If you ever watched movies about pregnancy, labor, and birth, forget about it. It will most likely be very different in your case. Well, it definitely was in our case. A few days ago our nine months long journey came to an end and we welcomed our beautiful daughter among us. Our hearts are filled with happiness, but the past few days have been very tough on both of us. I would like to share our story to memorize the events and to offer a reference to those, who might want to know more about how giving birth in Taiwan could look like.
Choosing the hospital
Choosing the hospital was one of the first things we did, when we found out that my wife was pregnant. There is a big and well-known hospital very close to where we live, but my mother-in-law, a retired nurse, suggested that we choose her former hospital, so that she can take care of my wife after birth. We live in Greater Taipei area, but that hospital is located in another county, and it takes over an hour by MRT, train, and cab to reach there. It definitely wasn't very convenient for us to travel there every week for the routine checks, but we respected the mother's wish (as it's customary in Taiwan) and decided, that our daughter won't be born in Taipei in exchange for the extra help.
The final days before hospital
One of the things I worried most about was how to reach the hospital when my wife gets in labor, especially if contractions increase very fast. Fact is, there are no fix rules to rely on, some women go through that phase faster than the others, labor can last from few hours to few days in some cases. Our plan was to call the cab, and if necessary, give birth in Taipei rather than drive all the way to another county's hospital. Unfortunately, we didn't have this problem and I will explain later why I chose the word "unfortunately" instead of "luckily". Our doctor, a well-respected and experienced obstetrician, has told us during the last regular check, that we might need to come to the hospital within the next days and induce labor in order to diminish the risks that the mother and baby might take, if the pregnancy continues past the due date. We went home and discussed the best date for the delivery. The doctor suggested that we come early in the morning, reasoning that since we need to pay for a full day's stay, it would be a waste of money to come in the afternoon. We decided to go the next morning, because we didn't want to wait any longer, and prepared all the necessary things the night before. Typically in Taiwan, one stays 3 days in hospital and the cost is usually covered by the health insurance, but there are some other things that are not, such as asking for a specific doctor to assist at the delivery, or a pain relief injection and others.
The first night at the hospital
The next day we woke up a little bit late, because we were packing too long and we were nervous and didn't sleep well. I began to question, if it was a good idea to go to the hospital in the afternoon, because we would waste most of the day. A short discussion later we came to the conclusion, that it would be better to go in the late evening and arrive there right after midnight, so that we start on a completely new day. We took a cab after 11 pm and arrived a few minutes past midnight at the emergency. We filled out some papers and headed to the delivery room area on the second floor. We were taken to a small room (about 6 sqm) that came with a bed, a chair, and a small cabinet. I was expecting at least an armchair or sofa for the accompanying husband, but there was no such thing. At that moment I was only hoping, that the delivery will be fast, so that we can transfer to a more comfortable room as soon as possible. My wife was then checked up and examined by the doctor. After that the nurses inserted a tube in her vein with substances, that are supposed to induce labor. Two sensors were strapped on her tummy, one was measuring the heartbeat of the baby, the other one the strength and length of the contractions. An EKG was placed next to her bed with the volume tuned up, so that nurses could see and hear what was going on inside her. It was a very intense time full of uncertainty, seeing my wife so helpless on bed full of tubes and wires strapped on her was breaking my heart. We had no idea what was awaiting us, we just hoped for the best.
The second day
I was sitting next to my wife the whole night and nothing special happened during this time. The nurses kept coming in and out every hour to check her and measured her blood pressure, so it was impossible to really fall asleep. The ticking EKG and the bright light in the hallway weren't much helpful either. My wife managed to take a few naps, but I couldn't. I was sitting on that small uncomfortable chair, killing time with my iPad, and looking over my wife and the EKG. In the morning it was clear, that the contraction inducing substances didn't have any effect, so the doctor decided to give her something stronger. This brought about a slight increase, the contractions were now visible, but still very mild. My wife suddenly started to feel pain all over her body and asked for the pain relief injection. I had to leave the room for a while and when I returned, I noticed, that her face was pale and she was tearing up. I asked what happened and she told me that the injection really hurt so bad, that she can hardly bear it, because the substance was injected in her backbone. She suddenly started to cry, nurses came in and asked her what was wrong, but she could not really describe it, she felt anxious and uneasy. It took me some time to calm her down by talking to her, but I managed to make her feel better and she soon fell asleep. It was very tough for me to see her like that, but I hid my emotions behind a poker face, so that she wouldn't cry more than she already did. After that we had a relatively stable period. I bought some food, she was resting, the pain was gone, but we were still waiting for her body to open up and for the contractions to increase. Then all of a sudden we heard a woman in the opposite room screaming out like someone was stabbing her: She was in labor, very close to giving birth. The screaming was so loud, it was petrifying. My wife and I looked at each other and became pale. "It hurts that bad?" she said with a trembling voice. I couldn't say anything and remained silent.
