*If you’re pregnant and about to read this, just a reminder that this is one labor story of billions out there. Don’t be afraid, since the dawn of time women have delivered babies and you absolutely got this. Your body finds ways to cope during it and after it's over, you will feel so incredibly empowered and full of joy holding your little peanut!*
*Although meditating didn’t help with my labor pain as much as I hoped it would, it REALLY helped keep my heart steady (this was actually visible on the heart monitor I was hooked up to so I know for a fact it works). Meditation is my number one advice to any human, whether dealing with infertility, pregnancy, birth, or any weirdness life hands you. *
The evening before my due date (August 12th) me and my BIG belly made us a to-do list. The list served as a distraction from the fact that any day now, another human would emerge from me. Very unsettling imagery for a first timer.
On the list, I playfully put "Give birth on due date ❤️ But if not, definitely mop :)"
OBVIOUSLY no one goes into labor on their due date. So I prepped my mop.
I hoped my cleaning movements would help me progress along. Also, nesting is very real. I almost broke my newly - bought steamer, steam - cleaning things that had no business being steam - cleaned.
At 4am the following day (my due date) I woke up with a jolt.
It felt like a tiny little snake wrapped itself around my abdomen and constricted a little bit. Not a lot a bit. Just enough to annoy me before dissipating into nothingness.
Fully awake from this annoyance, I waddled towards the kitchen for a drink of water.
The little snake struck again. This time, it gave me some pause.
I assumed these were practice contractions, which occured on and off for weeks now. If they were practice contractions, changing my body position and stretching would make them go away. I started to gently swirl around on my yoga ball, hoping to release some pressure from the bottom of my spine and my swollen legs.
Fully awake now, I replayed how I found out I was pregnant and all the feelings of joy and terror that came with that.
And how after my first trimester, once I moved from RMA to Penn Midwifery, at monthly visits I was anxious every time until they found my little lady’s heart beat. It was always strong and healthy.
The first time I felt the baby move, I was away for the weekend on a wedding shoot at a ski resort in New Jersey. I spent the night at a hotel nearby after the wedding.
When I finally got in my pjs, exhausted, I felt a little kick and almost fell of my bed from surprise.
I’m not gonna lie to you, I swatted at my stomach where she had kicked in an instinctual reaction but caught myself in time realizing THAT WAS MY BABY IN THERE DOING STUFF!!!
I couldn’t sleep. I was smiling from ear to ear, feeling her move all over the place.
It was an unfortunate coincidence that the next day, I threw up twice before getting dressed. And once during an attempt at breakfast. Annnddd about THREE more times on the not-fun-at-all drive home.
When I got home, I was pale and dehydrated. I tried to drink water, but again threw it back up. I felt MISERABLE. And scared. What the heck was going on now??
Walbert took me to Urgent Care - where we thought they would be able to use an IV for hydration (google said this happens at Urgent Care Centers though now we know better).
Instead of an IV a doctor took my vitals and offered me a glass of water. I told her I couldn’t drink it, I’d throw up. But she insisted and so I did. And then I threw up.
“Oh hun, you need to go to the hospital ASAP, I think you’re really REALLY dehydrated. ”
Well NOOO shit, lady! I was very cranky and very worried, pregnancy anger hormones kicking in hot.
We rushed to Penn labor emergency unit, where we were told to go for serious emergencies, as well as where I would labor when the time came.
In the elevator I was next to an actual laboring woman. We both got to the check-in desk at the same time.
The nurse at registration looked at us, then just at me and said “Man. You look rough hun.” The laboring woman nodded her head and let ME go ahead of her. Literally every person I walked past shook their head with pity and asked if I needed help.
Once I was in a hospital bed, I had to have three bags of fluids. I was so scared that if I was this dehydrated, what does that mean for the baby?
Luckily, she was perfectly fine and after a couple of days of rest, all was back to the new, pregnancy normal. The doctors thought I had probably eaten something bad the night before causing this mayhem.
