Angelique Serrano is InStyle's beauty director and mother to one-year-old Livia Noelle.
It was around 1:00 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 25—hours after my husband and I put the leftover turkey away after hosting both our families on Thanksgiving—that I felt the first pangs of labor. After six relentless hours of pain, I asked my husband to take me to the hospital—but not before grabbing my makeup bag.
That was 14 months ago. It’s only now that I think I’ve finally figured out why I insisted on applying makeup before my delivery began. But, then again, like motherhood, it’s still somewhat of a mystery to me.
The easy answer is that I’m a beauty editor. I deal in glitter and barter in gloss. I know makeup; it makes me comfortable. Having a Fresh Sugar Cream Lip balm on me at all times is like my baby girl eying her milk bottle from across the room: Just knowing it’s closeby makes everything else bearable.
But I’m pretty sure it goes deeper than that. When I packed my hospital kit, I filled it with products that contained natural ingredients my pregnant self was comfortable using; I had creams and highlighters from RMS Beauty, blushes from The Honest Company. And I made room for heavy-hitters that I was beyond excited to start using again, like benzoyl peroxide acne scrubs (see ya, pregnancy pimples!). I packed it long before my Christmas due date—and grabbed it five weeks early, as I peeled myself off the bathroom floor, crawled into our car with fast contractions, and sped to the hospital for an unexpected delivery.
Unlike how labor looks in the movies, I had no dramatic water break. My labor began with sharp, breathtaking pains that radiated every three minutes. I kept up that steady rhythm—holding my breath, gritting my teeth and clenching my fists on repeat—for almost three days. Of course, my regular doctor was away enjoying her Thanksgiving holiday (I was five weeks early—who could blame her?), so during those three days I got to know my fill-in doctor. Let’s call her Dr. L. To my relief she was kind, patient, and understanding, and insisted that I consider pain meds for the long road ahead.
Let’s pause here. I think it’s important to share a few details of my pregnancy. As my husband once told me, “Every symptom a pregnant person could possibly have, you have.” Morning sickness? Through month seven. Charlie horses? I’ve woken up screaming from them more often than I want to remember. Itchy skin? So much so that I used to run into our office bathroom, shut the door, and scratch my body to numb the itch while I cried. Acid reflux? It got to the point where I had to sleep sitting up. (PSA: Tums Mint Chewables are not sold in every drugstore, so stock up the day you see two pink lines on that stick.)
So perhaps it was an accumulation of a pregnancy that made me feel wholly unattractive. Maybe it was vanity. Maybe, when Dr. L walked into my hospital room after midnight on November 27to tell me it was time to have my baby, I just needed to feel pretty. Or maybe I needed to create a shiny surface to hide behind, so no one would see how scared I was. Or maybe, in those uncertain moments before my daughter was born, it was the only way I could think of to feel in control of a situation I had absolutely no control over. When Dr. L left the room to staff up for the delivery, I asked my husband to pass me my makeup bag. I didn’t know exactly what was happening to my body at the time, but I knew how to line my eyes by touch; I knew how to apply mascara without a mirror; I knew how to press Honest Beauty Miracle Balm into my cheekbones to alleviate tension and bring a glow to my skin.
So that’s what I did. And at 2:48 a.m., our baby girl arrived. She wasn’t breathing. Dr. L brought her to the corner of the delivery room, where the neonatal intensive care unit nurses were waiting. I don’t know how much time went by, but with each second my ears rang louder and louder. We hadn’t decided on a name yet. And as I begged my husband to stand over her, comfort her, help her, she turned her little head over toward us. We both swear she looked straight at us (an important point I had to confirm with my husband, as hours later I would start hallucinating). And that’s when I blurted out, “Liv! I want her to live. Her name is Liv.”
Baby Livia Noelle took her first gulps of air and was wheeled off to the NICU. When a nurse overheard me after the delivery saying there were bugs crawling on my hospital room ceiling, she reported me to Dr. L, who puzzle-pieced together a diagnosis of HELLP syndrome. The itchy skin, the acid reflux, and finally the hallucinations all added up.
So off I went to a 24-hour treatment room. And while I was being wheeled down the hallway, people commented on how great I looked. I bobbed my woozy head, thanked them, and said it was RMS Beauty Un Cover-Up number 22.