Last One – I Promise!
After successfully (but barely) surviving my sweaty summer pregnancy in Hong Kong (read about that here) and the charades of the Public Hospital system (read about that here), I wrapped up work and was more than ready to have my baby!
The morning of Friday September 2nd I attended my last standard scheduled check up at QMH. Having had my high blood pressure and getting admitted experience the week before, I was very much expecting another situation to arise (but hoping it wouldn’t). Multiple checks of my BP were all high, though no other concerning symptoms indicated pre-eclampsia. However, due to consistent high readings, the doctor wanted me admitted for monitoring. I went straight to the pre-labour ward next door and was admitted right away. I had to submit a urine samples, was weighed and blood was drawn. They also monitored baby’s heart rate and contractions for an hour (no phones allowed!). Braden brought my hospital bag, which luckily was already packed. For the most part all I could do was lie in bed while being monitored so it was pretty boring. I had my laptop and plowed through many episodes of Grace and Frankie (highly recommend!) and generally tried to ignore the noises of labouring women in the beds around me. Noise cancelling headphones were a lifesaver.
Everything was fine as I was monitored over night but the team decided that it was time for this baby to get moving, as my BP issues were only likely to get worse. On the morning of Saturday September 3rd I was given a pessary to start labour and then hooked up to a monitor again for 2 hours (still no phones allowed – so boring). By that point I was dilated to 2cm and this whole having a baby thing was starting to feel very real! Braden and my parents, who had arrived in Hong Kong just a day and a half earlier, stopped in for a visit at lunchtime and brought some food provisions. I felt well during their visit, but a few hours later contractions started to set in. Braden came with dinner during the next visiting hours from 6:00-8:00 and kept me distracted. We walked around and I bounced on the birth balls that they have for anyone to use. I slept fitfully, having contractions until around 3:00am, which then subsided.
On the morning of Sunday September 4th they checked me again (and by checked me, I mean someone shoved their entire hand inside of me – wow!) and I was at 2.5cm. I was shocked that I had only progressed by half a centimeter. My blood pressure was still on the high side, so they decided to break my water at 10:00am. Time to have a baby! I had some breakfast and then quickly showered before I was moved to the labour ward. I finally had a private room where Braden was able to join me. He hadn’t arrived yet when they broke my water but that’s probably a good thing. I had no idea what to expect, but I guess it makes sense that it’s fairly painful, followed by a strange feeling of laying in a warm puddle. I’m glad I didn’t look down to see what that pool of liquid looked like.
The next pleasant experience was getting to pee in a bedpan (nothing was private or sacred by this point) and the nurse ended up putting in a catheter as well. They said it was because I hadn’t peed much but I think it just makes it easier for them…whatever! By noon I was feeling contractions and Braden and a midwife were there to help me through them. The midwife did rhythmic massage on my legs, which was surprisingly relaxing. Braden was encouraging and supportive by my side (except when he tried to take over massaging my legs, didn’t go with any rhythm whatsoever, and I almost killed him). I used the gas and air for pain control for several hours. It helped with breathing control but didn’t touch the pain; labour, as everyone promised me, is no joke. I found myself wanting to push through contractions which was a terrible plan as I was nowhere close to dilated enough.
I went in to the hospital with a birth plan and hoped to try and avoid an epidural if possible. However, after several hours of labour my blood pressure was climbing due to the pain. I also know now that being induced often means your body doesn’t have time to naturally produce the hormones needed to more naturally handle the pain, especially as the contractions come on much more quickly and intensely. Around 2:00pm I decided to get an epidural, and the doctor didn’t arrive until close to 3:00. I was experiencing crazy intense pain waiting for the anesthetist to arrive and was so ready to have something to help with the pain. Braden was asked to step outside as I rolled over to get the epidural. I was rocked with pain as the doctor inserted the needle but we got there. Braden said this was the worst part for him as he could hear me screaming from the hallway. It took about half an hour for the epidural to start to work and then I fell asleep. Bless the genius who invented the epidural. What a strange feeling to not be able to feel anything from the waist down. A nurse came in every couple hours to monitor my sensitivity by putting an ice cube on my skin and asking if I could feel anything; I was numb almost to my armpits. I slept and slept, which was such a relief. Braden was super bored as all he could do was just sit and wait (no phones allowed!).
