This is the story of the best day of my life – the day our precious LA entered the world. I have been wanting to make a record of this for some time now, and here it finally is. You’ve been warned! If you don’t like birth stories, feel free to excuse yourself now :).
Having gone through all of the prenatal care in Japan, we decided to make use of the fact that we were long overdue a visit home and the “childbirth and childcare lump-sum grant” kindly offered by our health insurance, to skip back to our New Zealand and have a baby. I look forward to the challenge and excitement that giving birth in a foreign country undoubtedly presents if any future babies happen to come along!
I had made our plans clear to my doctor who nervously pointed out all the risks to me and used every opportunity to tell me that he couldn’t guarantee he would approve me taking an international flight when the time came. In turn I decided to respond by practicing my *nod and smile* “I don’t quite understand, my Japanese is quite sub-par you see” gestures. As blasé as I felt about the risks at the time, I did find myself becoming quite nervous as the time approached. Especially considering I would be going to NZ at 37 weeks, and AB wouldn’t be joining me until 39.5 weeks…I was all but convinced that not only would AB miss the biggest event of our lives, but that I would give birth on the plane. I needn’t have worried…
Fast forward five weeks – on a beach in New Zealand
At 41.5 weeks pregnant, feeling very large, uncomfortable, heartburny and impatient, we accepted that we would probably be going the induction route. I was blessed to have had a completely uncomplicated pregnancy, but was well-fed up with being an human incubator. I couldn’t wait to feel the weight of a warm, squishy baby in my arms.
The induction was scheduled for a Tuesday (40w11d). A group of friends had come to town to meet the yet-to-be-born baby. Considering there was no baby to yet meet, they invited us to tag along for a surf trip to Magnet Bay, a spectacular beach about 1.5 hours away with no cell phone reception. That was Sunday, 9 days past my due date. I umm’d and ahh’d about going. I didn’t want to deprive AB of a rare opportunity for a surf in rural NZ with his mates. But, I really was not keen to be out of cell contact with him either. I compromised by tagging along. Call me bullheaded but I thought that I would rather go into labour on a beach than somewhere I couldn’t contact AB. Anyway, I figured we would have plenty of time to get back to town should something happen, and was secretly hoping that Murphy’s Law would kick in to get baby on her way!
Well, wouldn’t you know it, Murphy’s law did indeed show up to play and I started experiencing some light cramps on the way to the beach. They were nothing serious but definitely a bit different from usual. I was excited to think that maybe something was finally happening! The on and off cramping continued throughout the day long after we returned from the beach.
The next day things continued as the previous day. I was, however, getting a bit worried as I hadn’t felt a movement in over 12 hours, even after eating chocolate. She was always an on and off mover with some very quiet and lazy days (not unlike her human incubator), but given the cramps I decided to call my midwife about my concerns. She suggested I go into the hospital where she was attending another birth to monitor the baby, just to be on the safe side.
So in we went for monitoring. I had no idea what monitoring actually entailed or how long it would take, but I felt it was for sure better than sitting around being worried. Little did we know that the next time I would taste fresh air would be with baby in tow!
Arriving at the hospital
We arrived at the hospital around 9am on Monday. The baby sounded fine, but they wanted to do an ultrasound, just to be safe. Unfortunately they were backed up so we ended up waiting around for several hours. When we finally got the ultrasound, again, everything seemed ok, although the doctor was concerned about one shadowy spot they could see on the baby’s bladder. I was also examined and although it seemed like there was a lot of fluid, the examining midwife did not think it was my waters. My medical team suggested that, considering the plan was to be induced the following day, why don’t we just go ahead and get started tonight?
Induction – attempt #1
At about 8pm that night, they started me with cervidil, which they administer via something similar to a tampon. And, we waited, with me happily watching Masterchef on my tablet. I’d been sitting/lying around the examination room for a whole day already with nothing happening and was already feeling a little bit stuffy, uncomfortable, headachy and drowsy. So, it was not the best way to start off, especially considering that my dream birth-plan was to stay at home for as long as possible during the labour, and then head to a birthing unit for a drug-free water birth. Having said that, I had no idea what to expect and was pretty open to anything, really, as long as I ended up with a baby in my arms. All-in-all I was in good spirits, glad that progress could be expected any time now.
Over the next few hours I started to experience some back pain but no regular contractions of note. They kept monitoring the baby, which meant I was basically restricted to lying flat in bed. Every time I wanted to move I ended up having to get a midwife to come and readjust the monitoring device. I hated to be such a nuisance so I opted to just stay still.
After some time, I needed to go to the bathroom, so another midwife (on the new shift) unhooked me so I could go. While doing “my thang” I heard something plop into the toilet, although I didn’t get to have a good look at what it was. My first thought was that it was the cervidil and I meant to leave it there without flushing so I could check. But, on auto-pilot after finishing, I flushed it down. I told the new midwife that I’m not sure, but I think the cervidil might have fallen out.
