To start off, I love birth stories. Actually, I love birth in general and everything that surrounds it. When I was in kindergarten we had “occupation day” and every cute little 5 year old came in dressed up as what they wanted to be when they grew up. I specifically told my mother I wanted to dress up as an OBGYN. And when someone would look at my 5 year old size scrubs and say, “oh you want to be a doctor?” I would say in the sheer determination of a 5 year old, “No, I am gonna be a BABY doctor.. OGBNY or something. I want to deliver babies”. As I grew older and that dream faded (after the realization of all the training needed just to deliver babies half the time while the other half would be spent staring at vaginas) I got to be around when my aunt delivered her baby naturally with a midwife. This sparked an enthusiastic obsession with natural birth and midwifery. In fact, that year for Christmas my mom got me books like Ina May’s Guide to Natural Childbirth and nutritional guides for pregnancy. (I know, I was an abnormal 17 year old) Again, life took a different track and I didn’t become a midwife (..yet! 😉 ) Upon finding myself pregnant I re-read Ina May’s words of wisdom and found such strength in all the uplifting birth stories from women throughout the book. I completely agree with her when she talks about how we, as Americans and Westerners in general, like to share “horror” stories about birth. Even in TV shows birth is portrayed a certain way, whether for shock value or laughs it is always a scary and painful experience. So I love when I hear people speak positively about birth and share inspiring stories… especially for first time mums who have yet to experience such a life changing event. That being said, I also understand birth is in no way easy or painless. So here’s my story- with all the details! Proceed with caution- I use the word calm about a million times, I discuss hemorrhoids, and you get to see some pictures of my killer tan lines on my lower half. You’re welcome really.
To start off, I chose to give birth at a Korean birth center in Seoul (specifically the Gangnam district.. we joke that we have a Gangnam baby now hehe). I knew I wanted to go as natural as possible and heard nothing but praise for this birth center- MediFlower. From the very beginning my husband and I both loved how we were treated and how experienced they were with Americans. Dr. Chung, the presiding OBGYN at the center, is extremely passionate about natural birth and very proud to be the first doctor in Korea to open a birth center and try to normalize “natural” (Korea has an even higher rate of C-sections than the USA, so natural, unmedicated birth is definitely unique in this country). He is a very gentle, thoughtful, and calm man who was always smiling and softly explaining how wonderful birth is, telling us not to worry about a thing. The language barrier never posed much of a problem, except once. I was getting my 20 week anatomy ultrasound scan and the very quiet Korean tech was gently pointing out different body parts as she went, “10 toes, 10 fingers, yes.. good. Okay now, baby face.” At this point everything was fine and she pointed to the eyes (which noticeably looked different from each other) and said, “Crossed eyes.” “Oh no. Oh no no” I thought. “my baby is CROSS EYED?!?!” My mind went wild. “okay. this can be fixed.. right? baby glasses. will our insurance pay for baby glasses? who cares. baby glasses are a must. this is fixable right? ” Instead I calmly replied, “cross eyed? Okay. Okay.” Then I looked over at my husband with big eyes. She again said, “Cross eyes.” Okay ya, lady, I got it. My baby is cross eyed, you don’t have to rub it in. My husband started laughing and said “no, CLOSED eye.” The tech gave a huge nod, “Yes, CROLSED eye.” Ahh, the old crolsed eye. She then showed us that he had one eye closed and one eye opened (which is why they looked different). Josiah and I could barely hold back our laughter as we walked out of the room afterwards, how silly I was to not catch that right away haha. Other than that, all of our prenatal care was top notch and we had no issues with a language barrier. 😉
Okay FINALLY for the birth story:
Tuesday August 23rd 3AM (5 days after my original due date): I had been having a restless nights sleep and finally woke up with decently strong, consistent contractions. By 4am Josiah woke up to me eating a banana in the kitchen while randomly cleaning things. We decided to shower, get ready, and head to the birth center. I texted my midwife, Su, to let her know we were on our way. By 6:30am we checked into the tranquil birth center where Su immediately checked me to find that I was 6cm dilated. Within an hour of arriving my water broke and my contractions were still strong and consistent. At this point I think everyone thought that by dinnertime I would have a baby in my arms. (at least that’s what I thought!) Our room was large and I was able to walk around and labor as I pleased. Our friend Jen was there to capture these special memories.