The rest of the pregnancy went by fast and wasn’t really anything wild to write about. I was often nauseous, sleepy, sore, and swollen - typical pregnancy stuff.
I was getting bigger and bigger and people thought I was carrying twins. It got quite annoying at how many twin comments I began receiving towards the end, though I myself started to ponder if perhaps we missed seeing a second little babe in there.
Working pregnant in the summer heat was INTENSE. On more than one occasion, I had to take a long break inside the caterer’s walk-in fridge during a wedding reception. People were very understanding about it.
The dynamic of my weddings shifted. I’m usually the one taking care of the couples on wedding days. And suddenly I noticed, it was the couples that kept offering ME water and a place to sit and rest. It was really sweet. But also it made me realize I did the right thing by taking off around the 7-month mark - as it all got to be a little too much on my joints and seemed unfair to the couples after a certain point.
One of the last weddings I shot before my maternity leave, I didn’t know that my bride was an actual labor nurse. Her entire bridal party of 9, were all labor nurses.
I pushed around some light furniture in the bride’s getting ready suite to make room for what I envisioned for her portraits. And I noticed the room got a little too quiet.
Finally, one of the bridesmaids jumped up, ”OK ENOUGH, I can’t anymore with this!! How far along are you?!? STOP MOVING THINGS, none of us want to work and deliver any babies tonight, Maria! Leave the furniture alone, please and thank you very much.”
I stopped moving things. 😊
I was very nervous updating people about my pregnancy and posting photos of my bump. Given my history with getting pregnant, I was plagued by fear that somehow, my pregnancy would go all wrong and then I’d have to go back and have a million social media posts serve as a reminder of just how close I was to finally becoming a mom.
To the bewilderment of many close friends, it was only towards the very end I started to relax and post little snippets of the bump.
My friends kept asking if I was scared of the labor. And truly, I wasn’t until the last couple of weeks. What I was scared about, but could never put into words in case I somehow triggered the universe into action, was that I wouldn’t get to the labor part.
Once I entered the safe zone for baby to be born and survive, THEN the fear of actual labor kicked in. How in physic’s name was this going to go down, I kept thinking.
Welp. I was soon about to find out. My yoga ball exercises didn’t get rid of the “practice” contractions. It appeared that this was a very timely baby that might indeed be born on her due date.
I started toying with the idea of waking Walbert up - still not entirely convinced any of this was actually real. But I also thought that if it was real, I needed a minute to myself before the craziness unfolded. I put my hand on my belly.
“My little bun, are you ready? It’s gonna be a weird few days ahead. Don’t be scared, you got this.” I wasn’t sure if I was reassuring her or myself.
I finally woke up Walbert and told him I’m fairly certain I’m in early labor.
He was very gentle and just like me wondered if perhaps this wasn’t a practice run (I had gotten lots of practice contractions that whole week). But after he saw me having one, even he could tell that the way I paused during said contraction was different than what we’d experienced thus far.
He asked what would be helpful to me right now. I sat back down on the yoga ball and shrugged. I really didn’t know, so far everything was deceivingly manageable. To stay calm, we turned on some music, talked and just hung out like we normally did in the mornings.
We were in good spirits. I called the hospital and the nurse advised I wait until my contractions were 5 minutes apart before I head to the hospital.
At this point, there were kind of all over the place. Sometimes they came every 12 minutes. Sometimes every 4. I didn’t’ have a pattern with them so I worried I might not know the best time to head to the hospital.
But around one, there was a change in the air.
I stopped making jokes and talking as much. What began as a feeling of a little snake around me, now grew into what felt like a giant anaconda wrapping itself around my waist and uterus, squeezing everything tight.
My heart beat faster. I started sweating, but sometimes I’d get shivers. Everything felt off. I couldn’t decide if I felt better standing, sitting, squatting. My face scrunched up, revealing a deep forehead wrinkle with every contraction - the same one that always stuck out when I experience pain. They were coming on faster now - some 6 minutes apart, others 3 minutes apart.
