula was also starting to wonder why you weren't moving down the birth canal as fast as she would have thought given how close and strong my contractions were. She recommended I try a side lying position with the peanut ball, so you could rotate and make your way down. The second I got into that position, the contractions became absolutely unbearable. I got through two contractions and I asked to get back on all fours. And I thought about it and realized that she must have been right because it must have been so painful for a reason - it was working. After I got back to that position and endured a couple of contractions, I felt an intense need to push. The doula told me not to because the midwife wasn't there. Your dad tried to help me breath to avoid pushing but it wasn't really working. They midwife came running and pretty soon, I was standing and squatting facing the inclined hospital bed's back. Sara stepped behind it to hold my hand, your dad was on my left to hold my other hand. I think their hands must have been bruised that night because I squeezed it really really tightly. With the contractions, I focused really hard to figure out how to get you out more efficiently. I saw that it was 11PM and I wanted you to have a May 7th birthday instead of the 8th!!! Within 10 or so minutes of pushing, you were born! I didn't even fully understand that you were out and was just shocked that it was done and that you were safe! Your dad always says that the look on my face was priceless, I think I can imagine. The midwife handed me a screaming you from underneath me. I felt your semi-wet body and smelled the metallic smell. My initial urge to cry completely gave way to just feeling so so proud of myself. At that moment, I felt the world stood still with just you and I on top of a super super high mountain and I felt like a super hero. Max - all I can say is that I felt like a bad ass having that unmedicated VBAC. I've never felt anything like this and I'm not sure I ever will unless we have another baby- the natural rhythm of the contractions, the very primal experience listening to my body tell me all the things I needed to do - when to push, how to push, how to bring you into my arms. It was painful, yes, but also so raw, beautiful, natural, and empowering. I feel like I can do anything.
You two monkeys who drive me nuts often also gave me the life and experiences that I have always craved. Don't let it get to your head but I am who I am because of the two of you (and your father of course).
Your mama who love you fiercely and will protect you at all cost...but don't think I will take crap from you!
Follow the circle to see Kristen's letter to her baby boy this month.
*Po Chi Fung is a Washington DC and MD lifestyle and documentary family photographer serving Silver Spring, Takoma Park, Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Rockville, and Potomac