As you may have gathered from the cliffhanger at the end of yesterday’s post, things all changed pretty soon after that.
That evening (April 22nd) after my husband came home, we discussed what to do. Since the doctor’s advice was to have a c-section on safety grounds, it seemed foolhardy to reject his suggestion. The doctor telephoned me at around 7pm and I told him that we’d go for the operation as he’d advised, and we agreed to have an additional consultation that Saturday as discussed earlier that day.
My husband and I took the dog out for a walk. It felt suddenly so much less stressful somehow, having a date actually decided. With so many uncertainties out there (including the damn virus), having even one unknown “confirmed” felt like a weight off my shoulders. As we set off down the street, I linked arms with my husband and looked up at the night sky.
Then, suddenly, I felt a kind of bloop. It was like a bubble full of goo wetly bursting, or (for those with vaginas) when you get a lot of discharge leaking out at once. I stopped in my tracks with an awkward “ah!” because it felt wet, but it was dark so I, laughing, told my husband that I might have to go back and change my knickers because I’d leaked.
“That much?” he asked, also amused, so I turned my smartphone flashlight on. I couldn’t see anything (bump in the way) but my husband’s reaction was immediate. “Wait, that’s blood!”
Blood?! …Uh-oh. The midwife had very clearly said that there were three reasons to telephone and then go to hospital:
- waters breaking
- contractions 10 minutes apart
So, we started walking back to the house while calling the hospital, the dog’s evening walk cut rudely short. I’d had my hospital bag packed since the end of week 34, and I was hugely grateful for this because all I had to do was change my clothes, throw in my phone charger and stop off at the conbini to buy a few bottles of sports drink – just in case – before we were off. It’s worth noting that until this point I hadn’t felt any contractions or anything beyond regular heavily-pregnant-body discomfort. I did suspect that I might have to be hospitalised because of the bleeding but didn’t at all feel like “this is it, folks”. Once we got in the car, though, things suddenly started to kick off. My period pains have always been solely of the back pain variety, and when my husband was at the convenience store buying me drinks it started feeling like mild period pains, but within five minutes it was suddenly like: oh, yes, this is actually getting properly uncomfortable. This could be actual labour after all.
But I was only just 36 weeks (36w 2d at that point); would my baby be okay? And what about my c-section? What if I did end up bleeding as badly as my doctor feared? What would happen if they couldn’t locate enough blood in time?
With these thoughts buzzing away in the back of my head, we got to the hospital around 8pm. A tiny mosquito closer to the front of my mind said, “What if something happens and you die in childbirth, and this is the last time your husband sees you? Is this how you want things to end?” So, without voicing this fear, I gave my husband a kiss and told him I loved him. I got out of the car, rang the doorbell and the nurse came to the door to let me in.
Once inside, two nurses guided me in and up to the delivery floor. One of them asked me, “Is your belly getting hard?”
Uhh, I hadn’t thought about it? So we put our hands on my belly and oh, yes, that’s pretty rigid.
We then went into a room with a gynaecological examination chair and they checked to see whether or not my waters had broken/if I was properly going into labour. The doctor – the night shift guy, not my regular doctor – confirmed that the baby was indeed on the way, and that I was already 4cm dilated. By this point it was 8:30pm and while one nurse went back downstairs to tell my husband (who was still waiting in the car outside) and to get my hospital bag from him, another nurse inserted a needle and hooked me up to an IV. I sent my mum a text message to let her know.
The labour room was small and dark like I’d said in my birth plan that I wanted, but that was pretty much the only thing in my birth plan that actually happened! After a short while my contractions started picking up the pace: at 9pm they were irregular (although the intervals were already shorter than 10 minutes) and by 10pm they were every two minutes. By 11pm I felt the baby had moved down lower in my pelvis and I was 7cm dilated. I had watched a series of hypnobirthing videos as part of an online course during the second half of my pregnancy, and in it they rebrand contractions as “surges”. To me, it really did feel like that: a massive wave rolling through me that I was powerless to control. Except I didn’t try to control it, only accept it. Every surge brings you closer to meeting your baby, the hypnobirthing instructor had said. Each surge is only about a minute long, so believe in your body and breathe through it. Breathe in for four, breathe out for eight. The small of my back throbbed.
