Just one month ago, I gave birth to my first child, Arya Rose. I decided to share the story of her birth because it was both normal and extraordinary, what I planned for but not what I expected, ultimately what I wanted but not in the way I envisioned. It broke me open and changed me forever, repeatedly pushed me to the edge all while ushering me gracefully into this new role as a mother.
Since I became a doula, I have known that I wanted to give birth at home. So when I discovered I was pregnant, it was the first choice I pursued. But to have a home birth requires meeting certain protocol. For example, I had to be low risk and between 37 and 42 weeks pregnant. I couldn’t have any complications or medical conditions. Thankfully, my entire pregnancy was a dream. I loved being pregnant and was able to continue my yoga practice, work schedule and social life with relative ease. I made sure to take excellent care of myself, maintained an optimal diet and surrounded myself with love, support and community, especially with my husband Sebastian.
We had chosen midwives, Carol and Shar of Midwifery Care of NYC, that honored and supported natural, intuitive, instinctual birth and we loved how each appointment was held in our home. Carol and Shar were amazing care providers, making sure baby was always doing great while also taking the time to cultivate our connection. Most appointments after checking the baby were spent chatting about our lives, emotions, plans for the birth and all kinds of personal topics. We never felt rushed or pushed into any decision; instead, we were allowed freedom to make our own choices while also being given the time and attention to discuss options and choices. For both Sebastian and myself, connection and trust are key values of our life so we felt especially thankful to have midwives that understood, supported and respected us.
Leading up to the birth, I read countless books on holistic pregnancy, diet and nutrition, birth interventions and risks, parenting styles and home birth safety. Sebastian and I took every class possible: infant CPR, caring for your newborn, how to breastfeed plus an intensive course on hypnobirthing, a gentle and yogic-like approach to birth. I made a birth vision board with images of strong warrior women surrounded by pink and purple flowers. I visualized, meditated, prayed and prepared. Since I know birth can take many forms, we had a plan A, B and C as well as a list of hospitals in the event I needed to transfer. I hired the best doula and birth photographer, Laura, who also happened to be be a dear friend. We had several prenatal meetings to form a solid team with clear intentions and discussed in depth the psychological aspects of birth. I ordered a box of homebirth supplies, did a trial run with our birth pool, found a pediatrician that aligned with our lifestyle and changed the apartment to accommodate our growing family. I drew upon my own experience as a doula and reflected all the powerful women whose births I witnessed and supported, reminding myself that I too can do this.
To say I was ready, confident and prepared would be an understatement.
As my due date rolled around, we had our 40 week prenatal appointment. Mama and baby were great so Sebastian and I decided to have a day date to celebrate being full term. It was a gloriously warm day with a brilliant blue sky so we took to the park and circled the reservoir. We hung out in the backyard, ate delicious meals and just enjoyed the day together dreaming about our baby.
Around 6pm, I started to feel cramps. It was confusing at first because it felt more like menstrual cramps but within a few hours, I was having full blown contractions. I started to time them to get a sense of where I was at: already 5-6 minutes apart and lasting for about 1 minute.
Sebastian had fallen asleep since it was getting so late but I easily managed on my own. I took a hot shower, used my breathing, did some hip circles and kept my mind focused. As a contraction would start, I would begin counting, knowing that once I got to 10 it would be over. Once I got past each surge’s peak, I found it easier to manage the sensation. (For the record, contractions are much more intense than cramps!!!)
Although I was feeling mostly excited and intrigued, I woke Sebastian in the early morning for some support. We called our midwife and later that day Carol came by to get a sense of what was happening. After checking me, we found out that I was 1 centimeter dilated. 1 CENTIMETER! For those of you that may not know, 1 centimeter is nothing! A pregnant mama isn’t even really on the board or technically in labor at 1 centimeter. If I went to a hospital they would have sent me home! Some moms can walk around for days, weeks even, at 1 centimeter.
It was disheartening. I had been in labor close to 24 hours and barely making progress.
I was feeling a bit discouraged but since me and baby were fine, we continued onwards with our plan for a home birth. Carol advised me to rest, eat, hydrate and chill as much as possible – which is difficult when contractions are still coming every few moments. At first resistant, I did what she advised only after having a crying emotional breakdown. Carol mentioned it was likely that labor could take a few days and feeling shock, frustration and fatigue, I couldn’t wrap my head around days of contractions! Sebastian and I decided to shake things up and get out of the house so took a walk to get some dinner at our favorite Indian restaurant. The stroll through our neighborhood took forever because I literally stopped on every corner for a contraction. It was a bit comical once we got to the restaurant because the waiter certainly didn’t know why, every 5 minutes or so, I would either get up and circle around the tables or close my eyes and breath heavily or put my head in my sleeve until each surge passed. Sebastian jokingly told him the food was too spicy and I couldn’t handle the heat!
