This article first appeared on Travelingwithjc.com and is published with permission from the author.
On June 16th we went out with friends to feast on half-price ribs at a restaurant in Qingdao called Korona. During the day I had been experiencing mild period-pain type cramps. These had been coming and going for almost two weeks so I didn’t think too much about them, BUT they were starting to occur more and more frequently. That day at work it literally felt like Elijah was about to fall out of me, so I started to suspect that something was going to happen soon. Before dinner we made sure that our hospital bag was completely ready. Everything, down to computers and cameras, was packed and waiting in our lounge. We also wrote out instructions in case we had to send our friends back to the apartment. We knew that if I went into labor while out at dinner, it would be easier to send someone to our apartment to get our bags than to go all the way back there ourselves. Korona is in between the hospital and our apartment. At dinner I started to feel more and more of the period-like cramping. I asked Heather for a piece of paper and pen, and started to note the time at every cramp I felt. They were not very painful nor were they regular, but they seemed to occur every 3-5 (sometimes 10) minutes. Even though the cramps were consistent, I didn’t think too much about them because the pain was completely bearable, and they didn’t at all feel like contractions. Everything I read told me that “I would know the difference”… apparently all of that advice was WRONG! I was, in fact, in the beginning stages of labour!!
We went home but before I got into bed I showered – I had a sneaky feeling that I should wash my hair and shave my legs. I then sat online googling information about these period cramps. Of course I just wanted to know that I was going to go into labor soon, but nothing that you read online can give you this answer. Having a baby is different for everyone. Still, I stayed up late even though I had told Justin to get to bed as soon as possible so that he would have energy to help me through the birth if it happened soon.
At 2:27am I woke up to a gush of liquid running out of me. I was lying on my back, and honestly it just felt like I had started peeing in my sleep. That sounds silly, I know. How could I not know if I was peeing in the bed?! But at nine months pregnant, you even pee when you sneeze so I thought that I had just lost control of my bladder or not gotten up to pee in time. I quickly jumped out of bed so that “the pee” could mess on the floor instead of soaking into our mattress. As I knelt next to the bed, the liquid did not stop pouring out of me, but I still found it hard to believe that my water had broken. I woke Justin up and told him that I needed help. He literally flew out of bed and said, “What? What? What’s wrong??” I then went to the toilet to see what was happening. I had read that amniotic fluid smells different to urine, so there I was sniffing my soaked underwear. I couldn’t tell what it was, but I did notice that the liquid was slightly slimy. I then started to feel a wave of pain so intense that I almost screamed. Still in disbelief that I was in fact in labor, I walked to the lounge to start pacing. Apparently real labor pains do not go away when you change positions or move about. So to test this theory, I started walking around the lounge. Just then more liquid started coming out and Justin begged me to lie down on the bed (the doctor had said that if my water breaks I should remain in a horizontal position because my amniotic fluid looked low in my last ultrasound). HA! Lie down…?? I was trying to wrap my head around what was happening!! We then called Zach and Heather to tell them what was happening, and see if they wanted to go with us to the hospital. Zach sounded as blown away as Justin looked. They said that they would call a cab and be over in a minute to help us carry our bags downstairs. I then lay on the bed, on my back, and sent out various forms of communication (texts, a prewritten blog post, and emails – yes, we were so prepared that we had prewritten a blog post, lol) so that our loved ones knew what was happening. At this point we were still not sure if we would have internet in our hospital room, and we thought it was important for family and friends at home to know what was happening. Justin also called my parents and spoke to them in person, but I was lying down so I didn’t talk to them. At that point my contractions were coming at roughly 3-4 minutes apart and they were really painful. We were nervous that with my contractions being that close together, and my water having already broken, that I would be dilated quite a bit already. Zach arrived and came in to find me lying on the bed, moaning in pain. Heather was waiting at the basement level in a cab. As we grabbed the bags and walked towards the front door, I almost fell to the ground in pain. My contractions were very close together and incredibly strong!
Heather had already told the cab driver what was happening and that we needed to get to the hospital as quickly as possible. He said that the had a small daughter and that he understood. Along the way to the hospital, he kept asking us if it was okay if he went through red traffic lights… he would turn to us, and say, “Okay? Yes?” We would all give him a loud “OKAY! Yes!” at the same time, and he would speed through the intersection. I was a little worried that we would have an accident and I would end up giving birth on the side of the road, but without knowing how dilated I was, getting to the hospital too late might result in us having a curb-side birth anyway, so the speeding seemed necessary. When we got to the hospital my contractions were so strong that I couldn’t speak or even focus on anything during the pain. The boys grabbed the bags and made their way to the side door of the Women and Infant’s Hospital. We had already called CJ and Amber (who would be translating for us during the birth), and they told us to find the side entrance to the hospital as the front door would be locked. There was some confusion, but we figured it out. All the while, the taxi driver stayed to make sure that we got inside okay. He was such an angel.
