During my pregnancy with my daughter, I often dreamt of her arrival. As a first-time mom, I didn’t quite know what to expect. And as the experience of carrying a child taught me, nothing can prepare you for the physical (and emotional) challenges and changes. I knew my birthing experience would be a rollercoaster — and I was filled with wonder and amazement at what my body would endure. And while I had nausea, heartburn, swelling, mood swings, anxiety — and some hip discomfort while sleeping, generally speaking, I was really lucky to have an easy and healthy pregnancy. My daughter was right on track at every appointment, and I remained in shape as she kicked away in my tummy.
So, when I felt something different at 9 p.m. on a Saturday night, I wasn’t quite sure if I was in labor. No matter how hard people describe contractions, it isn’t easy to understand their intensity until you experience them yourself. For me, they started with a tightening and released sensation in my lower pelvis. They reminded me of the Braxton-Hicks contractions I felt throughout my second and third trimesters, and I didn’t want to get my hopes up. However, when they started coming in waves every 10 minutes, like clockwork, I wondered if maybe the show was about to begin. To help ease the transition from just me to me-with-a-baby, my husband and I hired a doula team to be there with us through our journey. I texted our group chat to clue them in on my progress, and they asked me to track them to see if they became consistent.
And while television and movies portray the childbirth experience as a super-fast ordeal that requires speeding to the hospital before the baby arrives, the reality couldn’t be more different for me. In fact, my expectations were completely off — and from that first contraction to my daughter’s first cry, I endured 52 hours of labor.
Yep, 52 hours.
During that time, I could only sleep a handful of hours when the contractions would come and go. On Saturday night, I slept for five hours. On Sunday night, not at all. By Monday morning, my contractions still weren’t following the 5-1-1 rule of heading to the hospital (contractions every five minutes, lasting one minute for one hour.) Instead, they were chaotic — sometimes four minutes apart. Sometimes 10. And randomly, 15. They were growing in pain level (ouch), but they weren’t getting closer together.
The Final Countdown
My husband and I called my doctor as soon as they opened, and they asked us to come in to get checked. Sadly, I was only 2 cm dilated — a long way to go to the required 10 to push. They gave me some medicine to help me sleep and suggested I head home to try and rest. As I could have predicted as someone who has battled sleep her whole life, the medication didn’t do much — and instead, my contractions started getting closer together. I was exhausted, frustrated — and worried about having enough energy to make it to the end of my delivery.
After talking to our doula for guidance, we decided to head to the hospital and agreed to potential induction methods if necessary. While I had wanted to avoid induction if I could, running on no sleep and consistent pain for more than 24 hours made me desperate for a bit of relief. Once we arrived, I quickly asked for an epidural, and while it took a while to figure it out, once I had one, I could take a nap. With the help of the nurse, my doula, and my husband, they safely positioned me on my side so I could take a power nap.
Within a few hours, I had reached the point where it was time to push. Groggy, anxious, and still tired, I looked around the dimly lit room for reassurance. It was 3:00 a.m., I was somewhere I’d never been around some people I’d never met, and I was about to have one of the most intimate moments of my life. My husband, also nervous about his new role as a father, gently rubbed my head and whispered words of encouragement.
Reconnecting with Myself
But it was my doula, Evan, who knew exactly what I needed in that moment. As a birth doula for many years and hundreds of births, she has an incredible database of tools and insight to help women feel comfortable during this life-altering experience. Throughout my pregnancy, her energy calmed me, and I was grateful she was present for my daughter’s arrival.
I’ll forever be thankful for that moment and for the encouragement of my doula to remind me of the special, unique and yet, powerful things that make me, me.
As the nurse was preparing for delivery and helping me to sit up, Evan asked: “Do you want your lipstick?” She grabbed my makeup bag (yep, I brought one!) and handed it to me, and I pulled out the tube. Squinting into a mirror, looking at my unrecognizable reflection with deep, dark, and puffy eyes, I felt a surge of empowerment, applying a layer of crimson. It wasn’t the kind of polarizing “birthing makeup” making the rounds on TikTok, but it was exactly what I needed in that moment. I took a deep breath, I gave myself an internal pep talk, and I tried to remember who I was underneath the IVs, the birthing gown, and the heavy mask of exhaustion.
“I am a 33-year-old woman. I started my own successful business. I’ve traveled to more than 40 countries. I’ve made my dreams come true. I’m strong. I can do this.”
And though it wasn’t the same sensation of putting on lipstick for a night out, it gave me that same sense of self and confidence that I needed. I smiled at Evan, who took my makeup bag and then returned to my side so I could start to push.
- Did lipstick make me push faster? Nope, it still took me an hour.
- Did lipstick prevent me from tearing? Nope, I did just a little bit.
- Did lipstick ensure my daughter came into the world safely? No, the doctors and nurses did that.
- Did lipstick make me feel like me as I started motherhood? It sure did.
- And my daughter had a kiss print on her from a few minutes old.
I’ll forever be thankful for that moment and for the encouragement of my doula to remind me of the special, unique and yet, powerful things that make me, me. It’s a lesson I’ve taken with me on my motherhood journey and one I hope to teach my girl as she grows. Lipstick has always been a daily staple in my life, and while I now add ‘mother’ to my list of responsibilities, I do it with my signature, bold, red lip.
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