Zoe’s Birth Story, Part 2

As I sit on my couch, milk-drunk infant draped across my ample chest, nutritious lunch consisting of a withered carrot and a bag of goldfish crackers in hand, I am hit by the truism that babies take a lot of time. Basically, ALL the time. I had heard this before Zoe was born, but I didn’t fully grasp it – how could a mewling mini-creature who spends two thirds of the day sleeping occupy your entire waking life? I still don’t have a rational answer to that question, but my current lifestyle would suggest that I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid. Not that I’m complaining – Miss Ham Hocks is awesome – just bewildered.

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Is it just me, or do my braces make me look vaguely menacing? Sort of like a hungry crocodile…

I’ve been meaning to finish writing Zoe’s birth story for awhile, and this afternoon, the stars have magically aligned: I’m slightly less sleep-deprived than usual, she’s asleep, and I’m not experiencing a complete hormonal meltdown. So here goes:

Zoe’s birth story, Part 2.

After I spent an hour passed out on the operating table, I was taken to the recovery room, where I spent another 3.5 hours before I was finally moved to my room. Looking back, it seems pretty strange to me that it took so long before I was reunited with Zoe, but at the time, I was pretty loopy. I knew she was with her dad, so I was ok. I found out later that the hospital was pretty unclear regarding its regulations: before the surgery, they told us that Todd would be able to visit me in recovery, and that our doula Catherine was allowed in the nursery, but after the surgery, neither of these were allowed. Catherine gestured at Todd through the nursery glass to give Zoe skin-to-skin contact, and then she waited for us in our room. Todd spent the next few hours bonding shirtless with Zoe, who just wanted to nurse, and wondering if I was ok. Finally, I was given a dose of some sort of gnarly pain killer, and brought to my room. By the time Todd and Zoe arrived, I was basically comatose once again. I was told that I couldn’t sit up, eat or drink for 24 hours, so Catherine helped Zoe latch while I lay there. I was so grateful that Catherine was there to help us, because between Zoe’s stoner mother, and her father-who-just-spent-five-hours-with-a-little-piranha-trying-to-suck-his-bicep, I’m not sure that first breastfeeding session would have happened.

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We spent 5 days total in the hospital. Looking back, they were probably both the hardest and the best days of my life.

The Hard:

The hard parts were both physical and emotional. Somehow, it had never really occurred to me that a c-section is major abdominal surgery. I’m ashamed to admit that I sort of thought of it as the “easy way out” (no pun intended). Now, I believe that there is no “easy way” to get a baby out of you – whether it’s the birth itself, or the aftermath (or both), birth is arduous. Recovery was painful – my whole torso ached. In addition, during abdominal surgery, it’s common for air to get trapped in your abdomen, leading to terrible gas pain in your shoulders, neck, guts, etc. I spent the first few days post surgery bent almost double – the fact that the custom in Thailand is to tightly bind the wound with stiff fabric probably didn’t help. In the meantime, breastfeeding had changed from pain-free to painful. Because it was still difficult to sit up, I fed Zoe lying down. The only problem with this technique is that I couldn’t really see her mouth, so Todd had to help me. Feeding sessions went something like this:

Todd: “Her mouth is wide open!! Quick!! Latch!!”

Me: “Gaahhhh! She looks like a piranha!! I can’t do this!!!”

Followed by both mother and daughter bawling. The days following my milk coming in (potentially the most bizarre experience of my life) were particularly rough, as the hormones made me feel nauseous, and Zoe wanted to feed much more often. Fortunately, things have since improved.

Emotionally, our days in the hospital were also tough. Zoe’s birth day was nothing like what we anticipated: it felt almost as though we had trained for a marathon only to be driven to the finish line (to complete the c-section metaphor, I guess our arrival at the finish line would be accompanied by getting a sledgehammer to the knees or something). We also had to come to terms with the way the three of us had been separated almost immediately post-birth. And while we really did receive excellent care in the hospital, the language and cultural barriers, as well as the hospital regulations often left us feeling bewildered. Crazy hormones and lack of sleep did not help our mood either.