After we returned home, I tried to sleep, which thankfully I did for a couple hours with the help of a Benadryl. This was also something I was super resistant too mostly because my entire pregnancy I didn’t so much eat a piece of non-organic fruit never mind consume any pills! But under the suggestion of the midwives, I did as instructed and was able to sleep for about 4 blissful hours. This was at first a big hindrance for me because I knew I needed rest to avoid maternal exhaustion but I was reluctant to deviate from my holistic agenda and my ideas on how this should be happening.
I awoke around 3am with more intense contractions. I for sure thought that I must be progressing but after Carol came back for now the third day in a row, I was only 3 centimeters. What a buzz kill. I was 50% effaced which is a good sign but still, I had a long way to go. Carol did sweep my membranes in an attempt to move things along especially since at this point, I was in labor for so long. I was exhausted, emotional and nervous that my dream of a home birth was about to be thrown out the window. But again, baby was good, mama, although tired, was also good, so we stayed at home continuing to labor.
We decided to have an acupuncturist come and give me a treatment in the hopes to kick my labor into a more active state. I was feeling desperate so having a session gave me some reassurance. A quiet, peaceful woman named Stephanie, came over, sat me backwards on a chair propped over pillows and started needling my hands and feet. She placed needles in the center of my lower back to ease the discomfort of my sacrum. I was apprehensive to have a contraction and not be able to move but Stephanie placed her gentle hands on my back and pelvis whenever I did have a surge. This comforting touch enabled me to find stillness and even a bit of solace despite the intensity of sensations.
Stephanie also recommended several herbs to encourage a more active labor so Sebastian went on a hunt around the city looking for the specific tinctures. It ended up being a cold, rainy and dreary day and we were both feeling so low energy but he still managed to go to 3+ stores, taking cabs and walking in the rain. While he was doing that, I was at home, reflecting, praying, meditating and wholeheartedly wishing for this baby to come. I drew on all the tools I gathered as a yogi and doula. I repeated the affirmations from hypnobirthing and visualized the baby being born. Yet despite all of this, I started to feel fear – fear that my homebirth wouldn’t happen, that I would need to be transferred, that this dream I have been holding on to would disappear. I started to go into the mentality of negativity. What’s wrong with me? Why is this happening? Why is this taking so long? When can I catch a break? Why, even as a doula, am I experiencing the longest birth EVER?! About 50 hours in, I was starting to reach my edge.
At this point, it was pretty much confirmed that I had prodromal labor, in a sense of “fake labor” that feels like real labor, preps the body but doesn’t dilate the cervix or get you to the point where you can deliver your baby. What I like to call unfair and cruel!
I allowed myself to spiral for a bit and then pulled it together. Baby is good, I am ok, just in a lot of discomfort. I knew at the deepest level of my core I didn’t need to go to a hospital. I was clear I did not want drugs to alleviate the pain or to speed things up. I did my best to meet the energy of my birth even though it was extremely slow. I reminded myself to continue to breathe, rest in between contractions, stay positive and focused, not give up or give in. Just like from my days as a boxer, round after round, contraction after contraction, I stayed standing, I kept fighting, I wouldn’t never give up. I reaffirmed my warrior spirit and the trust I have in this process.
Luckily, around midnight, my labor started intensifying. Sebastian called our doula Laura and asked her to come over. We were pretty confident I was now in active labor because the contractions were on a whole new level. We also notified the midwife, who was now Shar because Carol was no longer on call. Thankfully, Laura quickly arrived and got right to work. She and Sebastian were a dream team of pain relief. Sebastian blew up the pool and filled it with warm water. They seamlessly alternated between an array of comfort techniques. My hips were squeezed for counter pressure. My sacrum was pushed on and rubbed. Laura used a rebozo to sway my belly and hips. We lunged and squatted and rocked. I breathed and moaned, allowing guttural, primal sounds help dissipate the pain. I spent time in the pool which provided delicious moments of relief, the warm water a sweet respite. I tried to eat small bites of food and was given sips of cold, thirst quenching coconut water fed to me through a straw. I remember asking often, how much longer? When will baby come? Can I please be done? And luckily I was always met with an honest answer, a warm smile, a pat on the back or a tender, gentle embrace. I remember moments were Laura was firm, asking me to work in order to get the baby to further descend but I also remember the sweetest gestures of encouragement and more than anything else, an immense amount of love. As a doula, I loved being doula-ed.
