Ray's Birth Story (what it's like to give birth at a Japanese clinic)
So now he's out and adorable, I thought I would jump on the bandwagon of writing about how he got to be that way.
Part 1: Let's get it started
First things first. I was planning on getting an epidural , but the doctor at the clinic and two of my doula friends recommended against it. That and I found out the needle goes in your spine. So, I decided on natural childbirth.
The duedate getting closer, it seems the whole world seemed determined to remind me it was going to hurt. I would read articles online where their emphasis on how painful something was, they'd use the phrase 'a pain worse than childbirth'. U2's song Yahweh even started to get to me, where Bono croons 'always pain before the child is born ~', in a mournful voice. Shaddup Bono, like you know anything about it.
But! as I mentioned in a previous post, epidurals aren't standard in Japan, and I ain't submitting to a procedure that the doctor is unfamiliar with. And Mom had all three of us without it and lived to tell about it. Also, ... this is a little telling about my personality, but, I kind of wanted to experience natural childbirth at least once, just to see what all the fuss was about.
On March 9, his duedate, no baby was coming. I wasn't even dialated a little bit. I was going a little crazy because I had finished everything on my 'to-do' list - including filing my taxes, getting the house and baby things ready, AND (most importantly) even finishing the game Batman Arkham Horror!
There was only one last thing on the list - taking a maternity portait. So on my duedate we went to a pretty park in Shinjuku where the very first of the cherry blossoms were blooming. You can see just how huge my belly got and why I was so anxious to get this little guy out.
|the belly is alive... and angry!|
I tried all the tricks to try to convince the baby to come on out, from eating pineapple and spicy curry to doing squats, bouncing on an exercise ball, drinking raspberry leaf tea, and continuing to walk everywhere. Here there's a saying 'anzan no ichimanpo' - which means 'ten thousand steps to a safe childbirth'. ie, walk ten thousand steps a day! .. well, okay, I probably didn't actually walk ten thousand steps a day. but i put in a good effort.
As the week progressed I noticed more and more signs that labor was getting close. it was getting harder to walk - starting to do the full-term pregnant lady waddle, then my mucus plug decided to make an appearance.Then, the braxton hicks contractions I had started to notice the week before were getting quite strong, like all the muscles in your mid-region squeeze and make it a little trickier to breathe for about thirty seconds.
Then Friday morning around 11 am ... a trickle started flowing down my leg. It was almost certainly not pee! I was pretty near certain! (pretty near, because bladder control stops being something we preggos take for granted around the eighth month of pregnancy. yes, yes, we weep for shame.) Ten minutes later, it was still trickling. Okay, I think to myself. This must be your water breaking. Don't panic now.
Part of the reason I was trying not to panic was because I didn't want to go to the clinic right away. This leads me to a tangent...
Why Kyra Did Not Want to Go to the Clinic Right Away
Our tale starts on a day at the end of winter, when I was having my birth plan reviewed with one of the clinic's midwives. ( a birth plan is a kind of contract between patient and doctor regarding what kind of interventions and environment you both want to allow while giving birth).
It seemed great at first. I got the nurses' okay to come in when contractions were 4-5 minutes apart (we live down the street), and during labor to stretch, walk around, control lights and tempurature of my room, use aromatherapy, listen to music, take a shower, basically anything I wanted to help get comfortable, until the actual pushing phase. I was stoked!
.... Until the parent class where we and about ten other couples got a tour of the facilities and saw there was a small area where you're attatched to a monitor and don't have room to walk around or shower or anything. "This is the labor room!" the midwife said brightly.
I was wondering what the hell the birth plan consultation was all about, and after the class took the midwife aside and showed her my birth plan with 'ok' written all over it.
"Maybe the other midwife was thinking of private rooms? those are for after birth. although sometimes ... if labor is progressing extremely slowly we allow the woman to labor there... in rare cases. otherwise we'll have to ask you to use the labor room".
So, not wanting to go to the clinic until the last minute, I was sort of panicking, thinking of ways to put it off. I took a shower, double-checked my hospital bag. I wasn't having contractions yet. I knew if I called the clinic and said my water broke they would tell me to come in right away! and I would be stuck in the tiny room, strapped to a monitor, for god knows how long! So I checked online (shh, at a very reputable looking site! I promise!), and it assured me that the waters don't dry up and there's no need to rush to the hospital the minute your waters break. Which was good, because it had already been a few hours by the time I read that.
