Monday, August 29, 2011

Welcome Andrew....opps....Sorry, I mean Isabella

After being awake for about 28 hours, I was a little bit like a zombie.  I staggered up the stairs, showed the nurse my piece of paper saying I was the father of my child and was lead to a room.  I figured at this point I'd be able to pick our baby up, talk with her/him and start to get to know it.  Well, as it transpires, it turned out to a viewing gallery and my ticket allowed me about 30 seconds to see my baby. 

I counted, two arms, two legs and one head.  Good start I thought.  Cute little face - definitive plus.  Potentially blue eyes (I still haven't worked that out yet) - double plus.  Looks like me - plus as it's definitely my baby, minus that she may end up being the female equivalent of her father.  I went to pick her up, but was fended off by the nurse.  I figured they must have tests to do but I was a bit put out.  The nurse quickly lifted up the diaper to show me the sex.  She lifted up our baby's legs for about half a second.  As no spoke any English and I didn't really get a clear look, I made the decision the our baby, was in fact, an Andrew, my son.  I quickly took two pictures and was asked to leave the room.
My wife's sister told me that I wouldn't be able to see Hanh until about 1 or 2pm so I decided to go home.  I found my motorbike in the car park, paid the attendant and drove home - which I wouldn't advise doing after being awake for as long as I had!  I stopped off at the shop, bought some milk as I was desperate for a cup of tea and eventually made it to my house at about 9:40, roughly 27 hours after I'd left the house the previous day.  I hadn't turned off my computer from the day before, so I opened the top, uploaded the two pictures I had taken and announced the arrival of Andrew to the world on Facebook.  I didn't even look at the pictures.  I was too tired.  I was only really thinking about Hanh and Andrew.  I hoped they were both healthy and couldn't wait to see them both.  I set a couple of alarms for 1pm and 1:10pm, closed my eyes and fell asleep.

As is normal for me, I woke up a couple of minutes before my alarm went off.  At first, I didn't know where I was or what had happened before I went to sleep.  However, after looking to my left, I saw the cot already made and suddenly remembered I had some to be.  Unlike the previous morning, I had a quick shower, gulped down some water and dashed to my motorbike.  Again, I don't remember all that much about the bike journey but I think it was fairly uneventful.  For this experience I know that if my wife goes into labour in the UK, I will definitely not be the one driving the car!

I arrived at hospital and called Ngan.  See came down to meet me at reception to tell me her bag had got stolen.  This was a big loss for us.  Most of the money that we were going to use to pay for everything was stolen, 3 mobile phones (including my wife's) and my sister in laws identification papers were gone.  Fortunately, I'd kept some of the money (which turned out to be enough to cover all the fees) and the important documentation for Hanh and myself.  If these papers had have been lost, it would've made life very difficult as bureaucracy is king in Vietnam.  At the time, I took all this in my stride.  I was to concerned about Hanh and excited to meet Andrew to care.  Ngan led me upstairs to the room my family was staying in.

At about I walked into the walk.  Hanh looked exhausted.  My managed a faint smile and nodded to say she was OK.  In the time I was away, her parents had arrived from her hometown.  Hanh and Ngan had decided not to tell them that their daughter had gone into labour to save them from any stress.  In hindsight, that turned out to be a good idea, though not necessary one I'd have chosen in the same circumstances.  My attention then turned to the centre of the room.  There was a small baby's bed, covered in a pink mosquito net.  Inside was my child dressed in pink.  I spoke to him and he seemed to recognise my voice.  I look into his eyes and felt a surge of love that will stay with me for life.  Just of innocent purity.  I picked him up, held him and started walking around the room, talking the sort of non-sense that only new fathers are allowed to speak.
 I distinctly remember saying "Why have they dressed you in pink Andrew?'' and ''Why is your bed pink?'' in my 10 minutes of rambling after which time my wife said to me ''Mark, why are you calling Isabella Andrew?''.  I stopped, looked, put two and two together and had realised my mistake.  I offered a token ''Are you sure?'' to which the response was ''You can check if you want!'' - Check mate.  I'd lost.  Andrew was in fact Isabella which seemed to make much more sense since everything was pink!

