How Maggie Was Born

At around 1 a.m., I woke up with stomach pain. We had just gotten back from celebrating Christmas Eve with the family a few hours earlier, but this was more than post-turkey indigestion. I nudged Matt and said, “I think I’m having contractions.”

He turned over and spooned me for a bit, and then said I should try to sleep—we knew that if I was really in labor, I would need the extra energy later on. But I was too anxious and uncomfortable. So I laid there and waited.   

In the morning, I called my doula, Giuditta, and described to her what I was feeling: sporadic, cramp-like contractions that would come on strong and then slowly subside.

“It sounds like you’re in early labor,” she said cheerily. Knowing that this phase could last for many hours, she encouraged me to relax throughout the day. “Don’t read Google,” she advised, remembering my tendency to look up and freak myself out over every pregnancy complication imaginable. “Look at funny autocorrects. I’ll check in with you later. It’s a great day to have a baby!”

We cancelled our Christmas lunch plans and tried to distract ourselves to pass time. I bounced on a yoga ball in our bedroom while watching episode after episode of Friends. We took a walk around the block. My sister brought over some Chinese takeout (Chinese restaurants were pretty much the only thing open that day). We video chatted with my brother- and sister-in-law who live up north. It was all pretty calm and mundane.

Then, with the Clipper’s game on TV in the background, things started getting real. My contractions were getting stronger and happening more frequently.  Matt opened an app on his phone and started timing them. Five minutes apart. Sometimes less. It was time to call Giuditta.     

She drove on over to our house, and when she arrived, we chatted a bit about the holidays. She said that the fact that I could still carry a conversation meant that we still had some time before the baby would be here.

She had me sit on the yoga ball, then walk up and down the stairs (ugh) and then take a warm bath. It got to be about 10 p.m. and things didn’t seem to be progressing very quickly so she said we should all just try to sleep and then go to my scheduled doctor’s appointment the next morning.

Then, minutes after I crawled into bed, massive pain overtook my body. I started moaning. Matt hovered over me in the darkness as I clenched my body pillow in agony. “Do you want me to get Giuditta?” he asked. I nodded yes.

Giuditta came to my room, and I told her I wanted to go to the hospital now. She told me to get back into the tub. I looked at her like she was nuts, even though I knew the goal was for me to labor at home for as long as possible. I somehow made my way to the bathroom and shivered as the water splashed on my bare belly.

“Owwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!” I moaned.

This is what labor is,” Giuditta said. “You’re doing great. But instead of saying ‘ow,’ say, ‘WOW!’”

I really did want to follow her guidance, but when the next contraction came on shortly after, I thought, “THIS IS NOT ‘WOW.’ THIS IS OWWWWWW!’”

“OWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!” I screamed.

I think we were all surprised by my sudden change of state and decided it was time to go to the hospital. The dreaded 20-minute car ride unfolded exactly like in the movies—I screamed, gripped my seatbelt and cursed at red lights. I’m sure Matt was in complete terror, wondering if he would have to pull over and deliver the baby right then and there. When we finally rolled up to Labor & Delivery, I thought I would collapse in the front lobby. (I wonder how many scenes like this the security guard sees each day.)

They put me in a little office and sat me next to a woman at a computer, who asked me all sorts of questions that I could barely respond to because a human was about to come out of a human. I was assigned to a room, where a nurse checked the dilation of my cervix. “Seven,” she said.

Seven. Seven was good. (When you’re at 10, a baby shoots out of your vagina—or something like that.)

“Seven! That’s great!” Giuditta said with a sense of excitement that I myself just couldn’t muster. Several months before, we had talked about whether I wanted an epidural. Despite being a person who curls into fetal position when I stub my toe, I had watched the documentary The Business of Being Born and feared being pressured into having an induction and c-section, so I told her then that I would like to try to go without the epidural and “see how it goes.” Giuditta explained to me that being at seven meant I was close to delivering and that getting an epidural could slow the process by several hours. With a burst of motivation and a deep sigh, I declined the shot.

