It feels like it’s been forever since I wrote a blog post! Post-holidays are a busy time of year for my husband José and I, as we celebrate our daughter’s birthday and our anniversary back-to-back. It’s been eight years since then but to me it feels like it’s been a lifetime. Well, it has been Mia’s lifetime. This is Mia’s story. It’s a story I’ve often been told sounds like a movie, and I can’t think of a better time of year to reflect and write it down.
“It’s no wonder truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.” – Mark Twain
I met my husband on a plane.
When I met José Mojica, he was a cocky twenty-two year old soldier prone to fist fights moving to Camp Casey, South Korea. I wasn’t much better off, a feather-brained college grad coming down off a week of binging on opiates and psychoactives. I was moving to Korea to teach English in Jeonju, in the Jeollabuk-do province.
We actually didn’t meet until we were getting off the plane. Surrounded by a suddenly terrifying sea of homogeneity, José and I seemed to be the only two foreigners who looked out of place. Since no one else seemed to speak English and all the signs were in Hangul, we didn’t have much of a choice but to talk to each other to figure out where to go after getting off the plane.
José figured out where to go quickly and said he would take off. Since we were both moving to a foreign country, we didn’t have addresses or phones. I can’t help but think that we were like two dandelion seeds blown off a puff of a wish. Buffeted about, we accidentally got stuck together.
So he ripped off a tiny piece of paper from the edge of a notebook and wrote his email address on it for me, so that someday, maybe, we could be in touch again. I looked dubiously at the tiny scrap. I figured I would lose it immediately, and shoved it in my pocket without much thought.
I did, in fact, lose said tiny scrap of paper. Synchronistically, I found it again one day two months later while I was cleaning out my apartment, pressed between the pages of a notebook. I don’t know why I even thumbed through the notebook while I was cleaning. It really should not have happened. There are some occurrences in life we simply have to chalk up to fate.
I was shocked that I still had “this soldier guy’s” email address. I lived six hours south of Seoul, but I was planning on traveling up there by bus the very next day for a Saturday of adventure, hopefully a better experience than my subsequent catastrophic trip to Seoul which had ended in me lost, alone, and having lost my purse with all of my IDs, phone, and money.
As crazy as I was, a month later I was working up the courage to go again. It was April 2010. The group of so-called friends I had originally expected to go with ended up leaving me in Jeonju without telling me their plans. I was very angry at them, but I decided to go to Seoul anyway, with two guys I had just met the night before at a norebang.
I know that sounds insane, but Spencer and Josh were super nice boys, and our new friendship was platonic. I decided also, that I might as well email this soldier guy and just see – maybe he wanted to meet up too. Didn’t he live somewhere near Seoul?
Yes, he did, and he was going to be in Seoul too that very weekend for some bar-hopping. He emailed me back almost instantly and we exchanged phone numbers. We agreed to call each other and meet up once I arrived the next day.
Well, after some frustrating phone tag and just barely missing each other at a bar Spencer and Josh and I had travelled out of our way to get to, I convinced my fellow ex-pats to try to meet up with these crazy soldiers at just one more bar.
And we did, finally, meet up with José and his friend Jeremy at “Wa Bar” in a University plaza where I got stupid-drunk on beer playing a ridiculously fun drinking game called Kings. I found out years later that when I went to the bathroom, José cheated and re-arranged cards so that I would have to drink more when I got back (he put all the 6s back into play: 6 is chicks and I was the only girl there who had to drink). As if I wasn’t drunk enough already! The joke was on him though when I played a card that forced him to be my drinking buddy, so he had to drink when I drank too.
After that the four boys I was partying with all wanted food so they got kabobs from a street vendor. Then we somehow ended up at another bar that was filled wall-to-wall with huge screen TVs and inebriated young people playing Wii Tennis and Wii bowling. We weren’t there long before we bounced to pick up some soju from a convenience store and find a place to crash. Spencer and Josh already had a room in a fancy hotel in Itaewon, so we went there.
