Welcome to my blog. I write about fitting in, sticking out, and missing the motherland as a serial foreigner.

Sterling's birth story (epic version)

The view from the delivery room window.
I’m not sure where this birth story actually begins. Does it begin with the breakdown I had on Tuesday (24 Sept) night about how this baby was never going to be born (ask Jeremy about it – he’s probably still traumatized)? Or does it begin with the labor-induction acupuncture treatment I had on Thursday afternoon to “celebrate” my due date? Or perhaps it begins with the contractions I had all Thursday night and into Friday morning, only to have them peter out around 4am?

I suppose this birth story begins in earnest at about 2.45pm on Friday when I was taking a nap in the guest room loft bed and my water broke. I called out for Jeremy a few times but he didn’t answer. Little Magdalena ran in instead and when I told her to get me a towel because my water broke, she ran into the living room exclaiming, “Miriam, Miriam, mama’s water broke!” Then she was so busy chatting that she took her sweet time bringing me the towel and I had to remind her that I realllly needed that towel or I was going to leak water everywhere (it’s really an amazing amount of fluid). Meanwhile, both girls ran up to tell Jeremy, who had just barely laid his head down for a nap of his own.

Under normal circumstances, I would have wanted to labor at home for as long as possible before going in to the hospital. However, I tested GBS positive for this pregnancy, which meant that I needed to have a dose of intravenous antibiotics finished well before delivery. This was even more essential since my water had already broken.

So after doing some tidying up and sending the girls to the neighbor’s house, Jeremy and I left for the hospital. It’s a 7-minute drive from our house to the hospital, and probably only about 1km away as the crow flies. Still, there are eight roundabouts between here and there, some prefaced by those rumble strip things. My first non-mild contraction hit as Jeremy was driving over one of those. I was immediately grateful that we did not have a long drive ahead of us.

It was a very quiet Friday afternoon at the hospital – so much so that we had to check in through the ER because the regular reception area was closed. In addition, my doctor wasn’t on call – a different doctor (a Syrian woman, from Damascus) would be the one to deliver.

They took me up to the Labor & Delivery floor – which was completely empty of patients except for me – and I got changed into the most modest hospital gown you ever did see. Soooo much fabric. The nurses were all Indian (they were even joking that literally ALL the L&D nurses are from India) and they chattered in Hindi as they set me up with a non-stress test. Everything was fine. It was annoying having the bands on me during contractions, but I was a pretty willing patient at that point since I knew it was something they just needed to get done (my attitude would change later).

Then the doctor came in to check me. I have such mixed feelings about being checked. It’s nice to know, unless it’s not, you know? At that point (4pm on Friday) she said I was a 3 or 4, and 75% effaced. Nice! With that information in hand, I got to work at moving this labor along as steadily as possible. I was a little worried at how tired I already was – sleepy tired from not getting rest the night before, as well as 40-weeks-pregnant tired.

I was just getting into my groove when the nurses came in to administer a skin test for the intravenous antibiotics they needed to administer due to my GBS+ status. I am allergic to penicillin, which has caused me more problems in my medical life, especially in random foreign countries, than I care to think about. It really seemed to throw them for a loop that they couldn’t just give me the old standby, even though I knew my doctor had alerted them to this detail about me at least a month ago (I knew because I had a copy of the report myself). So the nurse pushed a syringe full of an alternative antibiotic into my forearm and wow did that hurt! I don’t know if it would have hurt me all on its own, but combined with contractions and the icky medical feeling I get from being injected with things, it really soured my attitude. That was at 4.45p. After I showed no reaction, they put in a cannula – also painful, since I don’t seem to have veins like normal people - and administered the antibiotics. That was finished at 6p. The doctor recommended I take some IV fluid, but I said no thanks and she didn’t push it.