Around 2 in the afternoon I did start feeling contractions. These were different from the braxton hicks... my back was hurting a little during these, kind of like a period. The contractions were far apart and irregular, but a few of those plus the water breaking really sealed the deal. Oh shit, this is really happening, isn't it. I'm going into labor!
I finally called Takeshi and asked him to come home. He got home around four pm, and then I called the clinic and told them I could be there in an hour.
At the clinic: my contractions went away mysteriously when I walked in the door, but they confirmed the water breaking wasn't just my imagination, and checked me in as a patient. A quick check for dialation showed that I was barely dialated at all. At this point, miracle of miracles, the nurse turned to me and said,
"As this is your first child, it's probably going to take quite a while. You can stay in a private room until your contractions are a few minutes apart".
Part 2 - In my corner
The room was like a nice hotel room, and Takeshi was there with me. The contractions started up again around dinner, but were about twenty minutes apart and not particularly painful. I had brought my ipod and a connector for the TV, and we watched Argo. Too bad it wasn't a comedy like I thought and required concentration to follow the plot, tough near the end when my contractions started getting serious and I needed a massage every fifteen minutes or so. For the most part they were fairly manageable with a hot water bottle under my belly, but every other contraction was getting bad. The movie ended and labor pains started for real.
Lucky me the private room had a shower. It was tiny and the water pressure was pathetic, but it was still great. I sort of waved the detachable shower head so the stream of water was around my belly.I think I stayed in there for half an hour. Finally I was getting a little cold, so I got back out and into some pajamas.
This is where Takeshi really shone. Whenever it was bad, he had his serious birth partner look in his eye and would massage my lower back with a tennis ball. This required me moving to the floor near the bed and supporting myself. After about an hour of that, we tried another technique - I sat in an armchair, and when a contraction started, he would kneel in front of me and push my knees in, taking pressure off my back. This was great for me, I could just sit there and save energy.
Around 11pm the nurse came in and hooked up the monitor, checking on the baby. She said he was doing fine, and I was afraid she was going to move us to the labor room - but instead she recommended staying in the private room as long as possible, resting if I could, which was music to my ears. We dimmed the lights and tried to get some rest.
... well, I got some rest. Takeshi didn't because I would tap his foot (sometimes desperately) and he would jump down off the bed and push my knees in. From about 11:30 until 1:30, the times between were getting shorter and shorter. To sort of mix it up, sometimes I would find various little things in my hospital bag to distract myself.
-aromatherapy oils: these were nice and I'm glad I brought them. A few drops of peppermint on a tissue, and sniff the tissue - was nice and refreshing
- 'hokkairo' pocket warmers: also a good idea. I stuck a few to my shirt over my lower back, which helped with the dull backache pains.
-eye mask: tried it, but ripped it off as soon as a contraction started.
- music playlist: well, I prepared this with some relaxing music (enya, jack johnson) and some faster stuff, but never really felt like listening. oh well.
-giant bottle of pocari sweat, weider jelly, snacks : essential!!
Takeshi loves boxing as a hobby, so he said he thought of himself as the ring corner team between rounds. you know, the guys that sit the boxer down, wipe off the sweat, pour some water in their mouths and give them encouragement? that's probably the best analogy of what you need anyway. I sure felt like I was going through about five hundred rounds of boxing, although each round was less than a minute with five minute breaks in between. "think of hawaii!" "think of stars in the night sky!" he said giving me things to visualize and distract me. "uh, think of super mario!" (me: "...?")
so every five minutes he would jump off the bed and be in my corner with me.
|something like this. (nytimes.com)|
around 1 am, I am sorry to say I suddenly felt nauseous and... the special stamina food I had made myself that afternoon came back up to say hello. Not fun for either of us.
The nurse came back in and gave us some fresh towels and helped us clean up, and looked at the little sheet takeshi had been writing down times and durations. They were still more than five minutes apart, so she left us alone again.