That Little Heart Beat
I probably would have forgotten a lot of the details of this night, except that I took pictures and video that I later compiled into a vlog (part 1 and part 2) about my excursion to Seoul that weekend! It is a precious piece of my history I am grateful to have saved on the Internet.
Because that night, we would find out 10 weeks later, was not destined to be just another fun night out bar hopping in Seoul. I’d been so sick for so long, so a Korean English teacher I worked with took me to a clinic one day after school. I explained my symptoms and was surprised to be handed a pregnancy test. I took it to humor the clinicians, totally unprepared for the results. Ms. Lee ushered me straight to a women’s clinic where less than 20 minutes later I found myself under a sticky doppler wand listening to a baby’s heartbeat. A living baby inside of me!
I left the clinic in shock. As soon as I got into the taxi and my co-teacher was out of sight, the tears fell like a flood on the plains of the Sahara. Even though I had the phone number for an illegal abortion clinic in my pocket, I already knew that there was no way I was going to be able to stop that little heart beat.
I don’t remember if it was later that day or some days later, but I eventually emailed José to set up a Skype, so that I could tell him the news face to face. Of course, he didn’t believe me right away. I still laugh when I remember one of the most popular songs out at the time, Katy Perry’s Call me Maybe. There was a spoof meme I saw that matched our story all too perfectly.
José might tell the story a little differently than me, but the way I remember it is that he pretty much ignored me for the next four months. Around September, though, he came around and told me that he wanted to be part of the baby’s life.
We met up just two or three times when we were in Korea, and Skyped a handful of times at the end, and that was the extent of our contact during the entire pregnancy. I was surprised when José told me that he wanted to be at the birth, and had arranged for a special leave to come to New York, where I was having the baby.
Breaking Protocols and Proposals
He had planned to take a “hot flight,” an almost-free alternative to commercial flights available to active duty soldiers, but hot flights are unpredictable. The flight he was planning on taking filled up, and there were no more seats left, so he couldn’t get on. I remember him Skyping me and telling me that he felt uneasy about the unknown timing of the birth, and wanted to pay $1,000 for a ticket for a commercial flight. I was against the idea and tried to talk him out of it. I was still six days from my due date, he could wait for another free flight.
We didn’t know each other at all yet, so I was just beginning to learn how stubborn this man could be. He didn’t listen to me and bought the ticket. When he touched down in New York, my father picked him up at the airport because I was already at the hospital in labor.
José was with me for the second half of my 20 hour labor, and was there to see our daughter born. If he had listened to me and not bought the ticket, he would have missed the birth entirely and I think our relationship, and his relationship with his first-born, would not be the same.
This picture of Mia and her Papi, looking at each other for the first time, just minutes after birth, still makes my heart melt.
“Not 2 minutes post-birth Jose was on Skype to show the new little cutie off to his family. I don’t even think I’d birthed the placenta yet! It was interesting meeting Jose’s family for the first time via Skype while I’m hanging off the side of a hospital bed drenched in sweat and exhausted – – – but definitely memorable!” – Mia’s Birth Story, January 2011
Because I had refused an IV and antibiotics for the Group B Strep I tested positive for, the hospital made us stay two days for monitoring.
During this time, José and Mia and I broke protocol repeatedly, to the consternation of all the nurses, and cuddled together in my tiny, single hospital bed. I hated that the nurses were always trying to put Mia back in her plastic box. We kept taking her back out.
I still remember José showing me funny Youtube videos, laughing and laughing so hard everything sore hurt but laughing some more anyway. Hating the hospital food. Listening to Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry. Watching José and Mia sleep.