Trying to stay in a good place mentally while completely alone late at night is hard even when you aren’t giving birth. Much of the course had emphasised the importance of a birth partner. It also talked about a traffic light system, where “red” is full on panic, and “green” is being totally relaxed and calm. The idea is that during a contraction you might go up to amber, but that afterwards your birth partner and the meditation exercises help you get back down to green. Only, everything was happening so fast! There hadn’t been any kind of warm up for this labour, everything was so sudden and happening all in a rush. The surges had jumped up both in intensity and speed, and I wasn’t ready. I couldn’t even manage to open the app on my phone to listen to some of the guided meditation mp3s. There wasn’t any time for me to try to get calm again after one surge because the next one was already rolling in! And I had nobody there with me in that dark little room.
It felt so chaotic, and in the back of my mind was still this panicked feeling – no matter how irrational – that I stood a chance of bleeding to death because of this sodding virus. Once upon a time, my mother had bought me a little silver hippo, and I had brought it with me to the hospital. Hippo mothers are ferocious, protective, and strong. Taweret was on my side. My mother couldn’t be with me, but I gripped the little hippo in my right hand and imagined that she was. Breathe in for four, out for eight. Every surge brings you closer to meeting your baby.
I had wanted to ask them about blood supplies and caesarians, but by the time they came back to check on me I couldn’t focus long enough to frame a coherent question. It was soon pretty clear that the c-section my doctor and I had talked about was out of the window. In for four, out for eight. In for four, out for eight. It was getting harder to breathe. In for three, out for six; not ideal, but good enough. I shoved my fists into the small of my back to try to get some relief.
After that, things get a little hazy. Around midnight they got me to leave my dark corner and walk across the hall to the delivery room, and while I felt sad to leave my little cave it was reassuring to be relocated because it meant I was that bit closer to meeting my little girl. Moving just those few metres felt insanely difficult at the time but was nothing in comparison to what was coming! They strapped Doppler sensors to my belly to measure her heartbeat and to make sure she wasn’t in any distress, and being able to hear her heartbeat throbbing away from the machine to my left was also helpful – it made me feel like the hospital staff were in charge of keeping us healthy and safe, and all I had to do was focus on breathing and following what my body was telling me to do. I squeezed my little hippo even tighter.
We don’t do gas and air in Japan or any other kind of painkillers for the most part, and epidurals are only available at some hospitals – not at mine. At one point I was desperately punching the small of my back to try to alleviate some of the pain; at others I was gripping the arms of the delivery bed so hard that I still had muscle ache three days later! That hour passed in a blur; it took both forever and no time at all. One funny moment that I do recall: my waters still hadn’t broken by this point, but oh my god when they broke, they BROKE. You know when the sea bursts out from between rocks with such force that it sprays foam everywhere? My team – the doctor, midwife and nurse – all yelped in unison and jumped backwards as a massive spray of amniotic fluid went all over the place. I wish I’d been able to catch the look on their faces but all I managed to see was the nurse grabbing a mop and bucket to wipe the floor!
Once it got past 1am I started to feel like things were getting too hard and that maybe I wasn’t going to be able to manage after all. The hypnobirthing advice had all flown from my head, and all I could remember was each surge brings you closer to meeting your baby. I wanted to meet my baby. Hurry up! Let me meet my baby! I really wished my husband was there with me. “Have you got your hippo?” the nurse asked. I realised my hand had seized up from gripping it so tightly, and managed to pry my fingers open to show her.
