Last Friday was Sara’s 1st birthday. I still can’t believe I have a child and am responsible for keeping another living being alive. And I can’t believe that I am so clucky for another one already since I didn’t think I would be wanting number 2 for at least another year or two.
Anyway, I started writing Sara’s birth story AGES ago. I wanted to get it all out before I forgot, and of course I now probably have forgotten many important details, but I would like to make sure that I have it written down some place once and for all. It’s quite long so don’t feel obligated to read it. I wrote this basically for myself so I wouldn’t forget even more details than I already have. So one year later, here is the story of how Sara Sylvie made it into the world…finally.
It was never my intention to have a natural birth. In fact I’ve always been quite afraid of the pain of childbirth and I was looking forward to the option of an epidural if I felt I couldn’t stand the pain. Unfortunately I didn’t find out until I was 34 weeks pregnant that the clinic I was going to give birth at offered no pain relief, which is quite common here in Japan.
My husband and I lived about a 6 hour drive apart from the time we started dating until we had been married for a year and a half and I was 8 months pregnant. We knew eventually I would have to move from Osaka, where I had been living for the last 11 years, and had a successful career, to Nagano, where my husband was born and raised and works with his father at the family business. This plan got fast forwarded when I got pregnant. Hence my husband choosing the hospital I gave birth at based solely on the fact that his sisters both gave birth there and had good experiences. I trusted him, and the hospital’s homepage looked nice so I didn’t do anymore research than that.
In Japan there are specific maternity clinics or hospitals, as they’re called, as well as large general hospitals where you can give birth. My hospital was the former which meant that midwives would be seeing over the actual birth and the doctor was around in case anything out of the ordinary happened or stitches were needed. However over the course of your pregnancy it is the doctor who exams you at check-ups and you have the opportunity to meet with the midwife once or twice along the way. It was at this meeting where we discussed my birth plan and I was finally able to ask about pain relief. The answer I got was “we don’t offer any and we usually tell patients with a low pain threshold to go elsewhere early on in their pregnancy”. I was hearing this at 34 weeks pregnant. It didn’t really seem like I had a choice at that point. The midwife reassured me that no one ever died from the pain of childbirth and that she was sure I could do it, plus with my large Western frame, I would probably have a very easy birth. I wasn’t convinced, but I wasn’t about to look for a new hospital either.
My due date was December 13th, but I was sure my baby was coming on December 15th as that is the day my maternal grandmother, who raised me, and who we were planning on naming our daughter after, passed away 11 years earlier. December 13th and then 15th came and went with no sign of baby ready to come out. My mom was sure that couldn’t be right and went so far as to call the funeral home where we had grandma’s funeral to confirm the date of her death and make sure we weren’t mistaken. I was getting really frustrated as everyone I knew who was pregnant around that time seemed to be having their babies before me. My cousin was due 5 weeks after I was and she ended up giving birth before me. I tried to stay positive but pregnancy had stopped being fun around the beginning of the 8th month and I was ready to meet my daughter already, with or without pain relief!
At 4 o’clock a.m. on December 17th I woke up because I felt something dripping. I was sure my water broke and I woke up my husband and called the hospital who told me to come in right away. Upon arrival they did a PH test on the fluid leaking from me, but the paper didn’t change color, meaning it was not amniotic fluid I was leaking. They hooked me up to a fetal monitor and said they would keep me there until a doctor came in at 8 so that he could do an internal exam and determine whether or not my water had broken. Around 6 o’clock I started getting what felt like period cramps so I called the nurse again. Having never given birth before I thought this was the real deal, and started timing what I thought were contractions. They never got strong or regular and despite all my hoping and praying, they stopped completely after about 2 hours.
However the doctor did do an exam to make sure I was not actually in labor first before sending me home. They called me from the room I was resting in, and brought me into one of the labor rooms, where Nurse Ratched (I swear the scariest nurse I have ever met in my life!) tells me to undress and then doesn’t tell me that she is going to strap me into the chair as she takes the leather straps and wraps them around my legs. I was already frightened by the whole procedure, and this woman was so unsoothing. If I had been about to go into labor, I think she scared Sara back up into my uterus.