“[We] never saw any other parents in the nursery, but it was really interesting being in there. At one point there was like 12 other babies in there I swear. Mia was having her checkup to be discharged and she did not like the inspection one bit. So she started wailing and then another baby started wailing, then a few more. A chorus of wailing. One baby looked like a monkey.” – Mia’s Birth Story, January 2011
An Arranged Marriage
Just before leaving the hospital, José asked me, “Hey, do you want to try being married?” “Sure,” I said.
José only had a two-week leave. He had to go back to Korea to finish his tour at Camp Casey. We didn’t have much time, so we arranged to get married the following Friday. And that is why our anniversary is just nine days after our daughter’s birthday.
When I started writing this post I didn’t know how much it was going to be about Mia and her Papi, but now I see that that is what it is. Mia is a lucky girl to have her Papi in her life, and I think her Papi is a pretty lucky guy too! The bond between them is so strong, and so special.
I like to say that José and I had an arranged marriage – it was arranged by Mia. And our life together has been interesting to say the least. It isn’t common in our society for couples to have to get to know each other after marriage, but that is our story. On January 14, 2011, we were just two strangers with a baby saying “I do.”
I think a lot of people who see our relationship for what it is now might have a hard time believing it, but our marriage has not been an easy thing to keep together. We have certainly had our struggles. And probably hundreds of days when we wanted to give up, but two stubborn people are hard to break apart.
During our first year, when all my friends and family told me to get a divorce, I said no. And over the years, I just kept saying no. It was a lot like hearing Mia’s heartbeat. Whenever I thought about terminating our marriage, I heard its pulse. It’s alive, I thought. And I cried a lot and realized that I didn’t want to kill it.
It has taken a lot of hard work and perseverance for us to stay together, but the results have been well worth it. We have lived in half a dozen states, through half a dozen career changes, and a hell of a lot of Hell on Earth. We are stronger for the difficult times we have been through, and for them I am grateful.
It has been eight years now and I can’t help but see my past birth experiences in light of all of the new knowledge I have gained. Because of all that I have learned, I have come to view my past birth experiences very, very differently than I did before. In preparation for this post, I sought out the birth story I had written up after Mia was born on January 5, 2011. I found it buried in an old email, and I was surprised by almost all of what I read.
Mia’s Birth Story
On January 4, 2011, something magical happened. A mother’s instincts are incredible. I had no idea that labor was imminent, but my body knew. I woke up early when my mom was leaving for work around 7:30am. I felt like I needed to pack my hospital bags, so I did that, and then I felt like I needed to take a long nap, so I did that. I actually had an OB appointment that afternoon. I let my doctor know that I was experiencing more intense cramping than normal. He told me that it wasn’t real labor.
But of course, it was. As the afternoon wore into evening, the cramping got more frequent and more intense. Mom said that we should watch a funny movie because it was good to laugh during labor. I will never forget bouncing on my bright green birthing ball in my parents’ living room while my mom and I attempted to watch My Cousin Vinny. I say attempted because I was way too distracted, and way too excited.
At this point we knew that José was on his way, flying across the world to us from Korea. After many weeks of what felt like endless waiting, things were really starting to happen. Of course, I still love to watch My Cousin Vinny with my mom now and reminisce. Like Chocolat, it is one of the very few movies in this world that hold special meaning for me, that I will always be able to watch over and over again without getting sick of them, and that will always remind me of my mom.
“I realized that I was probably in labor, but I wasn’t sure. So I called my doctor’s office and described how I was feeling to a resident. He said it wasn’t real labor – that I could go to the hospital if I wanted to but that they’d probably send me home. I was doubtful so I repeated again how I was feeling. He repeated again that it was false labor. Frustrated, I said goodbye and hung up the phone.” – Mia’s Birth Story, January 2011
It was about 10pm. We put the movie back on but I still couldn’t pay attention. I had no idea what was happening in the plot line and I remember asking my mom lots of really stupid questions about what was happening and “why was that funny?” We timed my contractions (which I called “surges”) at 2 minutes apart. When I couldn’t bounce another bounce longer, we shut off the movie and drove to the hospital.
