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Asian Birth Story: Journey of Infertility & Birth

"I was losing steam and still feeling my stomach being pushed up through my esophagus at every push but also I was terrified for my baby. Was he okay?? Push. Push. Push."

Learning about your pregnancy

My journey to motherhood was not easy. We suffered from unexplained infertility possibly connected to PCOS, a condition I was diagnosed with when I was 16 and had irregular periods. I had cysts on my ovaries and was told that I may have trouble conceiving. This was always in the back of my mind as I navigated adulthood.

We went through fertility treatment with several rounds of unsuccessful IUIs and then IVF. After two years and two failed rounds, I got pregnant on the 3rd try.

In my culture, IVF is a very taboo subject. I was embarrassed to tell anyone that is how I conceived. Even talking to my own parents, I felt some shame. Due to the miscarriages and how we conceived, I did not do any big pregnancy announcements nor posted many pics of my growing belly. Looking back, I wish I was more open about our journey.

On Pregnancy

I loved being pregnant and aside from having really bad indigestion, I enjoyed it every step of the way. I wanted a mid-wife or doula but my husband did not support the idea. I regret this. He was by my side and did his best, but he was as frightened and nervous as I was during the birth. The nurses and doctors I had were amazing. I'm also lucky to have been surrounded by friends who already had children who were very open and supportive of my pregnancy.

The Birth Experience: Labor and Delivery

I gave birth at Kaiser in SF. I remember the contractions being painful but I wasn't prepared for was the shaking. I remember shaking the whole time, either in stress or fear or cold. I opted for fentanyl by IV to take the edge off. I had hoped to go without pain meds but it was too much for me to bear because my contractions were irregular, often without rest in between. Later on, I got an epidural and could take a nap!

The night before I had a huge meal - bad advice someone gave me. I remember that I insisted on going to the bathroom to poop so that I didn't end up doing it on the table. The providers broke my water and noticed the baby pooped in utero. This led to many doctors coming into the room for extra monitoring. 

I was pushing and pushing but with no progress. I felt embarrassed and shame. No one made me feel this way, it was how I perceived myself. Finally, they gave me something else to drink and I finally threw up. I was mortified but also feeling better. It's kind of like one of those really drunk nights when your head is spinning and you throw up in a bag in the car.

After pushing for 2 hours, I was losing steam and still feeling my stomach being pushed up through my esophagus at every push but also I was terrified for my baby. Was he okay?? Push. Push. Push. 

After being told that I might need a c-section if I didn't push, with one last push and scream, out he came. They took him immediately to make sure he didn't ingest too much liquid or feces. I was scared and praying for his safety. My husband took a picture so I know what he looked like right after birth, but it was a little while later that I finally got to hold my sweet baby in my arms.

Don't eat a big meal the night before. Get more support with active labor breathing. Be open about my experience and seek help when needed. Advocate for yourself and your needs. I learned a lot from my 1st birth and my 2nd was the complete opposite.

Postpartum Experience: Life with a Newborn

I recovered very quickly physically and emotionally, I had some blues but overall I was over the moon. I had my placenta encapsulated and I think it helped. Breastfeeding was painful and slow and I wish I offered formula. I think it took 4-5 weeks for my milk to fully come in. To this day, I think my son is on the smaller side because I was so adamant about EBF (exclusive breast feeding). I felt the pressure to and I think he had slow growth after birth. 

EBF also meant all the night wakings were on me. Eventually this took a toll on my mental health and I wish I asked for help or gave myself some grace. I was very hard headed and insisted on controlling all aspects of my baby's first few months. The lack of sleep and stress of a newborn definitely took a toll on our marriage.

It took me a few months to get used to breastfeeding but we both got into rhythm and it was all good until.... month 4. My son contracted RSV and got very sick. We were just getting into the swing of life and boom. He stopped breastfeeding because he threw up every time after feeding. I was so terrified. At the doctors, they told us it was a stomach bug and to keep offering breast. 

Meanwhile, my milk was drying up and NO ONE told me to start pumping. It was during the holidays and I felt like the doctors were all in vacation mode. They sent us home and we were up all night for several days monitoring him. Finally, we went back after it didn't seem like he was getting better and they sent us to the ER because he was dehydrated. I cried my way to the ER, my whole body shaking. He threw up right outside one more time before we entered. I felt like the WORST mother in the world. 

Eventually, he was admitted to the hospital and because he was EBF he wouldn't take a bottle. He's a stubborn one like his mama too. It wasn't until days later when we had to go back to the ER (again) that a nurse finally asked me brought me a pump. We pumped day and night while offering him breast in between. 

We had to stay this time until he had a normal amount of urine. They had to use a catheter on my baby. My heart broke in so many ways and in so many parts during this trauma. In some ways, I am still healing. When he was ready to be discharged, it was only the beginning of our healing together. I felt guilt for having put my newborn baby through all of that. My partner didn't know how to support me with my mental health crisis. I developed PTSD from the experience, eventually needing a therapist to help with it. 

I know many mothers have experienced worse but I am finally able to say this was my journey and my story and I am proud of how much I have grown from it. It took another few months and a LOT of hard work to get my milk supply back. I never gave up and did supplement with formula while increasing my milk. each time I gave it to him, I cringed with shame. It was all so hard. But I made it through the dark tunnel. And my 2nd baby, I made sure he was fat and chubby with formula in those first early weeks. FED IS BEST!!!!!!!!!!

Our culture and identity

I think our culture influenced me a lot. From not getting a doula (because it is a "hippy white thing to do") to having my pride or vanity get in the way of my labor experience. I actually looked for an Asian doula in the Bay Area but no luck so I gave up, especially without the support of my spouse. I am so glad I pushed for the encapsulation of my placenta though! Overall, I felt supported during my pregnancy. 

It was during his sickness and the first days with the newborn that I felt unsupported. Mostly by my mom (she herself had an overwhelming mother so took a hands off approach which affected me in ways I didn't expect due to our history) and later by my spouse who bounced back quicker from the trauma than I did. We did the traditional 100 day ceremony, which I loved. My son also has a Japanese first name from his father's culture and a Chinese name given by my father. 

Like most things in my life, if I could do it again, I would do it MY way and not according to what I think others expect of me. With my 2nd child, I made sure to do it all the way I wanted to. This affected my relationship with each of them and will be interesting to see how it develops in the future. Pregnancy and especially LABOR (in ALL its forms and varieties) is nothing to be ashamed about. It is the most beautiful thing and I wish more of the Asian community would embrace this idea.


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