Monday, October 29, 2012

Laboring in Japan—Baby –wise

This is the final installment of what it’s like being a pregnant foreigner in Japan.   The story begins here.  

Jon and I waited for labor to start from about week 38 onward.  We both knew it could come at any time, especially since our baby was getting so big. There were tell-tale signs that things were progressing, including two trips to the hospital with us thinking that things were starting, but baby was comfortable in there and didn’t actually want to come out.  In the last week, I was getting Braxton hicks contractions every night, and during our 39 week checkup, we set an induction date for Tues, Oct. 23rd.   This was two days before the due date.

The weekend before that, our city, Kokura had a big food festival.  Jon and I wandered about, taking photos, enjoying the warm sunny weather, seeing a robot serve ice cream, and eating.  I wanted to get lots of “last” photos of Jon and me as a family of only two before the big day.  

Monday night we went out to eat giant cheeseburgers and walked home in the rain.  One last night out, eating greasy food and taking a long walk in the cool weather before we’d have to worry about keeping a little baby warm and in bed at night.

Tuesday morning we slept in a bit and went to the hospital at 10:30.  I had an initial exam with two doctors, our personal doctor, Imai, who we had been meeting with the whole time, and one older doctor that we saw a few times in periphery and didn’t know very well.   Dr. Imai explained that the plan was for us to register, settle in our room, and she would give me three pills that would start to soften my cervix and get my body ready for labor.  We’d relax and I’d spend the night in the hospital, but labor wouldn’t actually begin until the next day when I would get an IV of pitocin to start contractions.   At this point, the older doctor joked that I’d probably just go into labor this afternoon without any help.  We asked, “really?”  Dr. Imai answered, “maybe….” doubtfully.  However, this is the same lady that told us for weeks the gender of our baby, prefaced with a “maybe.”  When Jon asked what percent she was sure of the gender, she said, “maybe 100%.”  So, maybe her “maybes” don’t mean maybe.

Jon and I had packed lots of things to do, a pack of cards, books, Japanese textbooks, and balloons to decorate the room.   I expected to be in the hospital about a week, between the extra day before labor and five days after, so Jon made the room look festive.  The nurses loved it.  I was the only lady in the maternity ward, so I had a private room, although the room farthest from the nurses station.   I don’t know if I was alone because Japan’s birth rate really is that low, or Oct. isn’t a popular time to have a baby, or because most women have their babies in specialized birthing clinics or all three, but even with so few patients, there were always about seven nurses working.

I took my three pills, beginning at about noon, and soon afterwards they hooked me up to a fetal monitor. 

They kept asking me if I felt anything and I kept saying, “No, I don’t feel anything.”  Well, apparently I was having contractions and they were getting slightly stronger and closer together.  After a while, if I concentrated, I could feel some slight pressure that I had previously thought was just the baby moving.  This labor thing was going to be easy!  The contractions got stronger and closer together and they hooked me up to the monitor about once every 90 minutes.   At first it was fine, Jon and I played some card games and started a game of scrabble, but after a while I really started dreading the monitor.  It was uncomfortable to lay flat on my back for so long, especially as the contractions had really started hurting.   As soon as they would take the moniter off, I’d get up and walk around, and though it didn’t lessen the contractions, it was much more comfortable.  Our doctor went home at around four or five and said she would come back if my labor continued.

Jon kept asking me what my pain level was out of a 10.  I had a hard time answering him because I didn’t know what a 10 was, so I kept low-balling my numbers…..”I don’t know a 3?”  45 minutes later, as I gasped and stopped talking for a particularly long contraction, I said, “4?  Maybe?”  Jon got a little frustrated with me and told me, “Now’s not the time to be tough!  You have to be honest and tell me if it hurts so we can tell the nurses!”  Little did we know my level of toughness…

 A little while later, I had an exam and I was dilated to 3 cm, so I walked from my room to the laboring room.   At this point (around 5:00) I started really feeling a lot of pain.   I had initially insisted on having an epidural, but these past few months had been reading more about them and had toyed around with the idea of going natural. 

