A Birth Abroad

Everyone loves a good birth story, right?  Especially us women.  So in honor of Mother’s Day a few weekends ago, and because I’ve got baby on the brain with number three coming in just a few weeks, I’d thought I’d share the birth of number two…

Mosque minaretThis isn’t one of your typical birth stories, complete with bloody details of goo and grime, or with an overload of info about dilation and effacement. But it is a bit interesting, if I say so myself.

My son’s birth was a planned c-section because my daughter’s birth was an unplanned one. It wasn’t a major emergency or anything, but with our host country’s enormous over-dependence on having elective c-sections… well, I really had no other choice.

Oh, by the way — this was in the Middle East.

When the big Birth Day came, my husband Kyle and I had a leisurely morning, chatting, packing, and spending time with my mom, who had arrived the night before. We then dropped our daughter off with friends, checked into the hospital, and were promptly shown the deluxe suite, undoubtedly because we’re Americans.

It was a whopping $400 US extra a night, so we asked to see the other rooms. We were then shown the $300-extra-per-night room.  Yes, the crystal chandeliers and the mahogany beds were lovely.  But were we really going to enjoy them?  Ultimately, we checked into the basic room for NO extra per night.  I think they got the idea.

I changed in to my lovely paper gown and my husband, my mom, and I were taken down to the operating floor. They wheeled in a bed for me, I was told to hand over my glasses to Kyle, and I barely said goodbye before they whisked me away.

(The husbands aren’t allowed in the room for c-section births, due to unpredictable fainting spells.)

It’s a rather big deal that I can’t wear my glasses because I can see jack squat without them. I’m as blind as they come. So not only am I now partly-deaf due to the language barrier with all the hospital staff, I’m now mostly blind.  I felt like a sitting duck.

Things rather quickly escalated in the operating room. The gaggle of nurses and doctors shot me questions left and right. I answered in my broken tongue, to which they mumbled knowingly to each other, “She’s a foreigner.”

This explained my deer-in-the-headlight look, I suppose, so after awhile they stopped speaking to me and just started doing things to me. They’re pleasant enough, in this culture, but in general, the people are a bit… brasher and rougher than what Americans are accustomed to.   Because of this, I now felt like a slab of meat, poked and prodded by latex gloves and cold steel instruments.   And since I couldn’t see anything, I didn’t have advanced warning when anything would happen.

At long last, my OB and her assistant walk in, both of whom speak beautiful English. Her assistant carried Kyle’s camera, and he proceeded to take a bajillion photos of who knows what — mostly me in my paper gown and hair net, looking off into the distance due to aforementioned blindness.

Now for the epidural. Obviously I was not looking forward to this, but to be frank, I really was not looking forward to this. It’s one of the reasons I was planning a natural birth with our daughter, because the thought of having that thing prodded into my spinal cord was more disheartening than the thought of the actual delivery.

It took the anesthesiologist three tries to get the darned thing in my back. And it hurt like the dickens the entire time, all the while him telling me things like “arch your back like a cat” in the native language, with me doing my best to comprehend.  My OB and her assistant kept repeating benign things like, “We are so proud of you” in broken English.  Apparently, the anesthesiologist did what he needed to do, because he finally finished, and I could lay down.

I’m strapped down with my wrists out on either side of me, with a blood pressure cuff on my bicep. It’s on so tightly that my arm goes numb every time it balloons.  Eventually the cuff just pops off.

Instead of lessening its grip, the nurses TAPED IT BACK ON ME. So now, not only is it on ridiculously tight, it’s taped on me in such a way that tears at my skin. I had bruises on my arm for weeks from that thing.

The doctors then casually asked me what I’m going to name the umbilical cord. I’m told this is a tradition in this country, and that if I can’t come up with one, I should call it “Arap.” This is the OB’s assistant’s name. I told him that’s fine. And I hoped they don’t give it to me later.

The doctor then draped a blue “good luck” charm across my shoulders , telling me it’s also a tradition here and that it will bring me success in my delivery. I’d take it off if I could, but my arms were strapped down.

