Sunday, June 26, 2011

Birth story I - c-section I

Many of my male Chinese friends told me that their babies came to this world via elective c-sections. "It's not like we need to get pregnant again in life."  They said.  True, in China one-child policy has been practiced for more than 30 years now, and for >99.9999% of the women, there is no need to worry about the risk of uterine rupture, which is associated with subsequent pregnancies following a c-section any more.  "Plus, c-section preserves the tight vagina, which brings more pleasure to sex life!"  Some of the male doctors said this to me as if I were one of them.

When I was a little girl, my mum did predict that I would have trouble to bear babies, she meant that I had an apple-shaped body figure with small hips.  It was long time ago and I had forgotten about it when I got pregnant with ZhuZhu.  At the end of the third trimester, I had imagined that I could pop out the baby effortlessly like every other Chinese woman, although I had no concrete birth plan.  The birth class instructor, a very nice midwife who has 4 children herself, was not pushy enough to make me to come up with one.  So, my first birth story ended up being written by my medical caregivers and it goes like this: at 4 days prior to her due day, ZhuZhu was born via an emergency c-section on Tuesday 20th of February 2007.

A longer version, however, is much more interesting. 

It began with one night when I was showering sitting down.  What, you don't know how it's done?  When one is heavily pregnant, standing under the shower could be a challenge, you see.  So, at the last few weeks of my pregnancy, say from 32 weeks on, I was doing "sit inside the tub" showers to avoid falling - I was huge!  On Sunday evening 18th February, 2007, I decided to take a hot tub bath to reward myself for the hard work over the weekend, I had finished a small research grant and a slide presentation that was scheduled on Tuesday, 20th of Feb, at which I would need to report our work progress to a group of big shots in our research field.  After the warm and relaxed bath, I went straight to bed.  

In the middle of that night, however, I jumped out of the bed because a gush of fluid coming out of my vagina.  Soon I found the fluid was pinkish and the flow become constant, so I suspected that the bag of my water was broken. "I must have lost my mucus plug while taking the bath."  I told my husband who was not too happy to be awake at this time.  He mumbled something like, "How do you feel?"  "Nothing, no contraction, no hurting.  But should we call the doctor?"  I was nervous.  "Remember what the birth class teacher said?  You now need to time your contractions, if they are 5 minutes apart, we go to the hospital."  Then he turned round and went back to sleep. 

"You too, need rest because you will need to work very hard tomorrow!"  He threw this sentence to me when I woke him up again a few minutes later.  I could not believe this was the man that I married to.  How could he continue to sleep leaving me alone with my leaky vagina was beyond me.  The baby could be dying inside!  At that point, I became a nervous wreck.  However, I did not feel like waking him again since my gut feeling told me that the man was right, we would have a big day ahead and we needed that night’s sleep.  Yet it was hard for me to stay in lying position as the amniotic fluid leaked faster that way.  So started to walk around the house after putting on a pair of heavy duty protective underpants.  2 hours passed, no obvious contractions; another 2 hours passed still no painful contractions.  At that point, my protective underpants became heavy and I began to be really worried about the baby to be in distress.  It was 4 am, so I could no longer stay calm.  I then dialed the phone number given by my birth class instructor.  The receiving nurse was unimpressed by my report, "Since you are still able to speak calmly, most likely you are not in an active labor."  I, a biologist having >15 years of working experience in medical school together with having just completed a birth class, did not understand why I was told to stay put.  "Call us back when you feel like screaming."  She told me.

Being a good patient, I then decided to wake the soundly sleeping husband at that time so that he could drive me to the office.  I'd better submit the research grant prior to the baby's birth, I'd thought.  He did not complain this time and even helped print few hard copies of color figures, bound them neatly, and then packed into a FedEx box.  

It's now 6 am on Monday 19th of Feb; I still did not feel like screaming, even a regular contraction pattern was still not developed.  What should we do now?  I asked the brain.  The husband then felt it might be necessary to show up in the hospital to at least make sure the baby was okay.  

Bonus to us is that the hospital is right across the street from my office.

"So, you said that your water was broke last night and your contractions are 10 min apart?"  The receiving nurse saw that I was walking confidently towards her and clearly in doubt about what I reported earlier over the phone.  She led us to the triage room and said, "Get on the bed and let's check it out.  Most likely we will send you home to wait."

Acting as a good patient, I followed her instructions: took off my cloth and put on a gown as quickly as I could so that the nurse could see with her own eyes how full my protective underpants had become.  She left the room and came back immediately with another nurse.  The new one wiped my bottom with an indicative paper said instantly, "Yep, your water is broke and wait here for the doctor!"  She sort of showed me the blue indicator and left the room.

"I knew it!" I said to them in my inner voice.

Few minutes later, the ob came in and stuck his fingers in my private part and said, "You are at 2 cm opening and let's give it another few hours."  He then left quickly to attend my howling neighbor.  She was just wheeled in few seconds ago but it felt like forever as she never stopped cursing and wailing!  I turned to Fabrice (the hubby) and found him looking impatient.  "I would never cry and curse like her."  I said and truly was embarrassed.  The hospital is where we both work and those nurses and doctors share the same cafeteria with me.  I would not like to see them following such "indecent behaviors", you see.  Feeling quite safe in the hospital, I told Fabrice to get to work - I intended to allow him to free his schedule so that he could be with me at the time when I needed him the most.  His office and mine are in the same building anyways.