Sebastian was particularly invaluable during labor. He never wavered or complained, suggested we transfer or change our plan. He was so solid and steady, my rock through the whole experience. His confidence and trust in me was so powerful that it gave me more strength, courage and perseverance to birth our baby even when I felt too tired to continue. After every contraction, he would remind me that it was one less, or rather one closer to meeting our baby. I am forever thankful to have a partner who trusted me and the decision we made together.
Baby was continually checked hour after hour and thankfully, she was alway perfectly fine and in no sign of distress. As I periodically got checked, I started dilating more quickly, 7 centimeters, then 8, finally 9. As I approached 10, I thought I would be cracked open. The pain was so raw and intense, getting harder and harder to manage. I felt so vulnerable, quite a foreign feeling for me. Every time I thought I was at my edge, this birth experience would push my further to dig deeper, to rise up, to press on. It was only with the help of my dream team of Sebastian, Laura, Shar and the midwife’s assistant Nicole, that I was able to keep my mind focused and present, feeling safe and supported.
At this point my water still hadn’t broken but when the urge to push started, I went in the pool and POP, my water finally released. I foolishly thought the head came out. (In hindsight, it was MUCH more work than that!) That’s when I really started to feel the baby move down with an incredible amount of pressure. I REALLLLY wanted to deliver the baby in water but my exhaustion had won over and I knew in my gut that I needed support, help and coaching. I lingered for a bit longer in the warm water before agreeing to move to our bed where Shar was able to talk me through this next phase. This also was a big pattern breaker for me because I rarely ask for help. I tend to be fiercely independent and want to do everything myself. But birth has a way to humble even the toughest women.
I wish I could say I caught a break and the pushing part was easy but unfortunately, it brought me to a whole new level of what I thought I was capable of. It took me 3 hours to push baby out. Three hours of the most physically demanding, intense, outrageously difficult work of my entire life – which says a lot considering I have been exercising since I am 14 and spent years training as a champion boxer all the while dedicating my entire life to acquiring strength, muscle tone and endurance. Apparently, baby was very high up with a big head and I have a narrow pelvis. I also had something called a cervical lip that the midwife had to manually move while I was having contractions to help get it out of the way. I think I saw stars at this point and felt myself surrender to the overwhelming amount of sensation going through my body. Part of me was dying – no question. But part of me was being born and it wasn’t just my baby.
I pushed like my life depended on it. I pushed with every cell and every fiber of my being. I pushed with my soul. I gathered every ounce of my strength, willpower, determination, desire and drive. This was, I knew in that moment, the culmination of everything in my life to this point, everything I ever was and am, everything I knew and prepared for, everything that enabled me to transcend the pain and cross over the threshold to birth myself as a mother. Every squat, every push-up, every high lunge, every drop of sweat – all to acquire the strength and tenacity for this experience.
As I felt her head emerge, and what is kindly referred to as the “ring of fire,” Laura reminded me it was only temporary. That struck me so deeply and enabled me to keep going when part of me wanted to just quit. Temporary, I remember thinking. This won’t last forever.
And then finally, at 4:29pm on April 1, Arya Rose Alappat was born. As her slippery body came out, Sebastian was able to catch our daughter and place her directly on my chest. The first thing I remember saying was, Is it over? Am I really done? We hadn’t known gender up until this point and finally discovered it was a girl. What an April Fool’s trick because Sebastian and I were confident, certain even, that we were having a boy!
Arya Rose came out relatively calm and we were able to indulge in uninterrupted skin to skin. The placenta was soon delivered and we were all amazed at the size and strength of it. The membranes were super thick and powerful, the result of the clean diet I maintained throughout pregnancy and certainly, validation on some level of the effort and care I put into this whole pregnancy. But also part of the reason why my water took so long to break!
Sebastian, Arya and I laid in bed while the apartment was put back together, the pool drained and the mess cleaned up. We were in heaven, I was exhausted but totally blissed out. Laura took a piece of my placenta, blended it into a smoothie and I drank it like I had never seen food before. She and Sebastian then made some prints with it before placing it in a ziplock bag to later be turned into pills. Shar checked me and baby and thankfully, we were both doing great. She was healthy and happy and I, high on this new life, felt pretty amazing. I had a gorgeous new baby, the perfect family of three plus the homebirth I always wanted even though it wasn’t the way I planned or envisioned. Nothing in my life ever felt better or so exquisitely earned.
