TALK ABOUT LATE.
This post must have shrivelled up in the draft folder, almost a year after Ethan was born, and nothing kicks my arse into penning this properly AND publishing it, like his first birthday approaching at the end of this week. EEEPS.
(Son, please don’t take this the wrong way; Mama has been far too busy cuddling you to even pay much attention to this space anymore. Please don’t ever think that the glaring absence of your birth story over here means that Mama loves you any less.)
SO. When I was about to pop Faith out of my hoo-ha back in 2012, it was barely a brain-teaser. All I had to do was to show up, scream in pain and push. SIMPLES. Okay, maybe I packed and re-packed my hospital bag a little too often, and I freaked out about what labour might be like. But with Ethan, I went through a gazillion plans in my mind (along with another gazillion back-up plans) as the due date approached, as we had to make sure that Faith would be well taken care of, regardless of where, when and how labour kicked in. I had every route to my parents’ and to the hospital from possible locations of where I might be mapped out according to different times of the day, and briefed everyone (shy of barking instructions at the neighbour’s dog) on what to do with Faith when the time comes. Her well-being was all I could think about in the weeks leading up to the due date, as I had not spent a night away from her prior to giving birth to Ethan and I was nervous about how she might react…being away from me and all that.
Amidst rehearsing plans over and over during waking hours and in my sleep, a few nights before Ethan’s birth, I thought I was going into labour. I was 38 weeks along then. I had felt cramps in the lower back which grew into aching contractions that came around every three minutes and lasted 30-60 seconds each. They were painful enough for me to know that those were not Braxton-Hicks. This went on from when I picked Faith up from school at about 4pm until 9pm. Ethan was also strangely not moving at all during this period, and that freaked me out. After we put Faith to bed at about 8.30pm, we were pretty certain of getting my parents to stay over at ours whilst we headed to the hospital, when the contractions suddenly stopped at 9pm and E started cartwheeling in my uterus again. That was when I decided to just sleep it off, but I had diarrhoea instead and I was horrified that I couldn’t tell a bad tummy ache apart from labour. Anyhow, all of our bags, including Faith’s school and home things, were packed and we were ready to put the plans into action should I go into labour.
Two nights later, on the eve of the day that Ethan was born (also the day I was scheduled to go in for a CTG and VE), the contractions came back. They were similar in frequency and length to what I had experienced two days ago, and the episode lasted for about five hours again before calling it quits on me. E also barely moved until the contractions stopped. Once the episode was over, I had diarrhoea and by this time, I was extremely frustrated at myself for not recognising the signs properly. I mean, I SHOULD KNOW THIS, HAVING HAD ONE KID BEFORE AND SHAT SO MANY TIMES IN MY LIFE, SHOULDN’T I?! GEEZ.
All this time, I was hoping to labour naturally, even if it meant chaos would ensue in terms of making sure F was in good hands before we headed to the hospital. But, E had been small throughout gestation and Dr K was concerned about getting him out before the womb became too stressful an environment for him. After all, he had shown signs of stress and I had bled during the pregnancy. Dr K had mentioned a C-section by 38.5 weeks if he was still in breech (he turned a few days before that, thank God) or to induce labour if the amniotic fluid volume decreased and if his weight didn’t get up to a decent number. Getting cut up was something that I was very reluctant to go through owing to the slow recovery time (I wanted to bounce right back and be able to carry and cuddle both of my children after giving birth). I was also resistant to the idea of getting induced again this time round, as I was induced with F and the rapid escalation in highly intense contractions that didn’t pace well with the lack of cervical dilation, had me cave into getting the epidural. I was banging on a drug-free birth with E, and I know that I wouldn’t stand a chance of doing that if I were to be induced.
Morning came around (it was the eve of Good Friday), we stuck all of F’s bags in a corner of our house, dropped F at school and headed to the clinic at Mt Elizabeth with the hospital bag in tow. We didn’t get good news. Well, I didn’t get the news that I wanted. Dr K was certain that E would face unnecessary stress should he continue to bunk in, and strongly recommended for me to be induced. The amniotic fluid volume was thinning out and I experienced long hours of painful, frequent contractions in the days before. The discussion was peppered with lots of choked-up and feeble ‘but’s’ from me. M, however was supportive of what Dr K suggested, and somehow, I agreed to her plan even though it was killing me to say yes. Dr K sent me out for a big brunch and asked me to be admitted at 12.45pm, and I walked out of the clinic simmering with anger and disappointment.
