It’s only been 2 weeks since I gave birth and it already feels like so long ago. I’m still in the thick of the newborn fog, feeding or pumping every 2-3 hours and trying to eat healthy and sleep as much as I can to recover but overall, I’m feeling great. If you follow me on Instagram you would know that I’m a huge advocate for postpartum care for mothers after childbirth and I’m doing what I’m not typically good at- asking for help. My mom is here for 3 weeks to help and I also hired a postpartum doula which is a very common practice in my Korean culture. I want to dedicate another blog post to the importance of having help during the postpartum period but first, the birth story.
Why I wanted a natural childbirth this 4th time around
There is no right or wrong way to give birth to a new baby. Whether baby is delivered via C-section or vaginally, with or without medication, each labor and delivery is special and meaningful in its own way. I know this because while some births and recovery were easier than others, every birth and postpartum period was special in its own way.
This time though, I had my heart set on a different type of birth. After 3 epidural and pitocin births, I wanted to experience a non-medicated, natural birth with minimal medical intervention. (You can read my previous birth story using epidural here.)
Why choose to go through the pain, you may ask?
There are many reasons but the most important reason was that I wanted to experience the natural birthing hormones that all the books and mothers talk about. I live a pretty natural and holistic life so I already know the importance of listening to our body. I also know the power and strength of the human body and know that childbirth is just a natural process that mothers go through to bring a new life into the world. After all, women from all over the world have been doing this for centuries so it has to be something I can do too.
But of course, there was that fear of the pain, fear of childbirth, fear of something going wrong, fear from horrible birth stories, fear, fear, fear.
If there’s one thing that my 30’s taught me is that I should never let fear make choices for me. This was one of those instances where I couldn’t give into fear to make an important decision like childbirth. The more I researched it, thought about it and talked to other women about it, the more certain I became.
Once I began asking around, so many women began sharing their positive birth stories without epidural. They all repeated the same story of how the natural endorphin and oxytocin made them feel so empowered and joyous after giving birth and how speedy their recovery was. Many also talked about the euphoria and natural high for days following childbirth.
Most notably, women told me that their bodies miraculously knew exactly what to do during labor, which was completely opposite from my 3 previous births with inductions, epidurals and being on my back for hours, not knowing when I’m ready to push until the doctor tells me so.
I wanted to experience a natural child birth where I trust my body to know exactly what to do. I was ready to deal with the pain because I knew the pain is temporary. Like my doula reminded me, I can get through anything for 10 minutes, especially because this pain comes with a gift at the end. After 3 kids and years of being scared of the pain, I finally felt ready to lean into the pain and experience a natural labor the way our ancestors have been doing it for years.
I had made up my mind.
I carried all three kids up to 40 weeks so I didn’t think I was going to have the baby much sooner. I was getting Braxton hicks for months and mild cramps for weeks, so these symptoms were nothing new. Baby was sitting low forever and I’m pretty sure I was dilated and effaced for some time, but I also knew none of these numbers really mattered because I went 40 weeks while being 3 cm dilated and 80% effaced for over a month with my third baby. So really, you never know.
So the last Sunday before my due date came and I entered 39 weeks. I went to church that morning and prayed for a baptismal name. I had a few names in mind for her but none that stood out as truly special. I named all my kids inspired by different saints because I believe we are all called to sainthood in our little ways, whether one is a parent, single, married or divorced. We all have our own unique callings and paths to God and I want each of my children’s name to truly reflect this spirit.
Shortly after mass, I heard of Kobe Bryant’s tragic death. As an LA native and Kobe fan for years I was truly heartbroken over the loss and in mourning. Soon after, I heard about his daughter Gianna. Oh how heartbroken I felt. I didn’t want to be too sad during the final days of my pregnancy but it was hard to shake off the feelings of loss and sadness. Kobe and his daughter Gianna were all over the news and my feed. My husband too, was in shock and grieving.
I was getting mild cramping off and on for days but something felt different in the air that day. At around 11 pm that night, I felt warm water trickling down. Shortly later, I felt more warm water. Can this be my water breaking?
Headed to the hospital
I was so set on a natural labor without augmentation because I knew using pitocin will lessen my chance of going unmedicated. Pitocin is a synthetic form of oxytocin that augments labor so it can make your contractions stronger than without, which means the pain may be less manageable. I tried to be home as long as I can just waiting until contractions get stronger naturally but nothing was happening, even until the next morning, besides mild cramping and discomfort.
I finally called the hospital around 10 am. They told me I needed to come in because it has already been too long since my water broke. I was bummed but also knew I couldn’t risk my baby having an infection. I finished packing up my hospital bag and told my husband to finish up work. I wasn’t in a hurry because this being my 4th child, I knew the first part of my labor usually takes long. (You can read my 3 day prodromal labor story here).
My husband came home around noon and we headed out to the hospital. I felt anxious and nervous. I also felt my hormones surging and my mindset becoming more focused and serious. It’s amazing how the female body just knows these things. Instinctively I knew I was going to meet my baby girl that day.