Having a 70 hour, 3 day labor was far from what I expected. And having gone through the experience and being on the otherside, between sleepless nights and breastfeeding, I find myself reflecting on it so much. I know for sure it changed me – on the core level – but I also recognize there are so many lessons to be learned, so much to take away from these epic three days. I know this birth will be a source of knowledge and wisdom for years to come but in this moment, I realize why this is the long journey Arya and I had to take.
The most paramount thing is how this birth prepared me for motherhood. Even though I read several parenting books, this experience has shaped how I am mothering. If I had the birth I envisioned with everything going according to plan and exactly the way I wanted, then I would have went into parenting more rigid, stiff and adamant about having things go my way. I would probably try to stick to a strict schedule and diligently keep track of every feeding + wet diaper. (Not that there is anything wrong with that, it’s just that I have a tendency to strictly plan and then stress when things deviate.) Instead, birthing Arya has given me profound trust in her – that she is an aware, conscious being with her own intelligence and rhythm. I cannot force her to do or be anything but rather I need to flow with her and who she is. We are a team, each with equal parts. It can’t be just my way or how I think it should go but instead we co-create the relationship together. She taught me extreme patience and compassion and now that she is here, I find myself observing more, softening my approach, letting go of expectations and being present with who she is and what she needs. This birth gave me permission to be more fluid, gentle, open and most of all relaxed – which I honestly don’t think would have happened under different circumstances. It has shown me another way, a more feminine way, that is outside my comfort zone but unexpectedly what now feels best.
In addition, I understand that part of me had to die. That may sound a bit extreme but I sense this birth enabled something new to be born. And what was born was me as a mother. My expectations, my plans and perfectionist ways, my attachment to the process and even with my yogi approach all went out the window as I labored for hours upon end. What I used to prepare me, my mind, played a dual role in this long birth. I couldn’t think my way out of it. I couldn’t rationalize the experience or even wrap my head around it. For all my preparation and reading, for all my work as a doula and everything I know about birth, I had little experience or knowledge with prodromal labor. It caught me off guard and by surprise. It wasn’t on my radar of possible “what if” scenarios, even though I created 1000 what-if scenarios in my mind including a transfer to a hospital for a C-section birth. I didn’t learn about it in hypnobirthing or childbirth ed classes. I was angry at myself for not knowing.
But yet, my mind, with it’s fierce determination, with the ability to be so mentally tough, what got me stuck initially, was ultimately what got me through this monumental challenge. And for me, nothing is more epic than a badass challenge. In spite of it all, I am thankful I was so prepared, that I cultivated an extensive toolbox to help manage labor, that my mind is so strong, so unwavering, so solid, I never even thought of giving up. My personal patterns were so clearly brought into my awareness that I had no choice but to surrender and let go. This birth allowed me to feel depth of my own vulnerability, needing help and having the courage to ask for it. Not being afraid of being supported or dependent but instead finding strength by leaning on others.
Moreover, Arya’s birth also reminded me that I am capable of anything, which is especially important navigating life with a newborn. All of the unknowns and sleepless nights, the fussiness and crying really can wear on a new mom’s confidence. But instead of doubting myself, I instead feel capable, present and aware. Even if I need time to figure it out, I don’t lose my cool or get frustrated. This birth empowered me and gave me a new level of confidence. I just think of our birth, Arya and I together, trusting each other, trusting the process. If I was able to labor for 3 days, I can get through anything. If birth took me to my edge, an edge I didn’t know existed, and then forced me to go further and deeper, repeatedly, over and over again, with fatigue so overwhelming I felt like I couldn’t stand but yet did and forced me to fight even harder, I know I can do anything. This is the true gift.
Ultimately, what Arya really taught me was expansion. I didn’t know I can love this much, feel this much, be this much. There is no end nor limit to what is possible. Like my doula told me, there is always more love. Always another level to embrace. I am bigger than my mind. Together, we are larger than this experience. It was a long journey to meet each other but birth was the beginning of my family and now we have this beautiful story to share together. Birth taught me the importance of honoring Arya and her light without compromising myself in the process and finding a way to work together that aligned with both our spirits.
It is commonly believed a woman births the way she lives. I live with intention, thrive on adventure, over plan so I can over deliver and put my heart and sould into everything I do. So yes, I would agree. I birthed the way I live. I was open to it being the best, most beautiful, transformative moment of my life. And it was. And then some. But it was also the hardest. I was broken open only to be reassembled into someone I am getting to know through the selfless care of my child. So far, I like what I see.
A huge special acknowledgement to my amazing birth team and incredible supportive husband. I couldn’t have done it without your care, love, respect and support. And to my sweet baby girl, my first born, my daughter Arya Rose. Thank you for choosing me to be your mama!