The contractions quickly escalated to a whole new level of intensity and I soon started to doubt my decision to channel my village ancestors and do this whohle thing drug-free. For months, I had listened to Giuditta’s hypnobirthing mp3s every night before going to sleep. During labor, I had planned to visualize my lady parts opening like a flower as I exhaled away my anxieties. But all that practice seemed to get lost. I knew in my mind that I was doing everything I wasn’t supposed to do—tightening my muscles during contractions instead of going “limp and loose,” and feeling like a victim to the pain rather than being in control of it. I couldn’t help it.

But apparently, things were progressing pretty well. I was at an eight, and then a nine. This would be over soon. I would meet my baby.  

Finally, it was time to push. With my feet propped in the air, I pushed when the nurse-midwife told me to. “AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” I yelled, waiting for someone to say, “I see the head!” But nothing happened. Another contraction jolted through my body and I tried again. And then again.

We tried different positions—I pushed while squatting, I pushed while pulling some type of band, I pushed while standing in the shower.

I pushed for five hours. 

Five. 

Hours.

Matt was beside me the entire time, holding my hand and telling me I was doing so well, but I know he was thinking “What the fuck?” just like I was. We had both been awake for more than 30 hours and this was insane.

Night turned to morning and I was falling asleep between my contractions. Giuditta would wake me up by having me sniff essential oils or brush my teeth and then I would push again. The baby would not come out. They rolled out a full-length mirror to show me what was going on down there, hoping that would somehow motivate me. I told them to get that mirror out of here.

My body had become a rag doll. I had zero energy, nothing left. “Can’t you just pull her out?!” I asked the midwife. She couldn’t. I wondered what else they could do—use a vacuum, cut me open. I didn’t care at this point. But the baby’s heart rate was strong and she wasn’t in any distress so I had to keep pushing. (Yes, I am grateful for this.)

“THIS IS CRAZY!” I said.

“I know it’s crazy,” Giuditta said.

She had me get into the shower one last time, despite my protesting. There in the tiny bathroom, she said she wanted to ask me a question.

“Are you afraid of becoming a mother?”

I stopped for a moment and thought about it. I guess I was. I hadn’t planned on getting pregnant while on our vacation to Japan and even as my belly grew, Matt and I both said it often didn’t feel real. Becoming parents was more like an idea, a nice idea. For nine months, I read the baby books and tried desperately to protect my unborn child (see: Googling everything), but I had no idea how I would respond to meeting her in person. I was scared I wouldn’t know how to be a mom.
Soon, another contraction came on and I wrapped my arms around Giuditta and moaned. 

I wish I could say that something inside me snapped, that I had a Rocky moment and said with fierceness, “Let’s do this,” but the rest is kind of a blur. I got back onto the bed and pushed some more. Finally, they saw the head. I pushed again. It burned like hell. 

At last, at 11:59 a.m. on December 26, 2012, Maggie Sky Pih came wailing into this world with one of the loudest baby-cries I’d ever heard. She was placed tummy-down on my chest, and she looked like a baby bird with her eyes wide open and her head bobbing up and down searching for food. She was so alert and so beautiful. 

“Hi,” I said nervously, trying to study her little face. Then I sobbed. I loved her, my Maggie, my daughter.  

I had a lot of mixed feelings about my birth experience—after it was all over, Matt and I joked that we should sit out in front of the hospital and shout “GET THE EPIDURAL!” at every woman who walks by as a public service. But I don’t regret anything now. (Some say it’s amnesia—could be.) This was how Maggie was born. This is her story. I think she got off to a pretty good start.

P.S. I must say that my birth team (Matt of course, Giuditta, the midwife and all the nurses) were beyond amazing. They took so many great measures to try to make me more comfortable. I was so lucky to have them there.