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The piranha awaits

 The Good

As tough as the experience was, it was also incredibly good. Bringing a new life into the world is the most beautiful, miraculous thing that I have ever experienced. Todd and I would often stop and stare at Zoe, and marvel that we were involved in the creation of such a perfect creature. Watching her sleep next to me was surreal – it was hard to believe that this was who had spent the last 9 months inside of me. Even though the extra 10 days after my due date felt like an eternity, I am grateful that she was born during the Advent season. She is a treasure that was greatly anticipated.

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I’m also so grateful that our doctor recommended the c-section. While it wasn’t the birth experience we hoped for, it ended up being the birth experience that Zoe needed. As a blog that I recently read put it: “Natural isn’t always the best. Death and illness are also natural.” I feel blessed to live in an era in which medical intervention in childbirth is available. When my doctor came to take out my stitches, I started bawling (“crying” is not an adequate verb for the waterworks I unleashed in the hospital) as I thanked him for saving our baby. He patted my leg, and told me that he felt like he was part of our family now.

Because I wasn’t able to move around much after the birth, Todd did everything baby-related short of feeding Zoe (not that she didn’t try). It was so neat to watch him father her, and he quickly became a pro at diapering, bathing, and swaddling her. I was already a pretty big fan, but our first days with Zoe gave me a whole new appreciation for Todd.

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A nurse teaches Todd how to bathe the angry hippo

I also got to watch my mother become a grandmother. She dropped in daily with random foods that she had bought while conversing with half the street vendors in Bangkok. Needless to say, she was pretty pleased with our little spawn.

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My precious…

After five days, it was finally time to go home.

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It’s been 16 days since Zoe’s birth, and I’m still processing the whole experience. I still cry when I think about our hospital stay – both out of sadness and gratitude. No doubt sleeplessness and hormones are triggering some of the tears. But the tears also come because I know that we aren’t the same people that we were before we entered that operating room. Just as Zoe was born that day, Todd and I experienced a kind of birth into our new roles as her parents. It is simultaneously the most beautiful and the most terrifying journey that I can imagine taking. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

For Unto Us a Child is Born

Zoe Ruth was born on December 3rd at 12:33pm, and weighed in at a chunkalicious 9.1 lbs.

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After all my whining about being overdue, this post is overdue by about 7 days. Maybe there’s a pattern in my life/womb that I need to examine…

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Zoe’s birth story – Part 1.

** disclaimer for my brothers: don’t worry. I’m not going to get all graphic on you.**

When I hit 10 days past my due date, my obstetrician told me that he wanted to induce labour. Induction was something that I had been dreading since I hit my due date. While I wouldn’t describe myself as being rigidly “natural,” I was looking forward to a natural birth experience. We had hired a doula, and I assumed that I would follow in my mother’s footsteps, and have a straightforward labour experience. While induction doesn’t preclude this, it does increase the possibility of medical interventions, which I didn’t want. My doctor wasn’t comfortable with letting my pregnancy continue, though, and told me that I would have to sign a form waiving him of any liability if I chose to keep waiting for labour to start by itself. Todd and I weren’t prepared to ignore our doctor’s advice, and I was also starting to have serious doubts that Zoe would ever arrive on her own. So we checked into the hospital on Monday night to start the induction process.

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Getting ready to leave. When you’re overdue, you have time to add a ridiculous amount of extras to your hospital bag.

I was given a low dose of hormones overnight, in the hopes that, at the very least, they would prepare my body for labour, and hopefully even trigger regular contractions. I had several random contractions that night, but nothing that indicated real labour was on its way. The next morning, I was hooked up to several monitors so that the nurses could observe my contractions as well as Zoe’s heart rate. After an hour of this, my doctor decided to start me on a Pitocin drip. Most women respond to the drug quickly, and it tends to trigger intense, regular contractions. When our doula, Catherine, heard that we were about to start Pitocin, she got to the hospital as quickly as she could. I was nervous, but excited. Finally, I would get to experience REAL contractions! (any woman who has given birth is probably rolling her eyes right now) After two hours of pleasant chit-chat with Todd and Catherine, interspersed with mild contractions, I was starting to wonder when things would actually get going. So were the nurses. When asked, I told them that my pain level was at a 3 or a 4. They responded with “We want you to be at a 10, ka.” Much as I wanted to believe that I have an exceptionally high pain tolerance, it was clear that something wasn’t working. And then Zoe’s heart rate dropped dramatically three times in a row, and I had an oxygen tube strapped to my face. Before we really knew what was going on, my doctor had arrived, and was recommending an immediate c-section. We were in shock by this point, but agreed to go ahead with the procedure.