Since I'd informed everyone that we'd had a boy, I knew that a bit of stick would be coming my way.  To be fair to everyone, I haven't received a lot of mickey taking for which I'm incredibly grateful.  Hopefully if you've read the previous two blogs, you'll see that I was exactly in the best place through both physical and mental exhaustion.  Hanh needed me to pick up a few things from home, so after an hour and a half, I went home, had something to eat as I was starving and updated Facebook.  I called my parents and gran to inform them of the change of gender before going back to the hospital for the 4th time.  This time, I just spent time with my family.  Hanh and Isabella spent most of the time sleeping after their earlier struggles and the in laws and I just watched them.  At about 21:30, I said my goodbyes and went to my local.  I knew that a couple of the darts team would be there so I got my first proper meal, a whiskey and watched the community shield, reflecting on what had happened in the previous 48hours and contemplating on what the future will hold. 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Isabella - The Birth

5:30am, Saturday 7th August 2011 - Wake up call

Wearily opening my eyes, I hazily saw Hanh stood at the foot of the bed.  'Mark, our baby's coming!'.  The words I'd waited the last 9 months to hear barely sunk in.  Hanh took a quick shower.  I didn't.  I immediately went to my laptop and found someone to talk to on Facebook.  As it was about 11:30pm in England, it was just about reasonable to expect to find someone online.  And I did.  My close friend James was on FB and I told him I was about to become a dad.  He said shouldn't I be more concerned with Hanh than chatting online (a fair point) but as Hanh was busying herself and getting ready to go to hospital, I thought I should stay out of the way.  I tried calling my parents on their UK landline, but there was no answer by which point my wife was ready to go to hospital.  Making sure everything was switched off, I had money and my phone, we went to the front of the apartment block where a taxi was waiting for another fare.

7:00am - Optimistic Text Message

During the taxi ride, I decided to prepare for wetting the baby's head, a UK tradition where the proud new dad gets to have a party with his friends while his wife stays in hospital.  Seems a little cruel of the dad but who I am to stand in the way of tradition?! Anyways, I text about 5/6 of my close friends to tell them to keep the evening free as Hanh's waters had broken, and all being well I could be a father in the late afternoon.  Malone called me, Henno et al. sent messages wishing us luck and to keep them posted.  One more thing off the list ticked off, so far, so good.
7:15am - Tu Du Baby Hospital

Before the birth, choosing the hospital we would have our first child at was a major decision.  Early in the piece, I was angling that we go to an International Hospital where at least some of the doctors and nurses would be able to communicate with me in English.  However, Hanh was keen to go to one of the famous Vietnamese Hospitals.  For those who don't know, the quality of the doctors and nurses in these Vnese hospitals is excellent.  In fact, the people who helped us bring Isabella into the world were first rate so we were never comprising the quality of treatment.  Also, the cleanliness and facilities in the treatment areas were also comparable to what you would find in an International hospital.  It's the 'hotel reception and service' where the conditions differ.  The waiting area was like a bus station with plastic chairs and too many people. It's also usual for women to have to share beds and rooms after labour.  Looking at the building, you wouldn't recognise it as a hospital and would, wrongly, assume the rest of the hospital would be similarly uncomfortable.  In the end we chose Tu Du hospital.  This was because the majority of emergency cases in Vietnam get taken here, and also that this hospital has some of the best trained professionals in childbirth in the country.  Also, I was insistent that we have a private room which we were fortunate enough to receive.  For people reading this at home, you may feel a little shocked that I say fortunate, but things in VN are very different to the UK.  We received fantastic treatment both during and after the birth, so any fears you might have can be erased.