So the doctors and staff stood around, waiting for the epidural to take effect, and I’m lying there with all of them watching me – I’m strapped down, I can’t see, and I mostly can’t understand what they’re saying.

They wheel the blue curtain in front of my face, so that I can’t see what’s going on (so glad for that — I was wondering when it was coming). However, below the curtain they proceed to strip me down completely, and I can’t even describe to you how beyond uncomfortable it is to have all those total strangers able to do whatever to me while I’m completely undressed and mostly blind. And I start to get really cold, too.

Then came the best part of the entire ordeal – the test to check if the epidural was clicking.  At first it wasn’t  so bad — the doctor swabbed a dab of cold liquid on my leg and asked if I could feel it.  I could.   He did it again to my abdomen, and yes, I could feel that too. He did this again and again, all over my body.  I could feel it each time, and the liquid was getting colder and colder.

The medical team then proceeded, without warning, to insert the catheter – as another means of testing whether I could feel anything.  And let me tell you, I could. I let them know, in a delightfully gracious way.

Next, and still without warning, a nurse poured a pitcher of ice-cold water on my abdomen. I couldn’t help but scream, and my teeth started chattering. I started shaking with cold. They poured water on me again, again, and again.

Finally, my OB clinically said, “Can you feel this?,” and I experienced a stabbing pain in my abdomen so excruciating, my mind went immediately to those shows on TLC about people who go through surgery without the anesthesia taking effect. I screamed, “YES! Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow!!!!”

The last thing I remembered was the doctor saying, “Okay, we’re going to sedate you.”

I woke up in the recovery room with Kyle and my mom at my side. I was freezing cold, though I had layers of wool blankets on me. (I found out later that this is just the normal side effect from coming out of general anesthesia, but at the time I was wondering what on earth just happened to me, and what meat locker I was stored in.)

2154658456_b42b26dda8_m And then the nurse finally wheeled in my son.

This is when I realized what happened — that I had already given birth, that it was finally over with, and that I was out of it the entire time.

The OB came in to check my incision, and mentioned that the good luck charm apparently didn’t work.  She also let me know I got a free, complimentary tummy tuck — she chopped off about five millimeters of skin.  In my sedation, I apparently said, “Is that all?”

My recovery time at the hospital was much less eventful, thank goodness. I had to ask a nurse to remove the epidural IV left in my spine. They didn’t realize it was still in. It wasn’t removed until day two.

And as we waited at the elevator to go home, one last nurse ran over and looked up the back of my shirt, just to double-check that it was removed.  You know, because I wanted to sneak it out as a souvenir.

Boys In the end, it was worth it.  Two years later, and our bright-eyed, silly two-year-old boy is jumping chaotically in front of me, just for fun.  His addition to our family is perfect.  The cross-cultural experience was worth it.

But I’m glad I’m in the States for birth number three.

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  1. 1

    You win! That was the best horror story I’ve ever heard. ;)

  2. 2
    Vanessa says:

    Yikes! I’m similar to you in that I have c-sections, however, not elected. First was unplannned and second one I couldn’t find a doctor who would do a v-back. The third (delievery date scheduled for July 23rd) is a planned c-section as well.
    I couldn’t imagine delivering abroad, not to mention going through half of what you went through for your son. In the end it is definitely all worth it but jeez louise. At least you got a tummy tuck hah.

  3. 3

    Yikes, Tsh! That is definitely a story! Wow–so glad you are in the US for sweet Baby #3 as well!
    Jamie

  4. 4
    Jennifer says:

    I’m due with my 1st in September…this story made me want to cry…but I held it together. Thanks for the reminder that even if the birth experience is not what you would have hoped for the end result is worth it :-)

  5. 5

    Oh my!!! My birth stories suddenly seem quite ordinary and uncomplicated! :)

  6. 6

    Oh my gosh, Tsh, that sounds scary. I mean, I think having babies the regular American way is scary, but that…I don’t even know. I am glad everything worked out in the end though!