M took me to Paragon to hunt for lunch options, and as we walked to PS Cafe, I broke down. Yes, I did a really ugly cry in public, and everyone who was early enough to do some shopping at Paragon that morning saw this pregnant lady bawling like a baby. I couldn’t accept that I was going to be induced, that I was going to be a mother-of-two when I was not mentally ready (though, on hindsight, one will NEVER be ready). I WAS GOING TO LABOUR NATURALLY AND GO FOR A DRUG-FREE BIRTH AT 40 WEEKS, THANK YOU VERY MUCH, YOU TWO EVIL DOCTORS WHO ARE CONSPIRING AGAINST ME, AND YES, I MEAN YOU TOO, HUSBAND! I started going on and on (gesturing wildly, if I might add) about how Dr K must have suggested an induction because she didn’t want to come to work over the Easter weekend, about how no one respected my decision and what I wanted, and about how E wasn’t really under stress. M grew from being extremely patient and empathetic, to slightly mad when I got hysterical. He said that if I didn’t want to be induced, he would march us back to Dr K’s clinic and we would call it off. For some reason, I calmed down just enough for him to take me to PS Cafe, and as I bulldozed the fish and chips, I asked him why he agreed with Dr K and I listened intently as he explained his stance. He said that he could understand my concern as a parent and as a patient with a desired birth plan, but he also said that Dr K has decades of experience under her belt and that we, of all people, having been taken care of by her when we were expecting Faith, should know that she would never push for me to go for an induction just so she didn’t have to come in to work over the Easter weekend. As a doctor, he agreed that the signs (couldn’t remember all the jargon he blabbered on) pointed to the fact that it was better to get E out via natural birth (even if it is induced) than to end up in a emergency C-section if something went awry. Also, with an induction, we would know exactly how, where and when to place F, and my parents need not be stressed with middle-of-the-night calls from us to help look after F. The instant he mentioned emergency C-section and F, I was sold. 12.45pm to the labour ward, it was then. Between the fish and chips and 12.45pm, M and I rang our parents to let them know that we were having Ethan that day, and my folks knew to pick F up from school and to care for her for a night as Dr K expected E to be out in the late evening.
12.45pm: We arrived at the labour ward. This time, I walked in instead of getting wheeled in. My ward was getting cleaned up by the nurses. Whilst we waited, I could see the charts of other labouring mothers blipping on the screens at the nurses’ station. The ward was unusually quiet. Why is no one moaning?
1pm: The nurse finally had time to take my documents and admit me properly. The ward looked far too familiar. M was obviously a seasoned pro. He headed straight for the couch, unpacked our bags to unearth the necessary stuff – camera, phone, charger, magazines – and made himself at home. I hopped onto the bed and played around with the buttons until I made myself comfortable.
2pm: Ethan was super active. There were minor contractions and I had a really bad tummy ache, so bad that I practically ran to the loo. I thought I had food poisoning (sorry if this is TMI) and when I was finished, the nurse came in to ask if I needed to be administered the Fleet enema. Well, let’s just say I cleared my bowels sufficiently for the week ahead, so I told her it wasn’t necessary. When the nurse left, I wondered if diarrhoea could be a sign of labour and Googled it. It turned out that it was, and I started to think that the 5-hour-long painful contractions plus episodes of diarrhoea I had in the days leading up to this point were my body’s way of preparing for labour after all! Mother Nature’s way of reducing the likelihood of mothers crapping while they push their babies out. How clever. And considerate for everyone who would be present at the birth.
2.20pm: Dr K swung by and did a VE. I was 2cm dilated. She broke my water bag and whaddaya know, E was under stress after all! There was meconium in the amniotic fluid. So the contractions, episodes of diarrhoea WERE signs of labour, signs that E was giving me to get him out! At this point, I was relieved and thankful that I heeded Dr K’s and M’s advice. And mildly embarrassed that I cried in public earlier that morning.
2.30pm: The contractions were getting stronger but they were very bearable. 2/10 on the pain scale.
3.20pm: I was given a low dose of syntocin to speed things up by artificially inducing strong contractions. Blood was taken from me as part of the procedure required of cord blood donation to SCBB. The contractions got to above 100 for a few, and I rated them 7/10 on the pain scale, but most contractions were small and irregular.
4.30pm: The midwife came in and upped the dose for syntocin. Having gone through an induced delivery before, I knew I was in for a rough ride and braced myself for the abrupt escalation in pain.
5.15pm: The contractions were unbearable. They were of near maximum amplitudes on the chart, and there were 3 to 4 of them every 5 minutes. This was worse than what I had experienced when giving birth to Faith and there was NO time for rest in between the strong contractions, but I held out and told M I wanted to try and wait until 5.45pm before deciding if I wanted an epidural.
5.30pm: The pain was truly excruciating by now, nothing like what I felt with F, and I cried partly because of the pain and partly because of what it meant. I asked for a VE and on learning that I was only 3cm dilated, I knew I wouldn’t be able to withstand 3 to 4 maximal contractions every 5 minutes until I was 10cm dilated. With a heavy heart, I asked for an epidural.
6.10pm: The same anaesthetist who hooked me up to an epidural when I was giving birth to F came by again this time. The catheter insertion took much longer and the process was more uncomfortable this time. The contractions were so painful that I trembled. The midwife and anaesthetist had to hold me down to stop me from trembling and finally, the epidural was safely administered. The anaesthetist said that she gave me a very low dose of epidural to take the edge off, instead of numbing everything out. Before the epidural took effect, the midwife did a quick VE and I was already 5cm dilated. At this point, I was a little disappointed that I asked for an epidural, given that I dilated pretty quickly since the last VE. I thought I should have waited but the deed was done and I just had to live with my decision.
