About three weeks ago…
So I pack in a hurry to get to hospital, that is to say I dump a couple more things into a half packed bag (per girlfriends’ recommendations). Darn. Haven’t bought dry shampoo – I’m used to washing my hair every day. (Hence I would end up washing my hair, scrubbing myself and brushing my teeth in the maternity ward’s communal toilet/ shower (bought shower slippers in hospital shop!) because our room wasn’t ready til I got out of surgery. We could’ve been camping in the canteen or something, given the last minute c-section and it being Dragon year, we’ve been so incredibly blessed on so many levels.)
Oh. Blood. Quite a bit. I cut my finger (later, the nurse preparing my paperwork for the surgery would glance at the Disney Friends plaster and inquire after the wound – this is how careful they are) scrabbling around for travel-sized toiletries and text Kings, waiting in the car with Rockstar, that I’ll be a few more minutes. I don’t believe at all that I’m about to have the baby, I think May as well get the bag packed and leave it in the boot.
Hate the smell of after-birth fluids even if I’m not going to be doing a lot of bathing right after surgery – I’m just after “nice smells”. Brought back the Four Seasons Singapore toiletries from our Babymoon (otherwise I don’t usually take them) YES I AM OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE. Anything to stave off possible depression.
I also put on light makeup pre and post delivery, and carry a lot of wipes around til I can have a good bath – at some point you may feel like a miserable, miserable person (especially when the baby screams in your face for trying to breastfeed her when your milk isn’t in yet since that’s what makes the milk come) and if I caught my reflection in one of the giant mirrors in the bathroom or whatever I wanted to be able to go Nah! I don’t look as bad as I think I feel!
(Besides, where does it say if you’re about to have a baby you must look awful?) Just Had My Abdomen Cut Open/ Salad Tongs At My Nether Regions. Yeah I Feel Like Crap But I Look Freaking Fabulous. Or… at least…. human.
That pic is going to be seen by a gadzillion Facebook friends (which is a few more than your close friends and family). When I Had A Baby is going to be immortalized forever. So too What I Looked Like When I Had That Baby. At least I can try for it not to be Awful. If I can help it. Though maybe nix fake eyelashes. (Kidding – never worn em in my life – but wouldn’t it be funny if the reaction to your “first mum and baby pic” was, “Was that <your name> who just had that baby?”) Last delivery I even packed Shanghai Tang’s Ginger Flower room spray. And I’m… Not… Having The Baby… Today!
I pause – then dump in a box of wax strips. They shave the skin where they cut you open, I don’t want the thought of stubble messing with a c-section wound. You never know. You might need wax.
This would mildly amaze nurses, “You packed your own wax?”
So… people about to have semi-emergency C sections don’t usually bring their own wax?
At some point we realized we were having the baby. I think it was when they told us I wasn’t leaving – sign here please – til I had the baby. Also here – here – here – and……. yup right there. I find the speed at which the nurses move comforting. Feels like my favorite days back at work. I would have been quite disturbed by, “You wait ah….. You having baby now isit? Wait ah…..” <pause> “Yes can I help you? …….Why you come ah?”
Rockstar is called in (fine, because the nurses want an excuse to talk to him) to identify his pediatrician from her picture so they can call her to come in and examine Baby Rockstar when she’s out. He stares at the computer screen gravely for some time, before declaring, “No, I’m not sure it’s her.” <turns back to Chess game on iPod.>
“That is her. Do you need them to put a face mask on the picture?” (Because she usually puts on one of those paper surgical masks.)
<gravely, not looking up from iPod> “Yeah that might help.” He cracks the nurses up.
Between waits, I begin to type an email to Kings summarizing Rockstar’s day-to-day and his upcoming school events. Pri school information session on the 5th. Uniform order form and bus schedule in my laptop bag. Ordered extra shirts for Rockstar because we will be doing a lot of baby laundry so please don’t change the order. Kindergarten Peak Excursion on the 14th. Without an email Kings will never remember it.
And darling, Rockstar does eat hard-boiled eggs for breakfast.
(Btw, part of the obsession with packing, scheduling and etc was to keep myself occupied and calm.)
When we’re sitting around in the temp room, I break out my wax strips, cut them into little pieces and meticulously stick em on (see? They didn’t have any wax!) using Kings’ iPad for a mirror, since I haven’t been able to see beyond the top of my belly for some time haha. “Meticulously” because it gives me more to do to distract myself <rrrip!>, not because I am Chewbacca <defensive>. A nurse monitoring my contractions (very mild) asks, “Uh, you just gonna rip that off?”
