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......)

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