By Pin-Ching Cynthia Tsai Dulworth, Chicago, Illinois, USA
I never thought I would breastfeed my baby because I was not breastfed. I also never believed I could face birth. After all, pain as tiny as a paper cut drives me crazy! But all those assumptions began to change when a family friend who is a former La Leche League Leader gifted to me The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding when I was pregnant.
Becoming a Book Worm and Choosing Baby Friendly
That book, along with attending a doula’s prenatal classes, was essential in teaching me valuable information about breastfeeding, birth and motherhood. I was able to shed some doubts and concerns as I learned that a mother can breastfeed her baby regardless of the size of her breasts. I also learned that some interventions at birth can negatively affect breastfeeding by making babies too tired to nurse effectively, which in turn can affect a mom’s milk production. As I increased my determination to breastfeed and birth naturally, my husband and I sought out the only Baby Friendly hospital in our area to ensure our baby would spend precious time skin-to-skin on my chest after birth, to help get breastfeeding off to a good start.
Still, a few months before birth I often found myself in tears, fearing the pain of labor. So, I did more research; read tons of books about pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding; attended a new moms’ group to hear other moms’ experiences; and attended local La Leche League meetings.
Yoga and Affirmations for Courage
New routines also increased my positivity. Prenatal yoga became my morning regimen for strength and relaxation. Instead of eating out, my husband and I started cooking more iron and protein-rich home cooked meals together. I also prayed daily for courage and comfort, and gathered encouraging affirmations. I started trusting my body, embracing all its incredible abilities. The more that I educated myself and took care of my body, the more I let go of fear. After discussing my birth and breastfeeding plan in detail with my doula and my midwife group, I felt ready to accomplish my goal of a natural, non-medicated birth.
Ready, Set, Birth!
I believe there is a special connection between a mother and an unborn baby. Once I got to the 39-week pregnant mark, I started resting more than usual, as if my baby was signaling my body to prepare as she was getting ready to meet the world. I had been at a standstill: one centimeter dilated for a week. In addition, my cervix had thinned out and my baby’s head was low. Yet I was having no signs of active labor.
At a prior appointment with my midwife, we had discussed some natural ways to induce labor and the possibility of induction if my baby was still not born after 41 weeks. I was determined to avoid being induced so that I could maintain more control of my body and stay away from medications which might affect breastfeeding.
But thankfully induction wasn’t a concern as in the middle of the night, at just over 39 weeks pregnant, a little bit of blood made me remember what a doula had told me about a “mucus plug.” I can still remember my call to the midwife right after, “Is this what you mean by a mucus plug?” The on-call midwife reassured me. Then fifteen minutes later, I rang her again as my water broke and my body was shaking—with no contractions in sight. She reassured me again: all is normal.
My mind quickly settled back to a calm state as I reminded myself: I am prepared. Our midwife gave us the option to stay at home for now. My husband made me some scrambled eggs to boost my energy, as he knew I wouldn’t be allowed to eat at the hospital.
Not long after, the contractions started up gradually. Deep breathing helped me cope. Meanwhile, I was even able to catch a little sleep in between contractions and take a relaxing shower.
Several hours later, my husband and I decided that it was time to go to the hospital. In the triage area, they determined I was now four centimeters dilated! The contractions were getting closer and closer together.
The hospital admitted me, and I was immediately transferred to the labor and delivery room. Labor progressed faster than I thought. I was already at 7.5 centimeters dilated in just three hours! I had planned to be moving around at this point, but I found it more comfortable to stay in bed.
“Let’s turn on your playlist,” my husband intuitively recommended what I needed. Classical music always soothes me, perhaps because as a pianist it feels like coming home. Meanwhile, my doula gave me a gentle massage whenever contractions came. I imagined the contractions were waves that come and go, and used rhythmic breathing and deep humming to try to remain calm. Surprisingly, I was so relaxed that I was able to fall asleep for a little bit in between contractions and even smile occasionally at the thought of my baby’s arrival!
The Final Push
By noon, I was fully dilated and ready to push. My mother-in-law, who inspired me to choose a non-medicated birth and breastfeeding, had just landed in Chicago. She rushed to the hospital as the pushing commenced.
By then I was getting onto all fours for the first 45 minutes of pushing, as if I was doing yoga. Gravity really helped me! Then I switched to laying on my side for a few pushes. Finally, I felt my long-awaited baby moving through the tunnel and had more confidence in controlling my muscles there.
Before my final push, I touched my little one’s head with my hands and determined to gather every working muscle I could to push that baby out. Within a minute, the room was filled with a triumphant cry from our baby. My husband joyfully announced, “It is a girl!” I’ve never felt so powerful in my life. I was so proud of myself, my baby, and my amazing coaching team (my dear husband and doula). And I felt so lucky.
Thankfully, my labor was not as painful as some birth stories. Still, it required courage and fully trusting my body’s abilities. Our daughter seemed so content skin-to-skin on my chest. She held onto my finger tightly with her tiny hand as we enjoyed our first quality cuddle time.
Not long after her birth, she started showing some hunger signs with sucking motions on her lips. I knew she must have been exhausted from working hard with her mommy during labor, and likely hungry. My mother-in-law later described the incredible flip our precious daughter performed as she moved through the tunnel to come out into the world.
We had a magical first nursing session in laidback position with our fabulous nurse checking on the latch while my daughter continued holding my finger. We stayed in the labor and delivery room about two hours after the birth and soaked up every possible moment with our baby girl. We also shared many beautiful pictures with family and friends.