About another half hour of me sitting in the armchair, hugging the hot water bottle and getting my knees pressed in and a drink of water for every contraction, I got up and sort of lunged towards the shower again. I remember leaning against the shower wall, and moving the shower head around my belly. It was hard not to get negative about the pain, but hey, it's to get the baby out. I did the visualization trick of imagining the baby coming down with every contraction, and in the shower I was panting 'good baby, good baby, good baby'... haaa haaa haa... (naturally I was also thinking 'god damn baby this hurts you little shit!') but did not say that out loud. ;) The shower stall was really tiny, there was no way takeshi could fit in there with me, so every now and then he would hover nervously outside the door and ask how I was. but I was sort of glad for the privacy. there was blood mixed in with the shower water now, and I was really grunting. I think I must have spent about twenty minutes in there, but finally had to come out, the pathetic low pressure shower wasn't enough to wave around my belly and keep me warm at the same time. I stepped out of the shower, shivering, and he wrapped a towel around me. As I was getting into pajamas another contraction started, with no time to get to my armchair! I sort of collapsed into a kneeling position in front of the bed and he rubbed my lower back with a tennis ball. One tennis ball wasn't enough any more! 'is there another one?' I cried. Um.... he grabbed something and rolled two tennis ball like objects on my back, giving much needed relief.
The other object turned out to be... an orange. Hey, nice quick thinking there!
Once in my pajamas, he turned to me and said, 'isn't about time to get you to the labor room? your contractions are getting much closer together now, and lasting longer.' I was sort of in a daze, but that sounded pretty reasonable.
The nurse came and the two of them helped walk me down the hall to the labor room. I have to mention how everything had to be done in a hurry between contractions at this point. contraction... get out of the shower... contraction... get into pajamas... contraction... call nurse... contraction... talk to nurse... contraction... hurry down the hall... contraction... get hooked up to the monitor ... contraction... dialation check.
Part 3 - getting the baby out
It was around 1:30 am when we moved, and at this point I was only dialated five centimeters, apparently. But hot damn, the check hurt. And just the little act of walking down the hall must have helped the baby drop, because once we had changed rooms, the contractions were suddenly like, holy fuck. nearly unbearable.
The good news was, the midwife was in charge of me now, and she had some magic hands she used to press really hard on my butt and suddenly the pain would dissapear. She showed us the bed, but the thought of lying down seemed like crazy talk.she then also showed us an aperatus called an 'active chair' ... sort of like a rocking chair, but you straddle it and lean foward for support instead of back.
'I'll be on rounds, but call me if it's urgent' she said, getting up to leave. I felt like I was going to cry. My magic hands were leaving me!!
I sat on the chair, and Takeshi tried rubbing my back, but all the sudden I didn't want that at all and swatted him away. Poor guy. He clearly wanted to help me but had no idea what to do now. 'you can shout at me if you want, hit me, kick me if it helps..'
I am not proud to say when I sat on that chair rocking miserably back and forth, I took advantage of that proposal and asked him if I could bite his hand. I bit it pretty hard, I think. Sure made me feel better though!
The midwife came back eventually and noticed I wasn't really breathing as much as I should, so she got me in a rhythm, breathing in and out with each push of my legs to make the chair go forward and backwards. inhale - press down with my feet and sway back - exhale, release the feet and come forward again. Now it was like, I would feel a contraction starting, and I forced myself to take a deeeeep breath to start. ( this would also signal to takeshi and the midwife that one was starting), then... inhale! exhale! press! release! , repeat furiously until it passed. Then force myself to take another deep breath, signalling it was over, and takeshi would give me a swig of water, and I would lean forward for a few moment's rest.
This pattern really helped keep the pain under control, and brought the whole thing back into the realm of the tolerable (if barely). Around three, the midwife asked me to stand up for another dialation check. I could have laid down for the check but that seemed as fun as getting run over by a truck. So, I stood up, and all the sudden, upon standing up, the world shifted around me, I was clenching every muscle in my body, shaking, and giving a deafening deep gutteral groan / roar. I noticed some blood came out on the floor, and the midwife jumped back and stared up at me. Apparently I was pushing.
"Kyra, we have to move to the birth room. This baby is about to be BORN!"
Oh, well then. If that's all it is.
