~ 38 Weeks 5 Days
To dispense with the suspense (I know I'd be scrolling down to the end to find out anyway), our baby girl, Anna Gabriela, was born on the 28th of December, 2005. Good length and weight, with dark hair and blue(!) eyes. As anyone who has a child knows, time flies about 10 times as quickly when you have a baby in the house, and as I write this, I'm amazed that 1) this chubby cheeky baby snoozing in my lap is my "newborn", and 2) that the past 8 weeks of her babyhood so far have flown by in a heartbeat. All this is a preamble to say, sorry I'm late with my birth story…
Before I launch into this, a disclaimer: by definition, a birth story gets pretty graphic. So if you're my father, father-in-law, or a friend from college who'd rather not hear about mucous plugs and episiotomies (or would rather not know what that is), maybe you just want to skip this entry and just look at the photos.
Let's zip back to the evening of the 26th, in week 38 of my pregnancy. Waking up in the middle of the night, I felt a trickle of liquid and had a tiny bit of bleeding. Knowing it could still be a while, I double-checked my pregnancy books to confirm that these could be signs of labor, but decided not to wake Mik yet to tell him. I knew he'd be too fired up to go back to sleep, and probably nothing would happen until the morning anyway. I managed to snooze a little, then at 8 am called the doctors' office just to check in. Because there was a chance that my water had broken, I was told by the nurse to come in, in case I needed an antibiotic. Even at that point, I kind of knew it wasn't really time yet, and that I would end up being "one of those women" who gets sent back home. Buuuut, they told me to come in, so Mik and I grabbed the labor bag (I even brought some knitting with me, in case it ended up being a long wait) and jumped in a taxi. Sure enough, Dr. F checked me, and though I was 2 cm dilated, my water had in fact NOT broken, so I was told to go back home. I asked what that trickle of water might have been, and she said maybe it was the "forebag"… Hm… there's a forebag?? Maybe she didn't want to hurt my feelings by telling me it was just probably pee. Before we left, maybe she was just getting me into the right mindset, but she had me set up the following week's appointment, just in case nothing happened until then.
10:30 am. I go home, Mik goes to work, and I putter around for a few hours then zonk out on my office couch for a couple of hours while watching my new West Wing DVDs.
2 pm. Contractions had snuck up on me, but by 2 they were becoming more frequent and more painful, 3-6 minutes apart, lasting 30-100 seconds.
4 pm. Mik and I have been keeping in touch on IM, and at 4, I ask him to come home because it's starting to really hurt. He asks if I'm sure it's time to go to the hospital and I nearly bite his head off: it HUUUURTS, come home NOW. When he gets home, he decides that doing the dishes will calm him down, but is so agitated that he ends up breaking a glass.
6 pm. It's time. It must be. The pain is already worse than the worst cramps I've ever had in my life, and I've been pacing the apartment with it for four hours now. We grab the labor bag again and get into a taxi. In the middle of Beijing rush hour traffic, the trip takes 45 minutes, and we try to chat casually in the cab to keep my mind off the pain: "How was your day, hon?" "Oh yeah, you know, we never picked a middle name for a boy," and, just for fun, "How many centimeters do you think I'm dilated by now?" I made what I thought was a conservative estimate, thinking that that way, I wouldn't be disappointed if I wasn't as far along as I thought I was. My guess: 6 cm. Mik's guess: 4 cm. Actual dilation when we arrived at the hospital and I was examined by the midwife: 2 cm. "Maybe 2.5," she said. Uuuugh.
9:25 pm. The doctor arrives - my regular doctor is not on call tonight, but I was warned this could happen, and I've seen this Dr. before, so it's not such a big deal. Dilation 3 cm, 4 cm during contractions. I'm already hooked up to the monitor, and at this point she asks if I'm ready for the epidural, saying that at this point, it might help loosen the cervix and move things along. Uh, yes please.
10 pm. The anesthesiologist arrives to administer the epidural. Simply lying on my side has been uncomfortable for weeks now, so lying on my side, during a contraction, while a splint was being rammed into my spine was insult added to injury added to a kick in the teeth.
Fifteen minutes later. Aaaaaah.
I sleep for a few hours, then at 1:30 am, 6-7 cm dilated, I get the second dose of the epidural. By 4:30, I'm fully dilated, but somehow misunderstand the directions and didn't fully realize that I really would feel an URGE to push. When the midwife asked if I felt ready to push, I thought she was just asking if I was game. "Let's get it over with" was what was in my head at the time - and so blew a ton of energy pushing before my body and the baby were probably really ready. Needless to say, I wore myself out pretty quickly. At 5:30, they administered Pitocin, and an hour later, Mik could see the top of a little head. Through my haze, I could see that they had wheeled in a cart with a vacuum extractor and forceps and some other stuff, and was starting to get a bit anxious because the doctor seemed to be concerned about the baby's condition. This is when the big disadvantage of giving birth in a foreign country, even in a western hospital, became apparent: the doctor and midwives were speaking rapidly to each other in Chinese, and only small snippets were occasionally translated for me. Not wanting to slow them down, Mik and I hesitated to demand translations, all in all, adding to what already is a fairly bewildering experience. When the doctor said, "OK, last push," I didn't really know what the "or else" was, but I gave it all I had, and still ended up with a large episiotomy. I could see Mik turn pale when they made the cut, then he chokes up in tears as the baby slips free and he probably realizes that it's the end of the world as we know it.
6:44 am, December 28, 2005: All is forgotten as they show me my screaming little baby girl.
Would you like a small animal?
So. I have heard of women who actually enjoy the birthing experience, and forego the drugs and pain relief in order not to miss a single moment of it. I say, hurrah for them, but myself, I just can't see it. The 9 months of pregnancy were a breeze compared to those last 16 hours trying to get her out, and thank goodness for modern medicine.
Our hospital has a standard 3-day postpartum stay, and Mik and I had talked beforehand about going home earlier if I felt up to it, but after the birth, that thought just seemed absurd. I milked every last minute with that handy "nurse call" button, and often wished over the following weeks that it had an extension cord long enough to reach our apartment. There were other perks, too - a candlelight dinner served in our room one night, and a manicure/pedicure for me. Gabriela roomed in, and there was a foldout couch for Mik, and the nurses were willing to do as much or as little for us as we liked. Even comic relief was provided for free: two days after Gabriela was born, I was offered "a small animal" in the event that I hadn't managed to poop on my own. It took us a while to realize that this was a communication issue, and not a Chinese natural remedy, but Mik and I had some fun thinking about exactly what type of small animal it could have been.
Eight weeks later, we have most things sorted out. Gabriela breastfeeds but takes a bottle as well, is settling into a schedule and is learning to fall asleep on her own. We have daily photo sessions (required by the grandmas) when she gets to wear all the great little outfits that friends and family have been sending. She chats with the little baby in the bathroom mirror daily, and flirts with total strangers at Starbucks. She slept through most of her first yoga class, as well as her first playdate (so did her little friend, who's just a few days younger). Little Gabriela definitely has her own funny little personality and is going to be a spirited little girl for sure. Now equipped with great head control, a curious stare, and E.U. passport, she's ready to start roaming the world with Mama and Pappa. We already have tickets booked!
Thanks for reading along with my pregnancy journal. Thanks again to those of you who have sent me emails to let me know you've been reading, and to the preggies out there, enjoy the ride!