By the time Fabrice came back to the hospital from work, I was already wheeled into a private birth room, hooked to several electronic machines that monitored my contraction, blood pressure, and pulse, and the baby heart beat.  However, I was told that my cervix opening was still stayed at 2 cm. "The doctor instructed them (nurses) to prep me for the pitocin to induce labor.  The hospital's policy is to have the baby out by 24 hours after water breaks to prevent infections."  I updated him briefly.  "Boy, what a luxurious birth room that you have!"  Fabrice looked around curiously and excitingly.   There was a big TV, office table, two guest chairs, one rocking chair with pull-out bed, toilet, and a small shower room!  "Wow, a shower!" he then disappeared in it.  Right, the man had not had his morning shower yet.  

Well, so hadn't I!  

Not only that, I even had not had any food and I was hungry! 

Few hours after the induction, I started to feel cramps but it was bearable.  The ob came back to check on me every 2 hours or so, but after few hours, the cervix only opened another 2 cm more, although I felt the cramps hurt me more and more as if I was having my most painful periods... It did not take long past that point for me to ask for epidural - I clearly felt uneasy to make any moaning noise in public.  Little did I expect as soon as the epidural was used, the contraction was also slowed down.  At 2 am next day, Tuesday, my cervix opening was only progressed to 6 cm.  It went over the 24-hour mark.  The ob explained to me that it was okay for me to wait a bit longer since I was tested negative for GBS (Group B streptococcus).  Unfortunately, the cervix dilation never passed 7 cm.  At 4 am's check, my ob informed us that the baby's heart rate dropped, "The baby is in distress and we need to get her out immediately."  He announced and left the room.  Letting us worried in the birth room for a long 30 minutes later, the ob showed up in our room with an anesthesiologist (I was told later that he was delivering another baby by c-section during that 30 minutes.)  

At 4:45 am, I was all prepped and wheeled into operation room (OR).

The OR was very cold.  Seeing me shivering, the nurses covered my arms with few warm blankets. The anesthesiologist gave me more drugs to numb me from chest down and poked me everywhere on my belly to make sure that I could not feel anything.  Then he stood beside me.  The room became quiet.  The ob must have been cutting me open at that point.  I really wanted to see what they were doing to me, could not.  They put an annoying curtain between me and them.  Fabrice was instructed to sit beside me so he was also unable to see anything below my chest.  Then I heard my ob said to someone, "Push!"..."Again!"..."Harder!"...I guess that he was telling a nurse to press my belly to push the baby down so that he could engage the baby's head with a extractor probe.  Each push made me nauseated and I began to gag!

"I cannot breath!" I said to the operating ob.  He said sternly, “You are breathing fine!”  Then he asked another male nurse to replace the girl nurse. "Push!” he ordered loudly this time.  Boy, that nearly killed me and my stomach started to contract, uncontrollably.  Poor me, after 26 hours without eating anything, I vomited only unproductively.  "Blood pressure!" the ob asked.  His assistance said 83 or something.  "More fluid." the ob ordered, "Push!"  He shouted again.  Only a second later, I heard this, “Oh you are so tall!”  Then a muffled wet baby cry started from the other end of the room.  Soon the cry became clear, loud, and high pitched, "Lah, lah, lah..."  Someone must have aspirated the fluid out of her mouth then.

"5:19, 7 lb 11 oz..." my ob announced ZhuZhu's birth.

What an eventful 35 minutes! We welcomed a miracle to the world! She was alive! I felt so relieved, but my dizziness did not go away and I was lying on the operation table shivering, gagging, and dying. My blood pressure did not come back to normal, it was still dangerously low and I began to fear seriously that I could not leave the operation bed alive. Then I heard that my ob asked the anesthesiologist to make me stop gagging angrily since he could not close my belly. The anesthesiologist bent over and to my ears, he whispered, "Relax, take a deep breath, good, you are doing very well…" Suddenly, I magically stopped gagging. "Ka Ca Ka Ca Ka Ca..." I heard these horrible staple sounds. The ob was sealing me up quickly, with a staple, just like I do to my poor animal subjects in the lab! At that time, he was also joking around. They were talking about something completely unrelated to my labor and baby. "Great job, thank you!" I heard my ob told that to his operation team. I then knew I could get out the room alive.

"Look what we got!" the proud daddy was holding ZhuZhu who was cleaned and tightly wrapped in a receiving blanket like a peanut. She was sleeping soundly. That was from the excess amount of epidural in her blood, I found that out later. At that point, I was too nauseated to keep my eyes on her for long. I just remembered her beautifully curved eyebrows above her tightly shut eyes and a red mark at the corner of her mouth. I passed out soon after that. It took me another few hours to wake up to meet ZhuZhu again. She was the most wonderful creature that I have ever seen: her eyes were still shut but I noticed the double-fold eyelids that every Chinese loves, her nose was perfectly supported by high and distinct bridge (see what my Dad did to me?), her mouth was perfect with full and clear-edged lips. She definitely inherited the best feature of a Chinese and French. The sound of her baby cries, boy, that was absolutely to die for. It was the most beautiful music to my ears. Until today, I still like to imitate her baby cries to her.

At 12:13 pm, the Daddy could not wait to send out this email announcement with a photo of our beautiful ZhuZhu attached, "Hello, my name is Mia. Mummy and I are doing well and we will be happy to meet you tomorrow when mummy will be rested. By the way, I was born at 5:19 this morning by c-section. I am 7 pounds 11 ounces (3.4 kg for the ones using international unit measures...) and 20 inches. See you tomorrow!"

I had been quite disappointed that ZhuZhu did not come to this world through the natural canal. I should have stayed home to wait for the active labor to be established; I should not have used pitocin to induce active labor; I should have waited a bit longer to ask for the epidural...The self blame game had not stopped until I had my do-over in 2009. But this will be a story for next time. Stay tuned.


  1. I'm very impressed with the how well-written these are. You've progressed quite a lot since the days when I used to proof-read your papers and proposals. (I actually had to read several of them before I was convinced they were really yours!)

  2. See, old dog can learn new tricks, no?