On Becoming Panda Mom (Part Three)

The white sheer curtain was blowing in the clear wind from the open window. The light cedar wood floor was shining gently with the morning sun. Everything was bright and soft. The smell of the grass outside the house blended in with the crisp air. I saw a girl sat straightly on the piano bench by the window. She could not have been older than 10 years old. “Is it a white dress that she’s wearing? Maybe. I can’t see clearly,” I thought. She was practicing on the piano studiously—the exposition sounded like a fantasy, then the melancholic melody entered. I couldn’t make out what mood she was trying to convey with her music. Was it a story about romantic love? Or was it about death and turmoil? I didn’t understand. “Too slow! It should be lighter! Wrong interpretation!” A voice appeared suddenly from nowhere. I recognized this voice. “Whose voice is it?” I desperately tried to recollect. “Wait, isn’t this my childhood piano teacher’s voice?” I thought. “But it can’t be hers. She never raises her voice like that. Who can that be? Wait a minute, is that my mom’s?” I opened my eyes.

It was dark in the labor/delivery room. Jimmy was sleeping next to me on the recliner. Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata was playing softly via the portable speaker that he probably brought from home. I was slightly annoyed by the lethargic pace of this version of the Moonlight. “Ugh! Jimmy must be playing from his Pandora account again. Spotify has a much better selection,” I thought. It was 7pm on Saturday. Almost 24 hours had passed since I first lay on this bed. The medication that they gave me to prevent seizure had made me drowsy and confused. My eyelids were heavy. My breath slow and weak. Jimmy’s hand was hanging from the wood arm of the recliner as if he was reaching out to me. I tolerated the bad version of the Moonlight Sonata. In an attempt to enjoy it, I drifted off again.

Periodically, I awoke to the nurse’s fixing my blood pressure cuff or checking on me. This time, it was Jenny who woke me up from my lucid dream. “Hi again,” Jenny said with a smile. I was happy to see her again after a day. I looked at the clock. It was 9:30pm. Suddenly, I could feel the butterflies in my empty stomach. “It’s time for the induction!” An anxious thought shot into my mind. I couldn’t tell if I was feeling nervous or excited. Perhaps I felt both—I didn’t know what would happen next but I couldn’t wait to meet T. Soon, they inserted a big white pill in me to induce my labor. The pill inside my vagina felt both strange and familiar. Strange because it felt cold and foreign inside my body. Familiar because having various objects—tampons, NuvaRing, yeast infection cream—inserted into me was a defining part of my becoming a woman. Half an hour later, I began to experience contractions—they felt like menstrual cramps, though “better” because they only lasted for less than a minute. I wondered if years of experiencing menstrual cramps since I was a teenager was meant to get me ready for this. Regardless, the thought of my painful periods having better prepared me for this process was comforting. I decided to consider these recesses between contractions as bonuses—one can never have enough but it’s nice when they happen.

Saturday night passed easily. Contractions were short and sporadic. Time between contractions was plentiful. I went in and out of sleep naturally while I listened to the music that Jimmy brought over. For the first time, it was easier for me to let my body control my mind. So I let my body take charge. I listened to her movements. And I followed her. We went to a pastoral with rolling fields, blue clear sky, and rainbow-colored clouds. Going uphill was always arduous. But if the swirls of clouds got too close, we would blow them away. Rolling downhill was fun and delightful. I let my body carry my insubstantial self through the hills like a baby in her mother’s arms.

Occasionally, I would call on my consciousness to observe my surroundings and the incomers into the delivery room. I remembered a male doctor came in and was delighted by the music and the sense of peace that permeated through the air. He thought it was unusual. My sister in-law was here, too. She was scared and worried. I overheard her saying that she didn’t imagine giving birth would be so tough. “Do I really look that bad?” I wondered. Then, I returned to the pastoral to continue my journey.