Checking in during early labor
We checked into the hospital and the nurses checked my dilation. Sure enough, I was 4 cm dilated and the test confirmed that my water has broken. This meant bad news for me- we had to begin using pitocin to augment my labor because labor wasn’t progressing on its own. I remembered feeling the same frustration with my 3rd baby, it turns out my body gets stuck in early labor and I need augmentation for it to speed up.
I told the midwife I don’t want to use pitocin because my “birth plan” is to have an unmedicated labor and I knew using pitocin makes this harder. I told her I want to experience a birth the way our ancestors did. She chuckled and said just remember not to push too fast and hysterically when you’re pushing at the end to prevent tears and stitches. I had no idea that this simple advice will make a huge difference at the end.
Despite my disappointment, I had to do what is safe for the baby. The nurse reminded me that birth plans rarely go as planned, that many mothers who bring written birth plans end up delivering via c-section or using other emergency measures. I reminded myself that my ultimate goal is to keep my baby safe and protected, that everything else is secondary.
Active labor to transition in less than an hour
I told my midwife and nurses that I only want minimal amount of pitocin because I wanted to use my body’s natural oxytocin as possible. They agreed, and I was hooked up to a pitocin drip for about 2-3 hours at 2 mU/min. I was having some contractions but nothing too painful, and when the midwife checked my dilation, I was at the same place at 4 cm. I was so disappointed and began having doubts about my body.
At that point, they had to increase the amount of the pitocin every 30 minutes so the contraction becomes more painful and effective. They increased it in increments of 2 mU, at 4 mU than later 6 mU/min. The midwife also had to place an internal contraction monitor to track the intensity of my contractions. At this point I was hooked up to a pitocin drip, an IV (a requirement when using pitocin) and an internal contraction monitor. I was so bummed because I wanted to labor in different positions and be able to walk around freely. Luckily they made it easier for me to walk around as needed, even though I had to drag the equipment with me when using the bathroom or walking around the room.
Then about 30 minutes later– BOOM, the first painful contraction came, then it picked up really fast. My contractions were becoming stronger and more painful. My doula made it just in time and helped me through each contraction by reminding me of breathing techniques, playing positive birthing affirmations, and massaging my back. She also played a birthing soundtrack on YouTube and brought a peanut ball to open up my pelvic area. She also knew different pressure points that can help with managing the pain.
What contraction pains feel like
I know this is what many women are curious about when it comes to natural labor. We hear it’s painful, but just how painful is it?
Active labor contractions are painful but manageable. You just need to remember that each painful contraction is bringing the baby down the birth canal– so the pain MEANS something. There’s also a rest period in between contractions that allows some time to breathe and re-gather yourself so that helps a lot. I’m usually good at meditating and visualizing, I have certain places I go to in my mind when I do this. I had originally thought I can go to the secret peaceful place in my mind during each contraction.
But when the contractions were actually happening I was so focused on the “here and now” that I wasn’t able to use any of the visualization techniques I had planned. Instead of allowing my mind to travel to a meditative place, I found myself just focused on getting through each contraction.
My doula was there by my side through each contraction massaging my back, using lavender essential oil, using pressure points during the pain and playing positive birthing affirmations by my ears. I don’t remember the exact affirmation but each affirmation helped a lot and it went something like this.
My body is powerful. My body is completely relaxed. I’m ready to meet my baby. My body and my baby know what to do. I am strong. My body is strong. I feel calm, confident, safe and grounded. I surrender this process to my body and my baby.
Each affirmation helped and whatever my doula was reminding me during each labor helped. I honestly don’t remember the details because I was just so focused on each contraction. One by one, I got through each painful contraction and despite the pain, I felt empowered that I was actually doing this without any pain medication.
I tried to feel each contraction as “waves” rather than “pain” or “contractions.” I reminded myself that each wave of pain is moving my baby down the birth canal, that this pain means something. I reminded myself I’m a part of Universe’s great design, that I’m bringing a new life into the world. I’m part of life’s miracle. These “waves” are just a part of this process. Let go and surrender to the process. All will be okay, I told myself.
The pain was there, but so was my concentration and determination. The hardest part was having to constantly go to the bathroom because of the ivy drip- that was really painful during the peak of my contractions but in an odd way, it felt good and relieving too.
Yes, our bodies know exactly what to do
What really amazes me about the entire birthing process is that our bodies know EXACTLY what to do and how to give birth. I knew when I wanted to stand, when I wanted to lay down, when I wanted to be on my side, on my back, etc. This is what many mothers told me and I finally know what they mean. Contrary to epidural births where the pain as well as other senses are numb, natural births allow you to be fully in sync with your body, despite the pain. You are so in tune with your body and the baby that even the pain becomes bearable for the most part. The pain becomes a part of you and the baby in a joint effort. It’s painful but also so beautiful- it’s a feeling I will forever remember and cherish.