Back to the story.  We arrived at Tu Du at about 7:15am and were met by Hanh's sister, Ngan, who had taken the brunt of the go to the hospital pre-consultations with Hanh.  This wasn't because I was too lazy to go or uninterested but because the doctors couldn't speak English and that men aren't allowed to be present.  I hear this is quite common in Vietnamese hospitals, and for me, is a draw back as although I kept tabs on what was going on, I probably never really got the full picture.  Hanh and Ngan went to the reception, I handed over some of the money to Ngan for safe keeping, and they sorted out all of the paperwork.  Hanh still wasn't experiencing any noticeable contractions, but we figured they must be imminent.  At about 8:15,  Hanh, minus belongings, was taken upstairs with the other expectant mothers.  Ngan and I went to the waiting area, sat down and waited.  You see, at this time, no one was allowed to accompany Hanh, which is another negative aspect of the hospital we chose.  We didn't think to ask if I would be allowed with her as we just assumed I would be so this was a bit of a shock to the system.
The reception area    

For you to understand the full extent of the following ordeal, I really have to describe the reception area in more detail.  At the front there is a reception desk.  There are 2 large LCD TVs displaying details of the babies that have been successfully delivered.  The centre right for natural births, and the centre left for C-Sections.  The other two screens were a little smaller.  The one on the left showed Animal Planet and the one on the right advertising.  In fact, it showed the same 3 adverts on loop.  The reception had a couple of phones.  These phones were for the women in labour to contact their other halves or family members.  The expectant mother would called reception, and the receptionist would make an announcement over the tanoy to those waiting for her.  In front of reception, there were rows of plastic chairs, most of which bent back far too much and easily.  All we could do was sit down at wait.

8:15am - Midday - The wait

At the beginning, I was in good spirits.  Although I didn't know if the contractions had started, I was just excited that I'd be meeting Andrew or Isabella sometime soon.  I had my phone and iPod so I could amuse myself for the time I had to wait.  I couldn't really speak with Ngan as her English isn't too good and my Vietnamese is pretty terrible.  At about 9:00, I checked my camera, but found out it had no battery.  I figured I had time, and if anything changed, my sister in law promised to call me.  I took a taxi back home, picked up a few bits and pieces, hopped on my motorbike and drove back to hospital.  I must have been gone about an hour, but nothing had changed.  I popped on my music, watched the advertisements again, and again, and again and counted down the minutes.  At about 11am, Hanh came down with another couple of women.  Her contractions still hadn't started and it was lunchtime.  Hanh chatted with Ngan and I while she had her lunch.  At noon she disappeared upstairs again and the wait continued.
Midday - 16:00 - The wait continues

At this point, I was still pretty jovial.  That was about until 14:30 when my iPod ran out of battery.  Disaster.  Nothing to listen to, no one to talk to.  So, I started texting Danny to ask for sports results and to get let everyone know the wetting the baby's head night would be postponed as I had no idea what was going on.  The only problem with this was my phone was fast running out of battery. I tried calling my parents landline again, only for no one to pick up.  I then remembered they were in France on holiday.  I checked my wallet and found mum's business card and mobile number.  I tried it, they answered and I informed them of the current state of play.  I then called my gran.  With everyone informed, I stopped using my phone in an attempt to save battery.  With absolutely nothing to do, I started to get tired and try to find things to occupy my mind.  At four, the the tanoy announced 'Pham Thi Hong Hanh'.  Ngan and I immediately sprang to our feet.  I was passed the phone and Hanh informed me that I could join her.  Knowing that I would only be allowed with her at the final stages I thought it must be show time.  I went upstairs and Hanh appeared fine.  Yup, you guessed it, it was dinner time!  Dinner time!  It took a few minutes for my heart to stop racing but eventually my pulse returned to normal.  Hanh ate dinner, we talked and I departed back to the 'bus' station.

17:00 - 21:00 - The wait - part 3

No contractions, no iPod, no one to talk to and limited use of my phone.  I didn't start this part of the wait in particularly good spirits.  I was, however, very hungry.   Knowing it was going to be some time both I was going to be a dad, I decide to stretch my legs and go to the local supermarket.  I was only about 3 minutes away and it would be easy enough for me to get back to the hospital if needs be.  I also needed to move my motorbike as I'd parked it somewhere without overnight parking.  I bought the usual food you'd buy when you travel such as Pringles, Oreos, chocolate, Pepsi and bread.  I went back to the hospital, convinced I had enough sugar to keep me going through the night.  Without any incidents, and slowly starting to lose my mind, another announcement beckoned me to the reception desk.  It must be now....nope.  Hanh called to inform me it was the last time she could call me.  Still no contractions.  She urged me to go home and get some sleep but I declined as I didn't want to miss the most important day of our lives to date.  I went back to my seat, wondering how long this would continue.