Walbert insisted I eat something though I had no appetite all morning. He made me an avocado sandwich. I sat on my yoga ball again and with closed eyes in pain, munched on what was to be my last meal for the next 34 hours.
“Walbert? We need to go.”
When we got to the hospital, we checked-in, and waited in the waiting area. The first stop after this check-in would be the triage area. Then, once I was far enough along in triage, I’d be sent over to a labor room where I would deliver my daughter.
While I was in the waiting area, I noticed it was getting full of laboring women. Lots of babies decided today was a great day to be born.
We waited. And then waited some more.
I started to moan a little. I was surprised, I usually bear pain pretty well, having always had painful periods. But now, I physically couldn’t stop myself from moaning to the rhythm of my contractions. It felt very primal, like the only release I had as a tool to cope.
With every passing minute, I started to make more and more noise, my nerves growing shakier. The woman behind the check-in desk kept looking in my direction. Walbert tried to get me admitted at least into the triage area, as it was becoming very apparent that I was moving along fast now.
A little over an hour, maybe hour and a half later, I finally got admitted to the triage room. Which was a giant room of about 4 beds next to one another, separated by a thin curtain, with little to no room to move. The beds had holes in the middle made for bed pans - definitely not beds made for birthing.
“You’re 4cm along, ” a nurse came in to check my dilation.
“THAT’S IT?!” I yelled, totally shocked and fighting panic.
BRO. If THIS was 4cm, I don’t want anything to do with 10cm without an epidural. It didn’t help that my contractions were about a couple of minutes apart since I got to the hospital - something I thought was only reserved for active labor really far along. This made me so tired so early on. There was NO rest in between contractions.
Since I needed to be in a labor room to receive an epidural, there wasn’t anything I could do for pain management just yet. I was offered medicines that could help but unlike an epidural, they would pass through the placenta to the baby, and that’s something I wanted to avoid if I could.
The nurse told us that the labor unit was full so we had to stay in triage for now and she’d come back soon.
Walbert held my hand as the pain grew and grew.
I reached a point of full - blown screaming maybe a couple of hours later, STILL in triage.
Walbert kept trying to find a nurse to check on me. No one was in sight and he later told me he didn’t know what to do but leave the door wide open to our room so that if any nurses came back up to this floor they would hear my very audible screams and come to check on us. By this point, I was most definitely in active labor.
Eventually, a really sweet nurse came in and she measured me. I was now 7cm dilated but there were still no labor rooms available.
“What happens if no labor room opens soon?” I managed to ask in between screaming.
“Then you and I are gonna go to that bed over here and do what your body was designed to do without the epidural. Everything will be alright, hun. ” I screamed some more. The sweet nurse (I wish I remember her name) gently guided me through some breathing. She really cared I was in so much pain and tried her best to help as much as she could.
There’s really no word in the English language colorful enough to describe labor pain.
It’s a pain that’s all encompassing. It feels like your whole body is tearing apart, molecule by molecule - constantly shifting, constricting, widening, pulling and pushing in every directions. It’s disorienting. Your legs feel like jello and you have no idea if it’s been a minute or an hour, if you’re facing up or down.
I meditated for 9 months during this pregnancy hoping I’d be able to handle the pain better and carefully practicing a sequence of breaths meant to calm you. All of it went out the window when this type of pain hit.
I felt like I was dying. Now that I look back on it, labor is a death of metaphorical sorts. The death of the non-mother you. Your body does things it’s never done before, and afterwards you emerge as a different person, knowing what crazziness it takes to bring a little one into the world. You will most likely never look at your own parents with the same eyes just knowing what they endured to have you. It doesn’t even matter what kind of family dynamics you have. You just now know what you didn’t before.
FINALLY a labor room opened up. I was full-blown screaming by now and had a tough time getting in the wheel chair to be wheeled to where the real magic happens.
The actual labor room was huge and even had a shower.