Maggie & The Balloon

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We adore these beautiful and fun photos of Maggie captured by Lovechild Photo, a pop-up studio in Los Angeles. (Its co-founder is Raya, our wedding photographer!). It’s nice to have a gazillion Instagrams but these studio portraits are really something special. Thanks to my sis for the sweet gift.

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5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Having a Baby

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Today, my baby is six months old. Ohmygod. The past half-year has been such a crazy whirlwind but I wanted to stop, breathe and jot down some things I’ve learned along the way.

If I could talk to my pre-baby self, here’s what I’d tell her.

You’ll need help. Ask for it.

When Maggie was born, we were lucky enough to have the nearby support of family and friends. Everyone wanted to meet (and hold and Instagram) the new baby. And it was nice. As we flailed to stay afloat in the wild storm that is new parenthood, seeing people we love heightened our spirits and gave us the motivation to put on pants. But then it became exhausting. We started scheduling our days around visitors (some whom we barely knew) and when you have a newborn, the word “scheduling” does not compute. And we had to put on pants. Ugh.

This might sound terribly ungrateful but what we didn’t need during this time were long visits and congratulatory desserts and houseplants. (Seriously, why does everyone bring new parents a houseplant? Do you really think we need ANOTHER LIVING THING to try to keep alive?) What we did need were quick and healthy meals (on paper plates), some light housework and someone to hold the baby and bounce on a yoga ball for an hour while we took a nap. We should have just asked. Figure out what will help you; say no to everything that won’t.

You’ll become those parents. Don’t try to fight it.

You don’t know how many times we’ve said in a judgy tone, “We don’t want to be those parents who (fill in the blank).” Let Fisher Price throw up in their living room. Use pacifiers/television/restaurant straws to occupy their children. Talk about things like poop and rashes at the dinner table. Post millions of baby pics on Facebook. Buuuut let’s see: fail, fail, fail and, oh geez, so much fail. I mean, you can try to hold yourself to certain standards and maintain a certain level of dignity, but in reality, the kid’s probably gonna win anyway. The sooner you accept this, the less frustrated you’ll be.

You’ll suck at other aspects of life—for now.

Someone wisely said, “You can have it all, just not all at once.” I think that’s the smartest thing I’ve heard in the whole work-life-love balance crisis that I am now experiencing deeply. That’s about all I’ve learned about this so far.

You’ll become a crazy person. Shrug.

You know when Rachel tells Ross that she loves him and then busts out laughing because in that moment, she had floated up out of her body and heard how ridiculous she sounded? I float up out of my body on a daily basis to find that man, I have entered Crazytown.

This is most evident when I:

Put on a one-woman Big Band show at 6:30 a.m.

Pretend to be a karate ninja.

Riverdance.

Belt the Chipmunks Christmas album in June (in a chipmunk voice, of course).

Make stupid faces for hours.

ALL FOR A BABY.

You’ll be fine.

Having a baby comes with so much fear and self-doubt but whenever she giggles while patting her tiny hands on my face, I know that I can’t be screwing up that badly.

Thanks, Maggie (aka Goo, Gooski, Mooskavich). These have been the best six months of my life. I love you so very much.

No Words

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I always imagined that once I became a mom, I’d have a surplus of things to write about, that stories and anecdotes would just flow from this crazy, whirlwind experience called parenthood. But describing the past two months is difficult. Everything sounds so cliché, like it’s been written a million times before.   

I mean, I could tell you that sleeping in—or heck, sleeping for more than four hours at a time—is but a distant memory. Or that “getting ready” means throwing on a pair of leggings and any top that isn’t splotched with boob milk. Or that tiny luxuries—a hot shower that lasts longer than seven minutes, a fresh coat of polish on my long-abandoned toenails, a quiet meal at the table with my husband—feel like mini vacations.