When my mom and I arrived at the hospital, I was plopped into a wheelchair and ushered into a room full of beeping equipment. I was only a few centimeters dilated. Yes I was in labor, but it was still early labor.
“Routine obstetric procedures are highly symbolic. For example, to be seated in a wheelchair upon entering the hospital, as many laboring women are, is to receive through their bodies the symbolic message that they are disabled; to then be put to bed is to receive the symbolic message that they are sick. Although no one pronounces, “You are disabled; you are sick,” such graphic demonstrations of disability and illness can be far more powerful than words.
One woman told me: I can remember just almost being in tears by the way they would wheel you in. I would come into the hospital, on top of this, breathing, you know, all in control. And they slap you in a wheelchair! It made me suddenly feel like maybe I wasn’t in control any more.” – Robbie Davis-Floyd, in Birth as an American Rite of Passage
My hypnobirthing coach Barbara was like my doula, so we called her and she came to be there for me at the birth. I was elated to be transferred to the only birthing suite with a tub. Barbara and my mom were both there for me. Then José arrived and birth still seemed some hours off, despite the fact that we were still clocking my surges at every two minutes.
My surges have always been steadily set at 2 minutes apart during the entirely of both of my labors. I believe now that this is simply how my body works to birth babies. They do start out as cramps and then get more intense, but their rhythm is steady. This isn’t the typical way that hospitals expect all women to birth: with contractions starting far apart and then getting closer together indicating that labor is imminent. This is yet another perfect example of how we assume a nomothetic for Birth, when in reality she is entirely idiographic.
I got into the tub and got so relaxed that I started falling asleep in between surges. My surges at this point actually petered out to five minute intervals. I understand now that my body was slowing labor down because it was about 1 o’clock in the morning. It was letting me sleep and reserve energy for birthing. Mom and Barbara and José all dozed too.
After what felt like at least a dozen times of falling asleep and being rudely awakened by a surge, Barbara determined that my labor was slowing down too much and I better get out of the tub and walk around.
At the time I was still of the mindset that other people told you what to do while you were in labor. That was the way it was done. Even if it was uncomfortable, you listened and did as you were told if you wanted to have your baby, because they knew better than you did.
Now I understand that this is an unnatural way to labor, and an unnatural way to birth a baby. As Maryn Green reflects,
“I do believe that women have always been with women in birth. They weren’t always telling them what to do though like they are now. There weren’t always rules and regulations that put one woman above another. And the one woman being above being the one who wasn’t even having the baby. How ridiculous is that when you see it from that perspective? That there could be someone above the laboring mother to tell her what to do, how to do it, how long she has, and how things are going. Wow. That sounds insane to me when I say it that way.” – Maryn Green, in Why the System Never Told You About Undisturbed Birth
Throughout my birthing Mia, everyone from my coach/doula to the nurses to my OB dictated to me what positions to be in, reminded me that my “time” was running out to birth my daughter naturally, and, for all intents and purposes, totally controlled me. My birth was taken out of my hands. I didn’t even know I had given it up.
And it would take many years before I came to recognize this truth.
“Several hours later my water finally broke. I was standing, leaning on the bed at the time. It was like >>pop>gush.” – Mia’s Birth Story, January 2011
Several hours later yet again, after much whining, I birthed Mia in the lithotomy position, on my back, which has been found in hundreds of studies to be the worst possible position for birth. You are not only pushing without the help of gravity, but completely against gravity.
I forgot what book I read it in and try as I might I cannot locate the source, but I did find another source for this fact: the lithotomy position makes the pelvic opening 30% smaller. Think about it this way: that means that instead of a 100% open pelvis, baby has to squeeze through a 70% open pelvis. Do you still think that cephalopelvic disproportion isn’t a myth?! I strongly believe that babies are never made too large to “fit” through their own birth canal. That would be a bizarre abnormality that evolution would have weeded out a long ass time ago.