I had a clear view of the clock on the wall opposite my bed and for some reason felt like I was responsible for tracking the timeline of my delivery. Around 7:00pm the doctor came to check my progress. I was hoping I had dilated enough, as I didn’t want to end up having a c-section. They explained that typical progress is 1cm an hour and if you haven’t had the baby within 24 hours of the water being broken you’ll get a c-section. Not to worry, though; I was already at 10cm when she checked me…baby time! Braden was out of the room when the doctor asked whether I wanted them to reduce the epidural so i could only feel the contractions a bit, or take me off completely, during delivery. Since I had wanted to push through the contractions earlier, I decided to go off it completely. Braden came back in and I shared the plan. He was worried about my decision knowing I handled the pain without drugs so poorly earlier and I began to doubt it as well.
We waited about an hour for the epidural to start to leave my system and the team set me up with legs in stirrups and draped in sterile cloths. It felt very official and precise and they told me not to touch anything in the sterile field. This went against all the midwife’s training I had received (don’t put your feet in stirrups – ask to be on all fours, get on the floor if necessary…umm…I was not even remotely close…!) It was around 8:00pm and I couldn’t feel the contractions much so the nurse looked at the monitor and told me when to push. This continued as I began to feel the contractions more and more. They were painful but when i was pushing I didn’t notice the pain, so I was motivated to push! That was a surprise to me. After an hour a doctor came to check my progress. They were a bit worried that it had been that long (I actually don’t know if that’s a long time to be pushing…I feel like it’s not…but it seems that they like things to move along quickly in the Hong Kong hospitals) but the doctor confirmed I was making progress and let me continue pushing. It was no joke, and at one point I threw up from the intensity of pushing into a little bowl Braden was holding. He was essentially trapped one one side of the bed with that sickly little dish, so that sat beside him for a while…poor guy!
After another half hour they were talking about me needing an episiotomy and possibly an instrument delivery if things didn’t start moving along. It was around 9:30pm, an hour and a half into pushing, that I got the episiotomy, which I had hoped to avoid (but really, who wouldn’t want to avoid that?) I didn’t want to end up with any more interventions than required, so this seemed like the best option. I tried not to think about what was happening as they made that slice. I pushed some more another half hour I was still making progress so they let me continue pushing. Braden was incredible as he coached and cheered me on. His words truly made a huge difference to keep me focused. I was getting exhausted but was also motivated to avoid a vacuum or forceps birth. I could also feel that I was making progress (what a strange feeling to try to describe; nobody told me giving birth feels like pooping…or maybe I actually pooped). The energy in the room changed – and I give the team so much credit – they were patient and so encouraging, and becoming more and more excited. At 10:20pm the baby’s head emerged and a couple light pushes later (ha! I just re-read this and it sounds like I’m nudging an inner tube with my toe away from the dock – not quite the case) and the baby’s body was out as well. It still blows my mind that this is how humans are created. As requested – the part of the birth plan I was most firm about – they raised the baby up for Braden to see so he could say “it’s a boy!” Our baby boy was born at 10:21pm and it was the most incredible moment I have ever experienced. I am so completely, absolutely, 100% glad we waited for his birth to find out our little baby was a boy! I will never forget that instant of miraculous revelation.
