* VERY LONG READ!
As part of our preparation for the Kimchi Kid, we decided to study Hypnobirthing. We both were a bit skeptical at first but we quickly grew to love the class and the concept. My husband was so impressed he told every expectant father he met that they HAD to try it! In terms of reducing our fears about birth and teaching us about the birthing process, we were really impressed. We knew very little, we expected birth to be scary and painful. But thanks to Hypnobirthing not only were we excited and positive about the birthing process but we decided to try for a completely natural birth, something we had never previously considered.
As part of our preparation we took our doctor our natural birthing plan, in English and Korean. This spelled out very clearly our hopes and preferences for our birth experience. These included:
· No IV.
· A private labour and delivery room.
· The ability to move around as I saw fit.
· No shaving.
· No episiotomy.
· Light food and drinks.
· The cord to stop pulsing before cutting.
· Immediate breastfeeding.
Our doctor spoke English well and asked for some time to review the birthing plan. At our next appointment he agreed to everything we asked, except for the food part. Drinks were ok, food was not. We were so happy we had found such a forward thinking doctor and only 5 minutes from our home! We had heard so many horror stories of birthing in Korea that we had expected the worst. Little did we know that we were actually being set up for a “bait and switch” birth experience.
When we were almost full term, our doctor informed us that the Kimchi Kid was measuring over 4kg. In South Korea this is considered an automatic C-section. We laughed off his concerns and to appease him agreed to meet with the surgeon, just in case. She was a lovely lady and we assured her that with my wide hips and family birth history we would be fine. She smiled and explained the C-section process, just in case.
When I went into labour, we were very calm and relaxed. I listened to my iPod and labored on the toilet, the most comfortable place in my home. When the surges (contractions) became 3 minutes apart, around 6 hours after starting timing, we called the hospital. They told us to come in and we excitedly headed to the hospital, confident that we would have our gorgeous son with us soon!
Upon arrival I was put on a bed in a communal labour room. The OR was in my line of vision with a very unhappy sounding woman in it. The bed next to me had another unhappy sounding woman in it and I had to lie on my back and wait for them to check us. I questioned my husband as to why we weren’t being shown to our private room and he asked the nurse. They had no idea, but with some hurried discussion finally agreed and sent us to a room. The nurse came in to check my dilation, I was 3cm gone and she said it would probably take about 7 hours more. We were excited and confident that those 7 hours would fly by!
Shortly after a different nurse arrived and told my husband that I was to be put on an IV. We said no, that was not in our plan, ask the doctor. She was shocked and left quickly. Another nurse came, this time to shave me. Again, we declined, a little annoyed this time and she also was shocked. I moved to the toilet in our room for more comfort and our doctor finally came. We said we were surprised that no one knew of our plan, but he brushed it off. He told me I could sit on the toilet but not birth their (of course) and sad I was doing well, “better than he expected”. At the time we just laughed at their lack of faith and preparedness.
Things were going so well that we had an extra bed rolled in so my husband could sleep. He took a nap, I relaxed and the surges got closer and closer. I was now feeling the every 1 minute or so, with minimal rest between, but doing well. At this point a nurse came in and asked me to lay on the bed for an exam. I climbed up and lay on my back. The nurse then strapped on a fetal monitor and waited. For me, it felt like an eternity! Finally I demanded to know what she was waiting for and she replied she was waiting for contractions. I shouted that I was HAVING them, constantly, hurry up and check me! She finally examined me for dilation and to our disappointment we found that we had only progressed to 4cm after 6 hours.
During the time I was laying on my back, the surges became more painful and centered in my lower back; I was eager to get off the bed and back to my toilet but quickly discovered that something had changed. I struggled to get back to my relaxed state, listening to my iPod and sitting on the toilet. Very quickly I realized the pain was becoming unbearable and I woke my husband and demanded that we get an epidural. This is where things went wrong…
My husband called the nurse who came and told him I could NOT have an epidural. We were shocked, this had never occurred to us, so he demanded she call the doctor. We had to wait for the doctor to come and when he arrived he informed us that I could NOT have an epidural due to my WEIGHT. I was over 90kg at this point in pregnancy and he said that they did not have a large enough needle for me! I was beginning to get very stressed, I had no break between surges and the pain was awful. I asked what our options were. The doctor told us I could have a C-section or I could move to the larger University hospital which was older, had a bad reputation and I did not like from previous visits. I told him that neither were options for us and I would continue.
I struggled back to my toilet, in tears now, going out of my mind with the pain. I breathed, I did my Hypnobirthing exercises, and I listened to the iPod. Finally I staggered out and shouted at my husband, “CUT ME OPEN AND TAKE MY BABY OUT!” My poor husband was as unprepared as I was and quickly called the doctor. The speed with which they took over was remarkable.