I got into my groove again to deal with the contractions. But something I learned during this labor is that every labor is different, even if you want them to be the same, as I wanted this one to be as like Magdalena’s as possible. Looking back, though, I should have realized that it couldn’t be that way. The hospital here is nothing like the one in Middlebury, and the birth culture here is different, too. But I secluded myself in the bathroom, put on my headphones, turned off the lights, and sat on a birthing ball to get through contractions. I wish I could have been in a tub, but this hospital only has showers. Again, looking back, I wish I had thought more seriously about finding a facility with a tub. I did some looking around but the only viable candidate was in Al Ain and that would have come with its own set of inconveniences (the 90-minute drive being one). However, not being able to do the ONE thing I wanted to do during hours and hours of labor – get in a nice pool of warm water - also ended up being an “inconvenience.”

I knew while I was in that dark bathroom on my own that labor was either not progressing or I was taking it really, really well. I was afraid it was the first. At 7.30p, the nurses asked me to come out and sit for another fetal monitoring session. I was not happy about that. But they said I “must,” so eventually I sat there and let them do their thing while I suffered through more contractions in an uncomfortable position. They initially said I had to sit there for 45 minutes (!!!!!!!) but it ended up being only about 10 because I may have gotten a little angry at them.

As long as I was lying down and being still, the doctor checked me and I was only at a 4 or 5. That’s when it’s not so nice to be checked. I was so discouraged and so tired. I think it was around that time that I sent out a text to my mom in the US to tell her that things were going slowly, just so they wouldn’t be hankering for any news too soon.

I decided to try to speed up labor not by secluding myself, but by waking myself up and trying to get some energy and adrenaline going. I walked around the halls of L&D, which I had all to myself. With Magdalena’s labor, quiet and dark and peaceful accelerated things. With this labor, it only seemed to slow things down – when I entered that sleepy laborland between contractions, I was so tired I was actually falling asleep. Walking around in the bright lights seemed to help a little, even though I was really struggling with fatigue – both what I was experiencing at that moment, as well as the thought of the prospect of many hours of labor apparently still in front of me.

That “apparently” in the previous sentence might make you think that this is one of those birth stories where there is a sudden “and then x happened and she checked me and I was complete!” Not so. I wish it could have been. But I was just going slow, and I was just going to have to deal with it. I tried to keep my strength up by eating and drinking. Jeremy ran to the grocery store across the street and brought back some fresh orange/carrot juice, almonds, and what ended up being this labor’s drink sponsor, 100 Plus. That stuff is goooood.

At about 9.30p, I decided to try getting in the shower. It felt good, and maybe it helped labor progress, but the water was never really hot enough, and I just had to stand there, and I couldn’t find a way to rig my iPod Shuffle to keep it dry, and I had this awkward cannula in my hand that was supposed to stay dry. After thirty minutes, I got out.

My legs were so tired from standing and walking around and contractions that they were shaking. I thought maybe I was approaching transition, but no – I got checked – again – and I was still only at 6 or 7. This was at 10.45p. They asked me to sit for another session of fetal monitoring and I may have gotten mad again, telling them I wasn’t going to lie down. But I “must,” so I did, for another 10 minutes, which was not as long as they would have liked.

At 11p, I relinquished the iPod. In giving up my source of greatest comfort, I was either admitting to myself that I was hitting transition, or allowing myself to. I was finally reaching the point where I couldn’t do it anymore. It was such an awful feeling. I knew I couldn’t do it. And I knew that I would have to anyway. The contractions were long and hard and seemingly neverending. One of the nurses came in during this time to ask if I wanted her to get the doctor. I motioned to her to wait until I was done with that contraction…and it never really finished. It just kept going. So she went and got the doctor (smart nurse).

During that awful period of transition, nothing could touch me or my pain. There was no happy place to go to. I just immersed myself in the pain. Poor Jeremy was leaving me alone as I had asked him to (except to deliver food and drink), but at this point I was begging him, figuratively, to take away some of the pain.

At 11.36p, Jeremy casually mentioned that if I waited about 25 more minutes, the baby would be born the next day (meaning after midnight). I was not impressed.