21-00 - 01:00am - Yet more waiting

After more sitting around looking at the same 3 ads, I started to become really tired.  I could barely keep my eyes open.  Ngan urged me to go home for a while, but I remained robust.  I just couldn't miss the birth.  Some of the other patients started trying talking to me, but our respective language deficiencies meant it got no where.  However, a row of chairs did become free so I put my head down for half an hour.  It was a necessary respite, although I didn't feel any better for it when I came round.  Then, when I was thinking about going home for a couple of hours sleep, we were summoned again.  Ngan took the phone and I was instructed to go upstairs, it was time.
01:00 - 07:00am, Sunday 7th August 2011 - The final stretch

I went upstairs with Ngan.  I asked her if this meant our child was born and she said yes.  At this point there was a miscommunication as I thought our child was here so I text my parents saying 'born' before switching off my phone. As it turned out, this was an error and Hanh was in the final stages.  I put on some hospital type attire, slipped on some sandals and went by Hanh's side.  She was sedated by the EPD, nearly full dilated, in good spirits and in not too much pain.  Contractions were coming regularly and she was taking them in her stride.  As the doctors had no English, Hanh was playing the role of both woman in labour and translator and at this stage, everything appeared to progressing normally.

At about 2am, the EPD start wearing off and the doctors were confident a normal birth was only a matter of time.  Although the pain was increasing, Hanh was still okay, and was laughing at the random non-sense I was talking.  However, within about half an hour, this had changed.  Hanh was in agony, told me in the politest and sweetest way to be quiet and started trying to tug violently at my shirt during contractions.  At times it felt like she would strangle me and hours later I wore red marks that any warrior would be proud of.

In the next half hour to hour, the pain must have been unbearable.  I've also never felt so helpless.  There was absolutely nothing I could do.  Hanh was contorted in pain but was so close to delivering our first baby.  The doctors were telling her it wouldn't be long and that she wouldn't need another EPD as our baby had progressed a good way down the birth canal.  At about 3am, enough was enough, Hanh had another EPD and everything relaxed and nothing seemed to happen for at least an hour.  During this time, we heard other mothers successfully having their babies and Hanh started to become frustrated as another baby issued its first cry, wishing it was her.  There was nothing to say.  I probably uttered some useless words like 'our child will be here soon' or something equally cliche.  I just felt increasingly useless and wanted it to end.

At about 5, the pain started to come back.  Various doctors and nurses came by, tired to get Hanh to push and kept assuring us that our child would be out soon and that they could see her head.  2 hours of severe pain later, the decision was taken that our baby wasn't going to come out of her own accord and that a C-Section was required.  Ngan, who had waited outside the entire 6 hours, came in to fill in the necessary paperwork, Hanh was wheeled away for surgery and I went downstairs to pay for the operation.

8:10am - Isabella was born

I don't know exactly what time Hanh went into surgery or how long it was until I knew anything else happened.  I was mentally exhausted, disorientated and didn't know if my wife, child or both were in danger.  Ngan seemed pretty calm which was a good sign, but I just sat down in the waiting area and wept.  All I was thinking was let them both be OK.  At 8:10, the monitor informed us that Hanh's operation had been successful.  It was a relief, but I still didn't know if they were both healthy.  I assumed that because we had received no further news that this meant everything was fine, but I've learned not to assume that in Vietnam. At 8:45 I was allowed to see the our baby.  (The story will continue......)

Waiting for Isabella - prequel

This will be the first in a series of blogs I intend to write about our pregnancy and Isabella's first adventures in the world.  The entries are purely for me to self indulge, to keep a record and to give any future fathers an insight into how they might feel later.  My future postings will be solely from the male (i.e. my) perspective and will largely focus on the challenges people might encounter in cross culture relationships, especially where significant language barriers exist.