What I also liked about the unmedicated birth is that I felt clear headed through the entire thing. No drowsiness or numbness. I felt alert, clear-headed and focused. I felt in full control over my body and mind. The only thing I didn’t like was the rawness of it all- the pain, the blood, the tears.
But I will later find out, the pain, blood and tears come with a huge gift at the end.
What really helped during labor
- back massages
- essential oils
- calming birth affirmations
- support and reminders during contractions
- peanut ball (this really helped my pelvic bone to open up and labor to progress faster)
- an open mind and state of surrender to the pain and the process
- support from husband and doula
- ongoing communication with the nurses and midwife or doctor
Transition is the final phase of the labor, following early and active labor. This is when a woman progresses from 7 to 10 cm, often in less than an hour. I went from 4 cm to 10 cm in less than an hour and it was the most intense part for me.
From my research, I knew that this is when most women reach their limit. After hours of enduring active labor pain, you feel like you can’t possibly endure even greater pain. I was in so much pain that this is when I almost gave up. I told the nurses that I need an epidural, that I don’t think I can go on any longer. I even signed for the epidural in between my contractions. The contractions were coming so close together I got scared that this pain will just continue and I’ll no longer be able to sit still.
At one point I said “I feel like crying.” One of the nurses said “It’s okay to cry, go ahead and cry.” Then I remember holding onto the side of the bed and just crying. I don’t know if I wanted to cry because of the pain or because I felt overwhelmed but I cried for a few minutes.
As I was in this very emotional state, I asked the nurse when the anesthesiologist is coming. She said I have to first get an entire bag of fluid through IV before I can get the epidural. Then she said she will first check my dilation before she follows up with the anesthesiologist. I began feeling pressure like I need to push.
She checked my dilation then to my dismay, said “there’s no time for an epidural, the baby’s head is right there!”
I was in shock. So all the pain and emotions I was feeling was due to being in transition. I knew this was the hardest and most intense part of labor and I had somehow gotten through it. It was the most empowering and relieving feeling ever.
All the nurses were preparing for my delivery and the midwife came into the room. She said “Angela, remember what I told you earlier? Just focus on my voice.”
This was the most intense part of the delivery and I became super focused. There was no time for an epidural and I needed to push this baby out. All other sounds drowned out and I focused on the midwife’s voice. She told me to keep blowing which helped a ton. It kept me breathing regularly, which helped to move the baby down.
I also tuned into my baby– it’s as if we were truly one and we both knew how to get her out of my body, into the world.
For me, pushing is the best part because it’s the final part of the entire ordeal- the conception, 10 months of pregnancy, hours of painful labor. This is the home stretch, when you reach that finish line after the longest marathon of your life.
This is also when I feel most connected to my body and the baby and I get to participate in this beautiful miracle of life.
In less than a minute of pushing, she came out. It was the most intense and amazing feeling ever. The relief and joy you feel after the baby comes out is like no other feeling in the world. I had done it. She was out, her cry was loud and strong and I got to experience a beautiful, unmedicated birth, even with medical intervention.
I felt so strong and powerful. I felt immense love and joy. I loved my body. I loved my baby. I loved my life. I loved that moment.
The euphoric feelings of natural birthing hormones are real. The high lasted days for me, even weeks. I felt so energized and euphoric and I was able to walk 30 minutes later with minor soreness. I couldn’t believe how great I felt, which is opposite from the extreme fatigue I felt after delivering my other children with epidural.
I was so “high” on natural birthing hormones I actually said “I want to do that again,” as I was being transferred to the postpartum room. Obviously I didn’t mean it, but that’s how euphoric I felt after giving birth.
Recovery and postpartum
My recovery was so smooth and fast, it’s the fastest recovery out of all 4 kids. Baby Gia was born healthy without any sign of distress or complication and I was doing so well, that we were discharged from the hospital in less than 24 hours. The hospital didn’t allow kids to visit due to the flu season, so we couldn’t wait to be back home with our kids so they can finally meet their youngest sister.
Unlike my 3rd delivery where I was too tired to do anything besides breastfeeding, I was actually able to breastfeed, change her diapers and just soak in every moment at the hospital.
Was labor painful without meds? Sure it was. But do I regret my decision to have an unmedicated labor? No, absolutely not.
Overall, the hype was real. I felt a lot better after having an unmedicated labor and recovery was much smoother too. I also put more time and energy into nourishing my body after childbirth and really took care of myself postpartum. In about a week, I felt great. Two weeks later, I feel 100% back to my normal self.
I know unmedicated birth isn’t for everyone, but I highly recommend you to look into it if you’re intrigued about it like I was. Childbirth pains are not to be feared, it’s a natural part of life and motherhood, and you may have a great experience like I did with faster recovery and healing. And the natural birthing hormones are real and I’m still amazed at the female body.
If I were to have another child, I would 100% choose to go unmedicated again.
Thank you for reading this long birth story and stay tuned for my postpartum care story. Meanwhile, meet Gia Rumi, my 4th and precious daughter!
Gia Rumi, born on January 27, 2020 weighing 7 lbs. 10 oz. 20 inches.