I tried my best to stay hydrated and eat bites of food as often as I could. By dinner time I remember thinking, “why has nothing changed?”. Su explained that baby was still sitting high and even though my body was progressing and my dilation was at 9cm, we needed to get him to move down further. At this point, since my water had been broken for so long, they also had to put a port in my hand to administer antibiotics every so often. As the night drug on my energy levels really took a dip. I was wiped out from a long day of laboring and began to feel like the end would never come. Josiah and Su were with me the entire time and helped with every contraction- rubbing my back, holding my hands, breathing with me. We all tried to catch a snooze, even if I was interrupted every few minutes with another powerful surge. Finally, morning came..
Wednesday August 24th 7AM: Exhaustion. Pure exhaustion at this point. Josiah and Su were equally tired, yet Su continued to care for me and even mentioned she had to leave for a few moments to check on another patient she had! (What the?!? She is superwoman I swear.) Once Su left to place our breakfast orders (ps the food was INSANELY amazing- even though I could hardly eat more than a quarter of each meal. We had a choice between a Korean and American menu the entire time.. Which I mostly got Korean food because I told Su to choose for me since I couldn’t really think or focus on that haha. We had the most amazing roasted chicken and ginseng rice soup with delicious Korean sides and seaweed soup a plenty. Su even made me a tasty pumpkin puree during the night and would feed me bites in between contractions. Josiah received his own meal too and gobbled down whatever was left of mine.) and check-in with other patients, Josiah and I had a bit of quiet time to discuss on our own. I told him how tired I was and I couldn’t do this much longer. I expressed that I felt weak and even though I didn’t want to quit or be cut open, the idea of a C-section sure was becoming more of a relief than a scary intervention. We decided when Su came back in to discuss what options we had. Su returned with a yummy rice porridge breakfast and we began to talk about my progression, epidurals, pitocin, C-sections, and doulas. She told me she believed in me and that she knew I could continue naturally if I wanted, just that her biggest concern was how little energy I had. She asked how I felt about bringing in a doula… “yes, yes that’s fine. More than fine. Sounds great. Call anyone in that could help ha.” I had originally thought I didn’t need a doula- I felt I had “prepared” for birth by reading books, reading birth affirmations, squatting, stretching, doing figure eights on my exercise ball, walking on the treadmill.. and to be quite honest since my mom had short labors under 6 hours, I didn’t think I would have a long labor.. plus I had a supportive husband who attended birthing classes with me and knew all about Ina May- I didn’t need a doula I thought. HAHA, silly me. We decided to continue with the doulas and I told everyone that I needed to have this baby by dinnertime or at that point I would ask for drugs or a C-section or SOMETHING that resulted in getting this kid out. Dr. Chung stopped by shortly after to check in and gave me some encouraging words and told me he would check in again later that day. Even Haley, the Korean lady who is in charge of the international clinic and our first point of contact, came by to talk to me and said Su had been telling everyone how hard I was working and how impressed she was by my stamina and breathing techniques, especially for a first time momma. It was such a nice pick me up! By 11am I was squatting in the shower getting through contractions when two American Army wives walked in.. “Hi, we’re the doulas! ..we’ll let you have your privacy and we can talk once you’re done.” “Oh it’s fine. I’m pantless, I have a killer hemorrhoid already -that you’ll see momentarily i’m sure-, i’m leaking bodily fluids everywhere and I don’t really care who sees me. I have no pride left.” We all laughed and the next hours spent with those amazing doulas were a total Godsend. They were full of energy and laughter but knew when to quiet down and just rub my legs/hips as I contracted. They got me moving around the room and had “stations” setup where I would stop and do squats with one of them, figure eights on the exercise ball, lunges against the bed, and anything else that helped open my hips and bring baby down. Those ladies gave me the energy and confidence to keep going and give it my all. But as dinner neared, I still wasn’t to the point of pushing. I could feel my energy waining again and I began talking to the doulas about what they thought I should do. We discussed the pros and cons of every part of our situation and the different interventions. Ultimately though they told us it was our choice, MY choice and to be proud of that choice and not feel defeated. “Only you know what you need, take confidence in knowing this is your decision- OWN IT! And be proud! This is YOUR labor and birth experience.” Once Su came back in I said, “Su, it’s dinnertime.. And I don’t have a baby. I can’t do another night of this. Let’s talk options. I need this baby out.” She responded with a sympathetic nod and said she’d check me one more time to see if I had progressed and then get Dr. Chung to talk about interventions. After about 20 minutes of monitoring Su excitedly announced I was 10cm dilated and my contractions had picked up in strength and