It was late afternoon on Sunday. As part of the routine, the nurse entered the room to check on me. “Is it Jenny? Wait, I think her name is Nicole, or is it Katherine?” I tried to think as hard as I could. I pride myself of my excellent memory—students are often amazed and amused by my ability to remember their names on the first day of class. At the moment, however, it seemed that my conscious mind had escaped me; I could only make sense of my emotions. “We’re waiting for the anesthesiologist to come,” the nurse said. “You’ll need to get an epidural because there’s a high chance that you’ll have a C-section.” I looked at her, puzzled. I tried to ask questions, but at this point, I sensed that no one could comprehend my speech—I was incoherent. Everyone looked at me like they couldn’t take me seriously; I was not used to that. Soon, I found myself in a sitting position. “Lean forward,” someone said to me. “Good! You’re doing great.” I caught a glimpse at the epidural needle as I bent over—it was at least 3 inches long. I was scared. I tried to distract myself by closing my eyes and focusing on the music. But it didn’t help much—the hospital staff were too loud. “It’s almost over!” the anesthesiologist said. Now I felt a stream of chilling cold fluid running down my spine. “I just need to secure the tube with some tapes,” he continued. Then, everyone helped me lie on my back. “Just press the button when you want to release the medicine,” the nurse said as she handed me the control. They left.

“Her cervix isn’t ripening.” I opened my eyes. A doctor in white coat was standing right at my bedside; Jimmy was standing at the other side. I looked at the clock—It was 6:35pm. “We need to use the foley bulb,” she continued. At the same time, a team of hospital staff was moving my body. “Did she say her name was Dr. Teacup? Who’s she?” I thought. Another doctor approached. “Hi, I’m Dr. Castillo.” Dr. Castillo and I met at the antepartum unit on the night I was admitted to the hospital. She told me that Castillo was her maiden name; now her husband’s last name was engraved on her name tag—a name that I cannot remember. I told her that my dad’s family and I have long adopted my grandmother’s last name. Although we might not have shared any common ancestors, our matching family name somehow created an immediate connection for us. Yet, at this instant, everyone was looking at me like I was just a curious case—an abnormal object to be studied carefully. I bet I was a dream-come-true for the medical residents who were lucky enough to be here today. They moved me into the lithotomy position—the same position that I was forced to make during my pap smear exams. “Little pressure,” Dr. Teacup said. “Did she just put her entire arm into my vagina?” I thought. I absolutely hated it. “Why is Dr. Castillo just standing there looking?” I thought. “I’d rather have her perform the procedure.” Jimmy was holding my hand. “What are they doing to me?” I asked him shakily. “They’re trying to hook the balloon into you,” he answered. Finally, Dr. Teacup pulled her arm out. I was relieved. Then, she shook her head. Dr. Castillo walked closer. “We’re going to try to insert the foley balloon into your cervix again, OK?” she asked. I nodded my head half-willingly. Was I crying? I couldn’t remember. Dr. Castillo removed her arm. Another failed attempt. “We need to try once more” Dr. Castillo said. “No, no, no, I don’t want this,” I whimpered. Meanwhile, I saw that a middle-aged tall skinny man was putting on white medical gloves. “This is Dr. Teel,” Dr. Castillo said. “He’s the best here and he’s done this thousands of time.” I kept shaking my head while he put his arm in me. Jimmy was holding me. “Shhh…it’s ok,” he whispered into my ear. “It’s in!” Dr. Teel exclaimed. “See? That was quick, right?” Dr. Castillo asserted. I collapsed.

The human mind is an amazing thing—it allows us to cope with the most intense physical suffering. For me, the only safe space was the pastoral. I held onto it and I relied on it. As my contractions intensified, I reached out for the pastoral—uphill, downhill, downhill, uphill, downhill, uphill. Every time when I went uphill, I squeezed Jimmy’s hand. Sometimes I found the strength to blow away the clouds when they got too close, sometimes I didn’t. “Please, I need my doula,” I begged Jimmy. I tried my best to reach for the pastoral, but it was getting more and more difficult. Not long after, I felt a firm and warm hand. “Blow the pain away…far away…” my doula Dominque hummed softly. I followed her singing. Sitting on an peanut-shaped exercise ball, I rocked up and down with her voice and continued to travel in the rolling fields. Somehow, her calm essence and soothing voice offered me just enough strength to go on.