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Waiting for the Pitocin to kick in.

I don’t think surgery is ever pleasant, but trying to mentally prepare so suddenly for it was tough, especially when I was so scared for the safety of our baby. Fortunately, I had a great doctor standing by my head explaining each step of the procedure to me. I was given an epidural, and as it took effect, I lay there praying and telling myself to be strong. Before the surgeons began, Todd came in and held my hand. By this point, I was feeling so woozy that it was all I could do focus on one spot on the sheet hanging in front of my face. The surgeons pummelled my upper torso so hard that I thought my ribs would break, and through the numbness of the epidural, I could feel Zoe being squeezed down my torso. Before we knew it, we heard her first cries, and we both immediately started crying as well. That is my favourite memory of our birth experience – hearing our daughter for the first time. She was immediately taken to a table in a corner of the operating theatre to have her lungs vacuumed. I couldn’t see anything, but Todd described her to me as he watched the procedure. A nurse brought her to me, and pressed her against my cheek – I wasn’t able to move my arms. I was barely conscious at this point – the only thing I remember is thinking that she was beautiful. She was then taken to the nursery, and I told Todd to follow her. As soon as they were gone, I passed out.

More to come when I get some sleep.

The due date that came and went

Well, it is three days past my official due date, and Bannock is not showing any interest in making an appearance on this terrestrial sphere. I knew before I hit the 40 week mark that it is quite common for first pregnancies to run over term, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the psychological toll this would exact. It’s kind of like running a marathon, and then having “someone” (*ahem* Bannock) tack on an extra mile at the end. Instead of a mini-me, I’ve been hanging out with this ugly dude:

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Only a mother could love this face…

Also my more-human, but less toothy Momalot, who arrived last Tuesday. Since she has no baby to cuddle, she has been forced to fill her time by cooking butter beef, and buying me ice cream. This is healthy pregnancy eating at its finest.

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Not quite sure how I ever fit in her torso

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Todd and I spent my due date at the hospital. My doctor wanted to make sure that everything was still looking normal, so he prescribed a non-stress test for Bannock. Basically, I had a couple of monitors strapped to my impossibly large mid-section in an effort to determine whether Bannock was still moving normally. While I appreciated the diligence, I could have answered that question on my own: Bannock and her best friend Placenta are throwing a rager.

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Only in Thailand do the birthing rooms and nurses look like they belong in a soothing spa.

I took the test in the room that I will most likely be giving birth in. It was nice to get a feel for it in advance, but also an annoying reminder that we weren’t there for the actual event. So I made Todd placate me with more ice cream.

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If you haven’t tried Haagen Dazs’s salted caramel flavour yet, do yourself a favour and buy some immediately. It may be trendy, but you won’t care once it’s in your mouth.

The rest of my recent pre-child days have been filled with bad photo shoots, bouncing on my birthing ball, and giving Bannock lectures about the importance of respecting other people’s schedules.

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In the battle of the bulge, Bannock is clearly dominating.

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Ok. That’s probably enough whining, and more than enough revolting photographs of me. I’ll try to enjoy these last, fleeting moments of butter beef bliss, and start preparing the ultimate sermon on punctuality that I will preach to Bannock throughout her life.

My Hospital Stay – AKA Getting nurtured to death

Nope, Bannock has not yet arrived. She is still firmly ensconced in my womb, unaware that she is about to experience the worst day of her young life. I like to remind myself that no matter how painful/traumatizing labour might be for the mother, it has to be infinitely worse for the poor baby who is being squeezed from a warm amniotic sea, through an incredibly small tunnel that will actually make pieces of her skull overlap, and into the cold, cruel world. Todd and I often watch Bannock happily kicking my ribs, and say “Poor munchkin. You have no idea what’s about to hit you.” And then we have a good laugh. There’s already some great parenting happening right here…

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Todd learning to be a father at our hospital’s birthing class.

