AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is the last post of a three-part series of how little bao came into the world, and the days following his arrival. (Read the first and second part on these respective links.) Just a warning: It's a lengthy one. The last word count of the total story is almost 12,000 words, but I'm hopeful in sharing mine, others can learn from it, or realise that they are not alone.
It took me a while to accept my birth story as it is, as during those dark days, I was convinced that my baby was robbed of his chance to be born without complications, and without needing to suffer from a lack of food.
Of course, there was absolutely no guarantee that if I get to 39, or even 40 weeks, that the outcome would be different. Yes, it could be better, but yes, it could also be worse.
But during those first days, all I felt was guilt, as I was the one who agreed to be induced. I felt that everything that went wrong afterwards—the episiotomy, the vacuum, the fetal distress, the non-latching, the delayed coming of milk, the mild jaundice—was due to this moment in time, when I was filled with doubt about the upcoming induction, but still went through with it. I felt like I should have trusted myself, protected my baby, advocated for him, as he had no voice yet. He wasn’t ready, my body wasn’t ready, but without a good medical reason, I forced both of us to be ready.
But who knows, perhaps there was a good medical reason.
Perhaps my obs had thought it through, played every scenario, and according to all the information available at that time, chose the best possible outcome for me. But as a first-time mom, I didn’t ask too many questions. I just accepted it. If I questioned the decision and had gotten all my answers, perhaps I would feel differently.
So with a lot of unanswered questions, I felt to the core of my being that my induction was a result of a wrong timing—if it wasn’t for the Easter long weekend, I would probably be able to go natural. Little bao’s position was already down; I was already two cms dilated when we started the induction process. If we had an extra few days, we might both be ready—who knows.
Or not. Thing is, I would never know. Things could have been much, much better, or much worse.
So I have accepted it now. It is what it is.
My obs did a marvellous job taking care of me. And her calm demeanour during the labour and birth itself got me through the other side. She delivered my baby, alive, healthy and well, and I’m very much on the mend. In fact, I’m healing very well. For that, I would be forever grateful.
And even though I always say during my pregnancy that no mater what happens in the birth ward what’s most important is that little bao is healthy, I was probably still too naive.
I mean, yes, what’s important is his health, but I still had the expectation that my labour and birth would be smooth sailing—that I would be able to birth vaginally with minimal tear, and recover in a record amount of time afterwards. In hindsight, I had an expectation I didn’t even know I had, until later in the days postpartum, where I cried over sore stitches, feeling that this, too, was robbed from me.
The funny thing is, I had mentally prepared myself for an emergency c-section. If something happened, and bub needed to get out, well, to the operating theatre it is. I mean, my sister had a c-section, so did a lot of my friends, so did many other women in this world. But for some reasons, I knew not a single person who underwent an episiotomy.
During one of the earlier appointments with my obs, she explained about all these interventions: episiotomy, vacuum, and forceps. Straightaway, she said that these were not routine procedures, and would only be used sparingly, if really, really needed, when we have exhausted all other options. I walked off that meeting thinking that I would never have to undergo these—I mean, what are the odds, if she said that it isn’t even common? If little bao were in distress, I would just get a c-section.
I went through the whole pregnancy knowing absolutely the bare minimum of these procedures. Episiotomy is a deliberate cut instead of natural tear; it requires stitches. It used to be commonly used in labour and birth as it was thought that women heal better afterwards than a natural tear, while now the opposite is advocated. Vacuum is used on the head to bring the baby down quickly instead of him going up a little with each contraction. Vacuum technique would leave the baby with an angry oval-shaped bruise, but it would be back to its normal shape very quickly.
That was it. I didn’t know about the recovery, about the long-term effect of vacuum to my baby, about anything else. And you dread what you don’t know.
I was also shocked about the extremely short pushing time—nineteen minutes in total—as a first-time mother. I had been told by various friends, and I had read books and articles, and pretty much everyone had the same consensus: Usually labour would be long for first-time mothers. It’s about one hour for one cm dilation, and the pushing stage could take about two hours to complete, or even longer. I had these figures in mind when I went to the labour ward.
If I could labour in under 12 hours, it would be considered short. If I could push the baby out within two hours, it would be normal.