Once inside the hospital, I was seated in a wheelchair and we made our way up to floor 6 where the nurse station was located. At this point I couldn’t possibly imagine the pain getting any worse. I felt like my body was being crushed by a machine. It was almost unbearable. A nurse came strolling out of a back room, rubbing her eyes and yawning. We tried to tell her what was happening but she looked at us like she couldn’t figure out why we were there, and why the heck we woke her in the middle of the night. While Zach and Heather tried to talk to her in Chinese, Justin did his best to comfort me but it was useless at that point because the pain was ridiculous and the gaps between the contractions were getting shorter and shorter! I was then taken to a small room and the nurse told Heather to come in, but made Justin wait outside. I saw the look on my poor hubby’s face, but at that point I knew she was merely going to check to see how dilated I was, so I didn’t protest. The nurse then told me to get up on a chair and put my feet in the stirrups. I could barely walk because the pain was so intense, but this nurse showed NO compassion, and looked at me with annoyance because I wasn’t moving fast enough. Heather helped me onto the chair. Just before I sat down I noticed old dried blood all over the seat and I cringed, and said, “Oh Lord, please let this be the last disgusting thing I see… I can’t handle this pain AND things like this!” I sat on the chair and the nurse checked to see how dilated I was. When she said it, Heather had to translate for me, and it was NOT the news that I wanted to hear – I was only 1cm dilated! OH MY… I knew that I had to wait until 3cm before I could get the epidural. This thought made me weak in my knees. I couldn’t imagine this pain continuing for a few more hours. Who knows how long it might have taken to reach 3cm?? I almost cried but J, H, and Z reminded me that this was good. At least I wasn’t too far dilated to get an epidural at all. Their reassurance helped to calm me a little. Well, it only eased my mind until the next contraction started! I honestly thought that I was going to die from the pain. There are no words to describe how intense it was. My memories of these moments are a blur, and the only reinforcement that I have are pictures that Heather was taking.
We were then taken to the nurses station where they started fetal heart monitoring, and sat me down to fill in some forms. This was when I got really annoyed! The nurse filling out my paperwork was asking me the dumbest questions that you could possibly ask a person who is in incredible pain. As a nurse who works daily with women in labor, she should know that THIS was not the time to be asking me when my last period was. She had all my documents in front of her. All my information was right here, on the Chinese forms the hospital had provided me for check ups, and still she wanted me to confirm stupid things like my blood type. Justin was holding me up, and Heather was fanning me and giving me water. All I remember is looking over at them and saying, “Is this relevant… Why is she asking me this?” I was getting so upset. I just wanted to go lie down somewhere, and get drugs into my body as soon as possible! My spirits were somewhat lifted between two awful contractions when I was told by my amazing birth-buddies (J, Z and H) that I had been bumped up to a VIP suite!! We had prayed for months about the hospital experience, the doctors, and the nurses, and now we were being moved up to VIP status and we would be receiving the best treatment. I was so thankful! A friend of ours had organised this deal with the hospital for us, and we only had to pay a little extra for A HUGE UPGRADE!!
Once in our hospital room hotel suite (lol), I was made to lie down on the bed and they strapped me up to a fetal heart monitoring device. They gave me a button to push whenever I felt the baby move. Hahaha, were these people on drugs or something?! I was in such incredible pain that I could feel NOTHING except the contractions! Amber and CJ arrived and we were told to stay in the room until I reached 3cm and I would be moved to the labor ward to get the epidural. The next two hours are a hazy memory to me. I have NEVER experienced such agonizing pain in my entire life. It felt as though my body was simultaneously being ripped apart and crushed at the same time! The majority of the pain was in my stomach, hips and back, but the excruciating pain radiated through every part of my body, making me drowsy and unable to talk much. The main problem was that my contractions were so close together that I barely had time to recover from one before the next one would be starting already. When I have spoken to other women about childbirth, they all say that you just have to focus on getting through the contraction you are in and know that you are about to have a “break from the pain”. There was no such relief for me! I felt like such a baby though, I kept thinking to myself, “Pull it together Catherine! Be stronger!” I couldn’t… I felt like a mess. I kept wondering if I could rather forego that pain and have the c-section instead. I just couldn’t face anymore of it, and I didn’t even care anymore that a c-section was major surgery, or that the recovery was long and hard.
