Me at 31 weeks pregnant. Photo by Lovers of Love Photography.
Me at 31 weeks pregnant. Photo by Lovers of Love Photography.

It Begins

For the most part, I loved being pregnant. I had dreamed of having a baby for years, and at 38 years old, I was so happy it was finally happening. But by Week 38, I was definitely ready for it to be over. I'd gained a whopping 50 lbs, and was feeling really uncomfortable. I was getting fatter by the minute, and had difficulty sleeping and moving around. Plus, it didn't help that we'd been on COVID-19 quarantine for weeks. The anticipation of having our baby was driving me crazy. I thought for sure he might arrive a little early, but every day went by with no signs of labor. Eventually my due date came and went, and I was getting really impatient. My hospital generally doesn't let patients go beyond 41 weeks, so my doctor scheduled me for an induction five days after my due date. I was really nervous about it and strongly preferred to go into labor naturally. We tried everything we could think of to induce labor - tons of walking, acupuncture, eating spicy foods and pineapple - you name it. But still no baby. A few days before my scheduled induction, the doctor performed a procedure called "stripping the membranes". Basically they stick a finger up your cervix and poke around to try and loosen things up. I think it may have helped because I started having contractions the next night.

What do contractions feel like? Do they hurt?
Before it happened, one of the things I wondered most about childbirth was what the contractions would feel like. I'd read a bunch online and in books, but I still couldn't quite wrap my mind around it. Some women told me they were not so bad, while other women told me it was the most excruciating pain they've ever felt. Mine started out pretty mild around 10 pm the night after I had my membranes stripped. It felt like a menstrual cramp, or maybe like I had some gas. I wasn't even sure if I was having contractions, but by 2 am that morning I was certain. They got progressively worse and happened every ten minutes or so. It wasn't agonizing pain, but it was uncomfortable enough that I couldn't really sleep that night. By the next morning, the contractions were about seven to eight minutes apart and very unpleasant. I would scrunch up into a ball or roll around on the bed grunting and moaning. Adam called our doula for some guidance, and she suggested I take a bath. The warm water really eased the pain, and I probably spent a few hours in the bath tub with Adam by my side. The contractions were lasting close to a minute, and the worst part was the wave of nausea that followed each one. I described it to my sister as "owwie owwie owwie" followed by "pukey", and she said hers were similar. Each individual contraction wasn't so terrible. What made it unbearable was the relentless nature of them. Early labor can last hours, even days - especially for a first-time mom - and you never know how long it could go on. After fourteen hours of this, I really wanted to go to the hospital. Technically, you are supposed to wait until the contractions are four to five minutes apart, but our doula encouraged us to go anyways. I was terrified they would send me home, but I felt like I couldn't handle it anymore.

Arriving at the Hospital
The drive to the hospital took about fifteen minutes, and I brought a trash can with me in case I needed to throw up. We had hired a doula, but unfortunately she couldn't come to the hospital due to the coronavirus situation, and I was pretty bummed about that. I went straight to triage when we arrived, and Adam wouldn't be allowed to join me until I was admitted into a labor and delivery room. I sat in the waiting room for about twenty minutes with four other pregnant ladies - all of us wearing surgical masks - and tried to keep my grunts discrete and quiet. Finally a nurse came to get me and hooked me up to a monitor that measured fetal heart rate and my contractions. By this time my contractions had started to slow down, which is not uncommon in early labor, especially when you are stressed out. The nurse told me my labor had not progressed far enough and I would have to go home. I was devastated. But thankfully my doula insisted I stand my ground and demand to be admitted since I was in so much pain. The nurses got on the phone with my doctor who advocated for my admittance. I was past my due date, and scheduled for induction the next day anyways. Plus my amniotic fluid was low, and at 38 years old, I was considered advanced maternal age. That was the first time in my pregnancy that I was actually grateful for that designation. Time to pull out the oldie card - get me a room STAT!

So did you get the drugs?
Finally, several hours after we arrived at the hospital, I was admitted to a labor and delivery room and Adam was allowed to join me. Before labor began, I had hoped to have a "natural" childbirth, meaning no drugs. I'd read a lot of books in preparation, and had done some hypnobirthing meditations as well. A number of women had given me encouragement that a "natural" childbirth was totally possible, but still I was open to getting an epidural. Well it wasn't long before I was begging for one. As I mentioned, it's not that each individual contraction was excruciating, but after nearly 20 hours, I didn't know how much longer I could hold on. I told the nurse I felt like wuss, but she was super nice about it. "Don't worry," she said, "that's what it's there for". The epidural didn't hurt too bad, and once I got it I felt sweet relief. I felt a warm, tingly sensation sink into my legs, and it was like a choir of angels singing. From there on out, my labor was completely pain-free. 

