When We Met Our Newest Travel Partner: Samindra’s Birth Story
I feel really lucky. Randy and I have lived in two other countries together, Korea and Vietnam. And now we’re traveling for three months in South America with our daughter, Samindra Thi Huyen. That’s right. We’re not your typical Americans who can only travel for two weeks at a time. We quit our jobs in Washington, DC, moved down to Orlando and now we’re able to travel for three months and we’re aiming to visit seven countries!
Before we get into how we are able to do that, I wanted to share with you my birth story, which was really the start of another great journey. But, be warned, a birth story is not for the faint of heart. I’m going to go into detail and some of (a lot of) it will not be pleasant. If you're not into reading about this, we really will post more about our travels. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to join us on our travels.
I Didn't Always Believe in Luck Until Recently
Like I mentioned, I feel really lucky. When Randy and I decided we wanted to start a family, it didn’t take long. I got pregnant within a month or two of trying. We were both very excited. Honestly, Randy was more excited than I was. I actually had a few days where I thought, “Ugh I can’t drink for nine plus months, I can’t have sushi, I can’t have runny eggs,” and the list goes on. I knew it would all be worth it though. Being pregnant and learning how a baby is growing inside of you so interesting. We really liked following the What to Expect and Baby Center apps. They each give you a week-by-week look at how your baby is developing from an egg and sperm to a fetus and then to a baby.
I’m also really lucky to have been there for my sister when she had her two children. We lived in Arkansas for two years and during that time, my sister had Iya Shirley and Damen Zane.
All of the women in my family are rockstars. I remember when my mom had my brother Sean and hearing her screaming from outside of the room. I was 12 years old. My sister, Kristi biked 500 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles. But I really witnessed my sister, Mailena as a rockstar during both of her deliveries. She didn’t have an epidural for either one! I just couldn’t imagine giving birth without an epidural (at that time).
Being Pregnant and Getting Ready for the Big Day
When it came to my turn to have a baby, I was learning about everything, how the baby was developing, what was going on with my body and what to expect on the big day. I wanted to learn about every possibility that might happen on the big day because I was, to be honest, a bit terrified. Even though I’ve witnessed my mom and sister go through having babies and I knew women do it all of the time, I wasn’t sure how much pain I could actually take. I was very open to getting an epidural. I wanted to hear more birth stories. Randy found a great podcast and listened to almost every episode of The Birth Hour that featured women from around the world telling their birth stories. It was really helpful to hear their stories as well as many of my friends and family’s birth stories. I really wanted to prepare for anything that could possibly happen.
At around 27 weeks, Randy and I went to a lamaze birthing class, earlier than a normal person who would go at 30 to 35 weeks. This was very helpful in learning about the different stages of birth and different positions to help with each contraction.
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Choosing a Birth Doula for My Birth Team
I was also exploring the idea of hiring a doula. I didn’t even know what a doula was at first. A doula is a birth partner to help women get through labor and delivery. Sometimes people hire birth doulas because they don’t have a birth partner. In my case, Randy was a great birth partner and learned everything with me along the way. I was interested in hiring a doula just for the extra support for me and Randy. I knew it would be a long day/night and having that extra support when we were both exhausted would be worth it. We interviewed several doulas in Washington, DC.
I was delivering at George Washington University Hospital and being a teaching hospital, they gave us a list of student doulas. We were open to that idea because it would not only help us, it would help that person get the credit they need to become a doula. It also came at a much affordable price. However, as we interviewed, we really thought about how much chemistry we had with that person. We ended up going with Camille Dozier. We chose Camille because of her enthusiasm to empower women and help them get through whatever labor and delivery options they chose. Throughout our prenatal visits, she was very knowledgeable about laboring tactics and what to do in different situations. She also helped me to see what I might like during labor. She helped my husband and I to understand how the big day might go and how to help each other through it.
Now with my birth team ready, Randy and Camille, a great team of doctors, midwives and nurses at GW Hospital (I chose the OB practice, but saw many midwives during my prenatal visits), I was ready to have this baby at any time - sort of.
