Labour and birth - it's not like what you see in the movies. Here's everything that went wrong when my daughter came into the world.
But first, a slight recap…
During my second trimester, my husband had come into contact with a person suspected of being Covid positive, so we had to quarantine for two weeks. Next, as a nation, we went into lockdown for three months. Once out of it, I decided to climb Bukit Timah hill, which gave me bad groin pains. It turned out, I had an incompetent cervix that put me on bed rest for the remainder of my pregnancy. All of this in my second trimester? Surely I was due for some good news…
It’s not like what you see in the movies.
We’ve all seen it: a woman is out having lunch or shopping, and next minute… gush. Water blasts out from her as her waters break. Next scene: she’s being wheeled down the hospital corridor, everything is chaotic, there’s heavy breathing, sweating, and everyone is rushing. All is a flurry. Final scene: a close up on a sweaty faced woman, screaming as she pushes. The doctor yells, “I need one more big one!” She gives him what he asks for and, out comes a huge “newborn”. Total time: slightly over 5 minutes.
True, some women have amazingly quick births. As my mother tells me, I came out like a water slide, barely any pushing or fuss and out I slid. I was not as lucky. My contractions started at 9am. A quick Google told me that I would have to look out for a mucus plug, and then the blood show, followed by my waters breaking. None of which happened, so on it went, me on bed rest, watching Grey’s Anatomy.
By 1pm, my “cramps” had become really unbearable. I decided to time them. When you time your contractions, the 5-1-1 rule says they should come every 5 minutes, last for 1 minute and this should go on for at least one hour. My contractions were coming every minute, and were lasting for about 45 seconds to 1 minute. It was time to go to the hospital.
The reality of giving birth
When I got to the hospital, I was offered a wheelchair, and a lovely, calm nurse rolled me around, asking how my day was, if it was my first child, and what I had for lunch. Where was all the fuss and urgency I had seen in movies? Why wasn’t my water breaking? Why wasn’t I flying down corridors? Was I even in labour?
We got to the delivery suite, and for about 20 minutes, no one came to check on me. I was in so much pain, but at the same time, shy to call anyone. What the heck was going on?! Finally, a nurse strolled in, she said she was going to check how far along I was, she put her hand between my legs, and though she was wearing a mask, I could see the shock in her eyes. It was 2:30pm.
“You’re about 6-7 cm dilated! Why didn’t you say anything or come in earlier?” Before I could reply, she rushed out to call my anaesthesiologist, because I had requested an epidural. There’s the panic you see in the movies…
Epidurals aren’t for everyone
Let’s jump right in: my epidural didn’t work, and I was checking off all the side effects that go with it. According to Doctor Yvonne Lim ,an anaesthesiologist at Gleneagles Hospital, pain relief will happen within 30 minutes, and it’ll take away 90% of pain. She was right. However after a half hour, the left side of my body remained numb while I started to feel everything on my right come back to life.
According to Dr Chow Kah Kiong, a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology at Raffles Hospital, side effects like fever, headache, nausea, and shivers are all normal. Another delicious treat: epidurals don’t work 12% of the time! Well, I experienced all of the above.
Simultaneously vomiting and pushing while having to wear my mask during these lovely Covid times was the biggest pain. My water bag was still intact, so my doctor had to manually insert his hand into me to break it. Clear fluid didn’t come out: it was brown, because the baby had pooed in me, which usually is a sign of distress and could potentially lead to an emergency c-section. Thankfully, we didn’t have to resort to that. A couple of pushes, forceps and a 4th degree tear later, Lily Indie Meals was out. I said thankfully, right? It was now almost 8pm.
What is the ‘halo effect’?
Following me rejecting skin-to-skin, because I was running a fever and feeling like I was on the brink of death, the nurse asked if she could bring Lily in for me to try breastfeeding. It was close to 1am. As politely as I could, I told her formula will do till I’m ready to try the next morning. I’m surprised she didn’t just sign the baby over to an awaiting adoptive couple then and there. A first time mother, rejecting skin-to-skin and not wanting to breast feed? Unheard of.
“The ‘halo effect’ is the term given to describe the positive emotions experienced by the new mother when the baby is placed in her arms for the first time. In that moment, due to a rush of oxytocin and happiness, the mother is likely to have a more positive view of the birthing experience than she did ten minutes earlier.”
This explains why most women forget the pain of childbirth, and as such, women cannot be trusted to accurately recount child birth. I was, and still am, determined to remember my delivery as vividly as possible. I feel first time mothers deserve to know exactly how unpleasant things can get, and how amazing our bodies really are. The trauma that is child birth (and it is truly traumatic), is really a mind-blowing experience that shouldn’t just be glossed over as “magical”. Our bodies literally split open and we should acknowledge the hell it goes through and marvel at it! We are remarkable.
The road to recovery
During labour, I thought she was never coming out. The forceps were in, and all I needed was a big push. But instead, I started vomiting. Her head was half out, but once I stopped pushing, she went back in. That was when my doctor asked if I would like even more help, in the form of an episiotomy. It’s where they make a cut on your perineum to allow more space for the baby to come out. Though I sustained a fourth degree tear – the worse you can get – the recovery was really quick. Three days was all it took for things to feel fine!
I was more distracted by the less talked about pain that came from the haemorrhoid! No one told me about this. While pushing during labour, it’s very possible for you to push out a haemorrhoid, and that is the burning, nagging pain that caused me more misery than anything I had experienced. Altogether, the lady bits took slightly over a month to feel normal. I still had some pain on my perineum whenever I sat too long, but it was manageable.
A lousy pregnancy and a challenging delivery… so, would I want any more kids? Two more please!