consistency AND that she could feel baby’s head! Hallelujah! Progress, finally! She said baby boy had finally started to move down but was still a tiny bit too high. The room filled with excitement as Su told me there was definitely no need for pitocin at this point and that she figured I could do it and this baby would be born TONIGHT! I got my third (fourth?) wind and agreed that I could push forward without any interventions (no pun intended). And so began the pushing, which at this stage was such a relief. I was having a hard time trying to breathe through the contractions and hold back when the pressure was so intense. I pushed using the birthing stool. I pushed as I squatted on the floor. I pushed using the hanging ropes. I pushed as I lunged with one leg up on the bed as I held onto Su or Faith, the doula. Again, the minutes started rolling into hours. Once both of the doulas had to leave to get home to their own kids and Su stepped out of the room for a moment, I looked at Josiah a bit frustrated. “Be real with me. You said you could see the head during my last push. Everyone is cheering me on. Is that real? Or are you guys just saying all that to keep my energy up. I feel like i’m being lied too. I feel like there’s no progress again and I can’t feel him moving down.” Josiah smiled and laughed, “Seriously, I saw the head. Here look in this mirror and on your next push check it out for yourself.” Well, needless to say when you’re on a birthing stool pushing with all your might it’s a bit hard to try to look down and see your baby’s head coming out of your vagina. So instead he told me inbetween contractions to just try to feel his head for myself. Probably TMI for everyone, but I did and with the help of the mirror I saw a tiny bit of his head.. and hair! It got me excited and kept me going for a bit longer. Su began filling up the birthing tub (for the fourth time since I checked in haha). Finally it all felt so close! She strapped the monitors on me once more to check baby’s heart rate and my contractions. I was growing exhausted as each minute ticked on. While I sat on the edge of the bed I looked wearily at her, “Su, can I really do this? I’m just getting so tired again. I don’t know how much longer I can go.” She calmly sighed and with a slight smile and her soft Korean accent said, “Vanessa, I believe in you and the baby boy. But I also think you’re just so schmall (small). You’re body is schmall. No mushel(muscle).” Leave it to Koreans to be 100% honest with you haha. Dr. Chung appeared soon after Su checked me and sat on the floor as I pushed against the birthing stool. He breathed through a few contractions with me and checked me as Su was monitoring the fetal heart rate. He then suggested we try a few contractions on the bed where Josiah and Su could help hold back my legs and he would try to help stretch me as I pushed. It was painful.. to say the least. After that Dr. Chung (ever so calmly I might add- Koreans are excellent at the whole calm, tranquil state) told me that baby boy’s heart rate was dropping every time I contracted and that he wasn’t moving down as they had hoped. He gave me a few options at this point. “Okay Vanessa, it will take 30 minutes for the anesthesiologist to get here to administer drugs for a C-section. We can wait.. Or we can give you an episiotomy and we can try to help push baby down.. But if this doesn’t work you’ll still end up with a C-section and an episiotomy. We need to decide now though.” 30 minutes? That sounded like eternity. “Episiotomy.. Let’s try it.” I looked at Josiah and we both nodded. Everything became a whirl as one by one another Korean came into the room.. wheeling in oxygen, coming in with gowns, preparing a baby station with an oxygen mask- But again, everything was so calm (at least to me!) Dr. Chung was at the end of the bed, Josiah by my right side at the top of the bed, one nurse standing on my left side, one nurse kneeling over me on the bed at my right side, and Su squeezing my left hand. It felt like just a minute or two of quick movements.. someone had placed an oxygen tube on me and before I knew it Dr. Chung, again calmly, told me to push as hard as I could during my next contraction. As I pushed the two nurses pushed the top and sides of my belly- HARD. Meanwhile Dr. Chung was reaching inside of me- ouch. But honestly the pushing on my belly was the most painful. As the next contraction was about to begin Dr. Chung again told me push as hard as I could and get ready to meet my son.. With all the strength I could muster in my exhausted body I pushed. I felt like every vein in my body (especially my neck and face) were going to explode. And just like that there was a giant gush and baby boy’s head and body came sliding out. I could barely see how quickly Dr. Chung pulled him up and untwisted the umbilical cord around his neck. Su immediately took him and yanked my bra up and placed him on my bare chest with a few towels wrapped around him. Suddenly time stood still. MY baby boy was lying on my chest, eyes wide open staring up at me. I could hear Josiah laughing/crying as happy tears rolled off his cheeks. Baby boy gave us a few whimpers to let us know he was breathing and one gusty yelp, but immediately calmed down and just stared at the new world around him. Su smiled proudly and leaned in to tell us that his umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck a total of three times! She figured that’s why he wasn’t coming down and why his heart rate was dropping every time I contracted towards the end. I hardly noticed Dr. Chung stitching me up until he said, “okay, I did a very great job on your stitches! You will have no scar and be very beautiful.” Haha, thanks Dr. Chung, thanks. Cause you know, at that point, that was my biggest concern. He then said, “okay time to deliver the placenta! One more push!”