The Week Before My Due Date
About a week before my due date of September 21, we were having pesto night at our neighbors, Zoe and James’ place. I didn’t really feel like eating and was feeling a bit nauseous. It’s really unlike me to be the first ones to leave. But we left and said this could be it. I had some seltzer water. We called the hospital and the nurse on duty said if we have any doubt, to come to the hospital. So, we left for the hospital. Once we got there, I was actually feeling better. I didn’t feel any pain and my nausea had gone away. But we went ahead and checked into triage. They hooked me up to the monitors and we waited a while to see the doctor as it was a busy night. On the monitor, you could see some Braxton Hicks contractions. But nothing was painful. Finally, when a doctor came, they checked how far I was dilated and I was already 2 cm! They said this was great and I was progressing. I was officially in the pre-labor phase. The next day was my birthday and my last prenatal appointment before my due date but I didn’t have to go since I had seen just seen the doctor.
We went out to Cava Mezze Grill for my birthday dinner on Saturday night and I had contemplated going clubbing, just kidding. It was a great meal and one of my favorite places our Clarendon/Court House neighborhood in Arlington, Virginia.
The next day on a Sunday, I was feeling pain in my leg. I can’t remember which one. I googled it and it said it could be a blood clot if I was pregnant. Of course, Dr. Google says it could be something serious, which is also what the doctor said when I called. They recommended going to the ER. So, again to the hospital we went. I wasn’t in labor, so I had to wait with everyone in the ER waiting room. It’s always a waiting game at hospitals. Once I saw the doctor, they said they would do an ultrasound on my leg to see if there is a blood clot. Thankfully, the results were negative. They said just to keep monitoring the pain. I think it finally went away by the next morning.
Starting the Week Strong
And so Monday, September 18th came. I really wanted to work up until my due date because I wanted my team at StreetShares to be well prepared before I left. We hired someone to add to our small marketing team and to fill in for me while I was gone. His start date was the day I went into labor. I was working from home the last week of my pregnancy and I trained the new guy, Thomas at our community center in our apartment. They say walking helps induce labor and up until that day, we went on walks around DC quite a bit. I took Thomas out to lunch at Sweet Green and didn’t think it was that long of a walk, but I guess it was since I was going so slowly at that point anyway. By the time 6pm rolled around, I just told him, “It’s late, you’ve had a long day - you should go home,” as I was feeling funny anyway.
I came home and Randy was on his usual after-work schedule, on the phone with his cousin Tan and cooking up a storm. I really didn’t want to talk and let them carry on. I was feeling cramps at that time.
Randy has been a great partner throughout my pregnancy, through labor and delivery and as a new father and husband to a new mom. He always ensured I ate well. I eat a lot without being pregnant, but when I was pregnant, all I wanted were fruits. He made sure I had great meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus snacks in between. I was eating a lot.
On the night I went into labor, we had a really fantastic West Indian meal - Dahl, rice, spinach and pan-fried okra. I usually eat my entire meal, but that night, I didn’t finish it. We called Camille and my sister to see what they thought about what I was feeling. They both said to wait and see if it happens more often and if it does, to start timing the contractions. Yes, they were indeed contractions. It felt like period cramps at first. I was in the early labor phase.
This is It: Early Labor to Active Labor
Randy and I were both thinking - this could be it and it could be a really long night (or several days - I prepared in my head for three days of labor). So we wanted to take it easy. We watched some TV. I wasn’t feeling much pain yet. I thought I should try to go to sleep early. I took a long shower and went to bed around 10pm. I tried going to sleep but couldn’t.
Then, I really started feeling cramps at around 10:30 or 11pm. Randy started timing them. I was really bad at telling him when they started and when they ended. But I think they were about 12 minutes apart for an 30-45 minutes. At around 11:30-11:45pm, I got out of bed and was like, I need to do something different. These contractions weren’t letting me sleep.
They say you’re in active labor when you are 5-1-1 (some say 4-1-1) - when your contractions are five minutes apart, lasting for one minute for an hour.
We were in touch with the hospital all night. Randy called them after I got out of bed. They said to wait a bit longer and call back when my contractions were six to seven minutes apart.
I went to the living room to do some positions on the yoga ball. I was definitely feeling the pain. But it was still bearable because they didn’t last that long, I didn’t think. By this time, I was having to use the bathroom a lot - to pee and it felt like I need to do number two. This was another sign. When I was peeing, some blood was coming out. We thought that this was not a good sign. We examined the blood further and it was more like the mucous plug blood. It wasn’t runny like period blood, which is a bad sign. I had lost my mucous plug a couple of weeks ago. Randy called the doctor to confirm if this was normal and they said labor was progressing and it was all part of the journey. I guess more of it just comes out when you’re actually in labor.
