The good, the bad and the messy bits of becoming a mama
Prior to having babies most of us are convinced that – as in the movies – labour will involve waters breaking in the supermarket followed by immediately excruciating pain, a race to hospital, some kind of dramatic complication and legs up in stirrups before a very chubby clean baby appears. Suffice to say, this is (thankfully) so far removed from reality and while there is naturally some degree of drama involved (it’s pretty amazing to be producing a little human being!), childbirth is never as you’d expect and usually veers off script. Some of the Sassy Mama team share their version of events – the dream vs the reality!
(Aiden Michael, 3.3kgs and Everly Grace, 3.1kgs. Adventist Hospital, Hong Kong)
The dream: With a very low pain threshold, (and when I say low, I mean “Call the doctor, I have a paper cut!” kind of low) I knew right away I would want help from my wonderful friend, Epi (short for epidural). Besides opting for pain relief, I had also written at the very top of my birth plan, “NO EPISIOTOMY” in all caps. All my previously pregnant friends and family had permanently scarred me with their snippage stories. Natural tearing for me, thanks! I then imagined a speedy recovery and for breastfeeding to come as naturally as the movies and magazines depicted it. I also pictured myself bringing my sweet cherub of a newborn out and about and that my life wouldn’t change that much.
The reality: I was 4 days into my maternity leave and 2 weeks away from my due date and had decided to go outlet shopping in Tung Chung. After waddling around the entire mall with hubby, we went home after dinner and got ready for bed. While the mister has never had a problem falling asleep, I had gained the “perks” of major preggers insomnia, but for some reason that night, I was feeling especially nail-bitingly anxious. Just as I drifted off to sleep sometime past midnight, I woke up to a warm sensation down my legs. Did I just have one of those dreams where I had to pee really bad? Or did my water just break?! After doing a quick check, I realised that there was definitely amniotic fluid all over the bed. I felt giddy and nervous, but mostly excited to know that I was going to meet my baby boy soon! What I didn’t realise then was that by “soon” meant 19 hours later. My dream had come true with the epidural, but my nightmare was also a reality when I not only tore but also had to have an episiotomy, plus a vacuum-assisted delivery to help my sweet boy out. I literally had no more energy after 19 hours and he had turned mid way in my labour. Regardless of my expectations of what labour would look like, all of that really didn’t matter as I held Aiden in my arms for the first time and fell in love.
With baby number two, I had anticipated a similar labour and birth, but just as they are so different in their personalities now, their labours were completely different too. I was a week past my due date and nothing I ate or did seem to bring the onset of labour. I ate pineapples. I walked up hills. I did lunges. It finally came down to my doctor naturally inducing me with a cervical sweep. Trust me, it’s as uncomfortable as it sounds. But even after that, baby number two had decided that she wasn’t ready to leave my womb yet, despite my eviction notice. Thankfully a few days later, I woke up to sharp contractions and knew the show was about to begin. I got to the hospital and opted again for an epidural as the pain increased. When it was time to push, baby girl was out in a matter of minutes! As I cuddled Everly for the first time, I never knew my heart could grow even more.
Aiden and Everly both entered the world very differently from one another, but regardless of how they came (my expectation vs. my reality), I am immensely blessed by these two precious gifts!
(Twins; Rio 2.28kg & Sienna 2.2kg, born at City Hospital Dubai)
The dream: Being pregnant with twins, I knew that I was going to have a C-section (the safest option for multiple births) but I hadn’t really thought about the process, just the end result of holding my babies in my arms (one wrapped in pink, one in blue) and feeling complete and lucky. I just had to prepare myself for the fact that if the babies were not full term or under 2.5kg that they would need to be kept in NICU.
The reality: I was 36 weeks and 5 days when I called my doctor to let her know that I hadn’t felt the twins move that day and due to me having excess (and I mean excess) water retention – 40kg excess – I felt unbelievably lethargic. She insisted I go to the hospital ASAP. I drove myself there, with my dad, while my mum was at home looking after my little girl and my husband was on his way home from Abu Dhabi.
I arrived to the news that I needed an emergency C-section within the hour as I had severely high blood pressure, preeclampsia and both the babies and I were in danger. My husband only just made it into the theatre as I was being given an epidural, and within minutes my first baby Sienna was out and then 2 minutes later my son Rio was born (he came out in his sac, which was amazing to see). I couldn’t hold the babies as I was still shaking and in shock but I did mange to give them a kiss and, of course, I cried a lot!
(Maggie, 3.38 kg, born in Singapore)
The dream: I didn’t really know what to expect and tried to be as open-minded about it as possible beforehand to avoid disappointment (and getting my hopes up). However there were some unexpected things that happened that are (now!) kind of funny…
The reality: My entry to the birthing suite got off to a rather inauspicious start: as soon as the door swung open, I ran to the toilet and threw up. Let the labour commence! Once I’d cleaned myself up and tried to settle in to deal with the contractions, a nurse came in and started asking questions about my health history. For some reason she was really fixated on a knee surgery I had when I was 14. “You’ll have to excuse me, I need to breathe through this contraction”, I told her rather drily. A number of my friends who’d recently given birth at the same hospital had raved about the fabulous nurses, which only seemed to exacerbate the fact that I was clashing with this one.
Round 2 came when she tried to make me get onto the bed in order to put the mobile contraction monitor on. I was kind of in a groove on the birthing ball and dealing with a particularly tough contraction at the exact moment she seemed to be trying to push me onto the bed. “GET THE F*** OFF ME!” I finally roared. She scurried out of the room and I looked at my husband and said, “You need to go see if they will send another nurse in here.”
