Friends of friends have published a book called “My Caesaearan,” a collection of essays on birth experiences and my first reaction was no thanks. I don’t ever want to be associated with just mom stuff. There’s a whiff of “it’s-not-quality” about stories just revolving around the motherhood experience. My boss asked me to never talk about my kids at work. I also don’t like being boxed into any category because then I feel like people stop doing the work of getting to know you (blame my experience of constantly having to explain being Korean to non-Koreans, like there’s more to us than kim chi, etc., etc. Please, I have a colleague now who can only talk about kim chi when he sees me, and I’m like really? 2019? Now I just turn back if I see him. It’s actually a helpful experience. One of the jobs I was thinking about in the future would be diversity training, because I am genuinely passionate about diversity, but this was a good reality check. I can’t deal with boneheads, so poof, there goes that dream.) But then I took a hot second and realized, dude, that’s internalized misogyny. Birth is good content! It’s something men can’t do – is that why it’s so dismissed? Birth is actually amazing and the medical community actually still doesn’t know that much about it. (This March of Dimes board member told me it’s because we can’t experiment on moms.)
So blast it, I’m writing down my birth experience! It’s very interesting giving birth, more so than being pregnant, I think because it’s faster. It’s like a commercial compared to like an eight-hour documentary on the history of Chile. I have three kids – First Son and the Wonder Twins. Being pregnant with twins caused me to look like the marshmallow monster from Ghostbusters. Husband said people flinched when they saw me, I was that big. As for how it feels, I’ve detailed it in previous posts. Being pregnant with First Son was the best shape I’ve ever been in. I had not an extra once of fat. Every pound was being put to work and I only ate like salads. (Who was that.)
The birth of First Son was easy. Kind of. No, I take it back, it was dumb. I did everything you’re supposed to do but I had no understanding of what was coming. I took all these classes with Husband on how to breathe through contractions, I hired a doula. I didn’t know if I’d get to do the birth thing again, so I ordered all the bells and whistles so I could experience as many different things as possible. From what I remember, labor started but my water broke before the going got good. No contractions, so I just happily called everyone I knew since I was not going to work. The few people I reached told me that I said something like “hey, I’m in labor. Whatcha doing? What’s new with you?” On day two, I was majorly engrossed in birth and that’s when everybody called me back. Back to Day One: I called the doula, I called my parents, my cousin, all my friends. I walked around. I went to CVS. It was a long uneventful day. The weather was nice that particular day. You can’t go to the hospital until contractions are closer together like four minutes apart or something? Maybe longer? Don’t rely on me for this info, because my memory is in a trash compactor. My contractions weren’t quite reaching any momentum so my doula arranged for me to go to an acupuncturist in Park Slope. She was a hippie lady who talked about her decision-making process for getting sushi for dinner was checking her sushi money drawer. If there was money, yes. If no, no sushi. That (her needles not money approach) seemed to speed up contractions, but the momentum slowed again. I headed to a nearby pizzeria to get an eggplant parm hero. The actor Steve Buscemi passed me with a baguette under his arm. He had a weird look on his face like “don’t look at me, don’t say hi to me, I’m famous” and I was like screw you, Steve Buscemi, don’t look at me! Don’t say hi to me! I’m in labor! Like contractions trump celebrity (and he was fine, I was just having a weird day.)
At the pizza place, I ate my sandwich not because I was hungry but because hippie class repeatedly warned that the hospital will not let you eat once you get there. Husband had thick binders open in front of me, studying listings, trying to launch his real estate career. It’s funny how the nesting instinct affected him. He had always bartended or acted but with a baby, was trying for a more predictable source of income, not knowing yet that real estate is a viper pit and he would hate it with every fiber of his being.
I forget what time we actually went to the hospital. I believe he was born around 6 in the evening, (I definitely know what the date was). I’m not sure because I had lost all sense of time. It was raining nonstop once I was admitted. My parents were in Korea because my grandmother had just passed away. Funny how timing works out. I was struggling with how do I tell my mom that I’d like her to not come to the hospital? Now I didn’t have to worry about it and the whole thing was so circle-of-life reminder — death of grandma and birth of First Son. Later, my mom said was depressed for about a month after her mom died. She couldn’t fully absorb First Son’s gooey, mushy body, but when she emerged from her depression, she fell very hard for First Son and referred to him as Prosac behind his back (behind his soft, marshmallow baby back). I have never seen her so happy as those early days with First Son.
My cousin Aimee came to the hospital. At that point, I was high-as-a-kite-tonight. The hippie birth people train you to refuse drugs. I so committed! I caved early. Not only that, I LOVE EPIDURALS! I was terrified of the thought of a needle in my spine. I held both of someone’s hands (a nurse? Husband?), closed my eyes and just hoped they wouldn’t paralyze me — the relief was so immediate and complete, that it was like falling in love. I was gabbing at my cousin like a speed addict until the doula instructed me to rest, which had the effect of pushing an off button. I abruptly closed my eyes and half-slept. I think my cousin brought us snacks. She was the best. At that point, everyone kept calling me back (because I’m a jidiot — jerk/idiot combo from the middle grade series “Spy School”) and I was too wretchedly exhausted and drugged up to say anything normal. She helped call people back and let them know I was unavailable.