The long waiting
What followed was a period of long waiting. I went outside the hospital to buy coffee for myself and some drinks and fruit for my wife in the nearby convenience stores. I tried to kill time by writing a journal and catering to my wife's every need. As for the contractions, nothing really changed. In the late afternoon we did some exercising by walking up and down the hallway for a while. It was a little bit difficult, because my wife had to drag the infusions with her.
The long waiting continued well into the night and next morning. They gave my wife yet another (supposedly stronger) infusion to induce labor. It did increase the contractions a little and we hoped that perhaps in the afternoon or evening there will be some significant movement and we can finally see our daughter. Meanwhile the in-laws came to visit and I could take a longer coffee break than usual. I was now already 48 hours awake and my wife kept asking me to go home and have a longer sleep, but I just couldn't leave her. I always told her, that I want to be by her side when it happens and that I will sit on that chair as long as necessary. I don't know how I managed to stay awake and keep going, perhaps it was my great love and concern, that prevented me from finding a soft mattress and dozing off for half a day. I was however emotionally and physically exhausted and my back hurt like hell. As we were approaching the third night in the hospital, I became more and more nervous about the whole situation. I kept looking at the EKG and trying to decipher the graph and predict a future trend, but too often it looked like something's about to happen only to disappoint us in the end. My wife was already very weary of being tied to the bed with all these tubes and not knowing what will happen. Most women get in labor within a few hours after they arrive at the emergency, but what the heck was going on with my wife here? We saw women arrive after us and leave before us, every labor inducing substance failed to yield results, we were both almost completely knocked out... there was little hope, that she will give birth the natural way any time soon.
The unexpected turn of events
As we entered the third night, a nurse came in, checked the EKG and left. It was nothing special, because it happened many times before. After she reported to the senior doctor, she returned and told my wife, that she should stop eating and drinking, we might need to do a C-section in the morning. My wife and I were in shock! We did not see this one coming and we had no idea how risky and how painful such intervention might be. Even if it's a quite common surgery, it's still a surgery and one never knows how it might turn out. I was very worried, my wife was a little scared. The doctor still hoped we might not need to do the C-section, so he gave my wife the final labor inducing substance, which was also the strongest. This caused an increase in pain and a promising increase in contractions, but a few hours later, when the substance was used up, my wife's contractions became weak again. The doctor came in and talked to us. He said, since nothing really works, because your uterus is too, you have two choices: You go home and come back in a few days, when you feel, that your body is ready and the contractions come naturally. You need however carefully monitor the baby's activity, because by being over the due date, the risks for the baby's health issues is higher. If the kicking becomes less, then we have a problem and you have to immediately rush to the hospital. The other option is doing a C-section in the morning. After he left, we started to discuss and listed all the arguments for and against an option. You can imagine how tough it was after anticipating a natural birth for over 50 hours to decide whether to go back home filled up with medication and a lot of uncertainty or to undergo a risky surgical procedure. At the end we felt the C-section might be the safest bet, not only because of the greater risk, but because we felt that it was time for us to finally see the daughter and end this 9 month long journey. Frankly, we were just too worn to wait any longer.
