Stripped‘s Ali Levine is opening up about her “completely unexpected” and 42-hour labor.
On April 3, the celebrity stylist and her husband, Justin Jacaruso, welcomed their first child into the world, daughter Amelia Rei Jacaruso, via cesarean section.
“My birth experience was completely unexpected and crazier than I could of imagined. I’ve always heard you can’t control and just let go, but to be in the thick of it and experience that was something I’ll never fully be able to articulate how I felt in the moment,” Levine tells PEOPLE.
“I had planned on a natural vaginal birth. I did not want drugs nor want to go to a hospital, I felt truly connected to my baby in a spiritual manner and therefore I wanted a peaceful tub birth.”
Levine initially was at home for the “first good portion” of her labor with her husband and her doula, Alexis Haines, by her side keeping her comfortable.
“She did different comfort measures to make sure I could handle the pain. Walking, swaying, rotating my hips, using my birth ball. I wanted to experience my birth truly and be one with my baby through the whole process. Then once I started to progress, we went to my birth center, Push Midwifery, where my midwife Robyn Pool continued to monitor me and have me keep pushing and laboring to get the baby down,” says Levine.
But after 30 hours of labor and heavy pushing in the tub, where she originally planned to give birth, her midwife informed her that it was time to go to the hospital.
“I got out of the tub, into my robe, my husband packed up my birth bag and we got into his truck to drive to the hospital,” she shares.
Want all the latest pregnancy and birth announcements, plus celebrity mom blogs? Click here to get those and more in the PEOPLE Babies newsletter.
Upon arriving at the hospital, Levine “continued to push for hours,” but her doctor informed her that Amelia “wasn’t coming down and they were going to crank me up on Pitocin and try to essentially torpedo her out of me.”
“After I was on the highest amount I could possibly be on and nothing was changing, they gave me an epidural that I reluctantly allowed them to give me to alleviate the pain I was then starting to feel. After more hours of pushing and no success with her coming down, it was time to make a hard decision, which was to prep me to go into the operating room,” says Levine.
With the full support of her husband, and after 42 hours of labor, Levine decided to go into the operating room for a cesarean section.
“I was very afraid to undergo the surgery and feared something could go wrong during it. I’ve never had any major surgery except for my wisdom teeth. I am not comfortable in hospitals in general and my anxiety is the worst. So this was really scary for me,” Levine explains.
“I also didn’t want to be groggy to meet my daughter. I had heard stories about many moms not even remembering that moment. I had been anticipating her birth for so long and meeting her. So I wouldn’t let them put me on any heavier drugs when I entered the operating room for my unexpected c-section. I had more anxiety during my c-section then I did during my long natural labor.”
But under 10 minutes later, Levine held her daughter in her arms for the first time.
Since welcoming her baby girl into the world, Levine says that the experience has been both “amazing” and “overwhelming.”
“You truly do not sleep, do not know your name or anything else in between and you feel delirious yet so in love with your new bundle! I can’t stop staring at her and falling in love. What a little miracle,” she says.
“I’ve never felt so complete as a mom and never felt such a love. It’s overwhelming and wonderful at the same time. My husband as well, is overcome by the love he has for her, and I think he may love her more than me, and somehow I’m okay with that.”
Reflecting on her birthing experience, Levine hopes that fellow mothers who underwent c-sections won’t feel any shame about the operation.
“I want women to not feel ashamed for not being able to give birth vaginally. I’ve been very hard on myself personally. There’s a lot of mommy shaming nowadays, for what’s right and wrong during your birth and raising your baby,” she shares.
“It’s what’s right to you and feels right for your birth. You are their mom. You can plan and plan and still things can change; it’s up to your baby when it comes to the actual birth,” says Levine. “Birth is truly a journey of your child and you can make a birth plan, but for me that all went out the window.”
“Amelia chose her own path. I am still accepting that,” she says. (She later found out after the birth that there was nothing wrong during the birth, but that Amelia was simply “too big” for her to push out.)
The reality star and stylist recommends that women extend grace to themselves and also allow others to take care of them throughout the birthing process and in their recovery journeys.
“You really have to be easy on yourself and let everyone take care of you,” she says. “Your body truly has to heal from the surgery and that’s okay, but giving yourself that time and using it to bond with your baby and turn it into a positive is something I’m teaching myself and want other women to think about too when they are in that situation.”
Now, when Levine looks down at her scar, she says that she is “starting to smile instead of cry” because it’s both a physical reminder of her strength and the beauty of birth.
“It’s starting to remind me of how strong I was, and how that scar led to my beautiful girl and now my little family,” she says. “We as women are always hard on ourselves, I think we all need to give ourselves a break especially with giving birth however it plays out, myself included. You’re a warrior for going through your pregnancy and birth no matter how your beautiful baby is born. Women are incredible.”