6.30pm: 6cm dilated and I felt a very strong urge to push. I was shivering from the epidural. I could still move my legs. Felt nauseated and I stopped drinking water even though I was parched. A catheter was inserted to empty my bladder as I was bed-bound.
6.45pm: 7cm dilated and I felt an even stronger urge to push. I could still move my legs and felt pain in my right bum as baby tried to make its way out. The midwife told me to try not to push, and man, was that a tall order!
7.10pm: I was 9cm dilated this time and if it was even possible at all, I felt an even stronger urge to push. The pain in my right bum was rather intense as baby tried to get out. The midwife had me practise pushing as she gowned up and prepared me for delivery. After a few attempts, I finally got past my fear of pooping and pushed properly. Chin down, bump up, it was!
7.15pm: Dr K arrived and I continued pushing properly as she gowned up and prepared for the final stage of delivery. I felt Ethan crowning, something that I hadn’t felt before with F as I was on a particularly lose dose of epidural this time. There was a burning sensation and I certainly felt like I was tearing apart when baby crowned and his shoulders went past. I was told to relax and to stop pushing once his shoulders were out.
7.20pm: Ethan was born. Dr K placed him on my tummy and I couldn’t believe how small he was. My heart broke a little at this point. M cut E’s umbilical cord and E was carried to the warmer for checks and to be cleaned. M scooted over to take good look at him and took some videos for our archives. Dr K collected the cord blood and delivered the placenta. Whilst it was whole, the placenta was one-third the size of Faith’s placenta, and suddenly, it made sense as to why Ethan had been so small during gestation. I was relieved to have listened to Dr K to get him out earlier, and felt that I was to blame for E’s slower growth. Was it my diet or something I did? I’ll never know. As Dr K stitched me up, I could feel the pain from the needle and thread but I distracted myself by looking on as the midwife cleaned up and weighed E. After Dr K left, we took a family photo and I asked to have a go at latching Ethan. He suckled and licked but wasn’t able to latch properly. I made a conscious attempt not to be stressed out about this and decided to simply enjoy the moment we had with E in our arms.
It took two hours for us to be done at the labour ward before getting transferred to the maternity ward. As I was wheeled out to the lobby, I was received by my sister, bro-in-law and my in-laws. They stayed on for a while and took photos with E before heading home. M stayed with me that evening and wasted no time in falling asleep. Even though I was exhausted, I couldn’t sleep. I knew I had to get some rest to prepare myself for the two-to-three-hourly feeds, but I was missing F terribly and wondered how she was doing at my parents’. I didn’t want to call my folks and disrupt her bedtime routine, and I was very thankful when Papa sent me a photo of Mama showering her. She looked delighted to be spending the night at my parents’ and I was immensely relieved to know that.
The rest of the night was filled with cuddles with a very sleepy E, latching attempts and checks on my BP and bleeding. I was also in a lot of pain, more so than when I delivered F. My insides felt like they have been thoroughly bruised but I resisted taking meds to relieve the pain as I was breastfeeding. Whenever E was brought to me that night, I took some videos and photos of him in the quiet whilst M snored away, and each time I held him, I couldn’t wait for morning to come. I didn’t know how F would take to E, and rehearsed their first meeting in my mind. Like how I would have E in the bassinet when F arrives, so she wouldn’t feel jealous. And how we would present E’s gift to her (a ginormous teddy bear). I pictured how she would cradle E in her arms and kiss him like the loving big sister I hope she would be, and prayed that we would cope and be happy as a family of four here on out.
Before I knew it, morning came and I was exhausted with nary a trace of sleep but I was so very elated when my little girl stepped into the ward ever so tentatively. I guess she couldn’t fully comprehend why I was away at a strange place. She squealed in delight when she saw me and hopped into my bed to give me a big hug. I took a deep whiff of her freshly washed hair, realising that I had missed her even more than I thought I would. Then, I explained to her that Didi (Mandarin for little brother), who was in my belly previously, finally arrived and that he had a gift for her. She was very shy and reserved when she received the teddy bear, as all eyes were on her, and she was very quiet when we placed E in her arms. I was biting my nails and watching her nervously, but all fears were displaced when I saw her leaning over to give E a kiss on his forehead. There and then, time stood still and I knew that God was at work, that God has been at work all our lives. We wouldn’t have made it to that point otherwise. The sight of my new baby boy in my firstborn’s arms is not something I would or could ever forget.
Some days, being the human that I am, I wonder what it would have been like if my birth plan, well, went according to plan, or if I had made other decisions in the moments leading up to Ethan’s birth. Many days, I wonder if I had done anything wrong for the placenta to be so small, so much so that it affected E’s growth. But most days, those things don’t matter at all for I am most blessed to be the mother of these two very beautiful and healthy children. Suffice to say that my life is complete, and I am thankful that it is, no matter how we got here today. So there you go, the birth stories of my children. Not quite spectacular births right there, but so precious all the same.