Just before midnight, the doctor checked me again and I was at 8 or 9 (the “or”s throughout this birth story are the doctor’s, by the way, not mine. I guess she didn’t like being too precise). She and the nurses suited up in preparation for delivery and started to orchestrate some kind of transformer-like change on the bed from a fairly regular hospital bed into a different apparatus. I was almost out of my head with the pain, but I did not like what I saw. From what I could tell, she wanted me to get into the lithotomy position to push. To which my thought was, in sentiment if not exact wording, “oh honey NO.” Some stirrup-like leg supports had appeared out of nowhere and she was asking me to get on my back.

So we had a bit of a disagreement. I wanted to deliver side-lying, like I had with both of my previous deliveries. The doctor wanted me on my back with my legs up high. I was not having it. And I let her know. I pushed for a while on my side as she asked me repeatedly, very nicely, to shift to my back. I told her that I had birthed both of my girls that way and I was sure she could deliver this one that way. Poor woman. Poor me.

Jeremy talked me off the ledge a little and helped me see what the doctor was actually asking me to do. She wanted me on my back, yes, but with the bed tilted up so it was more of a modified squat. That was fine enough with me so I moved.

This is also not one of those birth stories where I say “two pushes and he was out!” I pushed for quite a while – except I just checked Jeremy’s notes and it was only about 20 minutes. It felt like a lot longer. You know, I have always wanted to be one of those women who just breathes her babies out, all serene-like and calm-faced. I am not one of those women. Oh well. Pushing was intense and I distinctly remember listening carefully to the encouragement of the nurses and doctor to detect any note of false “he’s almost here!” comments. I hate those comments. If someone was going to tell me he was almost here, I thought, he had better be dang well almost here. Fortunately, I don’t think anyone lied to me, including Jeremy, bless his heart. At one point, the doctor told me to push through one more contraction and that would probably be it. I think it actually was.

When he was born, they put him right on to me without cleaning him off or anything. I held him for a minute and got vernix all over me. Then they took him over to the corner to check him out. I have no idea when they cut the cord and neither does Jeremy. A male pediatrician magically materialized out of nowhere to check out the baby, but the nurses had pulled the privacy curtain around me so I never saw him and he never saw me. I just heard his voice and saw his signature on some documents later.

This could be the end of this birth story, except: stitches. Without adequate anesthetic. Yeah. I held my stuff together way better during labor than I did while getting stitched up.

At last at last, we were all tidied up, baby and me. The staff left us alone for about an hour. Jeremy and I took some pictures and talked about what we were going to name the baby now that we had seen him (and now that we couldn’t put it off any longer). In the meantime, since we hadn’t given the staff a name for the baby at birth, he was called “Baby of Bridget” on all the documents, which I think is kind of awesome.

I’ll save UAE vs. USA birth analysis particulars for another post. Location/culture aside, however, on paper this birth appears to be very similar to Magdalena’s. And maybe it was – drug-free, starting with water breaking followed shortly by the onset of contractions, and lasting about 9 hours (Magdalena) and 10 hours (Sterling, unless you count the 7 hours of contractions from the night before, and maybe I do?).

But in emotion and feel, it could hardly have been more different. After Magdalena was born, I remember this transformative feeling of “I did it!” After Sterling was born, all I could think was, “it’s over.” It was a much more visceral experience, rather than beautiful. I felt managed, rather than in charge. And it’s taken some getting over, and will probably take some more.

The Sasha 3.0 soundtrack winner was probably the music from The Virgin Queen, because it has some funky, upbeat tracks that picked me up when I needed it. But the refrain from Titanium got stuck in my head for a lot of the end of labor: “fire away, fire away,” over and over again.

I'm thankful things went as well as they did. I'm thankful Sterling is here and we're both safe and sound. I hope the tone of this birth story doesn't obscure those facts. I've written about it the way I feel about it. It might take on a rosier tone in the future. But if not, that's ok.

October 4th, outsourced

Vaccines, Abraham Lincoln, other books