We have had several weeks full of fun, assorted sicknesses. For me, it started out when Todd flew to Singapore for a weekend conference. As soon as he was safely out of the country, I got hit simultaneously by the flu and false labour. I’m sure that anyone who has previously given birth wouldn’t be too concerned with the false labour, but as a first-timer, the first taste of contractions is pretty shocking. Todd started looking for earlier flights home while I was busy hacking up a lung and phoning our doula. In the end, Todd made it home, Bannock decided to bake a little longer, and the doctor gave me antibiotics for a throat/chest infection.

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Too bad he couldn’t give me a prescription for my swollen feet/cankles.

A week later, I had mostly recovered, when Todd and I decided to eat street food for dinner. We kept exclaiming over the delicious chicken satay, which is ironic considering the utter havoc it wreaked on our guts. After 24 hours of intestinal distress, the situation was basically under control when I visited my OB/GYN for a regular appointment. I mentioned the food poisoning episode, and – this being a private/for-profit hospital – he eagerly referred me to a Gastroenterologist. The Gastro then eagerly informed me that I should really spend the night in the hospital for rehydration and monitoring. I figured, “what the heck. Might as well get some serious bang for my baht/buck out of this insurance policy,” and agreed to stay.

No sooner had I murmured the fateful words than the nurturing began. Suddenly, an orderly with a wheelchair appeared to take me to my room. I started laughing, and said that I could walk, but the nurses looked appalled and said “you are pregnant.” So I sat in the wheelchair, and tried to look like an invalid. Once I got to my room, a steady stream of overly-attentive nurses appeared. They took my blood pressure, inserted an IV, and inquired about the content of my guts. They then informed me that any time I needed to use the facilities, I had to call the nurses station: “Madam. You go pee-pee, you call.” Considering that pregnancy makes me “go pee-pee” approximately 30 times a day, this was a bad joke, but the cute nurses were unrelenting. I drew the line when one of them tried to come in the bathroom with me, though.

I spent the next 24 hours lying in bed flipping through a truly dire array of tv channels – when you are excited by the opportunity to watch the same episode of “Cupcake Wars” twice within 12 hours, you know it’s bad – and eating the same meal in four slightly different formats. Apparently, the gastroenterology department has decreed that chicken and mush is THE appropriate food for distraught intestines. The first time, it was ok – mashed potatoes and a slab of some sort of ground chicken. When I woke up to the same slab of ground chicken and gravy accompanied by something that looked like potatoes but tasted and smelled like rotting eggs, I was less than pleased. Lunch was a bowl of broth with a few noodles and ground chicken balls. To end the cycle, I was served the exact same dinner as the previous evening immediately before I checked out of the hospital. I never want to see ground chicken again.

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The first of many…

The nurses fluttered in and out of my room throughout the day and night, and at one point even offered to shower me (I firmly declined their generous offer). As the day dragged on, I started to wonder when I would ever be allowed to leave. After being visited by various insurance agents and doctors, I assumed that my stay must be over. As if on cue, the steady stream of nurses slowed to a trickle, and I was left to contemplate Adam Sandler’s acting ability for several hours with no interruptions. When a nurse finally set foot in my room again, I asked her when I could leave. She looked surprised, and said “You want to leave?” Yes, yes, I did. 30 minutes later, I was finally allowed to put my own clothes back on, and, miraculously, walk out of the ward (although a wheelchair was offered).

The humid air outside the hospital tasted like pure freedom. Next time I get food poisoning, I think I’ll drink some Gatorade and take a nap.

A Crazy Mothah of a Month

Uh, oops. Sorry, folks. I know the blogging has been a little patchy in general, but 2 weeks has to be a new low, even for me. It’s been a crazy mothah of a month, mainly because my crazy mothah of a mother was visiting. After she left last Tuesday night, Todd’s dad – AKA Papa Dawg Dave – blew in on the evening breeze for a breezy, very brief 2 night visit. He stayed just long enough to partake in a whirlwind culinary tour of Samut Prakan. Currently, we are feeling like the proverbial fatherless/motherless child(ren), and trying to readjust to life as a twosome. I thought I’d recount one of our more memorable adventures from the past month of parental visits.