Waiting for Issy - The first 6 months

In the initial stages, not a lot changed for me.  Obviously Hanh was experiencing the usual changes women go through with imminent child birth, but she was still going to work everyday, going out with friends, driving her motorbike and generally just living life like normal.  As a future dad, there was very little I could really do at this point.  As many of you will already know, family is extremely close and important in Vietnam, so my wife's sister was around most weekends and as most caring is done by the immediate family minus the men, I felt pretty surplus to requirements.  I just carried on life as normal, working, having a few beers and playing and watching sport.  Of course I was conscious of what was going on at home, it just felt like there was very little caring I could be as everything was already covered!

The final 3 months

At this point things started to change.  Hanh wanted me about a bit more and I started going out a bit less.  Not that I'm always out, but I was frequently busy playing football, cricket, tennis and working so as D-day was approaching I started to cut down on the amount of sport I was playing.  This was helped by the fact I was injured, but as Hanh was becoming increasingly tired and immobile, it also felt right to make sure Hanh wasn't at home alone too often or for too long.  I can't overstate how much on what I did during the final months was based on feeling.  You read countless blogs, websites or go to antenatal classes that tell you what you should be doing, but in my case, it was pretty obvious and a sudden mentality change happened.  It was at this point that I knew that life as we knew it had now changed.

Antenatal classes

Both we went to these classes, I'd heard mixed feelings from other men.  Some thought they were a waste of time whereas others felts they were very informative.  I must admit, I definitely fall into the second camp.  Both Bella was born, I really didn't have too much of a clue about what I was going to be facing or what I had to do.  It's good asking other people about what they experienced, but it so often the case with anecdotes, everyone has a slightly different story so it's difficult to know who to listen to.  The best thing about the antenatal classes was realising that (in particular the men) were as clueless as me.  I had no idea about babies' feeding habits, sleeping and bathroom routines, what colour their poo should be in the first few days, what temperature they should be, that the babies' neck need careful support and that babies are prone to hiccuping.

We only took 2 intensive courses due to my work commitment, but in that time we learned about the signs of labour, what to expect when something goes wrong during the delivery and different pain relief options.  Now, as we have a couple of complications during the birth along with the fact that the doctors didn't speak English, the knowledge about what was going to happen was a great source of comfort to me.  As although I didn't really understand what was going on, it was similar to how the midwife giving the classes said it should go. Therefore, in the midst of the final stages of labour, I felt strangely calm and confident in the doctors as they were doing exactly what I thought they should be.  Without the classes, I think I'd have been a mess.

Not only did we learn a whole lot about pre and post birth, it was just fun to chat to couples at a similar stage of pregnancy to chat about what they were going through.  The best bit for me was that everyone had something different to say.  The women were all experiencing different 'side-effects', feelings and bumps were different sizes.  The men, generally, felt equally useless but excited about their upcoming arrivals.  It was a fun environment to discuss questions that you might find a little embarrassing to articulate in normal conversations.  I also gained a sense of security knowing that I wasn't the only one having 'stupid questions'.

The month before

Imagine, you're 8 years old.  You've been locked in a room for you don't know how long and you have no idea what the date is.  Someone lets you out of the room and says 'It's sometime in December'.  How would you feel every night?  Well, if it was me, I'd be so excited that Christmas is anytime soon that I wouldn't be able to sleep.  Christmas could be tonight, or it could be in 24 days time.  If you understand this, you'll start to understand how I was feeling in the lead in to labour.  Hanh and I had reached an agreement at this time, that she would only call be for one reason, to tell me that our child was on the way.  However, as she was the only one in on the agreement, my heart stopped every time one of my friends called me.  Also, by this point, my wife was struggling to sleep which meant I was too.  Hanh tossed and turned in bed, trying to get comfortable, and I keep waking up in fear that she was in labour.  Therefore we were both getting more and more tired and tense as we just didn't know when our little one would choose to make an appearance.

In the final month, I was definitely at home a lot more.  One thing they told us at the antenatal class was that massages were good for pregnant women and Hanh definitely remembered that part!  However, I don't think I'm very good at giving them because she didn't ask me too often.  What I remember most clearly from this stage is impatience.  We both just wanted him/her to come into the world.  We were tired of not sleeping well, I was tired of constantly being on edge whenever I felt my phone vibrate and generally just tired of waiting!  Well, at 5:30am on Saturday 6th August 2011 (or so we thought), the waiting was soon to be over.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Wednesday, August 10, 2011