I mean, I am a pretty tough person.  I’ve always been active and I’ve had my share of bumps and bruises and falls from horses, kicks from horses, bites from horses….a lot of horse induced pain, actually.  And what is pain, I mean, really?  It’s just in your head.  It can’t really be that bad.  My body would produce chemicals to help me deal with it.  Besides, I half-assed learning some breathing and relaxation techniques and this past month I’d been massaging and stretching out….

----------------------------------------------------spoiler alert---------------------------------------------
Labor is gross and here is where the descriptions get pretty graphic.  Please stop reading if you’re not interested in the particulars.

…my perineum, so I was pretty prepared to push this baby out like a champ.  Well, as it turns out I’M the baby and a chump to boot.   I don’t know what idiot impulse made me think I was so tough and impervious to pain.  I’ve never broken a major bone, I’ve barely had any stitches, I cried when I stubbed my toe just a few months ago, and I used to take medicine for MENSTRUAL pain, for God ’s sake.  I’m the epitome of a soft, sheltered, modern woman.

From 5 till 7, I kneeled or laid on the bed in the labor room.  At some point during those hours, my water broke, but I don’t have any recollection of that because I was pretty busy throwing up, crying, and asking Jon when the doctor was going to get there and give me the epidural.  During that time, I was out of my mind, and I only remember snippets here and there.   Jon rubbed my back and told me how great I was doing and that the doctors were on their way to the hospital and I’d get my epidural soon. 

At some point I moved (was moved? I don’t remember) to the actual delivery bed and the doctor tried to get me to roll up in a ball on my side so he could put the epidural in my spine.  Laying still on my side, rolled in a ball, dilated to 5 cm, I learned what a 10 feels like.   Now I know.

Jon distracted me by talking about our little T-Rex and how we were going to be a family soon.  He tried to get me talking to distract me, but I was distracted by the doctor explaining that he was going to inject a little local anesthesia before placing the epidural in my spine.  Are you kidding me?  Did he honestly think that I cared one shit about a huge needle going directly into my spine at this point?  Did he think I could even feel anything besides the contractions?  I cared more about the ten extra seconds it was taking him to fuss around with the local anesthesia, than any pain from getting that needle in.  

After the epidural was in and a few minutes passed, the pain started to subside and I immediately fell asleep.  It takes a lot out of you to be in pain and (so Jon tells me) scream and throw up for two hours.  I woke up a while later to hear Jon out in the hallway on the phone with our parents telling them that everything was going fine and that I was resting and he’d call again when the baby came.   Jon came back in and read to me from a baby book for a while and we took some photos until around 10 when it was time to push. 

Dr. Imai arrived at this point and I was dilated to 10 cm.  I thought it was pretty funny that the nurses were all wearing scrubs, masks, and hats, but both doctors had strolled in wearing their street clothes and simply put on gloves.  At this point, Jon was holding my hand by my side, there were about six nurses surrounding my bed and both doctors looking inside me. The epidural had worn off and I was feeling a lot of pain again and they told me to start pushing the baby out.  They said it might be a little harder than normal because the baby had twisted and wasn’t facing the optimal direction, but that everything would still be fine and start pushing!

I don’t think I did a very good job pushing the baby out.  I didn’t know which muscles to use to push right, I got discouraged because I didn’t think I was being effective, I didn’t push in the right intervals, and I didn’t push strong enough.   I tried, but it was really hard, the doctors kept telling me to push for longer intervals and then rest for longer intervals to be more effective, but I kept pushing for a short time and getting exhausted and resting, then trying to push again right away.  I tried to tune everyone out except Jon and only listen to what he was telling me to do, especially because the nurses were getting really annoying.  One kept shouting, “Last push!  Last push!” right in my ear, but she started shouting it after about 20 minutes and it would be 45 minutes before my actual last push, so that got old fast.

