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Asian Birth Story: On Birth & Grief

Selene is a postpartum doula who lives in Berkeley, CA. She has two children, ages 8 and 6. She transitioned to a career working with new parents and babies after her own experiences with becoming a parent.

"When I started to feel like I couldn’t do it anymore, Dr. Barraez told me to reach down and feel my baby’s head emerging. I felt this soft, hairy surface and I was like, “Isn’t that me? Isn’t that my vulva?” When he assured me it was my baby, it gave me the strength to keep pushing because I knew there was a little piece of him right there already."

Chinese Identity and Food

My mom, who passed away in 2016, was Chinese and my dad is white of Eastern European Jewish descent, so I've always navigated a dual identity. I like to tell people I'm half Chinese, but my stomach is 100% Chinese. My mother was a wonderful cook and food was her love language.

I was gifted the book The First Forty Days during my second pregnancy, and it felt like a lightbulb clicked on. I think my mother would have taught me some of the more traditional Chinese medicines, foods, and postpartum practices had she been in better health at the time of my son’s birth, and I really felt the loss of that. When I read The First Forty Days, it was like a window into how my mother would have cared for me had she been able to.

The book; The First Forty Days by Heng Ou

On Birth and Grief

My mother had a genetic kidney disease and eventually became very ill. By the time I had my son, she was too sick to support me through my postpartum period, but I have fond memories of her sitting in her wheelchair in the kitchen, instructing me on her recipes. She passed away when my son was three months old. It felt like they were ships passing in the night. I am so grateful that they had a little bit of time together. We have this amazing photo of my son, Drew and me, and all four of our parents. It's such a rare thing to have. It kind of looks like one of those formal family portraits you'd see in an old black and white photo album.

On Reproductive Challenges

I had a hard time conceiving. With the help of acupuncture & a reproductive endocrinologist I conceived once before my son and miscarried at around six and a half weeks. My son was conceived immediately after my miscarriage so I never really sat deeply with that grief. To our surprise, a year after I had my son, I fell pregnant with my daughter. It felt like my body had figured out what to do.

Birth Story

My son’s due date was February 27th. I’d been having Braxton Hicks contractions for a few days prior and they eventually transformed into more intense contractions. I was cooking up a storm that day to stock up on ready made meals. I didn’t know it at the time, but this is when everything started.

That night, our friends brought taco salad for dinner because that was what she believed sent her into labour during her birth. It turned out to be the last meal I ate before going into labor too.

I had a few contractions during dinner but they still felt like they might be early. At some point I had slipped away and went upstairs without saying anything to anyone. I tried some yoga poses & updated my doula, Rosy. By the time Drew realised I had disappeared, things were really starting to move. We called Rosy again and when she heard my voice she immediately said, “Yeah, this sounds like labor. Just hang in there, I’ll be there soon.”

Rosy arrived at our home shortly after. I labored at home for a few hours, lying in bed, using pillows to try to get comfortable. Our cat snuggled up with me – it felt like she knew what was happening and was standing guard. I loved standing in the shower, the hot water felt really good on my lower back. At some point I threw up the whole taco salad. It did its job! (I couldn’t look at a taco salad for years after.)

As the contractions grew more and more intense, I wasn’t sure if I could go through with an unmedicated birth as I had hoped. Rosy was so calm and validating and affirming, guiding me through each moment as it came. I kept saying , “I can’t believe women have done this for millenia. Holy shit, women are strong!” When it came time to head to the hospital, I was having such intense lower back pain that there was no way I could fathom sitting in the car. I kneeled on the floor, facing backwards in the front passenger seat with a bucket next to me in case I needed to throw up again. We had a 25 mile drive ahead of us, late at night, on the icy rural roads of Columbia County, New York. It was an intense drive. 

Once we were admitted, we were there for another ten hours. We handed out copies of my birth plan to everyone, kept the room dark and Rosy let everyone know that I wanted to be left alone as much as possible. I had to have a fetal monitor around my belly and IV antibiotics, but I was still able to move around. 

My son was in the OP (occiput posterior) position (head down but facing my front rather than my back) so his hard skull was pressing against the back of my pelvis. The only room with a birthing tub the hospital had was unavailable so I spent A LOT of time in the shower just letting the hot water run down my back. It was the most intense back labour.

Drew had made me a couple of labor playlists – one upbeat, one relaxing. I remember feeling energetic and dancing to some upbeat grooves while leaning on the sink in the bathroom. Swinging my hips to the music really helped me ride the waves of contractions. Eventually I got so tired and all I wanted to do was listen to some hypnobirthing tracks. They were so calming and even allowed me to nap for a minute or two between contractions.

As I was getting close to pushing, a young intern came into our room. He just seemed so eager, like maybe he’d never attended a birth before and I was like “No way, this is not the vibe.” I had a great relationship with my OB, Dr. Barraez, who had attended a birth earlier that night and had gone home to get some sleep. I begged my nurses to see if he would come back because I trusted him and felt comfortable with him. In some ways, it felt like my body waited until he came back to start pushing.

Dr. Barraez must have gotten there around 8AM and I pushed from then until 10:15, when my son was born. I pushed in a lot of different positions – on all fours, with pillows propping me up, on my side with a peanut yoga ball between my knees, sitting up in the bed. When I started to feel like I couldn’t do it anymore, Dr. Barraez told me to reach down and feel my baby’s head emerging. I felt this soft, hairy surface and I was like, “Isn’t that me? Isn’t that my vulva?” When he assured me it was my baby, it gave me the strength to keep pushing because I knew there was a little piece of him right there already. Once his head was out, the rest of him just kind of slipped out. Dr. Barraez coached Drew through catching the baby himself, which was really special.

From there, things just slowed down. Drew brought the baby up to my chest and I just held him and cried. We did skin-to-skin for a long time and waited on cord-clamping. The hospital staff were very accommodating in holding off on all the tests and treatments, or doing them while I held my son. They were so supportive and helpful with breastfeeding, and it felt magical to feed him for the first time. 

Postpartum healing through rest and food

My postpartum period was kind of amazing. It was just the three of us at home, in our own little cocoon. We deliberately asked family to hold off on coming to stay with us. I was on such a natural high for days after giving birth. All that oxytocin coursing through my body. I had these intense, creative bursts where I felt like I could just see things so clearly. And then there were moments when I was just so giddy, laughing at the most ridiculous things. It was so funny and hilarious and just kind of magical.

We read up on safe co-sleeping as we learned our baby liked to be held. All that back labor took a toll on my pelvis and tailbone so going up and down stairs was really hard at first. It ended up being such a blessing in disguise because we just stayed in bed snuggling, sleeping, breastfeeding, and were both mostly naked most of the time. 

Our church community set up a meal train and fed us for three weeks straight. They dropped meals off at our door every day. We didn’t have to shop, or cook, or do much cleanup. Drew would put the food on a tray and bring it upstairs to me so I could eat in bed. It was pretty glorious.

Being fed and cared for and allowed to just rest and bond with my baby was the most incredible gift. It wasn’t a full zuo yuezi (traditional Chinese confinement), but it is exactly what my mother would have wanted to give me, and I am eternally grateful to the amazing community that made it possible. I still reminisce about that period all the time; I tell my kids about it and show them pictures when we’re snuggling in bed, and revisit that sweet time. Parenthood has by no means been a cakewalk, but I feel that that gentle beginning gave us such a strong foundation for the journey ahead. It is what I wish for all birthing people in their postpartum.


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