She tsk tsked as if I was intentionally being troublesome, and checked me for the 2nd time. I was only at 1-2cm, but there was a lot of fluid that had pooled up down there which she was sure was my ruptured membranes, although I hadn’t felt anything. They were a little green so she called the doctor for a consult. The doctor agreed that my waters had broken and was concerned that there seemed to be meconium in the fluid. They also concluded that it was possible the waters may have broken a few days earlier, and so decided to put me on antibiotics to prevent both myself and the baby from infection. She also decided to continue to monitor the baby for the remainder of the labour and delivery saying, “there are already too many risk factors for this baby.” That made me a little nervous, and a little bummed out that I was going to have a birth very different from how I imagined, but I was happy to go along with what was recommended. It was also decided to try a more intensive method of induction.
Induction attempt #2
At about 10:30pm I moved into my labour and delivery room to start IV induction. With the monitor strapped to my belly, and antibiotics and oxytocin dripping into my veins, I tried, unsuccessfully to rest.
Gradually, I noticed that the deep, burning, aching pain in my back was becoming increasingly uncomfortable. Soon it took over the lower half of my back and wrapped around to my stomach as well. It felt like an intense cramp that was tightening and tightening and never releasing.
I tried a few different things: changed positions, tried some light pain and sleeping medications, sat on the Swiss ball for a while, but nothing seemed to relieve the pain. The only thing that gave some relief was when AB or the attending midwife massaged my lower back. My midwife wouldn’t arrive until later when labour was fully established as she had just attended an overnight birth so went home and let the hospital midwives look after me for awhile. The attending midwife at that time was amazing! She herself was pregnant and showing, but stayed with me the whole night through with only one short break. I was so grateful for her constant care and encouragement. I think I would have given up ( huh!! As if that was an option!) without her.
3rd examination – oops, problem discovered
By 3:20 am, I was still in constant pain and had been unable to rest. They hadn’t examined me for awhile, but I still was not experiencing regular contractions. Instead, I felt like I was suffering one constant contraction that had been increasingly intensifying since around 11pm. After being in a lot of pain for nearly 4 hours straight, and with zero sleep since the previous morning, I was beyond exhausted and not really paying attention to what was happening around me. I have no idea what AB was doing all this time, except that I vaguely realized he was massaging my back every now and then. That’s how out of it I was. I did have the thought that if I was coping so poorly already, how on earth was I going to cope once labour started for real? I actually felt like once I started to have proper coming and going contractions that I would feel better.
They decided to examine me again to see how I was progressing. This time it hurt sooo much that I actually forgot myself and screeched in pain. I guess because I was so exhausted and tense by then that everything felt unbearable. They shoved the gas tube at me and told me to use it, but no one had explained to me how, and maybe I am just dumb, but I don’t think I actually got any gas flowing through it. I didn’t notice any effect of it anyway.
They finished the examination and discovered two things.
1) I was only 4cm dilated – just entering active labour
2) The cervidil was still in place in addition to the oxytocin!!!
I guess they had just taken my assumption for fact rather than actually checking that it was the cervidil that had dropped into the toilet bowl earlier! With all the monitoring, different midwives and doctors coming and going and checking me and my meconium stained fluid, I had no idea that no one had actually checked. So, all this time I had been on both forms of induction. No wonder I was in so much pain with no relief!
The doctor was called back for a consult and it was decided to take out the cervidil and stop the oxytocin for a bit of a break.
Shortly after that I started to feel normal contractions that came and went. The temporary moments of relief between each contraction felt like such a holiday, although I did not enjoy them that much because I was so physically drained and hardly awake anymore. By 4am I felt like a zombie and couldn’t even keep my eyes open to talk to AB. I was done and desperate for sleep. On the next contraction I told AB I wanted an epidural. By then I think he was super concerned about me and also thought they should hurry up and get me an epidural.
One hour later, at 5am, I received my much desired epidural. Ahhh sweet relief..it worked perfectly. I felt like a human again. My midwife arrived just in time for the procedure and I was so glad to see her. However, as glad as I was to see her, that couldn’t stop me from promptly falling asleep as soon as my bottom half went numb. It was one of those super deep sleeps where, when I woke up 2 hours later, it felt like only minutes had passed. Embarrassingly, I could remember hearing myself snore like a train at one point. My midwife had a good-natured smirk on her face when she said it seemed like I’d had a good sleep :).
Time to push!
While I was sleeping my midwife had examined me and hallelujah! I was at 10cm! Just like that! After all that pain before labour was even considered established, I basically slept through the entire active labour stage and progressed from 4cm to 10cm just 1 hour after getting the epidural. I definitely felt like it had been the right choice to get it – my midwife agreed that maybe I had just been too tense for my body to do its work. I think they had cranked the oxytocin back up while I was sleeping as well, so that must have helped. My midwife had let me sleep for another hour after she checked me to allow the baby to descend without me pushing.