I LOVE showers. It’s where I come up with my most brilliant Maria ideas in life and in work. Somehow, I waddled out of the chair and the sweet nurse and Walbert helped me get in that shower. Letting cool water run over me immediately steadied my nerves. This was about 18 hours after I started laboring.
A couple of hours after that, the anesthesiologist was finally able to get to my room and give me a much needed epidural at 8cm.
Shortly after that long needle full of witchy magic made its way into my spine I felt…nothing.
NOTHING, YOU GUYS!
What wizardry was this?! Granted by this point I knew what it felt like to be 8cm along. So I’m not entirely sure if I felt nothing, or if it’s just that I felt nothing compared to what I felt minutes ago.
Either way, the pain subsided so much that I fell asleep fast afterwards. Walbert thought I was dying, having gone from full - blown screams to quiet sleep.
When I woke up, the nurse checked me and told me my labor had stalled. We decided to break my water, still intact at that point, to see if it would help. It did not.
We were now about 26 hours in and we decided to try Pitocin, which you take to help with dilation. We started at the lowest dose but had to work our way up until it finally started to help.
The nurses notices I was severely dehydrated. They were able to tell because once you have an epidural you also have to have a catheter inserted. You can’t stand up since your legs are totally numb, so you need the catheter to go to the bathroom. They hooked me up to some IV bags and urged me to drink water.
The last time I remember drinking anything, was some water with that delicious avocado sandwich Walbert made me roughly 1,000 years ago now.
Our parents were in the waiting room the whole time I was in labor. We told them that it’s still a no go so maybe they should head home to get some sleep.
My mom really wanted to see me before she left. She came up and I remember waking very briefly to see her teary, worried face. She kissed me and told me I got this, and it’ll be over soon enough with the tiniest of miracles in my hands.
I hadn’t even had Eden yet and already I looked at my mom with different eyes full of insane amounts of respect woman to woman - she labored both me and my brother with no medicine in a country not know for its medical facilities.
Walbert’s mom, Mama Lita, decided she wanted to stay. She recently lost her husband, Walbert’s dad, in a very unexpected and fast battle with a brain tumor. I was already pregnant when it happened. In less than a month, Papa Walbert (as I used to call him) went from seemingly normal to bedridden. We actually converted the room that was soon to be Eden’s nursery in our home, into a hospice room for him in his final week of life. It would be the closest he would get to meeting his little grand baby, and I’m happy that he was surrounded by his family during his final breaths.
Mama Lita asked if we wanted her to come up and help. By this point, although he tried his best to stay awake and help me, Walbert was loosing steam and his mom had watched her own mother deliver dozens of babies as a midwife in the Philippines. So we decided it would be good for all of us if she came up to the labor room.
BEST decision we made that day.
She immediately kicked into care - taker mode having a nursing background herself. Between her and Walbert, I felt so taken care of. Mama Lita knew different ways to massage me that helped me relax. She advocated for us when again the ward got busy and my monitor was making wild noises from my rising blood pressure. She reminded me about my breathing exercises.
When I finally got to 10cm, the following morning around noon, a doctor walked in wearing a Jim Beam t-shirt. She was coming back from vacation and casually mentioned this is her first baby in a WHILE. She then laughed and reassured Walbert and I (who looked at her suspiciously) that this was going to be her 1800-and-something baby to be delivered. I liked her, she was making jokes and I remember seeing a cool tattoo poking out from underneath her shirt.
She explained that when the monitor showed a spike, it meant I was having a contraction and she would instruct me to push.
Now that we were down to it, and I was about to meet Eden, I felt this empowering energy take over me. I closed my eyes and steadied my breath.
Here. We. Go. The moment we’d all been waiting for, so many years and tears in the making.
“I need you to push as if you’re pooping, ” the doctor told me.
“Uhm, say what now?”
“You just have to push like you’re going to the bathroom to poop,” she cheerily repeated.