At one point I looked down and I was just struck by what an absurd spectacle this whole thing was.  The 6 nurses surrounding the bed, the two doctors in casual clothes, in fact, I could see an open pack of cigarettes in the older doctor’s front pocket right then. Imai was telling me, “As soon as possible, longer!”  Jon was translating it to mean, “Push as long as you can!!”  What was going on? I started getting confused again and I don’t remember very much more until I saw the doctor pulling out a long tube with a suction cup on one end of it.  I knew immediately what that was.  Jon noticed that I saw it and told me not to worry about anything except pushing, one last long push to get the baby out.  I focused on Jon’s face and pushed and didn’t stop until someone attacked me and knocked the wind out of me.

As I tried to get some breath back in me, I saw that Dr. Imai had jumped on a stool and was doing sharp, deep, compressions on my stomach.  They were so strong to completely make me lose my breath each time.  She was helping push the baby out from the top, two nurses were pulling on each side of my vagina to open it up wider, the other doctor was pulling on the baby’s head with the vacuum, and I was pushing as hard as I could and finally T-Rex came out, after about an hour of pushing.   I was scared at first because she didn’t cry for about a minute, but everything was fine and they plopped her on my chest after she let out a healthy scream.

I couldn’t believe it.  I just kept saying to Jon, “Jon!  Our baby.  Our baby, our baby.  Oh, she’s our baby, baby.”  I was so shocked by her.   I can see now how tiny she is, but at the time I just kept thinking how sturdy and big she was.  Had she really been inside of me just a minute ago?  Had I really pushed her outside of me? 

The doctors took her away and cleaned her up and did a few tests and Jon told me how good I did.  I had torn pretty badly, so they started stitching me up while Jon stayed with the baby.   Finally, I was sewn up and Jon and I could have some time with our baby.  At this point some nurse started explaining to Jon the schedule for the week, of baby’s shots, my checkups, classes on giving the baby a bath, etc.  If I could go back in time, this is the one thing I would change (besides pushing baby out more effectively).  I mean, our baby was an hour old and she thought the most important thing for us to do was talk about the schedule for three days later?  We should have shooed her away.

I had lost a lot of blood, and was still bleeding a lot, so I stayed in the labor room that night to be closer to the nurse’s station.  Jon stayed with me for a few more hours as we called our parents and finally it was time for him to go home around 3:00 or 4:00.  The next morning I was able to walk down to my room and it was pretty rough.  I was barely able to make it to my bed before fainting.   The night before the nurses had mentioned that it might not be healthy for me to feed our baby the next day because of the amount of blood I lost, so I was nervous that that would still be the case.  However, after breakfast and an hour more of rest, I was ready to walk down to the nursery and was able to feed our baby girl. 

Jon arrived at the hospital soon after and we spent the whole day together as a family of three.    


@lliE said...

That was super interesting.

The end of your story was not...ideal. That sounds SUPER crazy with the nurses/doctors/cigarettes/hands/vaccumes....yikes.

I'm sorry your tore, that is very painful and a long healing process.

But I'm super glad baby is here healthy and happy.

wanderingstar83 said...

Massive congratulations. I have been following your story (I live in Niigata and my husband and I want to have a baby over here)and have found it really interesting. I'm glad your baby girl was born safe and sound, and I look forward to reading about the rest of your baby in Japan experience.
Congrats again

Sara Hendricks said...

Thank you! Cora is now almost a week old and just the best baby in the world. I'm so glad she's finally here and safe and sound.

Also, she was born weighing seven and a half pounds and she was 19 inches long. Much smaller than the ultrasound had led us to believe, but perfect sized, I think.

Vance Abby Jane said...

I can't wait to see pictures of Cora!! But I must admit I read your post with my hand over my mouth! The fainting and doctor on top of you to push the baby out was just so crazy. Giving birth is rough but u seemed to have gone through a lot more than most. I still believe you're pretty tough! I loved hearing your first reaction to her. I felt that same way: my babies are just so sweet and amazing! I'm so glad she's a good baby, what a sweetie!!

The UnMighty said...

A gruesome and inspiring tale.
Cora's pretty, but I'm a little disappointed you didn't name her T-Rex.