Walking was totally intollerable, I'm not sure how I got over to the birth room. it was only in the next room, but there wasn't a stretcher or anything, I think I was mostly carried. Oh, at this point, a very strange feeling was going on, like maybe there was a butt plug in there. I turned to the midwife and asked the midwife, 'excuse me, is there something in my butt?' (I thought maybe she had blocked it so I wouldn't poo on the birth chair). She looked at me and nodded.
'yes, that thing in your butt is the baby', she implied that it's taking up all the available real estate down there right now.
They asked me to lie down in the birthing chair, but I couldn't stand the thought of lying down, and said so crying to Takeshi (Japanese was not coming out of my mouth with this level of stress, so he was being my translator). The midwife helped me on to all fours, where I stayed for all of five minutes before the doctor arrived. The doctor looked pretty different at 3:30 am, all pale and puffy-eyed.
Considering I was no beauty queen myself at the moment, somehow this made me feel better.
But then the midwife and another nurse got me laying in the chair, which was tilted so it was mostly like sitting upright, and wasn't as bad as I was convinced it was going to be. Then they got into baby-catching position and started asking me to push.
It's funny, I thought I would HATE guided pushing, but it was actually helpful, because I wouldn't feel the 'overwhelming urge to push' until I started pushing by myself, which was tricky to time with contractions going on. A contraction would start, and the doctor would say 'iki wo sutte,' (which means inhale), 'haitte' (exhale), 'sutte', then... 'ikinde!' (push!)
sometimes he would ask 'mou ikkai ikesou?' which means 'can you go one more time?', and I would exhale, inhale then push again in the same contraction.
Of course pushing was no walk in the park, so I was making lots of loud groans, but the doctor chided 'don't grunt, this leaves less power for pushing!'
ex-cuh-YUZ-me??? Did he really tell me NOT TO GRUNT while I'm PUSHING a damn BABY out?!!
Well, I tried once , just to see if it gave me more power, and actually it did. Damn it.
'jyozu desu ne!' the midwife exclaimed.
I don't remember too much except once the doctor said in English 'Yes We Can!' and chuckled with the midwife, and I shook my head and glared, thinking 'this guy is not making a stupid obama joke right while I'm delivering, is he??'
Not much after the stupid Obama joke, the midwife told me she could see the head, did I want to feel it?
so I felt a tiny sliver of a fuzzy head, almost dissapointly small amount. I thought it would seem bigger, because if it's that small that means there is a lot more of this extremely painful pushing to go through.
But apparently it really was pretty close to coming out. From then on it was only about ten minutes.
Just a couple of more 'sutte-haite-ikinde's later, earth shaking clenches and pushes , and ...
At 4:45 am, a very slimy baby is being held by the doctor and shown to me ! a dark red ball of screaming life! I see him measured on a table not too far away, while I push one more time and the placenta comes out. They ask me if I want to see it... of course I want to see it. It looks like a brain, only bigger and redder.
hehhhh, I say, making the noise of interest they make on TV shows here. But really I want to see my baby. At the same time I'm kind of scared, pretty intimidated. They bring him over and he's wrapped in a towel, still kind of bloody, and I'm still in pajamas. I sit there, exhausted, and suddenly I am terrified. I have this great picture where I am staring at the camera like a deer in the headlights, this tiny infant on my chest.
I don't know what to do...! I look to Takeshi for help, he looks just as scared as me.
I gingerly touch this baby that seems completely foreign, a practical joke the doctors have been playing on me this whole time. I mean, how could that have possibly been inside me? What can I possibly do for him?
But then I remember....oh wait, there's something I'm supposed to do! I remember from all of my reading of countless articles on childbirth. I'm supposed to put him naked on my chest and have him suckle!
"I want to do kangaroo care" I say to the midwife, and she knows what I'm talking about, and helps us.
I can't even express what a strange sensation it is to have a fresh born baby that still looks kind of like a tiny alien suckle on your innocent nipple and have milk come out. Like, wooooooaaaah man... mind trip.
While he was suckling I became much more relaxed and the terrified feeling started to fade. I was already providing for my baby. Everything was going to be okay.
It's now nearly eight weeks later and he's gained 2 kilos, smiles all the time and can stand up with support!
welcome to the world, Ray Shinkai. It's great to have you here.