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This went on for about an hour. Randy suggested eating something to have some energy before we decided to go to the hospital. At our hospital, they recommend a liquid diet. Many hospitals say only ice chips, but ours said it was okay to have soups, water, juice, etc. One of the sugary treats I had during my pregnancy was my favorite cereal, Cinnamon Toast Crunch. So I had a bowl of that. And a spoonful of honey.
Then I started feeling sick. I never had morning sickness throughout my pregnancy or any sort of sickness. But I was definitely feeling nauseated and sick. I threw up in the toilet. I did more laboring on the yoga ball. And then threw up in the trash can. Yep, that Cinnamon Toast Crunch came up. I’m not sure if we were timing the contractions as this time, I was just trying to get through the vomiting and having the use the bathroom every few minutes.
At around 1:30 or 2am, Randy asked Camille to meet us at our place. We labored for a bit longer at home. I did a lot more positions on the yoga ball on the ground, hugging it. I was feeling more back pain at this time and Camille was helping massage my back while Randy was encouraging me. My contractions were about five minutes apart and we made our way to the hospital.
Six Hours in and to The Hospital We Go
Since it was after hours (3am), we checked in at the ER and then into labor and delivery. This time, they knew I was in labor and it didn’t take long to get my own area in triage. However, it still took two hours for me to see a doctor. Once I got checked in, I went to change into my gown in the bathroom, used the toilet, there was blood again and I vomited again. It was pretty messy. But the nurses were so nice and said, “These are all good things.”
I got hooked up to the monitors and you could really see my contractions coming. The heartbeat was great and the baby was doing good. My legs were shaking uncontrollably and I was in an enormous amount of pain. The nurses said it was the hormones causing the shaking and it was normal. I couldn’t really lay in bed for long like they had me positioned. So I got up and had Randy sit in the chair next to the bed. I was standing and bearing down on Randy’s shoulders so much. I really wanted him there the whole time. But I was thankful that Camille was also there. Randy was able to go out and get some water for us since that’s the only thing we forgot in our bag.
The doctor finally came to see me. She checked how far I was and I was already 7 cm dilated. She asked if I wanted to get an epidural. I said I wasn’t planning on it, but asked when is the absolute last minute that I could get it. She said when I couldn’t stop moving. This is because I would have to be still when they insert it into my spine. I really was still open to getting an epidural, but I thought, I’m already this far. The pain is still bearable. I think I can go longer. And then, they didn’t ask me again if I wanted an epidural.
We finally got into our own room at around 5-6am. I asked for a room with a tub so I could labor in the tub if I wanted. They didn’t let me get in the tub immediately. They had to do a Hepatitis C test to make sure it was okay.
Our labor room was huge, almost the size of our apartment. I’m pretty sure I used every piece of labor equipment they had in that room. There was a yoga ball, a peanut ball, the labor bed with a squat bar at the end of the bed, a squat bar on the bed, a shower and the tub.
Here’s Where Things Start Moving
I started out in the shower. Randy and Camille joined me and Randy helped me through the back pain this time. I think I then moved to use the yoga ball like I was using it at home - hunkered over it with Camille helping me with my back pain while I looked at Randy for encouragement. The pain was absolutely there. I could barely talk in between contractions. I then moved to the squat bar on the side of the bed. I’m not sure how long I was in each place. I got on the bed and hunkered over the top of the bed for a while. Our main nurse was really great. Her name was Augusta. She suggested the peanut ball to open up the birth canal. I think I went back to the floor over the yoga ball. I asked where the doctor was. Augusta just said, “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Finally, I was cleared to go into the tub. By the way, I was pretty much naked this whole time. The tub was really nice and the pain didn’t seem as bad, but it was still pretty bad. I really felt like I wanted to push at this time as the contractions were really coming hard. So I wasn’t in the tub for long and they wanted to check how far I was. I still had to wait for the doctor a bit. In the meantime, a midwife came to visit. She was very calm and practical. I was getting frustrated at how calm she was. In my head, I was like, “why is she sitting down talking to me?!” But it was encouraging having her there. She gave me more pointers.
To Have a Water Birth or To Not Have a Water Birth
Finally, the doctor came to check and I was at 8-8.5 cm. I wanted to go back in the tub. The doctor was telling me about having the baby in the tub. I couldn’t exactly comprehend everything she was saying. I remember asking them during my prenatal visits if I could have the baby in the tub and they said the doctors weren’t trained to do that. This doctor explained to me and Randy that if I wanted to push in the tub, the baby would have to come up immediately and not go back down in the water. Our “birth plan” was very open and we didn’t even look at it that day. That day, I trusted the doctors, midwives, nurses, Randy to be my spokesperson and Camille to support us.