Once upon a time I’d heard a story about how a Russian spy’s cover was blown because she got pregnant and in delivery she ended up cursing in Russian and that gave her away. Honestly, after having “been there and done that”, my opinion of the spy has drastically gone down because right when my daughter’s head was working through my pelvis and I felt like I couldn’t do it any more, it still wasn’t English I was speaking!
“I can’t do it any more,” I whined in Japanese. “Get the baby out!”
“But you’re doing it!!” replied the nurse. “Keep going!”
I was given an episiotomy at some point, though the memories are fuzzy. They must have injected me with a local anaesthetic just before making the incision? which would explain why I don’t remember it happening. (At least, that’s what happened to another mother who gave birth at the same hospital with whom I spoke recently, and so I assume it’s what happened with me too.) I just remember a massive pressure building, the nurse and midwife telling me “use these stomach muscles!” only I couldn’t tell whether I was using the muscles or not (“Yes, that’s right!” Um okay then???) and then the nurse apologised in advance, pushed down on my belly, and the enormous pressure was released with a sudden wet slithering plop.
My baby was out!
I’d told them I wanted to know the exact time she was born, and the nurse called it out over the sound of my baby’s cries: 1 hour, 44 minutes and 17 seconds past midnight on April 23rd. She weighed 2920g (somewhat more than the 2500g estimated only half a day earlier, lol).
“Call Papa!” the nurse said, but I wasn’t convinced he’d be awake/answer in time (foolish me; of course he hadn’t slept) so I grabbed my phone from next to me and instead managed to film the midwife cutting the umbilical cord, and then them passing her to me. My shaky voice in the video called her name. “Hello. Hey, baby.” There was a whole lot of my blood everywhere. I had lost 1.3 litres, almost triple the amount that would be considered ‘a lot’. She was skinny, wrinkly, covered in blood and vernix, and unbelievably beautiful.
After that, they immediately took her off to the side to check her lungs and so on, since as she was a preemie they wanted to be sure she didn’t need any immediate care. I video called my husband. I have no recollection of what I said. I felt my placenta come out with another wet slitherplop at some point but it barely registered. The doctor started to stitch me up. THAT was uncomfortable, to say the least, and at a certain point I complained. You’d think that after giving birth I’d be numb to everything, but being stitched up is an entirely different type of pain! Only, the whole time I couldn’t take my eyes off my daughter, who was just visible over my left shoulder. I wanted to hold her so badly, but they wouldn’t let me yet. She was under a warm light to help raise her body temperature, and the nurse borrowed my phone to take photos and videos of her for me.
Then, finally, I got to hold my little girl. My little angel. My beautiful miracle. I called my husband again, and after a while called my parents too. The nurse took a photo of the two of us.
At 4am they popped me in a wheelchair and took me up to the room where we’d be staying until the following Tuesday, to give me a couple of hours of sleep. They would bring my daughter to me later.
At around 6am I woke up anyway, partly because the room was bright but partly because of the postpartum adrenaline surge. I got up to go to the loo and oh wow, blood everywhere. The maternity pad they’d given me was drenched and the waterproof postpartum knickers I was in were overflowing, and made a mess everywhere. I had to call the nurse in for help cleaning up, but then after that they brought my daughter in to me and I subsequently remember nothing else of the first day.
The following days were a blur of feeding, checkups and tests for both the baby and me, and trying to nap. I was allowed to shower on Friday which was AMAZING since I hadn’t showered since Tuesday night(!) and after that things began to settle into a bit of a routine. My husband, acting hugely out of character, sent a beautiful bunch of flowers to the hospital to be delivered to my room.
The midwives were great, and since I (typically for me, atypically for your average Japanese parent) had tons of questions about the hows and whys of things, one of the nurses borrowed a textbook from her friend who was studying to be a midwife so we could look things up together. They started me on an iron supplement almost right away, once the results of my blood test came back. They also did a second blood test the day I was discharged, and gave me more iron.