So, when she woke me up around 7am, she told me it was baby time! I jabbed AB who was dozing next to me to tell him that it was time to push and he looked a little stunned and confused. It seemed like such an anticlimax after all the drama overnight. No screams of pain, no doctors; just us and my midwife and her co-worker calmly discussing the situation in my room.
So we got into position, with AB on one side, one midwife on the other, and one midwife at the receiving end.
I started to push when my midwife told me to. It was really strange because I couldn’t feel anything and I didn’t really trust that I was really pushing. But she assured me I was, and that I was going really well. I was so desperate to see my baby that I was pushing with everything I had. With every push the midwives told me I was pushing soooo well and that they could see real progress. They made me feel like the baby would pop out on the very next push…for about 1 hour! I kept believing them and it certainly kept me motivated through all that pushing.
After an hour, the doctor (along with a junior doctor and an intern) came in for a consult. Also about this time my sister-in-law had turned up. She was going to be my other support person, but with all that happened we never got around to calling her until this last stage and she arrived just in time for the actual birth.
I kept pushing with the doctor in the room for awhile and finally, after about 1.5hrs of pushing, we stopped to reassess and consider other options.
Ok baby girl, it really is time you came out now…
At 9am the doctor tried using the suction cup to help my little girl enter the world. It was fairly amusing. I was pushing with all my might at one end. And she was pulling with all her strength at the other. AB was standing there with a “are you serious??” Look on his face. Finally….pop!…nope, not the baby…the suction cup popped off. They tried again with the same result.
After the second attempt with the suction cup they gave up and switched to forceps. I couldn’t see them from my vantage point but AB sure could. The look on his face was priceless. Our baby was about to be delivered with the help of oversized salad servers!
The forceps did the trick and our precious baby girl was born into this world at 9:13am on October 13th, 2015. I did need an episiotomy to get her across the finish line and suffered a 2nd degree tear…not that I could feel it at the time.
They had said earlier they did not want her to breathe until they had a chance to check her and clear her airways of potentially harmful meconium. Our clever baby solved that problem by giving an almighty sneeze instead. They handed her over to me for a quick cuddle, and then passed her to the neonatal team to make sure everything was ok.
It is so hard to adequately express how I felt in that first moment I saw my baby. I laughed, because she sneezed. Then I felt just so in awe of her. It felt strange to think that this baby who I was seeing for the first time was my daughter. Somehow I felt like she was a complete stranger to me, at the same time as feeling like she was as intimately connected to me as humanly possible. I could not help the tears from flowing.
After cleaning her up they gave her back to me for cuddles. They gave me some kind of drug to assist in delivering the placenta which made me vomit. Luckily I was able to quickly pass baby girl over to AB before I spewed all over her. After some time, they discovered that the cord was very short and the placenta had partially separated, which meant the doctor had to manually deliver it. I was extremely glad that I still could not feel anything at that time!
Twenty minutes after LA was born they were finished with me and I got to have her back for some proper, uninterrupted cuddles. My midwife also helped me to get her to latch on and she did perfectly! Don’t shoot me, but I always thought that newborn babies are kind of ugly, and was expecting no different for my little girl. But, in that moment, all I could think was that she was the most beautiful, precious thing in the entire world…cone head, forcep marks and all!
So, after 24 hours in the hospital, 13 hours since the initial induction, 3 hours of active labour (mostly while sleeping), 2 hours of pushing (and pulling), antibiotics, paracetamol, constant monitoring, gas, epidural, suction cup and finally forceps, my labour and delivery experience was complete. It was a far cry from the calm, natural, water birth that I had hoped for but I had not a single ounce of regret. I can honestly say that I was just so, indescribable, happy and relieved that our baby was safely delivered into this world.
Two days later I developed a throbbing headache and jarring neck pain every time I was upright. I took to staying flat on my back…including for meals and breastfeeding. Overnight I had to get up to change and settle LA, which caused me to vomit. We found out that the epidural had punctured the spinal chord wall – a complication that apparently occurs with every 100 or so epidurals. The doctor explained that this meant spinal fluid was leaking out, and so my brain was sitting slightly lower than usual, resulting in a “spinal headache”. Well, that’s how I understood it anyway. It was a bit of a bummer as I wasn’t able to get up to move around and enjoy LA as much as I otherwise could have. They eventually patched me up by giving me another “epidural” but with my own blood instead of drugs. This injected blood was supposed to work instantly to clot and patch up the hole and fix the problem. Like magic it did! Immediately after the procedure I was cured! After that little episode we were finally cleared to go home – that was Friday, 5 days after we first went to the hospital for a quick checkup and monitoring.
A month after her birth we flew back to Japan to start life as a family of three and have been falling in love with our little LA more and more every single day.