The last time I pressed the button to release the epidural, I was 3 centimeters dilated. All the medical staff left the room because my dilation happened so slowly. Now in the room was just me, Jimmy, Dominique, and Beethoven’s sonatas. As I rocked up and down these roller coaster hills, the slopes became increasingly steep. Suddenly, I felt an insurmountable force behind me, propelling me forward in the fastest and most powerful way. “Where am I going!?”

All at once, everything was pitch-dark and silent. Then, a heart beat. Thump. Whose heartbeat is it? Is it mine? Is it my baby’s? Where did it come from? Thump—Thump. Sparkles of bright white light shot through the darkness as the heartbeats picked up its tempo. I began to notice the stars, nebula, and dust around me. Thump—Thump—Thump. The whole universe was moving with the recurrent beats and the intervals in between. Is it the rhythm of time and space? Thump, Thump, Thump, Thump. Moving with the rhythm, I let this most powerful cosmological energy conquer me. I felt tears rolling down my face—the tears of total surrendering. “I need to PUSH!” I exclaimed. “Not yet! Not yet!” Jimmy and Dominique shouted. My baby’s hot body was squeezing through the tunnel. She was trying her best, a fighter indeed. We couldn’t wait any longer. She was ready to come to this world! “It’s a 10! It’s a 10!” someone shouted sharply.

Just in time, the entire medical team rushed into the dark delivery room. Dr. Castillo, Dr. Teel, Jenny, other nurses and doctors from the Children’s Hospital next door were all here. “Inhaaale. Hold your breath. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5,” Dominique cried. “Now push!” She held onto my foot while Jimmy held onto my other. I pushed as hard as I could, letting the immense energy flow through and out of my body. I felt proud to be a woman. T continued to struggle through her journey. I reached out for her with my every push. “Come on, my girl. Let’s do this together.” “1, 2, 3, 4, 5,” Dominique continued. “Now puuusssh!” I couldn’t feel my legs anymore. Yet, I kept pushing.

Finally, T was here.

Suddenly, the universe left me. I was sent back to reality. My senses sharpened. A team of pediatricians hurried to put T into an open incubator; they rubbed her chest and put a tiny white hat on her to keep her warm. Jimmy could not wait to meet his child. He held her in his arms. Then, I heard him talking to his sister over the phone. “She’s here! She’s here!” he proclaimed excitedly. I stretched out my arm, attempting to reach for my baby. But I couldn’t even see her from this side of the room. She was too far.

I believed the worst part was over. (I heard that all the pain would go away when the baby arrived. Well, that didn’t happen to me). On the contrary, my pain became intensely raw—I could feel my blood between my legs; my muscles exhausted; my bruise in my vagina. To rub salt into the wound, Dr. Teel started punching my belly. I looked at him, horrified, wondering what he was doing. “I’m sorry!” he said. “But I have to help your uterine contract.” He kept apologizing while he pressed on my belly. It was extremely painful. Then, he stitched me up. I stared at the clock on the wall—it was 9:40pm. My body was shattered.

At this time, Jenny turned on the light. She handed T to me. “You can hold her for a few seconds,” Jenny said. I looked at T for the first time. She looked exactly like I imagined her to be—with her father’s eyes and my chin. She was perfect. Before they took her away from me, I quickly kissed her on her cheek and whispered into her ear, “I’ll love you forever.”

#birth #birthstory #mother #motherdaughter #motherhood #birthtrauma #trauma #prematurebirth #premie #women #womenissues #hospital #hospitalbirth #parenting #pandamom #pandamotherly

Published by pandamotherly

I am Dr. Esther HioTong Castillo. I am Panda Mom. I'm a biracial sociologist mama with a 4 year-old daughter. Four years ago, my complicated birth and the sea-change in my career and family had thrown me into the downward spiral of depression and anxiety. Now, I'm sharing my story and writing my way to health and wellness at the intersection of trauma, intergenerational trauma, family, and parenting.

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