I want to laugh. They are about to cut through 6 or 7 layers of my under-belly in a major operation to take the baby out several weeks early when I’ve never had any indication of early delivery both pregnancies (but I had passed what might be my mucus plug and was then bleeding enough to have to wear a pad) and they’re asking me if it hurts when I rip a wax strip off?
Another nurse explains since my contractions are mild and I don’t care what time the baby comes, I’ll be in the operating theatre at 6pm, the next available time.
Huh? “What do you mean ‘don’t care’?”
“Some patients must have the baby at a certain time, as advised by a fortune teller. You guys don’t follow this right?”
Oh. As in 3 is better than 4pm or something. The nurse turns to look at me and grin. “At a certain minute.” They have the baby at a precise freaking minute?! “Yeah.” They can DO that? They’d cater to that?! “Well, we’d try. To some, it’s really important, the exact time the baby comes. They have to have the baby at that time.”
So what, then if the baby is early they can put her back in? Maybe it’s my Cantonese… I think she went on to say something like the doc might also have to start at a certain time where possible.
Entering the operating theatre (well, the whole start bit, really) is probably the scariest, for me. You are perfectly capable of walking, but they wheel you on a bed anyway. And there are all these heavy-looking steel doors.
Do they have a rash of pregnant women who change their mind, hop off the table and make a run for it?
They check my tag (which they also reprinted in English so I could read it) and various nurses throughout our journey ask me many, many times for my name and the procedure I’m having.
They expertly transfer you about on a gurney, and I think This is probably what the view from the bed looks like, if ever God forbid you have to be rushed to an ER. Lying face up staring at passing lights and passing heads and passing elevator doors. Doctors and nurses walk about, entering and exiting lifts, chatting about dinner plans, without so much as a glance at me.
I’m thinking: Having A Baby! 3 Weeks Early! They’re Cutting My Belly Open In A Few Minutes! And they’re “Had dinner yet?”"Going out to eat?”
All in a day’s work. Was I ever like that at the Bloomberg, entering someone’s worldly savings to be determined by Fate And The Gods Of Interest Rate (or Equity or Credit or Forex) Markets? (And again: I was not in Sales).
“Going for lunch yet?”
“Lemme finish buying the hedge on this guy’s 5 bucks.” (Buck = million, usually USD. Back when “standard” trade size was USD 5mil and one or two bucks was “small.” Fairly often it was 10… On the institutional side before Kings and I got married I think my top size was 21 with an in-house trader, but cutting my teeth visiting the forex sales desk my seniors let me roll over their even larger amounts from the brokerages. Then it was 30, 50… <wistful> Wow that was ages ago.)
“Lemme cut open one more abdomen and take one more baby out.” (What financial crisis?)
“Y-eah………. Done. Now we can go eat.”
Looking up at the bright circular lights in the theatre – scary. Curling up and baring your spine for the anesthesiologist to inject the drug in – scary. You have to hold really still when he’s putting the needle in your spine. NOT a good time to develop a sudden urge to cough. But because you’re awake, you can tell him if anything still hurts or, more likely, you need something for the nausea.
There are these two extra bits of padded table for your arms to spread out, after the rest of you is on the operating table proper. What looks like a big needle in my left wrist (which will be annoying for a couple days after the operation too, before they take it out – I still have the needle mark right now), Kings sits at my right and holds my hand.
I remember one episode of Nip/Tuck where the patient was unable to move or speak, but could still feel everything.
I’d prefer to be able to open my mouth and say, “More drugs, please.”
The doctor administering my anesthetic is so kind and attentive. He must do a gadzillion pregnant women a day/week/month/year yet he remembers I don’t, for me it’s a big deal. Repeat after me: It is normal to crush on your doctors – they have the drugs.
First comes tingling, which the doc walks me thru, and then your legs get real heavy til you’re unable to move them. You can still feel touch and pressure, but no pain. And then my Gynea is there. My no-nonsense, straight-talking Gynea, brandishing an ultrasound wand at my husband when we were checking out Original Rockstar, “There’s where that huge head came from.”
I feel her touching me in a precise movement from left to right.
“Is it normal for me to be able to feel that? That, from one side to the other?”
“Hmm? Oh, that. Yeah, it’s “normal”. Otherwise you’d be screaming by now.”
“In fact, you’d probably scream so hard I’d fall off this chair. Also why we make sure you can’t move your legs to kick us.”
OK distract myself. “When we go home I have to figure how to explain a second one to the dog.” (JD btw, would look at me reproachfully when she saw we had decided to bring home Another Human Puppy Who Makes That Noise. What Could You Possibly Be Thinking, Aileen?)
