Wednesday, March 28, 2012

About a Boy

A while ago I did a series of "Lost Posts" - the pieces I started but never got around to finishing. Sine I barely have time to shower these days, I'm going to dig out a few more lost posts, starting with one that was always intended to be published a little later...

November 2011 - After much debate and deliberation I finally decided that I had to know what we were expecting. We have just put our house on the market (and I hope that's well and truly resolved by the time this gets out!) and I didn't want anymore surprises - if there was something in my life I could control, damn it, I was going to control it. My OB asked if I was sure, really sure, as she scrolled down my belly at my ultrasound yesterday. I was sure. As she reached the bottom end it was very clear that I had a baby boy in there. I wasn't surprised, but I have to admit, ashamedly, that I was a little disappointed. I always thought we'd have another boy at some point, I just hoped there'd be a girl in between.

It's crazy, for weeks I've been saying I'd be thrilled either way, but I was completely convinced I was having a girl, and it's going to take a while to get my head around the idea of another boy. I had a conversation a few months ago with a woman who said she had to know early on so she could prepare her husband if they were expecting a girl. She said she would not have been able to face his bitter disappointment in the delivery room if they didn't have a boy. She had two beautiful, healthy girls, but her husband's never forgiven her. I was shocked that something so uncontrollable could be so important to some people.  A baby is a blessing, boy or girl, and all you can ask for really is for them to be happy and healthy. If I truly believe that, why did I apparently have my heart set on a girl?

My husband is over the moon, and cannot stop grinning madly. He's pretty impressed by his own powers of impregnation, and would be smiling regardless of the result, but the fact that he beat the odds (pilots have more girls) and created two boys will be a source of immense pride for many years. I can't help but need a moment to absorb the idea that life will be coloured blue and decorated with trains and trucks and buses for a while yet, but I've come up with some pros to help me get my head around the fact that I am a mother of not one, but two sons.

I was on a train early on in my pregnancy and seated opposite me was a young couple making googly eyes at each other. The girl was still wearing her school uniform and the boy was engrossed in her sparkly Hello Kitty PSP. He looked like he spent more time coiffing his hair than she did and their clumsy teenage attempts at affection had me praying for another boy. No daughter means no deadbeat boyfriends knocking on the door, and definitely none of the hazards that usually entails...

My husband, being rather tight astute financially, will be the first to tell you that another boy will save us a fortune in baby clothes and toys. He'll get his brother's hand-me-downs and I won't be enticed to spend up big every time there is a sale on the mountains of pink and floral things that seem to overwhelm every children's clothing department. J had some very cute things that he only wore once or twice and I'm genuinely thrilled that they'll get another wear. Knowing we were having another boy gave us free rein on J's birthday and at Christmas. There were no gender neutral presents purchased and no holds barred when it came to spoiling our son with trains, trucks, cars and anything else a little boy could desire.

My husband and his older brother are very close. They both bear the scars of boyhood battles but D always assured me that in giving J a little brother, we were giving him a lifelong best friend. It might be a while before he appreciates this gift but I can't wait to watch my two boys grow up together.

I've always been fond of my "me time" and I'm anticipating many weekends on the sofa with a good book while the boys go off camping, or Saturday morning sleep-ins while Dad takes them to football or the playground. Of course, if one of them would rather stay home and have tea parties with Mummy, that will be perfectly lovely too.

March 2012 - By the time our Charlie arrived I was genuinely excited about the prospect of having another boy, for all of those reasons and more. Knowing what he was helped me bond with him, we named him and I was thrilled that I could go out and buy some blue bits and pieces, just for Charlie. Once he was here it felt like he was always meant to be here, and he is so sweet and so perfect that it really didn't matter whether he was a boy in the end - it's enough for me that he is. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Rest of The Story

In those first minutes after Charlie arrived we debated about whether or not to keep driving to our chosen hospital, or to wait for the ambulance. It was at that point that I did start thinking about what could have gone wrong - did Charlie swallow meconium? Was he breathing ok? Could I keep him warm enough? Was I bleeding? What if, what if, what if...? We both seemed fine, all fingers and toes accounted for, but not being experts we decided to wait and make sure. We knew the ambulance would take us to the nearest public hospital but we thought it would be a matter of getting us both checked out and then being transferred to the private hospital soon after. In hindsight we should have kept driving...

