If my journey could give you any hope

9 weeks pregnant in Sorrento | Italy

To have my first pregnancy journey end with a birth story I did not know was possible, was everything I know of His unfathomable grace. I mean as much as Hollywood and pop culture romanticize pregnancies, in reality (I speak for myself at least) they are rather terrifying things!

We don’t talk a lot about the anxiety, fears, uncertainties that come with pregnancies. Is it ectopic? Is the nuchal too thick? Is the heart still beating? Is there chromosomal or inheritable genetic issues? Is the placenta going to hold up? Is my cervix competent? Is there trauma from a premmie or stillborn? The silent world of postpartum, too. Then throw unplanned into the mix. I will be first to raise my hand to say I was a complete pregnancy noob especially being pregnant far far away from family and friends.

Yet I suppose the beautiful thing about our faith is how we can always trade in our fears for Faith to anchor us through it all. Just what good is our faith if not for the need to cling onto it with all we’ve got, literally.

So adventure was the theme of my first pregnancy journey from day one when I discovered our surprised pregnancy. We had just moved to the Washington DC area two months ago and have yet to even locate our PCP (primary care provider), instead I had to mad scramble to look for a legitimate OBGYN provider to confirm the pregnancy.

Being my first pregnancy, navigating the American healthcare system was quite the challenge! (I may have been spoilt by “universal health care” systems in countries I’ve previously lived in: Singapore, Australia and Denmark.) Even so, I also had reservations going down the conventional route of OBGYN care and delivering at a hospital.

After learning about birth centers in Colorado where we had moved from, I fell in love with birth center deliveries with midwifery care, or even a home birth.

Birth centers are rare in our new city sadly, the closest and best one I found is about an hour drive away, not great for having a winter baby with snow storms and the like. We even toured the facility and loved it, but when my 20-week anatomy scan showed “abnormalities” in the baby, a hospital birth became imminent in the event if she needed surgery upon birth. Unwillingly, I relented to a hospital birth but held on to the belief of still finding something… different.

There was nothing really wrong about the OBGYN team I was seeing that was just 10 minutes from where we live vs. an hour travel to see the birth center’s midwives. But besides midwifery care having a more wellness and empowering approach, I also wanted the option of a water (tub) birth, which birth centers and midwives are well-known for. Serendipitously, I came across George Washington University Hospital in DC — which has a “midwifery track” AND water birth.

They are one of the rare hospitals in the country that offers the option of traditional OBGYN doctors, or, midwifery care. And even rarer, to have birthing tubs in their delivery rooms for possible water birth option. And the GW hospital was also just 10 minutes from where we lived, I was so thrilled. As I always have the impression that midwifery care offers a more holistic and empowering approach to pregnancy.

I had just entered my third trimester when I found them and needed to be in exceptional health to be accepted in the midwifery track, which I thankfully was. Oh Grace! And sure enough, even in just the 10 weeks or so I had with them, I felt really educated and empowered going into my first labor and delivery. Despite it being widely known that labor for first pregnancies are often long and tend to be rather traumatic, I felt the GW midwives prepared me really well for what was to come.

Even as well-meaning folks told me there is nothing that can prepare you for what labor feels like… we did go into labor and delivery over-prepared with essentials for a long labor only to have everything untouched! (Believe me, we’ve already packed super light compared to other families we saw, we pretty much just had a carry-on roller bag.)

The only thing I was not prepared for was how quick it can all be.

On the night of the 92nd Oscars, the day right after I turned full term at 38 weeks, I started mild contractions 10 to 20 minutes apart at 9pm. We called my midwife, who said to us to just monitor the intensity (which I have no point of reference for). That morning too, I thought I have had a “bloody show” and did also email my midwife to give a heads up. I’ve been having braxton hicks contractions for several weeks as well, but conventional knowledge would tell you that it’s common for all that signs and yet, labor is still likely at week 40 or late for first time moms.

The husband was super helpful in getting me through every wave of contraction. But at 2am, the contractions dropped to just 1 to 2 minutes apart all of a sudden, sending us mad rushing to the hospital. I did feel the pain was manageable but piling on quicker, and I could walk to our apartment’s elevator and into our car. The “birth plan” by then was to get to the hospital and maybe take the epidural, so we could both get some sleep as it was 3am — and I’m not gung-ho enough to think I have it in me to push a baby out while my body and mind just want to sleep.

Maybe it’s the athlete in me but, I found labor and delivery is really more of a mental game.

So we got to the hospital at 3am, since they weren’t at all expecting me there so quickly, it wasn’t until 3:45am that I was finally admitted into a triage waiting room for examination by my midwife. Turns out I was already 8cm dilated to the surprise of everyone as it’s a first pregnancy. I was transferred to a delivery room, and by 4:30am I was fully dilated to start pushing — there was no time to get the epidural, or get into the birthing tub which I’m still pretty gutted about (next baby, maybe).

I was not prepared to push ‘on land’ on my back, and as it turned out I sucked at it. Ha. I had no idea the (bio)mechanics of it (uh I didn’t take physics in school) so I didn’t follow the coaching of the nurses and my midwife very well. Only after the baby was pushed out did I realized I was pushing all wrong. So it took 2 hours that could have been over in 20 minutes, as strands of the baby’s hair were out by then so she was just camping out in there waiting for me to get the pushing right. Ha.

Finally at 6:30am, the husband caught the baby with the assistance of our midwife — we did it! (Right on time as the funny thing is we had hastily parked our car on the street, and the husband needed to move it by 7am to not get a ticket.) But wow, the entire labor and delivery took just about 3 hours from admission to delivery! It still fascinates me to this day how I had gone from “early labor” to “transition” — skipping the long “active labor” part, no 5-1-1 — I didn’t know that is possible.

And once in transition, I actually didn’t quite notice the contractions pain and just flowed with it. But my very terrible pushing technique meant I ended up with terribly sore biceps! The baby crowning “ring of fire” moment was truly epic — it’s a type of pain that is in a league of its own. But also the end will be so close in sight you probably will just be mad pushing than to dwell on it. So it took me two big pushes after that and I got away with a mild second degree tear which healed in no time.

It also fascinated my birthing team that my water did not break. My amniotic sac was strong and in tact that I pushed it out like a thick balloon that refused to pop. I didn’t know that’s possible too. My midwife says this shows it’s very nourished and healthy, which means a lot to me having my first child at 34 — as it goes against conventional belief of how pregnancy must become “harder” on the body with age. Not necessary at all. For there is the gift of Grace upon Grace we can reach into.

As with all things in my life, it’s all in His timing, not the world’s.

And this concludes my first pregnancy not short of His wonder and in awe of how He held the noob in me through. May this offer hope to anyone who would relate to my journey — keep holding fast sweet friend. Know that there will be a story He has for you that is uniquely you and yours. Here’s Maise Averie cheering you on.

(Ps. Read about her name here.)

Maise Averie Lee 이예은 / 李艺恩 | Week 12
Born spontaneously on 10 Feb, 6:30am, in Washington DC

// the four-part pregnancy diaries //

Part I: Our sex life (or how the baby happened)

Part II: When the baby survived a miscarriage

Part III: The “abnormal” baby and the Knitter

Part IV: If my journey could give you any hope