This was something everyone kept telling me pre - labor, that I forgot would be a thing until this very moment. And now that I was in said moment, I had a hard time feeling anything from the epidural, including what it should feel like to go to the bathroom. 😅
“I mean. Okeyyy, I’ll try my best, lady.”
And so, with Walbert on one side holding my left leg, Mama Lita holding my right, and the Jim Beam-shirted doctor in front of me, I mustered all my strength into what I thought was a good, solid push.
I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t that I’d end up pushing with every fiber of my being for two and a half hours. I wasn’t sure I was pushing right, even with all the guidance until close to the second hour.
Then, epidural or not, I felt this MASSIVE pressure shift. I couldn’t see anything from my big belly, except my doctor’s bloody hands when she would stand up to instruct me.
I started crowning, and everyone but me could see my little one’s dark hair appearing.
“Holly Molly, look at that set of hair! Look, you can make it into a curl, it’s so long!”
I noticed both Walbert’s and Mama Lita’s eyes grow. Things were progressing. I closed my eyes and pushed again, now certain I finally got the hang of it.
“BABE, YOU GOT THIS, PUSHHH!!” Walbert said all of the sudden.
“PUSH PUSH PUSHHH,” Both the doctor and Mama Lita screamed, obviously seeing something exciting that I couldn’t.
I closed my eyes. And pushed again, not comprehending what was to come next.
The next time I opened my eyes, not only were there suddenly like 5 more doctors in the room, but also a very tiny, dark-eyed and dark-haired little baby was now placed on my chest.
And now it's getting very hard to write this without getting teary.
Oh. My. God. SHE'S HERE!!!!!
The first moment I met Eden, I couldn’t speak. She was perfect (still is and forever will be in my eyes). Her warm little body was still covered in gross goo but she was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen with GIANT eyes. I just kept crying, unable to do anything else. She was born with those big eyes wide open and taking everything in around her. She looked SO scared looking around, trying to understand what the heck just happened, and all I wanted to do was reassure her that she was safe and loved.
The newly arrived doctors took her away to check her vitals, measure her, and clean her. Walbert and I looked at each other with complete awe.
One of the doctors told me I’d have to get some stitches done, then they’d take me to recovery where I would spend the next couple of days being observed.
I kind of heard what people around me were saying and instructing, but mostly I just couldn’t take my eyes of Eden. I wanted to know everything about her. Was she healthy? Was she hungry? Was she cold? Can I have her back in my arms?
Walbert, Eden, and I were moved to the recovery room. She had a little bassinet set up next to my very comfy bed with a ton of pillows. The epidural was starting to wear off a little and the exhaustion of a 34 hour long labor weighed heavy on my eyes. I wanted to sleep for a little bit but Eden was fussing a lot, and like any new parents we tried to figure out what to do with her.
It was then that I fully grasped something for the first time.
I thought that I’d have a little bit of time after the labor to recover with some solid sleep. But now I realized, that time doesn’t exist. From hence forth, every two hours, little newborn Eden needed to eat and I needed to learn how to feed her. So 34 hours of labor or not, every two hours max, I had to be awake.
After the first two times of this very broken up sleep, and now with the epidural fully worn off, I felt like a train hit me.
I couldn’t really get up on my own, walk, or even lift up without the help of the bed remote. When I turned to the side, there was a very strange, new feeling of emptiness where my once full uterus was.
My organs didn’t know where they belonged and my uterus started to shrink and cramp. I was scared to go to the bathroom, I didn’t want to look down at my new body. My emotions were wild. I’d go from feeling totally elated when I looked at my new baby’s face, to completely overwhelmed, depressed, and crying from not being able to sleep and move around at all (which OF COURSE I couldn't because I just had me a baby).
And THIS, my friends, is the beginning of the glorious postpartum period.
Thanks for once again sharing your time with me! Join me next time to hear about what I consider to be the hardest , but most rewarding part of bringing little ones to the world - that tricky fourth trimester and postpartum period.