Result of the exam was that I had lost my mucus plug but no baby today. As I was disappointedly walking back to the room to collect my stuff and check myself out of the hospital, we ran into one of the nurses, who also happens to be a friend of a friend. It was the first time I was meeting her, but Akinori had met her before. I can’t remember the exact conversation now, but I think I made some sort of a joke and she said, when you’re having real contractions you won’t be able to smile and laugh. She was so right.
Before I left the hospital we had to make an appointment for the next morning since once you lose your mucus plug, and are past your due date, the doctor wants to see you every day. We went home and the whole day I had what felt like mild menstrual cramps. I think we finally got into bed just before midnight when at midnight I felt a contraction that was much more painful than what I had felt before. I told Akinori and he was already asleep so he was just kind of like “mmmmm, let me know if you need anything.” 15 minutes later I felt another contraction, but they weren’t getting any stronger, so after about 2 hours I thought it best that I try to get some sleep as tomorrow was surely going to be THE day.
I remember waking up next 4:44 to a more painful contraction, but was too tired to stay awake and time them so I fell back asleep. The next contraction I woke up to was at 5:55 or something like that. I wish I could remember now. My doctor’s appointment was for 8:30 so I had set me alarm for 7:00 and exactly at 7, along with my alarm, I had a REAL contraction. This one was much, much more painful than anything I had felt before. But I was still tired so I hit the snooze button. 10 minutes later along with my alarm, another contraction. No need for a stopwatch when you have a snooze button!
Finally at 7:30 I got out of bed, and woke Akinori up telling him this was the real thing and we were going to the hospital earlier than my expected. He wanted to take a shower first, so he did and I stood in the living room pacing around and breathing. We were finally ready to go just before 8 I think. On the way, Akinori took a photo of the clock in the car. It shows the date, time and temperature. I was not very amused at the time, but now I guess I’m glad he took the photo.
We get to the hospital and I gave them my card, and since I knew they were going to hook me up to the NST monitor, I told them that they should probably put me in a separate room since I was having contractions and they were painful and it would probably scare the other pregnant ladies, as they hook up 4 women at a time. The woman at the reception desk told me to wait for a minute, and a minute or two later a nurse called me from upstairs and said they were going to check me in.
They hooked me up to a NST monitor in the room, and Akinori timed the contractions. He was so good. Writing down the times on a notepad. He had other instructions written in the notepad too. We discussed what he should and should not say while I was having contractions, and he had written it all down. Of course at one point he says “Uchi no okusan wa itami ni yowai kara ne” (My wife doesn’t handle pain well). I could have strangled him, and of course I will never, ever let him forget that little faux pas.
But the times of the contractions were still irregular, and possibly not that strong because Akinori asked if there was a chance I would get sent home again, and the nurse replied that if the contractions didn’t even out, there was a good chance I would. I told Akinori when she walked out of the room that there was no way I was leaving the hospital without my baby in my arms, and I think that’s when Sara decided to cooperate.
It seemed like I was hooked up to the monitor forever, but when they finally took me off, the nurse said it would probably take at least until the evening before Sara made an appearance. I was not having any of that either. There was no way I could stand the pain for another several hours. I think it was around 10 a.m. at that point. I went to the bathroom and when I came back my next contraction was 5 minutes later, the one after that 3 minutes, the one after that 2 minutes. I was really needing a nurse or midwife to stay with me and massage my back because whenever they did it, I felt so much better, and Akinori was pretty much crap at it, but apparently there were several other women also in labor at the same time and they were busy and understaffed. 8 babies were born that day at the same hospital. When we asked later they said busy days like that happen maybe once a year, if that.