I was immediately put back on the bed, an IV was inserted, fetal monitor attached, a nurse shaved me and we were whisked into the operating room. The room was brightly lit, fully staffed and it seemed to me to be very short notice for a 4am procedure at a small private hospital. They moved me to the operating table, told me they would attempt a spinal twice and if it did not work I would be given a general anesthetic. They rolled me to my side, inserted the needle on the first try and bliss flooded my body. I cried my thanks to the doctor and they laughed. I said I could continue now, but they had already cut me open. THE KIMCHI KID WAS BORN!
I was in a haze after this. I remember wondering where my baby and husband were. I remember shaking, uncontrollably, my teeth chattering in recovery so badly I couldn’t speak. I remember piles of warm blankets heaped upon me. I think I remember seeing my baby, but since it was also the first photo I have of him, it may be a false memory. The next thing I remembered was being moved to a bed and told not to sit up or move for 18 hours lest I suffer excruciating head pain. Then I slept.
When I woke again, it was day. I was alone and my husband had gone to work! Not having been in a Korean hospital we had no idea that this was going to be a problem. Around noon a student‘s family arrived. They had been close to us for a year and the mother was a nurse. She tried to get Thomas from the nursery for me but my husband had accidentally taken the “ticket” that allows you to “check” your baby out of the nursery. After a few hours they left and my husband arrived with the ticket. Finally I was able to see and hold my baby. Thomas slept the whole visit and was returned to the nursery. My husband left to teach and I was alone again.
Around 6pm another woman was rolled into my room. She had also had a C-section. She was as out of it as I had been and slept several hours. I then noticed that her mother had to do certain hygienic things for her that I had expected a nurse to do. I was shocked and dismayed to realize I had been there 12 hours longer and NOTHING had been done for me. I was so embarrassed to inform my husband of this when he returned and ask him to do them for me. He was equally shocked but we did what we had to do.
The rest of our stay continued in the same vein. Thomas was in the nursery all night. He came for a few visits during the day and I nursed him. He slept most of the time and I rested. My husband had to help me do EVERYTHING, and I mean EVERYTHING! We begged to be released and were told 7 days was the minimum stay. Finally we were allowed to leave on the 5th day as I had healed so well. At this point I hadn’t been with my son for more than 4 hours at a time. The nurses were useless for the whole stay, even refusing to fetch me more diapers when I ran out despite the fact that I could barely walk, I had my baby in the room with me, I was alone and the nursery was on a different floor from where we were! I was so relieved to get home to the comfort of my own bed and the support of the amazing helper/nanny who is still with us to this day!
We ended up with a happy and healthy baby, who through the joys of co-sleeping, baby wearing and breastfeeding was never fussy and the apple of our eyes. Teething was a breeze, solids feeding, walking at 9mths, toilet training, etc. All milestones he has reached easily and happily. So we never really thought about our birth experience. That is, until we became pregnant again.
After the Kimchi Kid was born I became a member of an Expat Parents group here in Seoul. I finally met many other mothers in similar situations here and I made some wonderful friends. One of the mothers I met was Mama Seoul, who was a very strong advocate for VBAC, something we had never thought of. Through discussions with her, links on her website and so on, I slowly became re-educated about birth. What I learned surprised me and raised some concerns about returning to our hospital.
My husband however was unconvinced. He saw me heal well, saw our son grow and thrive, and remembered the difficulty of my stay in the hospital. He was convinced the easiest thing to do was simply schedule a repeat C-section. The fact that he was also teaching the child of my C-section doctor reinforced this decision in his mind after I became pregnant. She informed him that we could easily have 3, even 4 C-sections with no major problems, she did it all the time!
We agreed to a compromise. If we had a girl, I would have a C-section. Another boy, then we would try to VBAC. This worked well until we discovered we WERE having a boy!
My doctor had slowly stopped speaking English to me and had started speaking only Korean, and only to my husband, despite ME asking him direct questions in English. This annoyed us both but we let it slide. Then my blood test came back with high protein levels. We had a 2nd test done and it also had high protein levels. I was concerned, but the doctor CALLED my husband and TOLD him over the phone that I had to have an amniocentesis and that Koreans would consider termination in this case. The look on my husband’s face was one I will NEVER forget, and I am crying just typing this and remembering it now.
I was devastated, HE was devastated and I called my closest friends, my doula friend, and then googled the HELL out of AFP and amniocentesis! We made an urgent appointment for the next morning at a different hospital as I REFUSED to go back to a doctor who treated us with so little respect that he didn’t offer an alternative and dropped the word TERMINATION so casually over the phone.
We spent 3 hours at the new clinic, Medi-Flower, which is 1.5hours away. Dr. Chung was so patient and caring, he listened to us, and gave us our options, the first of which was an intensive ultrasound with a doctor of radiology to check for any possible defects. This took 1 hour itself and we were given the all clear with 99.9% assurance that our baby, Baby Graham, was fine. We then toured the facility and I showed my husband the birthing tub and room I had decided to birth in. We never went back to our old hospital and I am so happy with our decision!
The 3rd and FINAL part of my story will be HOW I am preparing for a VBAC, what obstacles we have encountered and the final WHY! Thanks for reading so far!