Immediately the nurse put our little baby onto the sterile cloth that was across my stomach (surely no longer sterile?), rubbed him off vigorously, and let me look at him for a second as Braden cut the umbilical cord. My only memory of this is Braden standing over me looking quite concerned, scissors in hand saying, “ummm, is somebody going to help me?” I still laugh to myself about that! We had hoped to do delayed cord clamping but the baby hadn’t cried yet so they wanted to quickly cut the cord and examine him. The nurse took him to the little heated exam area right next to me and checked him out. All was fine. It was the most bizarre few moments of knowing something monumental had just happened and looking on as an uninvolved bystander somehow. Look at that baby over there! He’s ours!
The midwife tried to deliver the placenta, which wasn’t ready, so she gave me some drugs to create contractions and began stitching me. Looking back, this was one of the most memorably scary parts as I watched the time tick by and I realized I was receiving thirty minutes of stitches. This would later prove to be the most appreciated act, as I literally didn’t have even a Panadols worth of pain at any point afterwards; thank goodness for Hong Kong’s fastidious attention to detail. Soon after, around 11:00pm, I delivered the placenta and I must admit that was awesome to see – it was so large and grey, which I didn’t expect. That lifeblood, which in my case had been anterior and prevented Braden from feeling many kicks, was suddenly out in the big wide world for use to see. They cleaned me up a bit (and by “cleaned a bit” I mean I was manhandled from every direction to the point I could not possibly have an ounce of modesty left) and then we were left alone, just Braden and me with our little baby on my chest, covered in a striped towel and wearing a tiny knit blue toque.
We had finalized one boy’s names and one girl’s name several months earlier, so our little Campbell Robert had a name right away. We FaceTimed our parents to introduce him and then had some time together. He was quiet and calm as he lay on my chest and looked up at us. I tried to breastfeed him, which he seemed to figure out quickly, and then we just cuddled. It was so special! The labour ward was really busy that night so they left us for quite a while before coming back to let us know that baby Campbell’s body temperature was half a degree lower than preferred and that he needed to be warmed up. We were hesitant to let him go but also knew his little hands were a bit purple so they took him away to sit under a heat lamp for half an hour. They brought him back and we cuddled some more and waited to be moved to the post-labour ward.
The whole post-birth few hours felt so strange. I remember feeling like maybe we should be doing something different? Maybe it was the exhaustion but we were pretty quiet and calm. I think we were in shock – just totally stunned – by this little human’s arrival and knowing we were entirely responsible for him. Looking back, I’m not sure we quite realized in those first few moments and hours the awesomeness of what had just happened. I think it was just all too much…the most surreal feeling to suddenly be a little group of three. Braden was exhausted and went home just before they wheeled me downstairs to the post-labour ward. I settled in to my corner bed, fed Campbell a bit and tucked him in to the bassinet that was right beside me. Surrounded by new moms and fresh little babies, I finally slept.
Monday through Thursday was a blur of pink pyjamas, pink blankets (basically pink everything), crying baby, feeding baby, changing baby and sleeping baby. The nurses monitored my blood pressure and Campbell’s body weight. It dipped and I willed it to rise so we wouldn’t need to stay longer than the required four nights after his birth to monitor my blood pressure. On Thursday we took a red Hong Kong taxi home (little baby cradled in my arms…we don’t have a car seat) and I could not have been happier to arrive back in Wan Chai. It felt as though I had been in the hospital for an eternity and I was so ready to see anything other than the hospital.
A while later my parents came over for a little visit while Campbell slept, then I fed him and all three of us had a nap for 2.5 hours. Parenting win! I fed him again, and then Braden and I took him out in the stroller for dinner; our first outing as a little trio. As we ate he lay right beside us in his stroller bassinet and slept the whole time. We were so impressed! Braden and I were finally able to catch up and start to process this new journey together. Our perfect little baby continued his pattern of feeding then sleeping for 3-4 hours throughout the night. And just like that, we survived our first night at home as a little family of three.
I’m going to post some more stories about what it was actually like to have a baby in the Hong Kong public hospital system (the food! the accommodations! the care! how much it cost!) but for not I think everyone needs a break from this birth story (I sure do)! Thanks for reading.