I could tell you that leaving the house requires a 17-point checklist and a mega-dose of ambition. That the terms “snotsucker” and “poosplosion” surface regularly in everyday conversation. That after trying the Five S’s (sucking, swaddling, shushing, swinging and putting the baby on its side), I’m ready to try the next two: sound-proofing and Smirnoff. That I feel like I’ve been handed this ticking time bomb, ready to detonate at any given moment.

Or I could also tell you that seeing her smile makes my heart shoot out of my chest like a Mentos and Coke experiment. That her sweet coos are the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard. That the old phrase, “The days are long but the years are short” makes so much sense now.  That when I rock her to sleep, the entire world melts away. 

That I simultaneously want to freeze time and glimpse into the future. That I can’t stop telling her, “I love you, I love you, I will love you forever.” That nothing will ever be the same.    

Sometimes, there are no words.

One Month

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Man. Being a new parent is hard. Did you guys know that babies eat every one to three hours around the clock? I had heard this urban legend before but for some reason thought my daughter would be one of those rare, magical, sleep-through-the-night exceptions. Nope, she is not. And this mama is tired.

Taking care of this little one has been physically and emotionally draining. It’s an endless cycle of: feed, burp, change, get peed on, change again, rock, feed, change, cuddle, feed, Google “WHY DOES THIS BABY EAT SO MUCH?!,” bathe, feed again, swaddle, take a deep breath and wait for the little ticking time bomb to go off again.

It’s crazy that all parents must go through this. I recently asked Matt, “Do you love having a baby?” and he looked at me with exhausted eyes and said, “I love having a Maggie. Babies are not that cool.” It somehow made sense. This life is ridiculous right now, but for me at least, it is the best life. Despite being a baby, Maggie melts my heart every day.

Things I love:

-Her squishiness. Pressing my cheek against hers is the FUNNEST.
-She does these full-body yawns and then falls asleep with her arms still mid-air. It’s pretty adorable.
-When she’s done eating, she’ll do this little “talk to the hand” thing. Such a diva.
-Mornings. It’s when she’s most alert. We sit her in bed with us and sing songs and play little games and take lots of Instagram pics. Just our little family.

And Then We Were Three

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Maggie Sky came into this world at 11:59 a.m. on December 26, 2012. I’ll have to share her birth story another time as I’m still trying to digest the whole experience. (I will tell you that I didn’t get the epidural and my first words after her birth were, “I would NOT wish that upon anyone!”)

These past eight days have been some of the most blissful, most grueling, most gratifying days of my life. I am jolted by the love I have for Maggie, my daughter. I’ve been a big, blubbery mess over her arrival. I’ll cry while singing her songs like, “Getting To Know You” or thinking about the fact that we didn’t know this little person a week ago and now can’t imagine life without her. I can stare at her all day, just memorizing her tiny features and listening to her soft breaths. It’s so crazy! Who am I and what have you done with the old, emotionless me?!

It is an intense love that deep down, I never thought I could feel. At some point during my five hours of pushing (no, not five hours of labor—five effing hours of pushing), my doula looked at me and asked, “Do you think you’re afraid of becoming a mother?” The answer was yes. As anxious as I was to meet this child, I was afraid I wouldn’t be good enough, that I wouldn’t be able to love enough. I’ve never been a “baby person” and the last word anyone would use to describe me is “motherly.” I guess those fears may have manifested in me physically.

Matt and I are still in zombie survival mode as we adjust to being a family of three. Maggie is growing and changing every day, which makes my heart swell and ache at the same time. A lot of people have said she doesn’t even look like a newborn anymore. Gah! Stop that!

I want to remember everything about these first moments before things become too routine. Here are some thoughts and observations about Maggie’s first days of life:

- She had to spend a few nights in the NICU for jaundice. It was very hard to leave her there but whenever we went to visit and feed her, the nurses would tell us how smart and strong she was. She could already lift her head and roll over by herself. One nurse was super freaked out.”Uh, you’re not supposed to be able to do that for six months!” she exclaimed. At one point, Maggie took off her protective eye goggles and started waving them around. The nurses told us we better start baby-proofing our house now.