The surgery and birth
After the nurses removed all the tubes, they took my wife's blood and put her on a gurney. I had to help pushing her to one of the upper floors, where the operation room was located. I was very nervous and worried about the whole procedure and seeing my wife so helpless and weak before surgery almost made me cry. The doctor came to us and explained the procedure. He said the baby will be out in around 20 minutes, it will be shown to the father and then taken to the baby room. The mother will be done in about 1 hour. After the doctor left, the in-laws arrived, and we were sent to the waiting room, while my wife was taken away. I sat down next to my mother-in-law and I couldn't hide my nervousness. She kept asking me what it was and I just kept replying I'm very nervous (我很擔心). She clearly felt uncomfortable, because in her generation they don't openly show emotions, but I knew she was very worried, too, she just tried to hide it. After 20 minutes of waiting, I still haven't seen my daughter, the atmosphere became intense. I kept staring at the door, my heart was racing. At around 30 minutes the door finally opened and a nurse brought her out. She was put in an incubator, she was all purple and her eyes were stuck together. I was somewhat relieved in that moment, but only a little, because I was still very worried about my wife. I needed to see both of my girls to really feel happy. The nurse then asked some questions and counted the fingers and toes in front of us. The moment passed so fast, I didn't manage to take any photos of my daughter at that stage. My mother-in-law and I were told to go to the baby room to fill out some forms. It took quite a while to have this done and I kept worrying about my wife, I wanted to return to the upper floor as soon as possible. About 1 hour passed when we were back in the waiting room, and my wife was still inside. After that I was counting every minute and wondering why the doctor's estimation wasn't accurate. Around 20 minutes later they finally released my wife. She was pushed down the hallway by a nurse, she was very weak and couldn't speak. We took her to our postnatal private room and placed her on the bed. She slowly came back to her senses, but as the effects of the anesthesia slowly started to subside, the pain in her abdomen started to cause her great suffering - she was virtually unable to move. They gave her pills and painkillers, but it only helped a little. Her body went through a lot in recent days, it would need much more than that to really recover.
Seeing my daughter again
At 7 pm the baby room opened its doors to visitors, who wanted to see their newborns clean and nicely wrapped in towels behind a glass window. My wife was too weak to come with me, so I went alone and decided to take a lot of photos and videos for her. I was very excited. Around half a dozen babies were displayed to visitors and it was quickly very obvious, that she looked very different from the others. Her skin was white like mine, her hair was dark blond, and from afar she looked like a white baby. A closer look however showed that her eyes and facial features were a bit more Asian, but it was hard to tell at that stage which parent's genes were more evident.
It was interesting to observe how other people reacted to my daughter. An obasan immediately interrogated me, asked me if it was my baby and where was her mother. I replied "She is resting" ("她在休息"), and redirected my attention back to the daughter. I heard other people saying: "Look! A foreign baby! So cute!" ("啊你看喔! 外國的寶貝! 好可愛喔!"). For some reason I didn't feel happy, that she's already seen as a foreigner. She's Taiwanese, just not as Han as you, I thought. The half an hour passed fast and I was back with my wife again.
Difference between a C-section and natural delivery
Every woman is different, so is every natural birth and every C-section. In my wife's case the whole procedure was extremely painful and if she had a choice, she would've preferred a natural delivery. Apparently her body wasn't ready for that and we didn't want to take any risks, so we proceeded with the surgery. The problem with the C-section is that while it enables a painless birth, the aftermath can be filled with extreme suffering. It's now over a week and my wife still hasn't recovered. She's better, but she still feels great pain and needs my assistance most of the time. Another big issue is the lack of bonding with the baby. It's very hard for a mother to really connect with the newborn while she's undergoing a surgery, and it doesn't get much better several hours after that, when she's in the process of recovery. Another issue is the fact, that she has no milk to offer, because she wasn't in labor and her body didn't prepare any. It takes few days, before she can produce milk and breastfeed, but in order to do so, she needs to let the baby suck "on empty", which can be very painful, and it often triggers menstruation like blood streams. All this doesn't mean, that a natural birth is less painful, it really varies from woman to woman.
Meeting our daughter
The next day we finally got daughter to our room and nurses came who gave us crash courses on how to change a diaper, how to pacify her, how to wrap her and lots of other things. OMG! Everything was so hard in the beginning! Because my wife was in pain and tied to a bed, most of these things were my responsibility. I made a lot of mistakes and my daughter kept crying, it was really stressful for me, especially after three sleepless nights in a row and all the emotional trauma. Thank god the nurses were patient and helpful and assisted us whenever we needed help. The hardest part for someone like me, who never held a baby in his arms before, is getting familiar with so many new things. I was too careful and too awkward with her and that's why she cried. The nurses were (seemingly) rougher in the way they handled her, but she didn't cry at all. I was baffled. The amazing thing is however how fast one can learn. When I had to change her first diaper, I completely messed up the whole procedure, she was crying like crazy, and I sweating like a penguin in a rubber suit. Now, a few days later, I can almost do it with one hand. She's also calmer now, sleeps longer, feels more relaxed, because her own bed is cozier and our small apartment on one of the top floors much more quieter than the hospital. Every time I see her peacefully sleeping in the bed I assembled for her, I feel very happy and at ease. I have the most beautiful baby in the world and I'm one proud father. The pain and agony of the past few days will soon become a distant memory. Here is to a future of many precious memories with my beloved daughter and my lovely wife. Cheers!
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