My Radical Home Water Birth / My Spirit Walk Through Fire (PART I)

There are many shrines around our home including this one, dedicated to my father, Victor Hong Chu Look Kin. 

There are many shrines around our home including this one, dedicated to my father, Victor Hong Chu Look Kin. 

After having my baby on Friday, July 31st at 5:46am, on the Full Harvest Blue Moon, I get asked a lot, What was giving birth like? Now some people ask and actually really, really want to know. Others are just going through the motions. I have the short and the long answer. The short answer: It’s like a Spirit Walk through fire and hell and when you emerge, you’re a Warrior Mother.

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On Tuesday, July 28th, my “due date”, I got ready to go to PT (physical therapy) for my hands and wrists. For the past 4 months I’ve been swimming increasingly more and more to the point where it was daily, sometimes 7 days a week if not 6 days at our local NYC Recreation Center pool. People come from Queens to swim in this pool, it’s that nice. Well the pool is nice - the locker room is pretty disgusting and falling apart because the city doesn’t put enough money into it. And people steal the rings that hold up the shower curtains and sometimes steal the shower curtains as well! Ruby, who often cleans the bathrooms, told me this. I see her literally every day. She says How are you doing mama? and I tell her. There are other regulars, mostly swimmers, the old Chinese ladies, actually a lot of them are in their 40s and 50s and really what do I know. They swim faster than me even though we're all in the slow lane. I have a lot of swim buddies and some kind of recognition with the life guards. For a while there was Jose who was like a father figure and looked out for me. But when summer started he was sent to supervise the beaches which made me sad. The three times I’ve been to the beach before giving birth, I’ve kept an eye out for him.

So I was swimming because my hands were swollen from the pregnancy and I had Carpal Tunnel Syndrome as a result. No, I wasn’t typing a lot. I wasn’t doing anything to aggravate my hands - I was just pregnant! Everything below my neck was swollen. So I started swimming to help relieve the pain and reduce the swelling. It worked for a long time until it didn't and then I really, really had to get a PT.

I started seeing Phaeleau at Spear Physical Therapy in mid-June. I went to their location in midtown because they could see me sooner than the one closer to me. I wasn’t planning on continuing there since I had to literally walk up 4.5 flights of stairs to exit the subway but I stayed because of Phaeleau. Phaeleau is the hapa papa bear of the mid-town PT location. He’s the senior staff there and the head hand physical therapist. A native New Yorker, he has a daughter who’s going to start high school in the fall and grows a tomato garden outside of his window in Brooklyn. He’s super friendly as is everyone there - these people really love their job and their coworkers! I’ve never seen it before so it’s such a unique and lovely environment. PTs are talking to each other and their clients and clients talk to other PTs and other clients. There are a lot of conversations going on at once and it’s so fluid. It’s a beautiful thing.

For the past couple of weeks before I went into labor I had to reduce my bi-weekly appt to once a week, a Monday or Tuesday, because it was just so crazy hard for me to get there. And because I’m so cheap (read: thrifty!!) I refused to take a cab until I did. I had my session and it was good. Another PT whose been there every time recently took the course to tape up people’s arms so I worked with him as well. He had asked when I was due and at this point I just knowingly would say Soon. It’s like that scene in Beetlejuice. Lydia asks what his name is and he says Oh I can’t tell you that because then you’ll tell your friends and I have to show up at the mall and sign autographs and shit. You feel me? I said Soon because otherwise I’d have to deal with bull shit comments like Any minute now! which I actually used to say until it was actually really true. Or Any day now! Or (in an elevator I accidently pushed another button in addition to the ground floor button) Don’t go into labor! So, it’s Soon. But to this PT I whispered, Don’t tell anyone but I’m due today. I explained why I was being so private and he totally got it. He also asked the other question that people just ask, I’ve asked!, but which is really unempathetic and insensitive: Is this your first? I said No, I had a miscarriage last April but this is my first rainbow baby. He totally got it and didn’t get weirded out that I just told him that a baby died in my tummy. This was such a refreshing reaction considering that 25% of all births result in miscarriage (or more). I always have fun at PT and this was another great appointment.

I took a cab home and when I got inside the apartment I felt different. Like really subtle tiny differences. I’ve been having Braxton Hicks rushes (read: contractions) for like 2-3 months but it wasn’t that. This felt like tiny, miniscule cramps in my tummy, like more body feelings in some more places than before. Moments after getting home, I transformed our bedroom, with its one ocean blue accent wall peppered with my watercolors, into a space of complete mediation. I covered up the mirror, the table with the fish tank on it and the bookcase. Every surface had a Venus of Willendorf/Animal/Mama Earth shrine on it with plants, candles, my hand held goddess sculptures I made in ceramics class, incense, lavender, shells. It was so peaceful and beautiful. After I set this up, I began to doubt myself - Am I in labor? I feel like I have so many days before. But I knew I would know instinctively and if I had done this to our bedroom it must be true. Uncertainty, however, is what pregnancy is all about.

Tuesday, July 28th at 4pm, the very earliest of changes were felt in my body signaling the beginning of early labor. The following day, I gave a tour of how I set up our bedroom to prepare for my home water (natural) birth.

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Stay tuned for Part II!

xo