- She squeaks like a mouse.

- She looks so big to us at home but when we put her in her car seat to take her in for check-ups, we remember how tiny she is.

- We sing to her a lot. Though we’re running out of songs. Our latest lullaby: the Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme song.

- Furry skin, neck folds and that intoxicating baby smell. There’s nothing sweeter.

36 Weeks

I’m nearing the end—or, I guess you can say, the beginning. I feel like she can pop out at any moment. My belly is no longer squished up against my boobs, but rather dropped low. Her head is way down there somewhere, making it hurt to shift or walk.

But aside from being achy and wobbly and always, always hungry, I’m happy. Like so many things in life, I feel like my bed rest order was somewhat of a blessing in disguise. It was hard at first, feeling helpless and gross (I think I wore the same clothes for four days straight—hey, Gap Maternity tops are the shiznit), but in the end, it turned out to be kinda nice. Matt stayed home a lot and we spent hours and hours watching Homeland (sooo good!), playing Words With Friends and just doing a whole lot of nothing. We really needed that. Right now, I feel rested and ready to meet the little pooper.

My lovely sister Carissa took these photos of me in my room. As uncomfortable as I am sometimes, I do love being pregnant and am amazed each day at the life that is growing inside me. I’m glad she could capture these moments.

Ready Or Not

A very belated thank you for the kind comments and emails about my last post. Pregnancy is interesting—it can be such an isolating experience, but the moment you reach out, you realize how many women have been in your same position. It’s  reassuring, and I really appreciate all those who’ve shared their stories with me.

So I’m 35.5 weeks and the baby is still inside my belly rather than outside, which is a good thing! I’m hoping to keep her in there for at least a couple weeks longer, but if she came now (eeeek!), the doctors wouldn’t be all too concerned.

It’s all seeming very, very real to me. I’ve been pretty cool about the whole process of birthing a human until, well, now. Now I am freaking out. This morning, I read that baby kangaroos are born after only 31 days of gestation and are the size of a lima bean. “WHY CAN’T WE BE LIKE KANGAROOS?” I asked Matt, who had just woken up. “Why do we have to wait until babies grow into the size of a baby before we push them out of tiny slot? It doesn’t make sense! Why can’t I have a kangaroo pouch?” He then explained that humans are intellectual mammals and need to grow big brains and blah, blah, something like that.

The truth is, I’m terrified of labor. I have been ever since I was about 5 and happened to watch some PBS special showing a woman stuck in medical stirrups screaming her brains out as this bloody being was extracted from her. (Note to parents: Stick to Sesame Street at this age.) Pain, I dread thee. I’m the type of person who wimpers at the sight of a hangnail.

I’ve been doing what I can to prepare, most notably hiring a birth doula and practicing hypnobirthing. But it’s still scary not being able to fathom the intensity of contractions, not knowing what my body can handle. I’ve been trying to read a lot of positive birth stories to strengthen myself mentally. They’re empowering—all end with a beautiful, blinking baby on mama’s chest—but they’re all so different. I guess nothing can truly prepare you for your own birth experience. Seems like the most important thing is for me to simply trust my body and expect the unexpected.

Ready or not, she’ll be coming soon.

One Week (Or How This Pregnancy Took A Turn)

Pregnancy, for me, has turned out to be one big curve ball.

My first trimester was one that would be considered easy. Minimal morning sickness. Test results all clear. A steadily, happily growing belly. Pregnant and recently pregnant friends who spent many months hovered over toilets would tell me how lucky I was to have no major issues. I guess I’d hit the pregnancy jackpot, I thought. Since they say your first trimester is often the worst, I figured the next several months would be a cinch.