I was scared of the fatigue, of having exhausted all my energy before pushing, and needing to end up having an emergency c-section, after labouring for hours or even days at end. My obs mentioned that unlike some other practices, she has no time limit to birth the baby as long as both of us are doing well, so I could go until the next day if needed.
Little did I know that my early labour, from two to four cms, would take two-and-a-half hours, and the total length of active labour would be five hours and 18 minutes: Four-and-a-half hours to go from four cms to 10 cms, 19 minutes to push the baby out, and nine minutes to push the placenta.
I was mentally prepared for a long labour, and even physically prepared for it too, as I packed heaps and heaps of snacks, but I didn’t prepare for a short one at all. It came, really, as a shock.
Apparently it was normal to have an episiotomy and vacuum-assisted birth. Well, that was what my medical doctor sister told me anyway. It did make me feel better, and friends started telling me their stories: I had an episiotomy too. And my sister seemed unfazed by my, well, traumatic story, as she has seen everything else in between that consisted as truly ‘traumatic’.
And thankfully, the lactation consultant saved breastfeeding journey early. If the problem wasn’t diagnosed in the hospital on day four, I would probably still be falling down the bottomless pit of guilt and regret.
I also thought that I would give formula willingly to my baby—no questions asked—as long as my baby is thriving. I have nothing against formula-feeding. Yet naively, I still had my own expectation of what my body could do to nourish my child. I believed that it was due to the significant blood loss that my milk was delayed—as it is a risk factor—and that as he wasn’t ready to be born, he wasn’t latching.
No one would ever know if I would undergo all these breastfeeding issues if I have the perfect birth story. But all I could think of on those early days was that this, too, was taken away for me—the opportunity to nurse my child.
It wasn’t until friends reached out to me and shared their stories of breastfeeding—of the horror months, of the things they had to endure—that I realised perhaps it wasn’t my fault. I didn’t rob my son of anything.
Breastfeeding was just hard. Issues of any kind were so common, but I never really knew it beforehand.
In all honesty, I’m not even a newbie when it comes to taking care of babies. I have two nephews and one niece, and at various points in my life, I was taking care of them personally, especially my first nephew. I’ve changed nappies, burped the baby, fed the baby expressed bottle and mashed banana, and everything in between. I’ve bathed them, rocked them to sleep countless times, and unlike my husband, who believes that newborns are too fragile, I’m confident in holding a small, newborn baby. Basically, what I didn’t know for these early days were labour, birth, and breastfeeding. And ironically, those parts were the ones I really struggled with.
Plus, it’s crazy how your mindset changes overnight. One day you were thinking about how you were coping with the pregnancy—backache, tailbone pain, going to the toilet for the nth time, gestational diabetes… The next day, you’re counting how many wet nappies the baby has had and whether he’s getting enough milk.
One of my friends asked me whether I would just choose to do c-section if I knew beforehand that this was going to happen—if I knew the risks and the pros and cons. To be honest, I would probably still have attempted my vaginal delivery. And even though the outcome is going to be exactly the same as this one, I would go through this again.
This was the hardest thing I’d ever have to do. Those seven days were brutal. But I have also learned a lot in those seven days.
It was like having the crash course of a crash course, and through all the emotional whirlwind, the stress, the depression, and the anxiety, my husband and I emerged on the other side, battered and bruised, but stronger.
Through this experience, I also connected with friend, long-lost friends, and acquaintances in a way that I never knew possible.
Now, I can say I’m glad to have gone through this, as dark as it is, as I am able to open a whole new conversation among my circle, and hopefully, shatter some myths about labour, birth, breastfeeding, and motherhood to those who have never experienced them.
You hear those birth announcements and you always read the caption: Mum and Bub are doing well. But how do you classify being “well”? Is being alive, although broken, being “well” enough? Is being physically healthy, on track to normalcy perhaps not now, but six months in the future, means being “well”?
I am left wondering whether all those announcements really mean that Mum and Bub (okay, mostly the Mum) are doing what people would generally say as being “well”, or whether they are battling their own demons as they write the words, as it is something that the society expects you to say. It’s as if barring the worst of the worse outcomes (admitted to the ICU or Bub going to the NICU), you’re doing “well”.
And if you’re going through all these as first-time parents without help, well, it is tough.