“Despite years of effort on the part of childbirth activists, including many obstetricians, the majority of American women still give birth lying flat on their backs. This position is physiologically dysfunctional. It compresses major blood vessels, lowering the mother’s circulation and thus the baby’s oxygen supply. It increases the need for forceps because it both narrows the pelvic outlet and ensures that the baby, who must follow the curve of the birth canal, quite literally will be born heading upward, against gravity.
This lithotomy position completes the process of symbolic inversion that has been in motion ever since the woman was put into that “upside-down” hospital gown. Her normal bodily patterns are turned, quite literally, upside-down–her legs are in the air, her vagina totally exposed. As the ultimate symbolic inversion, it is ritually appropriate that this position be reserved for the peak transformational moments of the initiation experience–the birth itself. The doctor–society’s official representative–stands in control not at the mother’s head nor at her side, but at her bottom, where the baby’s head is beginning to emerge.” – Robbie Davis-Floyd, in Birth as an American Rite of Passage
I did have a sense even then that squatting was the most natural way to birth, but after 18 hours of laboring through the night I was too exhausted to stand up. I just wanted to lie down and I just wanted to meet my baby. I didn’t care anymore at that point about the experience of the birth. Although when my doctor told me that I had already been in labor for 18 hours and that was too long, and that if the baby didn’t come out very soon they would “have to” use a vacuum, I do distinctly remember screaming “No!”
Barbara told me later that if I had had any other doctor, he would have broken my water and given me pitocin or syntocin to speed up my labor. I am very lucky that my doctor is so pro-natural childbirth (he sits on a board of midwifery) and let me labor for so long. – Mia’s Birth Story, January 2011
That made me so, so upset, and probably put me into a panic. Miraculously, the threat did not manifest and Mia was mercifully born minutes later. That bit of cortisol from my panic and rage must have happened so late in the birth process that my body was already naturally producing catecholamines (adrenaline and noradrenaline) for the final stage of labor anyway (Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering, p. 211-212)
I get angry when I think of Mia’s birth because I remember vividly having to refuse an IV and painkillers over and over and over again. Ad infinitum. It was almost nauseating how many times I had to say “No.” A woman should not have to say no so many times while birthing. She should be saying “Yes!” Yes baby, yes baby come.
“You should not have to rebel and ‘rage against the machine’ and be ‘countercultural’ to get a decent birth.” – Orgasmic Birth, p. 31
This time I intend to drive No out of my bathroom, and Yes my baby out of the womb in his own, sweet time. No one will be rushing us. No one will interfere. Because no one will be there. And it will be glorious.
“The feeling after she emerged though – is indescribable. As I’m sure any woman who’s been lucky enough to give birth naturally knows. I was elated. I had a baby high for the next few days at least.” – Mia’s Birth Story, January 2011
Reading this made me so sad. I felt “lucky” to have birthed my baby “naturally.” I did have a drugless, vaginal delivery, but it was not a natural childbirth, and it is unfair and inaccurate to call it that. It is sad that we call it that. A natural birth is truly worlds apart from this experience. Although for years I remembered it as lovely, in reality it could have, and should have, been very different.
Another funny little idiosyncrasy of Mia’s birth story is that my best friend at the time also gave birth to her daughter on the same day, in the suite next door! I had met her while I was in Korea, online, on a What to Expect forum for our birth month. Serendipitously she lived very close to my hometown. Our due dates were about two weeks apart but she actually went “late” and I went “early.” We were birthing in the same hospital, so I had told her not to go into labor on the same day as me, because there was only one suite with a tub! As it turned out, she got there after me and gave birth before me, so I got the suite with the tub. Sorry Kristine!
Post-birth, I found out that Kristine and her new daughter Remy were in a “recovery” room down the hall, so we wheeled our babies out into the hallway in their little plastic boxes and exchanged birth stories. It was a surreal finishing touch to a totally surreal day.