Oh and then my boss came. That was awkward. At the time, I felt angry, like an extra demanding a lead part, but Husband counseled that my birth story can be whatever I want. The most generous interpretation is this person didn’t know that active labor is not time for visitors. First Son’s heart rate had dropped and we were discussing how he was facing the wrong way (“sunnyside up”), so to go through the birth canal would mean bending his neck in a cutting-off-air kind of way. C-section was on the horizon. Over the intercom, a nurse announced “Tina Lee’s boss is here to see her.” My attending nurse, who looked about 8 months pregnant, went boneless in reaction and yelled “Come on!” A very civil reaction. Husband and I turned to Doula and said, “Now what?” She was terrific. She instructed Husband to greet Boss and say that Tina Lee was not available at the moment. He came back with a cute gift basket of magazines, PJs, and lip gloss. Later, this boss helped approve a leave that gave me a transition I could pull off without having a breakdown (three months leave, fourth month part-time) and an amazing, permanent schedule that gave me work-life balance.
I think the contractions got a little bit faster, but not quite consistent. I don’t know how long the whole thing went for. I think the sun went down. There was a moment where it seemed like it was going to happen. The lights of the room were on. I had a doula and Husband on one side, the nurse on the other, and it was oddly very quiet. Like the atmosphere was very concentrated. I don’t know how else to explain it. I was on my back, and everyone held a hand or a leg. I felt like a barnyard animal on a farm in the middle of the night. That’s how basic it seems. Still, First Son was not budging. The OB on call, not my regular person, but still very cool, had a fireside chat with me. She said was doing her best, but that she was not going to recommend a vaginal birth for very much longer. The fact that First Son’s heart rate kept plummeting, that my water broke before contractions really kicked in, that she had brought in someone way more experienced to try to turn First Son in the birth canal – it was just looking like c-section. So I said okay, sure, why not, and then all pushing stopped and the bed was quickly hustled to an operating room. I just wept. The nurse comforted me to say that everything was going to be fine, but I said I was crying because I worked so hard and felt disappointed. (Something like that. I can’t remember exactly what I said or felt.)
In the operating room, they lay you down on a table where they strap down your arms in wing formation and put a small curtain at your mid-section. The curtains are like the size you’d get for a small puppet show (but no one let’s you see anything). You see a bunch of people in scrubs bent over your middle stuff. Just as a mom had warned me, you feel like you’re lying down on a crucifix. You feel very vulnerable. I am so drugged out of my mind, I can’t speak, but my glasses have traveled down to the near tip of my nose, which drives me nuts. Husband pushes my glasses back on the bridge of my nose, which lets me know I married the right guy.
He is summoned to meet the baby, whom I hear crying. I think I hear/sense he is being weighed and cleaned up. Husband says he’s sorry to leave my side, and I said, no, no, no, go see the baby, but don’t look at my intestines. He said okay. Later, he says (I think) that he couldn’t help it, but he did see my intestines. It’s like that myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, where in order to lead his wife out of the Underworld, he is supposed to leave and NEVER LOOK BACK or his wife would turn into salt (no, wait) or never be able to leave Hades. With couples, hot tip: don’t look at each other’s organs. If you do, then we have to face the fact that we are all just bags of meat with faces on top, and all sense of order and what’s right in the world is gone. (This is why I could never be pre-med/med school material/doctor. They are required to dissect a human body! That would just blow my mind too much. Like what truly animates our goo?) Husband also got a closer look at something I was curious about. On the wall, it looked like there was one of those plastic shoe organizers you hang over a door attached to the wall. Apparently, each pocket had like guts or an organ. (Yay!)
Husband brought First Son wrapped, baby burrito style and hospital-grade ski hat and held him in my face. I was too tired and trippy to really feel or express, but I guess it’s weird that a baby came out my body. Someone took Husband’s pic with First Son. All you can see his eyes, because he’s got a medical bag hair net and face mask on. His eyes are terrified.
After surgery, I’m taken to some kind of purgatory. I doze off but people are so chatty in this post-birth area. I remember my cousin’s husband visiting to see the baby. He made fun of me for saying “what’s up dude” like it was any other day. The next day, I was still like a speed addict. I had two phone devices and texted with both hands, responding to everyone who called me back to ask how their day was, and some friends were like, “so hey? Didn’t you have a baby? What’s the name? etc.”
The moment drugs wore off, I was in excruciating pain. Luckily, a friend and Husband were visiting and called over a nurse to help me out. I could not get the hang of breast feeding so First Son got Billy Rubins (is that how you spell it? It’s like when the kid is bright yellow jaundiced). To treat B.R., he was dressed in a baby speedos and had tiny speed sunglasses and placed on a hot lamp for like hours a day, the sun supposedly a cure. (I’m sure there’s a more scientific explanation for the random words I just pieced tougher there.) The first night in the hospital, the nurse asked if I wanted to spend the night with the child or have him in the nursery. I think I really wanted the latter because I was exhausted, but chose option A, because I just felt conflicted about leaving him so soon. I didn’t sleep at all.
Because of this, the hospital released us a few days later than normal, so that I could stay in the hospital with the guy.
Visitors. Family. I don’t think my mom was back yet. We got a car service to go home. I don’t think Husband knew how to do a seat belt on a car seat, so he just rode next to First Son and pinned it down with his arms in a complete panic until we got to Brooklyn.
And then we were home. People let us bring a real baby home for some reason.
That began an intensely hard but also insanely happy period of life.