  7. 7

    Wow what a story. It makes my birth stories pale in comparison. I did have a D&C in Germany about 10 years ago. Thankfully most Germans learn enough English and I knew enough German we could get by.
    Bless your heart. He is one special little boy.
    Nancy

  8. 8

    I feel so bad for you. I had the same kind of horrific experience too with my 3rd (and it was in America). I couldn’t talk about it without crying until my son was over 18 months old. Debbie

  9. 9

    I would have freaked out. Good luck with this next one I know it will be better for you – at least you will be able to understand everyone around you.

  10. 10

    Wow…I’ve heard a lot of horror pregnancy/birth stories but nothing that’s ever made me think about not wanting kids.
    So…ummm…congratulations? You just did it! :S

  11. 11

    This story just made me dizzy. I’m glad you’re having that baby over here, too Tsh!

  12. 12

    Tsh…
    I am so glad you are here. And God watches over you there. And thanks and joy and love is a possibility anywhere!
    I send all mine…
    All’s grace,
    Ann

  13. 13

    Wow Tsh, you are one courageous soul!
    Isn’t it a comfort to know that God is with us in all things, and that we can be supported through the prayers of our sisters & brothers in Him!
    It is so worth all that we go through as mom’s, to become mom’s, isn’t it?;)
    To think of all that we go through to birth these precious gifts…how much more our heavenly Father goes through to conform us to His image…

  14. 14

    Oh. My. Goodness. I am glad I already gave birth (almost 4 months ago). Otherwise that would’ve scared me silly. All pregnant first time moms should steer clear of this story!
    (But I loved reading it!)

  15. 15

    Oh me! Oh my! And you lived to tell it and even laugh about it! Hats off to you!

  16. 16

    So with #3 on the way, have you thought of having a VBAC? C/s are hard to recover from let alone all the drama that yours inclueded. Here’s to you and a healthy happy delivery this time.

  17. 17

    Oh.my.stars.
    Yep. That’s about all I’ve got. But yay for the tummy tuck ;)

  18. 18

    ‘But I’m glad I’m in the States for birth number three.’ Really? I can’t imagine why. :)

  19. 19

    I had a c-section as well, actually two of them. Wow! You sure went through a lot.

  20. 20

    Thanks, everyone, for your kind words! For the record, we find our story highly amusing and entertaining now, and not horrific or debilitating. Almost like a “medal of valor.” :)

  21. 21

    That is an AWESOME birth story! I gave birth to our daughter in Guatemala with a local midwife in our home, and it was much less eventful than yours! I love that the only man at both of our children’s births has been my husband ;)

  22. 22

    Here via Simple Mom’s link.
    I loved this story. It was fascinating to read about the similarities and differences. I am due in August and will be having my 3rd c-section. The ridiculous blood pressure cuff, the arms-strapped-down, the blue curtain—totally familiar. Being checked for numbness via ice water bath? Not so much.
    I’m totally naming the umbilical cord, though. That’s a custom I can adopt.

  23. 23

    All I have to say is “No thanks”. I’m still trying to wrap my brain around what happened to you! There’s no way you can make up a tale like that one! Eerie!

  24. 24

    OMGoodness! I am an L&D nurse (in the US) and laughed so hard reading this! So sorry that you had to experience such a traumatic ordeal. I can only imagine some of our foreign patients and how “our ways” appear to them. This is a riot… definitely wrong… but a riot anyhow!

  25. 25

    Your story made my epidural spot hurt!
    I had an emergency c-section in a clinic in Nicaragua (the other 3 hospitals were full). It was not NEARLY dramatic as yours.
    (I’ve gone on to have three more, all vaginal/natural, and the final one was born at home. Good luck on the third!)

  26. 26

    Ohhhh! In the expat Mom’s group I met with in Mozambique, just about all of us had been out of country to give birth. With one exception – a labor that happened 4 weeks early, so the birth was in Mozambique. And I shudder to think of going through such a thing. Not that the medical staff were incompetent, but they didn’t communicate with the mom, and the dad wasn’t allowed in due to space issues. All turned out well, but not something I’d want to go through. Yours sounds so similar.

  27. 27

    What a wild story! It’s such a wild thing to be overseas and realize that the way other countries do things is so vastly different from what we are used to in the states. Thanks for posting with humor a fairly traumatic event!