I went back into the tub and labored there for a while again. They said if I felt like I needed to push in the tub and bear down, then it was okay. I did that for a while longer. The doctors came back after an hour or so and I was at 9.5 cm. This was around 10am. They said I could push now.
I remember every time they checked how far I was, Randy always saw the finish line. He would say, “You’re 80 percent there,” or “You’re 90 percent there!” He may have been thinking about the whole labor experience. But all I was thinking was, “Yeah, but there’s still the pushing phase and who knows how long that will be.”
I remember going back to the floor and pushing. Yep, this time I pooped on the floor. This happens. Randy could tell in my face that I was like, “Did I just poop?!”
I think I came back to the bed and did more pushing hunkered down over the bed. Around this time, my water broke. I wanted to go back to the tub and labor. I did that for a while. Then I came back and hunkered over the bed, used the peanut ball again. Then, the nurses suggested I use the squat bar and sheets to pull myself while I pushed. This was when I could finally see the finish line. The baby’s head was crowning and more nurses came and the doctor came to the room again. I pushed like this for a long time. I think I was just so tired that I even tried to rest my eyes and sleep a bit between contractions. But of course, it was only for a few seconds.
Sometimes You Just Have to Push Through Things in Life (Literally)
When the time came for me to push even more, the doctor came back and more nurses, student doctors came in the room and the prepared the table for delivery. I kept pushing when the contractions came and I remember looking at everyone and they encouraged me so much. Each person kept giving me pointers like:
- “Put your butt down.”
- “Keep your chin down.”
- “Moan low and not high pitched.”
These things all helped. It was a lot to remember though when you’re in so much pain. Randy helped me to remember when he pulled my chin down for me.
What I also kept hearing was, “There’s so much hair on the baby’s head!” Oh my gosh. All I could think was, “Well, where is her head!? Why isn’t she out yet?!”
I pushed for longer. I was finally at the stage where her head was going one step back and two steps forward with the pushing.
They also asked me, “Do you want a mirror to see the baby?” and “Do you want to touch her head?”
Randy immediately said, “No, she doesn’t want that.” He knew because we talked about that in our birth plan. I was thankful Randy said that immediately, because in my head, again I couldn’t talk at all, that’s exactly what I was thinking.
The Biggest Challenge But The Most Rewarding Moment
Now came the ring of fire. This most challenging and most painful part over all of the contractions. It seemed to last a long time, but I was also pushing for a long time - 3.5 hours total. Finally, her head was out and I just had to push a bit more for her body. Randy kept looking at me and encouraging me so much. I knew we were almost finished. Camille asked if we wanted to record the moment, but I was thinking no. She got ready to take pictures. And just a few moments later, we met our baby girl, Samindra Thi Huyen.
Randy cut the cord, the nurses wiped her down, they did a very quick assessment to make sure she was healthy and handed her over to me. She laid on my chest, eyes wide open to see the world. She saw her dad next to her and continued to hear my heartbeat in my chest. She soon went to nurse on her own. She also sucked her thumb soon after. It was just amazing to see our daughter outside of the womb and to see her already do a couple of things like a real human being. Those few moments were so precious.
Things Not Usually Discussed in a Birth Story: Post Labor and Delivery
And then, I had to push out the placenta. This wasn’t as painful as the entire laboring and delivery. But still uncomfortable. After that, they had to stitch me up. I had second degree tears. That was painful, too.
After I had some yogurt and a granola bar, more water and juice, they wanted to make sure I emptied my bladder. They said if I didn’t empty it before going into our maternity room, I could get an infection. I tried a few times, but nothing came out. It’s weird that during pregnancy all you need to do is urinate. But right after delivery, it’s hard to. They said it’s because of all of the pressure on the bladder. Since I couldn’t urinate by the time we had to go to our room, they had to give me a catheter. This was also a very unpleasant feeling. But it was necessary as I didn’t urinate during the active labor phase much.
We got checked into our room where we would stay for the next couple of days. And there we were with a newborn daughter. She was born at 1:24pm on September 19, 2017. She weighed 6 pounds 5 ounces and was 19.5 inches long.
Even through all of the pain, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. Although, I did say right after delivery that I wouldn’t do that again without an epidural. But that may change. I couldn’t have done it without the support of the hospital, staff, nurses, doctors, midwives, Camille and most importantly, Randy by my side.
This was the beginning of another chapter in our journey of travel never ends, now with the three of us.