When a nurse was there at one point I felt like my water had broke, and announced that mid-contraction. She checked and it seemed like it had, and then she left again. I don’t know how much longer after a nurse came in again, and I told her I couldn’t take much more. Akinori was getting worried that I was going to go insane from the pain since the 2 minute contractions came on all of a sudden and weren’t giving me much of a rest in between. She decided to take a look, and said “Wow, you’re 8 cm. Let’s move you to an LDR.” It was about 11:15 now, only an hour or so after I was told it was going to take all day.
I had one arm around the nurse and one arm around Akinori, had another contraction then WALKED to the LDR where they started hooking me up to the monitor and an IV. Akinori had to leave the room while all that was happening. I remember being terrified of being left alone, which I was at one point. I just felt like I needed someone touching me somehow. Akinori’s hand to squeeze or someone’s hand on my back. I was laying on my side holding on to the side rails for dear life.
They finally let Akinori back in twenty minutes later, and I was ready to push. My body just took over and started pushing. The midwife asked me to turn onto my back and I so did not want to, but they turned me anyway. It only took 2 pushes and they started shouting at me to stop pushing and put my hands on my chest, to which I replied “MURI!!!” (I can’t!) and Akinori put my hands on my chest for me. One more push and at 12:17 p.m. Sara was out, weighing 3060 grams and 50.5 cm long. The midwife was cleaning her up and said she was going to cut the umbilical cord, which we had decided Akinori would do, and it was written in my birth plan. All I could get out at that moment though was “Papa! Papa! Papa!” And I held Sara and the video camera as Akinori cut the cord.
They took Sara away to be cleaned up and measured, and Akinori went with while the doctor came in to sew me up. I only needed 3 stitches, which the doctor said was very few for a first time mother. Then they brought Sara back in and she started breastfeeding right away. They left Akinori, Sara and me alone for an hour or so, then they came back for Sara. I had to stay on the IV for awhile yet and Akinori stayed with me. Normally they keep you in the LDR for 3 hours after giving birth, but after 2 I had to pee very badly. One of the nurses escorted me, holding the IV, while I walked to the bathroom and back. (What happened to the wheelchairs you see pregnant women and new mothers getting pushed around in on TV?) Then about 5 minutes later they asked if I could return to my room as there were other ladies who needed the LDR and I seemed pretty genki.
I was more than happy to go back to my room, and I was on a total adrenaline high. I wanted to sleep, but couldn’t. I just wanted to be with my baby, and I couldn’t wait for them to bring her back to me, which they did a few hours later for a feed. Sara was great at latching on right from the start, but it was painful, as I wasn’t used to it. Akinori’s family came a little bit later, and it was a string of visitors until I left the hospital. That was a huge mistake. I know Akinori was proud and wanted to show off his new daughter, and I did too at first, but my hormones were more whacked out than I could handle and I lost it on the 4th day. I started crying around 11p.m. the 3rd night, and didn’t stop all night and into the next morning.
The nurse who was on duty that night came in several times to make sure I was okay and I tried to hide tears. But she was so kind and so attentive that it made me cry even more. The morning nurse was the friend of a friend, and the night nurse told her that I seemed especially tired, so when she came in to check on me in the morning and was being attentive I nice, I totally lost it. She stayed with me though and listened to me ramble about lord knows what, since I was a completely hormone-induced crying insane mess. But she made me feel a lot better, and said that the reason they keep you in the hospital so long is so that you can rest, not so people can come in and out and see the baby, there’s plenty of time to do that when you get home.
That made things a lot clearer for me, and I asked everyone who had planned on visiting that day to please not come. I called Akinori crying and told him to drop whatever he was doing and come to the hospital ASAP because I needed him there with me. Once he was there I told him he needed to tell his friends not to come for a visit until we were home.
We left the hospital with Sara weighing only 4 grams less than when she was born, and the staff was very impressed with how well she breastfed and how much milk I was producing. I was just happy to have a healthy baby. She started smiling 3 days after she was born which just totally melted my heart. I know they say that babies don’t feel joy until they are about 8 months old, but I would like to think that Sara was just happy to be born. I was certainly happy that she was. Here is my baby’s 3 day old smile .