Momalot’s trip to the hospital

Momalot is generally a hardy soul. She likes to take the stairs just to make us look lazy for taking the elevator (all right. When you live on the third floor, I guess taking the elevator would qualify as slothful behaviour), and in her heart-of-hearts, I know she wishes that she’d been born in the pioneer era. She’d probably be the person hauling the wagon after the horse dropped dead. She does not, however, deal well with heat. We’re not sure if her health scare on her last weekend in Bangkok was due primarily to the heat, but it definitely didn’t help the situation.

On Friday night, we went to a movie at the mall near our house. Halfway through, Momalot said she didn’t feel well, and went to get some water. When I checked on her a few minutes later, she was feeling nauseous and dizzy, so we took her home. By the time we got there, she was also experiencing tingling sensations in her arms and heart palpitations. We decided it was time to phone an ambulance. The weird/disconcerting thing in Bangkok is that there isn’t a unified 911-type service (or if there is, I haven’t found it yet). Rather, you phone the hospital that you wish to visit, and they send their own ambulance service. We phoned a hospital that we have used in the past – it wasn’t the closest, but we knew it would provide good care. Once we’d given the hospital our address and requested an ambulance, we tried our best to look after Momalot until it arrived.

It was a little disconcerting when the ambulance took almost 40 minutes to reach us. Fortunately, by the time it arrived, Momalot was feeling a little better, but it was sobering to think of what the situation would have been like had she been more seriously ill. The ambulance was equipped with a doctor and several nurses, though, so once it arrived, we felt that she was in good hands. Todd and I rode in the front of the ambulance, and it became clear to us why it took so long for the ambulance to arrive – we were once again reminded that we live in the middle of nowhere. Also, no one yields to ambulances in Bangkok – we even got cut off several times on the way to the hospital. The ambulance also had to stop and pay the tolls on the expressway we were using.

When she got to the hospital, Momalot was thoroughly checked out, and while her pulse was still quite fast and she felt dizzy, the doctors assured us that her heart seemed to be ok. Perhaps the craziest thing for this socialized-healthcare-Canadian was having to deal with insurance paperwork while we were still trying to focus on my mother. One of the hospital’s claims people was even asking my mother (very politely – this is Thailand) to sign documents as she groggily lay on her emergency room bed. I realize that to Americans this probably sounds like standard protocol, but we found it disconcerting.

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Disconcerted.

While Momalot’s heart looked ok, the doctors decided to keep her in the hospital for 2 nights of observation/tests. It turned into an unexpected cultural experience. At this particular hospital (Samitivej), even the most basic rooms are like hotel suites, with fold-out beds for guests, arm chairs, fridges and microwaves. You can order food from a  menu, and cute, tiny nurses with elaborate hairstyles check on you at all hours of the day or night. They like to ask questions like “Madam. You need go pee-pee?” By the second day, Momalot was feeling much better, but she was still under hospital arrest. We took her to the coffee shop in the hospital lobby in her swanky Thai hospital outfit, and tried to entertain her on her forced vacation.

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“Madam. I check pulse.”

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Almost 48 hours after she was admitted, Momalot was released from the hospital. She came away with some random hospital swag including branded water bottles in a branded hospital bag. Nothing substantial showed up on the tests, and we are still a little confused as to what happened to her. On the plus side, she had a bunch of expensive tests done that she would have had to wait months+ for in a socialized system. Her travel insurance really came through (for travelling Canadians – RBC insurance was fantastic), and covered the whole visit. Nothing like a 1000% return on your investment.

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The view from her room’s balcony

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And an outdoor sink in case you want to have a barbecue, or something

All in all, it was a frightening experience for all of us, but I’ll wager that it’s created a cultural memory that Momalot won’t soon forget. I doubt any Canadian nurses will ask her whether Madam needs to pee-pee.

Next up: the food Momalot managed to cook for us when she wasn’t in the hospital.