The almost-week in hospital was just nonstop, with so many tests and checkups and consultations and things to do (all in Japanese). By the fourth day my brain was getting pretty scrambled and I struggled to think clearly. Even the “jubilation dinner” they provided on the fourth day was stressful, as all of this fancy cuisine was brought to my room, course after course, except it was exactly when I needed to feed the baby and put her down for another nap! I told the kitchen staff that I needed a bit more time but it was no use, and the delicious food went cold. Apparently pre-covid, that meal was given in a dining room where there were nurses and midwives around to help take care of the babies, while parents (with their partners!) could enjoy the meal in relative peace. Oh well. So, finally coming home, seeing my husband and sleeping for a couple of hours in our bed was indescribable heaven.
7th May brought us to the two-week mark and we went back to the hospital for the two-week checkup. My daughter was fine and had regained her birth weight, but I was still anaemic (yet more iron, iron, iron for all eternity) and when the doctor checked the condition of my uterus he went “hmm”. Not wholly reassuring.
The uterine atony wasn’t quite as bad as it could have been – obviously, as I hadn’t collapsed in a pool of blood or anything – but he showed me via ultrasound image a dark patch in my uterus that was an increased amount of blood which hadn’t been there at my checkup one week before. He put me on a type of artificial oxytocin and said he’d review things again at the one-month checkup (which he did, and everything was fine, hooray).
I’m infinitely grateful that, despite being born prematurely, my daughter was healthy and quickly grew strong. I’m also glad that she decided to be born so that we could be home before Golden Week! This meant that my husband had several days off to help me in the immediate postpartum stage, which made a huge difference. Now, in this strange covid world, we are still a tiny bubble of three people (and a rabbit and a dog) and sometimes I – we – find things very hard. But every now and then I stop and think about that night in April, and how even though I was so alone and so scared, I found the strength to trust in my body and in my baby, and with the help of the kind staff (and my little silver hippo), I could bring my beautiful angel into the world.
And to hell with the rest of it, I’m really proud of that.
This is a superbly written account of such a wonderful, memorable occasion – thank you for sharing your baby’s birth story – how brave you were that night. Such a privilege to have been able to read it here.
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Thank you so much for reading and commenting (especially when you knew most of it already)! Your support means a lot 💖
I don’t know if it’s because my period is coming and I’m full of hormones or if it’s that you write so well, so full of reality and emotion and it’s fantastic, but uh, I was crying the whole way through this. Our bodies are amazing, you’re amazing, you’ve brought a miracle into our world and I can’t find the right words at all but thank you so much for writing this. 😭
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This is such a huge compliment, thank you so much 😭💖 Bodies are amazing!! How does biology even work, it’s bonkers. Thank you so much for such a lovely comment 😭💖💕
Wow. What a beautiful birth story. Your daughter, even as a newborn, is absolutely beautiful. And guess what? We share a birthday! April 23rd!
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Birthday twins! I’d be really interested in hearing about your experience giving birth to your son in Kenya someday, too – have you ever written anything about it?
I think I did, a long time ago. But I’ll re-write the experience and compare it with the Japanese one.
I found the post and it is clear that I wasn’t writing about labour from experience! “Pushing is the easiest part”🙈🙈🙈
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I love your writing style and man it’s making me super emotional.
Love you, Pippa! I’m really proud of you, too and I am glad that you and your baby and your family are well and made it through all of it. T______T ❤
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Even though I’d read most of this before I still cried 😭
She was (and is) definitely beautiful and you should be SO proud for getting so far 💙
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I know nothing of the agony of childbirth but no epidural omg. I’m, along with everyone else, so proud of you. You’re a champ.
I’m reading this with tears in my eyes, two years after being written, almost 4 months after the birth of my son in a Japanese Clinic. It was beautifully written, and I am so amazed at your strength and perseverance. Reading made me recall my (23hrs) labor 😂 what a trip.
I see your little Fishes’ pictures on Twitter and see how happy and healthy she has become. It’s wonderful to read her backstory! Thank you for sharing 😊
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