. It was easily delivered upon which Dr. Chung excitedly showed us (he’s super passionate about the whole birth experience I tell ya!) “Here, look. This is the side that was connected to the uterus.. This is where the umbilical cord attaches. Look at all the veins.. Nourishes baby, all the food and growth came from this.. Here touch it! Yes, touch it!” So as he pulls apart my fresh, bleeding placenta he gets us to touch it and admire it with him before placing it in a plastic bag to lay beside me so that the umbilical cord could pulsate a bit longer before we cut it. Finally everyone had exited the room as Su finished dressing my stitches and placing some pads on me. She left for a bit to give us some bonding time alone before returning to help Josiah cut the cord and weigh him. Golden Wilde De Costa born at 1:58AM on August 25th weighed in at 7.5lbs and was 20in long. He nursed after his umbilical cord was cut and latched like a champ. That night was a much needed blissful night’s rest where all three of us slept for almost 6 hours straight. My mom arrived later that day around dinner time. All was well in the world. So that was it! 47 long hours of labor that included 5 different vomit sessions (thanks to everyone who quickly grabbed a bag or trashcan for me to puke in!), 4 catheters (I tried my hardest to pee on my own towards the end there but I just couldn’t.. Everyone was impressed by my full bladder and levels of hydration though.. so props to me! haha), 3 attempts in the birthing tub, 2 spotify playlists I made that played over and over since I didn’t account for such a long labor, all resulting with 1 beautiful baby boy!
As i’ve reflected this past week and a half, i’ve felt so many happy emotions. But gratitude is the one that supersedes the rest. I feel so beyond blessed and grateful for my little Golden- for his health. The last ultrasound we got at 37 weeks showed that the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck, but we didn’t know to what extent and were assured by everyone that it was common. And it is common, but anything can go wrong in the blink of an eye.. So for his safety and health, I am beyond grateful. I’m also so thankful and humbled by my midwife Su. I truly believe she is an angel and was assigned to be my midwife by divine inspiration. My eyes still tear up when I think about how she never rested during those long hours.. How she laid by my side through that first night and would wake up and help me through each contraction. I know I could not have made it without her. Su holds a such a special place in my heart and will be one of the people and memories I miss most from Korea. And my heart is full when I think of the entire MediFlower staff- each person who came and checked in on me, giving me such encouraging words.. Dr. Chung for his calm, precise, and positive demeanor. The doulas, Faith and Darla- what angels they were.. coming to my aide at the perfect time and bringing laughter and smiles with them. It really is amazing how quickly you bond with strangers during moments of “crisis” or “trauma” (not that this experience was either of those, but it definitely brought the same levels of intensity). I am so grateful for my sweet friend Jen, who not only spent long hours away from home capturing my labor on camera (and returning during the middle of the night for the grand finale!!) but who was such a support to me. Knowing I was surrounded by loved ones who would give me a smile and gently encourage me meant more than anyone will know. And finally, my Josiah. That darling husband of mine didn’t leave my side for more than a minute to fetch me ice water throughout my labor. At one point I heard him praying for me, and after later discussing with him, he told me how worried he was and how everyone, even the doulas were a bit nervous for me but he made sure to keep me positive. Watching him become a father has been a joy in and of itself. So yes, this birth story is long. If you read this far, I hope the one take away you gain from this is that it was a beautiful time that I am forever grateful for. I am beyond proud of myself.. If you came to me before and said, “hey you’re gonna be in labor for 47 hours” I would have laughed and said, “give me an epidural then.. or a C-section even!” But when you’re in the moment and surrounded by such amazing people whom you trust and are cheering you on, you muster the strength to keep going, even for just another few hours. I’m proud of my body, and as I said before, even more grateful and humbled by the outstanding human beings who lifted me up.. both physically and emotionally. I feel like most people would walk away with a negative outlook on this outcome, but there is no way that I can. I smile and am overjoyed for the experience. For all you future mommas out there, let this be a testament to you- when YOU take control of your labor/birth experience and form a trusting bond with your doctor/midwife/provider then you will walk away happy with zero regrets… even if it ends up lasting 2 days like mine! 😉
No one will probably enjoy and/or appreciate all of the following pictures as much as I do, but but I thought I’d add all the behind the scenes pics anyways.