  28. 28

    I am having my third child (second abroad) and I am praying against a c-section. Having a child abroad, is definitely more difficult and different than the states. In the states your birth is all about you and what you want, overseas, not so much. I hope this one goes smoother for you. Thanks for sharing your story.

  29. 29
    Chrissy N. says:

    that sounds AWFUL! my #3 was by far the best experience, so sending you wishes that yours will be as well!! yay for no language barrier & Dads allowed for deliveries this time around!!

  30. 30

    WOW. I think I’d be scared without anyone talking me through any of it. I wonder why they didn’t walk you through the process before you went in for the surgery? Maybe it’s an American thing but my docs & nurses went over every step of the delivery process weeks before I delivered.
    Thankfully all 3 of mine were born here in the US, all vaginally and, YES, all with an epidural. I have to admit, I didn’t feel the epidural when they stuck me because the pain of the contractions was much more intense. It felt like a shot but my anesthesiologist only stuck me once. I was lucky.
    Hopefully birth #3 will be MUCH smoother! Good luck!!!

  31. 31

    Congratulations and well done for getting through it all!
    I’m sorry your birth experience abroad was such an ordeal. I live in the Middle East, originally from Scotland, and at the grand old age of 37, I gave birth to baby number four.
    I had excellent ante-natal care, seeing the same female obstetrician from beginning to end. Baby number one was born when I was in my 20s, I knew what was happening, and had for the third time opted for a natural birth.
    Baby number four made his appearance 15 days late. I was calm and prepared for everything. I’d written out a birth plan, my doc spoke English, and all went well. Much to the surprise of some of the staff, my husband was anxious to attend the delivery. (My husband was born in the MidEast, but brought up in the UK).
    Some countries do have traditions that are somewhat strange compared to our own, and I was fortunate enough not to experience what you have been through.
    God Bless you and your little one, all the best for the new arrival! XX
    Many mums-to-be here opt for a C-section. It is a case of not quite the norm when one opts for a “Normal Delivery”
    We are still living here

  32. 32

    This story makes me very sad. I hope you and your bub #3 will get the birth everyone deserves: a natural, empowering, amazing event!! All the best to you!

  33. 33

    Oh my! You had quite the ordeal! I had my first two births abroad (in Asia), and they actually went BETTER than my third delivery in the U.S. The doctor here seemed prone to panic, probably due to lawsuit fears. I was irked that my insurance company would not let the wonderful midwife on duty handle the delivery. She was much more relaxed and encouraging.

  34. 34

    Wow! There’s a possibility our family could go to the Middle East sometime in the future for my husband’s studies, and this is a good reminder to me that we need to try to plan our children around living internationally. It can be hard enough to communicate with doctors and nurses even when everyone IS speaking the same language!

  35. 35

    Wow, Tsh, the blindness and ice water? Awful. However, I have to tell you, this sounds strikingly similar to my (unplanned) c-section here in the states: the screaming, the lack of working anesthesia, etc. In my case, they didn’t completely knock me out until after they got the baby out, so I felt the entire slice and dice! Good times.

  36. 36

    WHOA! I hope I never, ever have to give birth in the Middle East. I am so glad the Lord protected you!

  37. 37

    This is one story to tell any woman who chooses elective c-section.
    And reading this story…I’m so thankful that I live in Israel. Middle east or not, giving birth here is still way more “natural” (at least you have a chance of delivering v-bac after one c-sect)

  38. 38

    Wow, Tsh, this is the first I heard all the details…I’m realizing anew all you went through. You handled it so well at the time…and we got to enjoy this special little guy like our own grandson! Love you and your family so much!

  39. 39

    Taking note of your astounding post, I realize it is of the different skills and real options.Trust I will certainly get which I aspire from your ideas.Have a good one!

  40. 40

    oh my word. I think just the memory of that experience would bring back some serious thankful thoughts that you SURVIVED it!
    my 4th was born here in Peru and it was WAY different, but NOTHING like yours… wow.
    I opted to return to the States to have our 5th ;)
    amy in peru

  41. 41

    Set your life time more simple take the home loans and all you need.