Your Body, Your Baby, Your Birth
I know I worked hard during my pregnancy to educate myself as best I could at the time. I read a lot on forums (which I now understand is an inferior source of information compared to the rich wisdom I have gleaned from books). I had a long, typed-up Birth Plan. I practiced hypnobirthing faithfully. I did everything I thought I could do.
So I don’t regret my first birth experience. But I would also not recommend it for any other first-time mom. I would not recommend anything short of a home birth. With a midwife if you must, but honestly, most midwives are trained in the same medical model as obstetricians, or not very far outside of it, and they are restricted by their protocols and state laws. By becoming licensed, they have tied their own hands.
“Homebirth is not enough… It has come to my attention that women even planning home births have no idea what an undisturbed birth is…. These are the women we want to reach first, and have them understand. Homebirth is not synonymous with undisturbed birth… Homebirths are not, 99% of the time, they are not undisturbed births.” – Maryn Green, in Why the System Never Told You About Undisturbed Birth
Today is not the time to tell the story of our second daughter’s birth with midwives in a freestanding birth center, so I will save that for another day, but suffice it to say that that was not much more satisfying than my hospital birth experience. It wasn’t the time for me to learn yet that birth is always best at home.
My advice to first time mothers now: Do not be afraid. There is nothing to fear, save fear itself. As they say. Fear will fuck up your birth, and so fear has no place in it. I know that a lot of first timers are unsure. There is so much to be unsure about. It seems like a good idea to put your autonomy into someone else’s hands by hiring a birth attendant. After all, you don’t really know what you’re doing, so you feel like you shouldn’t be responsible for what’s going on in your own body. You feel like you should give your power away. Don’t.
Your birth does not belong to your midwife, your OB, your doula, your photographer, or your friend. Your OB doesn’t “deliver” your baby. You do.
People will tell you conflicting information every single day. It is a daunting task to parse through it all and to actually come out with the truth. And sometimes we don’t know what is true because a lot of birth information out there is ambiguous and contradictory. That is why it is SO important to cultivate the ability to rely on yourself, think for yourself, and do your own research (outside of forums and off Facebook!).
Side note: I don’t want to make it sound like forums and Facebook are totally useless or ought to be avoided. My point is that we should not rely on them for most and certainly not all of our information. I like to use them for asking questions I can’t find adequate answers to when I have done some research already and have reached that point.
I am going to put together a list of birth resources that I have found to be educational, entertaining, informative, and definitely true. I will publish this in another blog post before I give birth!
It is beyond sad – it is heartbreaking – that the way we are culturally trained to expect to birth in this country is so counter-intuitive, so unnatural, so bad for mothers, and so bad for babies. If you are expecting and you are reading this now, I urge you to please, please begin (or continue) to educate yourself and your partner NOW. There is much to learn, and babies only give us nine beautiful, precious months to prepare ourselves.
I thought I was well integrated in a natural parenting community. I was a totally crunchy, hippie mom birthing at at birth center my second time around, encapsulating my placenta and breastfeeding and cloth diapering and baby wearing. And I had no idea how much I didn’t know. Even super crunchy communities are woefully ignorant.
If you don’t know where to start, start here – by listening to Indie Birth’s Why the System Never Told you About Undisturbed Birth. This podcast blew my mind, and blew up a lot of what I thought I knew that was so, so wrong.
You can read more about how Mia has grown into a beautiful, sweet young lady in my first-ever blog post!! Having a Capricorn as a Child.
That’s all for now, but I’ll leave you with this: welcoming babies into this world is the most incredible, powerful, intoxicating, beautiful, fan-fucking-tastic experience of our lives as women. But just like marriage, cultivating your relationship with birth takes a lot of hard work and attention. Stay focused, stay conscious, and stay true. I wish for peace, love, and beautiful babies for you all ❤