The ambulance arrived and the paramedics wrapped us up, clamped the cord and loaded us into the truck. Charlie and I were still attached by the cord and there wasn't a lot that the paramedics could do for us. They sat there beside me, grinning madly, impressed that I had not only managed to deliver a baby in a car, but that he was also a boy, and my second at that, how very clever of me. D drove behind the ambulance and when Charlie and I arrived at the Princess Margaret Hospital, we were whisked off to a trauma room at the A and E department. The room was full of nurses and noise, with everyone moving very quickly and chatting away in Cantonese. They cut the cord and took Charlie from me. I let them because I assumed they were going to make sure he was ok and then give him back to me. Not a single person introduced themselves or explained to me what they were doing and I had to ask several times if my baby was ok before anyone acknowledged me. One of the nurses quietly congratulated me but the rest of the time I was ignored. Another nurse came at me with a syringe and told me to roll over. When I asked what she was giving me, she said it was pitocin to help deliver the placenta. I refused it and she threw her hands in the air, shaking her head and muttering away in Cantonese. It was the first of many such outbursts we would cause that day.

I could see they had put Charlie in an incubator and, despite not knowing why, I trusted that it was necessary, and still imagined that he would be given back to me momentarily. I was then the focus of their attention as yet another nurse took to my nether regions with cold water and antiseptic. She scolded me for leaving home so late, "you made such a mess!" she exclaimed. I should point out that from the moment I realised I was in labour to the moment Charlie arrived, no more than 3 hours had passed. I was told I would be taken to the labour ward to wait for the placenta to be expelled, and Charlie would be going to the NICU. I was assured that my husband was in the waiting room and would go with Charlie wherever he went. I was wheeled downstairs, and banged into a few doors along the way. I was in quite a bit of pain as I was still having contractions but no one offered me any pain relief, and the rough ride on the stretcher did nothing to help the situation. Again I was fussed over by a different group of nurses and was asked all sorts of personal questions, as they attempted to take my medical and personal history (all while trying to deliver my placenta...).  From the date of my first ever period to my husband's ID card number, I was grilled on just about everything there is to know about us. I started to get impatient, more concerned with where my baby and husband were than whether or not the paperwork was complete. When I asked a nurse if Charlie was ok she said she didn't know, he was in a different department and I had to push them to let me use the phone so I could speak to my husband and hopefully get an update from him. The phone they gave me didn't work and it was another 2 hours before D and I got a chance to speak to each other. I was left on my own for quite a while, and was told I would have to wait for the doctor, although no one could tell me how long she would be - "she will come when she comes."

Beside the bed there was a poster advertising the hospital's "Breast is Best" policy and when I tried to speed things up by mentioning that I would like to feed my baby, it was clear that the posters were just for show. The nurses were checking my blood pressure fairly regularly and I was warned that it was gradually rising. I calmly informed them that it would rapidly return to normal as soon as I could see my son. To which I was told, I wouldn't be going anywhere while it was that high. It was infuriating beyond belief. After what seemed like an eternity I finally got in touch with D and he was allowed in to see me. He hadn't been allowed in to see Charlie, as it wasn't "visiting hours" and had created quite a stir himself trying to reunite the 3 of us. I was heartbroken at the thought that my little man had been alone all that time, and so angry that there was nothing we could do about it.  The doctor finally arrived and D was asked to leave, as if to respect my privacy. Ironic given that he had just delivered our baby... I needed stitches and more dousing in cold antiseptic apparently, and the whole time she was working the doctor was chatting and giggling with the nurse. She gave me a local anaesthetic but didn't allow it time to work so I felt every stitch and when I cried out in pain there was more chattering and the nurse handed me the gas. I sucked on that thing like my life depended on it, hoping to wipe out all the horrible things I was feeling at that moment, and with any luck also lower my blood pressure.