Fortunately, a different woman did come and she was wonderful; she massaged my back, totally supported me wanting to be in comfortable positions, and answered my questions calmly and with a great deal of positivity. Unfortunately we’d arrived around 6pm, just before the nightly shift change, so she was only around for about an hour before heading home for the night. Much to my relief, though, the next shift of nurses were all great as well.
What’s more, my doctor happened to be on the ward already because another one of her patients was also in labour. Two friends who’d given birth with her had mentioned her appearing just minutes before delivery to essentially catch the baby (which I think is the norm with OBGYNs), but I lucked out and had her for the final 90 minutes or so of labour, and she was so awesome.
My daughter was born at 11:30pm, which meant we were only at the hospital for about 5.5 hours, and my labour was 18 hours all in. I’d like to think that exercising throughout pregnancy contributed to the relatively fast, smooth labour, but who knows? Leading up to the birth I had tried to minimise expectations, focusing only on what was within my control and staying as positive as possible with visualisations and HypnoBirthing affirmations. Other than the few brief hiccups with that first labour nurse (my expletive-filled outburst was somewhat less-than-zen), the experience was totally positive and went as well as I could have hoped.
(Felix, 4.24 kgs; Arthur, 3.26 kgs and Violet 3.48 kgs, all born in Dubai)
The dream: The dream changed drastically from baby number 1 to baby number 3. With my first-born, Felix, I wrote out an extensive birth plan (that included classical music and essential oils); my second I based on my experience with number 1 (i.e get me an epidural immediately and make it all as quick as possible) and with Violet, my youngest, I was terrified that I’d give birth en route to hospital (based on middle child’s speedy arrival) so lived in constant fear of every twinge during the last couple of weeks!
The reality: First time round, I rolled over in bed one morning and couldn’t work out if I’d slightly wet myself (nice) or if this was the mysterious ‘waters breaking’. Hubby decided that we ought to head to hospital to check it out so after a shower and a very slow breakfast (yes, I was trying to delay the inevitable), off we went to hospital with my enormous bag, birthing ball, pillow, snacks, misty water face spray-thing and all the other stuff I thought important (and later realised wasn’t).
I was induced to get things moving – after which the contractions came on strong and I attempted to wander around the labour room while growling at anyone who came near me before demanding an epidural. And then everything was calm. Hubby and I watched Prison Break, had a little lunch – all very civilised – until the midwife announced that I was ready to have the baby! I found this really weird as the epidural was in full swing and I couldn’t feel a thing so had to follow instructions (unfortunately barked at me by a very fierce midwife) and eventually needed an episiotomy to help things along. A far cry from the calm scenario I’d envisaged, but all worth it for my beautiful first born Felix.
And my second baby? Completely different – in truly dramatic style, my waters broke while at dinner in Zuma (by the way this is incredibly rare despite what the movies will have you think) and we rushed to hospital where everything happened so fast that little Arthur was almost born while my husband was registering our arrival – with zero time for pain relief and one very surprised nurse present! Ditto with my little girl Violet, born within an hour of reaching the hospital, it was amazing how – with no drugs – my body just took over and did what it had to do – pushing and all! Painful? Yes, but it really is true that you very quickly forget.
(Eve Eileen, 3.4 kgs, born at Queen Mary Hospital, Hong Kong)
The dream: A slow build to active contractions, which allowed me a number of hours at home to take a warm bath (shave my legs!), have a hot leisurely meal and blow out my hair before heading (somewhat) calmly to the hospital.
The reality: There wasn’t a slow build when it came to my labour. My contractions came on fast and furious and I had no time to really faff around at home before heading to the hospital. Once I got there, and things were progressing quite quickly, I had a small window to take an epidural, which I didn’t take (and then later desperately wanted!), so ended up going from start to finish drug-free. So as the contractions got stronger and stronger, I basically went in my head to deal with the situation and while my lovely husband did everything he could to be a solid support, I didn’t utter a single word to him throughout the whole process. He ended up playing the part of DJ (hip-hop was the music pumping throughout my labour) and giving one of his best buddies a play-by-play of the whole situation via text message. So, not the slow build I wanted but then again, it was the best way to put on my big girl pants and realise when it comes to being a mama, leisurely warm baths, hot meals or at-home blow outs are kind of a thing of the past!
(Adam, 3.050 kg, Matilda International Hospital, Hong Kong)
The dream: There was no dream. Why? Because I was absolutely terrified of giving birth! Here is what I feared would happen: my waters would break while my husband was travelling. I would be rushed to hospital only to be told that my obstetrician was on holiday and that they’d run out of epidurals. After 24 hours of labour-ing, I’d pass out, get a massive episiotomy and they would have to use forceps.
The reality: Hubby got back from travelling (…) on a weekend and we went out with friends. I laughed so hard during dinner I “peed my pants”. The following morning things started to hurt, and we decided to check me in. At the hospital I was quickly given a ‘walking epidural’, which means you keep control of your lower body but most pain is numbed. Amazing. We spent the next 6 hours in labour watching ‘Friends’ on my computer. Once it was crunch time, my lovely obstetrician walked into the room and shouted, “Let’s have a baby”! There was no profanity (on my part), no stitches and certainly no forceps. Just a perfect baby.
Good luck to all you mamas-to-be out there – and whatever happens, there’ll be a beautiful baby to meet at the end of it all!