“Meantime she’s going to the ‘Ng Sing Kup Gao Jao Deem’ (5-star Dog Hotel in Tien Mun) tomorrow.” This elicits a snort from my anesthetist, “They really call it that, huh?”
“Yeah – and if you tell them your dog is nervous they schedule so she has company (other dogs) along for the ride.” (Though the real reason we use them is because our border collie has a serious history of escaping – she can’t be contained by fences or anything that isn’t completely secure so they put her in maximum security 24 hour surveillance 4 concrete walls – air-conditioned in summer, of course. Our dog boards at Alcatraz. In her esteemed opinion, anyway.)
We talk about dogs, we talk about kids (my Gynea has a Golden Retriever and a Cocker Spaniel and nieces and nephews, my anesthesiologist has two teenagers, and as the father of a 13 year old girl views Lan Kwai Fong as The Place of Evil).
President Obama says what you put on Facebook will come back and bite you in the behind, did you know?
They start pushing Baby Rockstar out the incision. You definitely know when they do that, because people put their hands on your belly and lean in hard as they shove. It’s totally incongruous, the rough way they pull and shove, so such a tiny, delicate human being can be born. That’s how far in you your baby is. That’s how far in you they’ve cut their way so they can get her out. But you won’t care.
Awhile later, we hear an angry throaty cry. Kings initially declines, then decides to cut the chord. My hub is squeamish, but he may not get another chance. I watch the private photo session from the table, vaguely aware I’ve abandoned all attempts at small talk. (See, told you, you wouldn’t care!) This is why I say the beginning is the scariest.
WHY do they have to do all the vital things they must to care for my newborn baby while obscuring my view of her?? I can’t see her, let me see her!
Would my insides fall out if I walked over to take a peek?
My anesthesiologist moves over to help with photos before Baby Rockstar is brought over – I’m surprised when a nurse even makes a kissing sound as she puts the tiny baby’s face to mine and then we take our first family pic. The good doctor even adjusts my “shower cap” before they click.
At some point he also calls out something like, “Baby girl, born 6.36pm.”
Vaguely I think my Gynea has remained at my now-open belly the whole time. Both times, I don’t think she ever got up til I was closed up. That is how much work she has to do on me to get in there, get the baby out, then close me up, I think.
They didn’t play music. My 70-ish heart surgeon uncle didn’t either. He would say if one of his nurses wore different shoes in the operating theater, he’d know. Is it a myth perpetuated by tv that all the surgeons play music while they work?
Well they don’t all look like Patrick Dempsey either…
I notice Baby Rockstar cuts out crying fairly quickly once she’s warm and comfortable – with Rockstar I’m not sure he ever stopped as he was wheeled out. The squalling just got further and further away til we couldn’t hear him anymore. I remember my Gynea saying, “He’s still crying. No, no, don’t worry, I guess that’s good, he can do that……. Wow, he can cry.”
Lots of suction sounds as they clear my insides of birth fluids. My Gynea calmly describes as she checks each of my organs, cautioning when I may feel more discomfort. First time round I’d mentioned bouts of nausea towards the end, so this time my anesthesiologist asked me if I want something for that right when it hit, before I’d actually said I felt nauseous. Did my organs look nauseated?
Then out of the theatre and into a recovery area, where my vitals are monitored for a bit, before being wheeled up to the room.
“Mum! I saw the baby already!” Hello, darling.
“She looked like a hamster!” Just in case I thought they wheeled me into someone else’s room.
Through the night, nurse visits, monitoring vitals……
“What the baby saying now, Mum?” first thing next morning.
“She’s not in me anymore darling, remember?” Rockstar looks a little disappointed. ”Soon she’ll be able to tell you herself. But right now I think she’s saying…………….”
My Gynea was Dr Liang Shuk Tak, the doctor administering my anesthetic was Dr Ernest Yau. They delivered both Rockstars, and if I ever felt up to a third, I would definitely try to get them back. They’re kinda cool.
Ps: Be prepared for your first look in the mirror post-op… Because they’ll encourage you to get out of bed ASAP which is probably the next day before the surgery anesthesia has totally worn off. The first step out of bed is the worst, when you feel gravity moving your insides against the wound from a previous reclining position when you stand up. It’s probably as much psychological as physical, you do feel some pain, but bearable.
I hate the first look in the mirror. The baby’s out, a large scary wound in your abdomen is preventing you from leaping about gracefully like a gazelle – and you still look like a whale?!
Pps: The title of the post was inspired by Ann Tyler’s 1985 The Accidental Tourist