Eventually I was allowed off the maternity ward and sent to the post-natal ward, where I was told I could finally see Charlie. At that stage we hadn't spent enough time with him to have agreed that he was, in fact, going to be coined Charlie, but in my heart he always was. As I arrived on the ward I was asked if I was breast or bottle feeding, and they took me past a room full of about 20 women to the breast-feeding ward where I was one of only three new mothers. Apparently feeding time was at 1pm and that's when visiting hours ended but there was no way I was letting my husband out of my sight when we were all finally about to be reunited. Being told when I could feed my son and when I could see my husband, and neither or those things being allowed to happen at the same time was the final straw (yes, I understand many women sharing a ward might be uncomfortable with a man in the room), and it was about that point that I declared to the staff we were leaving. We never had any intention of staying but we had decided to wait until Charlie was with us before we mentioned that to anyone, in case they wouldn't let him go. We set the wheels in motion when we knew he was on his way but then a funny thing happened. I heard Charlie crying as they wheeled him into the room but as soon as he was handed to me he stopped. And as I held him and fed him for the first time, it didn't matter where I was or what had gone down at that horrible place, I felt invincible and completely wrapped up in the tiny little creature in my arms. I still didn't want to stay, mind you.

As it was against hospital policy to discharge us so soon, we had to sign a waiver saying we were leaving against medical advice - paperwork I was more than happy to comply with. We got back in the car (which had been cleaned, but was a little worse for wear) and fled, feeling a little like criminals, to the Matilda Hospital, where we had planned to be all along.

I know I haven't painted a very rosy picture of the public hospital system here and for that I apologise. My experience was unique, and I know a lot of women who have had their babies in the public hospitals and they have been fine. The health care provided here is world class but it's the lack of bedside manner, and patient care that most expats find difficult to take. For me, having a baby is an amazing, but emotionally overwhelming experience and I felt like it was turned into a clinical procedure, one that I had apparently interfered with in having my baby on my own. It was a time when I had no patience for the cultural differences and language barriers that come with living here, and I wanted out. If you go in knowing what to expect, and being prepared to either fight for what you want, or step back and accept what happens to you then the system will work for you. But it did not work for me. I have tried not to dwell on those painful hours after Charlie's birth. I feel like I was robbed of a really precious time, and I'm mad at myself for letting it happen, even though I didn't really have a choice.

At the end of the day, my little boy and I have not been adversely affected by anything that occurred that day, and we had 48 hours together at the Matilda to bond and get to know each other. He is still soothed by the sound of my voice, and is instantly comforted when I pick him up and hold him on my chest. I feel an overwhelming sense of relief every time that happens and I'm amazed by that connection we have. We may have spent too much time apart on his birthday, but we shared something pretty incredible that day, and that's what I will chose to remember.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

On the Day You Were Born

To my darling Charlie,

Firstly my love, welcome to the world. We are so thrilled to finally meet you and to have you at home. Your birth certificate states that you were born at the A & E department at Princess Margaret hospital, which is a shame because the real story is far more exciting. You were actually born in the back of the car at the entrance to the Nam Wan tunnel, on the Tsing Sha highway, delivered by your amazing daddy. When news of your somewhat unconventional arrival got out, there were some who thought we were joking, and it certainly created a stir. As one friend put it - "she had the baby in the car" news travels faster than plain old "she had the baby." So today, I'm going to tell the story, for you, and for the record, of the day you were born.