The Long Night
The downside to getting an epidural is that it tends to slow down the process of labor. Plus you're basically confined to your bed from that point on because you're connected to a catheter and IV. Still I didn't mind. Since I was no longer in pain, I was chillin. But after many hours, my cervix was not dilating so the doctor decided to give me Pitocin. Pitocin is a synthetic version of the hormone oxytocin, and used to speed up labor. I had hoped to avoid any kind of induction. While it's very commonly used, in super rare cases there can be complications, and I was scared. But the nurses and doctors were constantly monitoring the situation, and I felt safe at the hospital. At this point it was after midnight, and Adam and I tried to get some sleep. But the nurse kept coming in to check on things and move me around. They told me that they were seeing decelerations on the heart monitor which can be a sign of fetal distress, possibly due to an umbilical cord issue. Several times they came in and put an oxygen mask on me. I was starting to get worried as my biggest fear was having a stillborn baby due to an umbilical cord accident. Thankfully, after a fitful night of sleep, things were starting to stabilize and my labor was progressing nicely.

Welcome to the world Hawthorn James 繁偉 (Fan Wei) Cunningham!
Welcome to the world Hawthorn James 繁偉 (Fan Wei) Cunningham!

The Final Push
Just before 2pm, nearly twenty four hours after I'd been admitted to the hospital, the midwife told me I was fully dilated, and it was time to push. The nurse coached me briefly on how to push - basically it's like taking the biggest poop of your life - and then it was go time. Suddenly, a bunch of random people were streaming into the room, and I wasn't sure who they were or why they were there. At least three of them were from the Advanced Life Support team in case anything went terribly wrong. It was pretty surreal to be laying in the hospital bed with my legs spread wide open and a bunch of masked faces staring at me expectantly. I wasn't in pain thanks to the epidural, but I felt enough pressure to know when to push. They held a mirror up so I could see what was going on, and I could see a little tuft of black hair emerging from my vagina. They asked if I wanted to touch his head, and it felt soft and squishy and not at all what I imagined a baby's head to feel like. "It feels weird," I said, and the doctor laughed. Adam helped me count down the pushes, and suddenly baby Hawthorn was coming out. At 2:22pm, after 28 minutes of easy pushing, our baby boy had arrived! He came in weighing 7 lbs 10 oz, and measuring 18.5 inches long.

Meeting Baby Hawthorn
I felt a gush of relief when I heard him crying, and right away they laid him down on my chest. He was covered in poop and slime, and I cried with happiness and looked at Adam in awe. The funny thing was how normal I felt. I've heard some women describe the moment of birth as this mind-blowing, heart-expanding experience, but it wasn't quite like that for me. I was extremely happy of course, and I loved him with all my heart, but I didn't feel "different". I just felt like me, except with a baby - in a good way. I remember looking down at my stomach shortly after he was born, and thinking, "OMG it's still huge. I can't wait to start working out." Mostly I felt relieved that we'd both made it out alive. In a lot of ways, I think I became a mother the moment I found out I was pregnant over nine months ago. We'd been trying for a nearly a year, and I wasn't even sure if it was possible, so that was more of a mind-blowing moment for me.

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What was it like to give birth during a pandemic? 
Hawthorn was born in a crazy time on our planet - right in the midst of a global pandemic. I was concerned about the coronavirus for sure, but to be honest it wasn't at the top of my list of fears. While millions of women give birth safely each year, there are rare and scary bad things that can happen. My biggest fears about childbirth were in this order: #1 - Having  a stillborn baby due to an umbilical cord accident. #2 - Dying during labor due to an induction gone wrong. #3 - Excruciating pain. #4 - Getting sick with COVID-19. I'd been going to the hospital for weekly check-ups prior to giving birth, and I felt pretty safe. Everyone wore masks and practiced social distancing, and there were security checks at the entrance. Plus, the hospitals were pretty quiet since all elective procedures had been cancelled and doctors were doing telemedicine appointments for sick people. I gave birth at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns which is dedicated to delivering babies and doesn't admit sick patients. I took a coronavirus test a few days before I went into labor, and found out I was negative the day I was admitted into the hospital so that was very reassuring.

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Welcome to Parenthood
We are two weeks into parenthood, and I'm happy to report so far so good. It's tiring and all-consuming for sure, but we aren't sleep-deprived zombies or anything like that. We're very fortunate because Adam has three weeks of paternity leave, and I'm taking three months off from school. Plus my mom is here to help. I've dreamed of being a mother my whole life, and this is everything I wanted. I'm sure we have a lifetime of challenges ahead, but mostly we are overjoyed to have sweet baby Hawthorn in our lives. It's early days of course, but I'll be sure to keep you posted! Much love and gratitude to the doctors and nurses who were so nice and helped bring our baby safely into the world. I'm also grateful to our doula Rosie for her support even though she couldn't come to the hospital. And most of all thank you to Adam who was my rock during this whole experience, and I couldn't have done it without him.

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