On top of thinking of the baby, you have the usual mental and physical load of doing chores, of cooking the healthy food you need to eat postpartum, of limiting your movements—you’ll make your stitches go worse otherwise. Everyone says to not lift, or bend excessively postpartum. Don’t even think of doing chores. I don’t think that is even an option, if there’s only the two of you. My husband did loads of laundry, cleaned the kitchen table after every meal, washed the dishes, changed the bedsheet when little bao had an accident, fetched water for me for the millionth time, and yet I’m still roaming around the house, doing bits and pieces, cooking and making breakfast, picking up stuff for the nth time, rearranging things, doing general cleaning, and everything else in between.
So on the second night at home, I had another breakdown.
But I didn’t go through it alone. I had a heart-to-heart chat with my husband, talking about everything—expectations, downfalls, feelings, ideals. I know I had snapped at him a few times in the past few days, which wasn’t my intention, but the stress and anxiety really got to me. He also told me things from his point of view, about his worries both for little bao and me, and we healed.
Children can really make or break a marriage.
Today, when I wrote this, is day 10, and we have finally settled into routine. The past four days have been wonderful—big chores are done, little bao is drinking milk like a trooper, and I’m healing well—my movements are as good as they could be 10 days postpartum, and barring sitting up straight as it puts pressure on those stitches, I hardly feel pain. (Of course, painkillers help—I still take two Panadol/Nurofen tablets every two days.) On day 11, I’ve even gone for a walk to the park, albeit only for 10 minutes. I can cough, sneeze, and laugh without feeling like I would tear up my stitches (this was totally a thing on day seven).
I don’t have pain when breastfeeding anymore. I don’t excessively worry about bao’s health—I know he’s okay. My husband and I brought back laughter into the house, soaking in the newborn bliss, and starting to meet friends and families again.
We were even able to start and finish WandaVision this week.
Yet there’s no sugarcoating it—for us, the first week was brutal. Battling both sleep deprivation and baby blues were no common feats. My husband was concerned that I would plunge into postnatal depression, as I really, really wasn’t coping in those early days. I didn’t know that baby blues were normal, and that the feelings would still hit at random times this year. Expect more tears, is what my sister says.
And if you’ve made it this far, well, thanks for reading. I wrote this for myself, to make sense of what has happened, to better appreciate the moments, and to accept the things I cannot change. I would still class my experience as traumatic, but I am no longer traumatised by it. In the end, my baby is healthy, and I’m recovering well. We’ve picked up the pieces, and on to better (and worse) days we go.
My husband told me that after reading this birth novel, no one would ever be convinced to ever have a child. (And that I’m scaring all expectant first-time parents everywhere.) Well, believe me when I say: It does get better. Your stitches would heal. The pain, no matter how earth-shattering it could be, is temporary. The exhaustion will linger, but you’ll learn to adapt. Somehow.
On day one, I have zero trust in those who say that one would forget the pain of childbirth. Yet here I am, ten days later, feeling that everything already blurs into one. I remember that I experienced pain, but I no longer can recall how hell-ish the pain was. It was good that I got to write this story down as soon as it happened, so the emotion captured on those days was as raw as it could get.
Taking care of babies is hard. Here is another defenceless human being who totally relies on you 24/7. But oh, the cuddles are worth it. It comes a bit late for me, but I finally enjoy the time I have with my son. No longer I Google questions frantically while enduring the pain during feeding time. Instead, I stroke him, feel his chubby cheeks, pat him on his back. I smother him with kisses and hugs every day for as long as I can, and I will probably continue to do so until he refuses my kisses and hugs. (Even then, I probably would still sneak a kiss and a hug here and there.)
And my husband adores him. Of course, he has rough first few days too—the exhaustion was really the next level, but when I look at him holding little bao, you would know that his heart swells with love and joy that only a parent would know.
It really is an unconditional love.
Through our hell-ish first week, I also feel connected to my husband in a way that I hadn’t before. It’s crazy how we need to really depend on each other to take care of a newborn baby, because we would crumble as soon as one walks away.
I know our journey is going to get even harder, and we’re not prepared in any way, but we know that we will always have each other, that we’re going through this together, that help will always be given to those who seek it.
Oh, little bao, for all the highs and lows you’ve brought into our lives, remember that you are so, so loved.