After a rough night, with your big brother waking a few times, I noticed in my sleep that I was having contractions. They weren't strong enough to wake me, or lasting long enough to worry me - I'd been having them on and off all week. At 6.30 I decided to get up and time them, and they were about 10 minutes apart and lasting for 30 seconds, nothing to worry about. I told your dad I thought we might have a baby that day and he thought (hoped) I was kidding. We all got up and had breakfast together and as we did I noticed that the contractions were getting stronger, lasting longer and coming closer together. It was also getting more and more difficult to breathe through them. I still wasn't too concerned and concentrated on relaxing and spending time with J. I called the hospital just to let them know we'd probably be in later and they suggested I take some Panadol and call back in 2 hours, "you're probably in the early stages and may have a long way to go," said the midwife reassuringly. I thought we'd better get organised just in case and got in the shower. I had three contractions in the shower and the hot water helped me through them. I remember thinking that when we got to the hospital I would have to get in the shower. When I got out of the shower and timed my contractions again they were suddenly coming every 2-3 minutes. I told Daddy we had better get going and by the time we got down to the car I was feeling the urge to push. The pain was quite intense and it took all of my concentration to breathe and relax. I watched the clock, knowing that each contraction would only last a minute or so, focusing on getting through the peak and back down the other side. Daddy drove faster than he ever has, but calmly and carefully. When we got to the other side of the hill my waters broke. I still thought we might make it to the hospital and wondered if I would be able to stick to my "drug-free" birth plan. I had a moment of disappointment as I realised I had barely had time to think about all the techniques we had learned at our Calmbirth class, apart from the breathing, as things grew more and more intense and I couldn't focus on anything other than what was happening inside me.

As we crossed the Tsing Ma bridge I began to think we might not make it after all, and the only moment I truly lost control, and my temper, was when we found ourselves stuck behind an "Alphard" (a people-mover favoured by the Chinese and driven by notoriously bad drivers). Mummy said some words that I hope to never hear come out of your mouth young man, and Daddy got us out of there quick smart. Minutes later, knowing there was a tunnel and another bridge ahead, we agreed that it was probably time to pull over. Some of the best advice we had received while I was pregnant was, if we found ourselves in that exact situation, to stop the car and go with it - so we did. The men from the tunnel monitoring station came running out as soon as we pulled in and your dad shouted "my wife's having a baby!" which quickly sent them running in the opposite direction to call an ambulance. I was already in the back seat and got up on my knees while your dad pulled out J's car seat and grabbed the towels and blanket we had packed "just in case." Dad said he could see your little head crowning and with two more big contractions, and very little effort on my part, you were out. Daddy caught you, cried out "it's a boy!" cleared your nose and mouth, and you let out a tiny little cry - and that was the moment I realised that you were actually here. The relief I felt was instant and indescribable, and after Daddy placed you in my arms we looked at each other and laughed with tears in our eyes. We had just delivered our baby in the back of the car!

Just the day before we had read up on what to do if we had to deliver you ourselves, not for a minute imagining that it would actually happen, and we both had complete faith that the other one knew what they were doing. I trusted that my body knew what it was doing and in the moment, none of the things that could've gone wrong entered my mind. It sounds crazy, but it was as close to our ideal birth as it possibly could be - free from interference and away from the stark and sterile environment of a hospital. Just the 3 of us, getting on with it.

Unfortunately the rest of the day wasn't as smooth, and the most traumatic part of the whole experience began when we arrived, by ambulance, at the Princess Margaret Hospital. I will have to save that part of our story for another day little bear, as you are starting to fuss and Mummy can't type with one hand yet. I will say this though, we shared a moment in the ambulance you and I, when I was able to feed you for the first time and you reached up and grabbed onto my finger with your tiny hand. You stole my heart, utterly and completely, and have continued to do so every day since. Your birth may have been a very exciting part of the story, but it was only the beginning.

All my love,
Mummy xx

Thursday, March 1, 2012


So, we had a baby on the weekend... Our Charlie was delivered by his dad, in the back of the car, at the entrance to the Nam Wan Tunnel. He weighed in at 3.1kgs and is a tiny, perfect, contented little bundle of bliss. I'll fill you in on all the details when I have had more than an hour's sleep and can use both hands for typing, but I wanted to let you all know that he is here, we are thrilled, and his arrival has given us one hell of a story to tell (later).