In my second trimester, some issues came up. I was told I was very anemic and had to take iron pills each day. That’s why I’ve been so tired. Fine, okay. Then, as I mentioned in my last post, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. It was somewhat of a shocker, and I cried when I got the results. But I quickly got a lot of support and, with Matt’s help, changed my diet dramatically (no more delicious carbs—sob!). I’ve been pricking my finger daily to test my blood sugar levels and so far, all is good.

Then two days ago, I went in for a routine check-up. I had no real issues to report, but at the end of my appointment, my doctor asked me if I was experiencing any pain. I mentioned that I had some pelvic soreness when I walked, and simply attributed it to round ligament pain, a normal and common condition (thanks Dr. Google).  She decided to check me to see if I was dialated.

Right away, she declared, “Your cervix is short.” Um, okay. I had to look at the illustration on the wall to remind myself where the heck my cervix is. (Oh, how I should have paid more attention in biology class.) She performed an ultrasound to confirm it. My cervix is short (between 1.3 to 1.7 centimeters when the norm is 3+), which is a major concern as cervices generally shorten during the labor process. Ummmmmmmm, what??

I am about 33 weeks pregnant and as much as I can’t wait to see this sweet being, I am NOT ready to give birth. But the doctor immediately sent me to the labor & delivery ward. Throughout my pregnancy, she has seemed very chill (in a good, anxiety-calming way), but this was the first time there was a sense of urgency. “You should call your husband,” she said. “You need to go over there now.”

Matt rushed down and I was admitted to the hospital, where they asked scary questions like, “What’s your religion?” (in hospital speak, that’s scary) and “Who can make decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to do so?” I was hooked up to a bunch of monitors and we watched the baby’s heart rate closely. She was kicking and flipping away.

It turns out I’ve been having lots of contractions, one every five minutes or so, but I can’t even feel them. They gave me a shot to make them stop. I was tested to see if I was in preterm labor, which, thankfully, I was not. I was sent home but had to come back the next day to get a steroid shot to help strengthen the baby’s lungs just in case she comes out soon.

I am now on bed rest basically until the end of my pregnancy. I am typing this post on my phone while laying sideways with my giant body pillow. Fun times. My doctor keeps stressing that this next week is crucial. I guess 34 weeks is a big milestone for the baby’s development, and we need to hit that mark.

I feel scared and incredibly crummy that I can’t work or tackle my massive baby-prep checklist, but obviously, my number one goal is to keep this baby cooking. Grow, baby! I’ve realized how monumental every week is, every day and hour is, and I cherish each little kick that reassures me she’s okay.

We’ll probably be in and out of the hospital for more monitoring, checking for contractions and things, which hopefully sounds worse than it is. I’m glad the doctors are being extra cautious, and I must say, Matt and I are handling it all pretty well. “Baby, this is your daddy,” he’d say into my belly. “STAY IN THERE. THAT’S AN ORDER!”

Anyway, that’s where we’re at now. Any thoughts or prayers would be appreciated.

A Halloween Baby Shower


Last Saturday, we had a Halloween-themed baby shower at our house. Even though it was about a bazillion degrees out (why, LA, whyyy??), people still got into the spirit and wore some really awesome (and warm-looking) costumes. It was so much fun just hanging out and celebrating with our friends and family. This little baby is going to be very, very loved.

A few details:

- The amaaaazing dessert table was designed by my friend Jenny, who works at the most adorable bakery Sweet & Saucy Shop.

- Our guests made baby blocks with scrapbook paper, stickers, washi tape and colored pencils. Since it was so hot outside, the craft table turned out to be a big hit!

- I got as crafty as I’ll ever get, making our skeleton costumes with felt , along with some other decorations: scrapbook paper bunting, construction paper bats and a variety of no-carve pumpkins. Thanks, Pinterest!

- Special thanks to my sister Carissa, who managed to get a lot of these great photos while also playing hostess. Check out her photography business, Carissa Woo Photography.

Happy Halloween, everyone!