The nurse came back in to see how I was doing about an hour or so after we got to the room. She probably came in many times, but I don’t remember much. Amber asked the nurse to check how far along I was, and much to my horror, I was only at 2cm. The contractions then picked up intensity AND speed, and some of them were lasting 3-5 minutes with only about 10-15 seconds of “no pain” in-between. This was the WORSE pain imaginable for me… and each time that it intensified, I was more blown away that I had reached a new level of agony! Even though I felt like I was literally dying, I distinctly remember how supportive and loving all of my friends were in these moments. Amber was coaching me on sounds to make – she had me moo-ing like a cow, making the sound come deep from in my belly. Wow, It REALLY helped me to stay focused and isolate the pain. When I got too weak to continue making the sound, and instead my voice changed to a moan or I began to cry, everyone in the room would begin to loudly make the right sound so that I would follow suit. I know that to them it must have been amusing to be moo-ing like cows, but these were such touching moments to me. Ones that I will never forget. They were all surrounding me, and making this sound in support and love. Through my pain I remember feeling overwhelmed with love and appreciation, but I was unable to say much at all. I had my hands around someones neck at all times, and I hung there while I sat with my butt on the edge of the bed. There was a puddle of amniotic fluid forming on the floor at my feet, and even though I had no underwear on, I didn’t care who was in the room and who saw me half dressed. I didn’t care what I looked like, who saw me naked (I did however have a dress on so I wasn’t totally naked), or about anything around me. All that I could think about was making it through this pain without falling apart. Heather and Justin took turns allowing me to hold onto their necks and rest my head on their chests. I love my husband but he is really tall, so Heather was a much better fit for this. She was the perfect height and – hahaha – it felt really comfy to rest my head on her boobies while I was in pain! Even at the peak of my contractions I remember, thinking, “Man, this feels so comfy!” LOL, Thanks Heather!! At the same time, Amber (or whoever was free) was fanning me and making sure I was drinking water. The remaining two would take turns to push on my hips. This was another tip that Amber had suggested and once they started doing it, I couldn’t stand the pain when they stopped. It really helped tremendously because it felt like my hips were being torn apart from the inside, so with them applying pressure from each side of me, the pain was more manageable. At one point, I remember Heather being on “hip duty” and she stopped pushing for a second so that she could rest her aching hands, and I shouted, “Heather DON’T STOP!” Poor girl, her arms were dying and I felt awful to make her keep doing it but I figured that her sore muscles couldn’t be as bad as the pain I was experiencing inside my body. Of course, without saying a word, she quickly continued to apply pressure until the contraction ended. It was then that one person on my hips became insufficient and I had to have one person pushing on each side of me for extra force!
There was a stage where I remember two heavy contractions coming on one after another, and I cried out, “Oh please God! Let me have a break.. I need a break!” I tried so hard not to break down and cry. I knew that if I lost focus and fell apart, the pain would be even worse and I might not be able to recover and focus again.
When the nurse came back in the room to check on my dilation, I was in so much pain that I refused to lie on my back. Each time I did, the pain would intensify. There’s nothing worse than having to lie flat and let someone stick their fingers inside you when all you want to of is curl up into a ball and be left alone. Still, I wanted to know if I was at 3cm so when I had a few seconds between contractions. I let her quickly check and she confirmed that I was at 3cm and it was time to move to the labor ward. Amber and Justin came with me, and the others stayed in our hospital room which had a lounge area, TV, wifi, fridge, and so on. They had plenty space to spread out and get comfortable while we went off to have the baby. If I could have had them all in the room for the entire duration of the birth, I would have! The support I received from everyone there was unbelievable and I am so thankful!
In the labor ward I was surprised to find another lady already in the same room. There was only a curtain separating her and I, but she had already received her epidural so she was quiet. I, on the other hand, was moaning and moo-ing (lol) very loudly. The other poor lady was alone and I felt blessed to have two loved ones there to help me. The nurses came over to set up my epidural, but the problem was that they needed me to lie completely still and I just couldn’t lie down during the contractions! At that point, I had lost all of my support team and I overheard them telling Justin to leave the room. I started to panic but could only think about getting the epidural and once that was in, I knew I would be able to figure out what was going on and why my husband had been sent away. I was made to lie on my side, and curl into a ball. Amber stood next to the bed and pushed down hard with all her body weight onto my hip. It was extremely tough to stay still, and while they set everything up and inserted the epidural I went through THREE contractions! Even after the epidural was in, I had to endure a few more contractions before the drugs started to take effect. Once they did, it felt like someone had opened a curtain and was letting sunlight back into my world. The dark painful contractions were disappearing and I was able to think normal thoughts, and speak full sentences once again. Justin returned to the room. We never did figure out whey they made him leave while they inserted the epidural.
We were then told to get as much rest as we could, and possibly even sleep for a couple of hours, since I still needed to dilate 7cm more. My water had broken at 2:27am, and by then it was roughly 7am so the nurses said that we could be there for a while. I was just happy to have received the epidural so I didn’t mind how long it took to dilate. I was however, despite the epidural, still feeling the contractions and they were not mild enough to sleep through. They felt like terrible period cramps, but NOTHING compared to what I had just been through, so I didn’t complain too much. I asked Amber to tell them to turn the epidural up so that I could rest but they said that they wouldn’t and that it was good to feel some of the contractions. Okay then! I wasn’t going to fuss since I was in heaven with that small amount of pain. Amber, who thad given birth in that same hospital two years ago, was amazed at the change that came over me once the pain was gone. I managed to eat something (crazy that they allow that here) and then sent Justin to get my make up so that I could at least look decent for SOME of the pictures that Amber and Justin would take during the delivery. For the longest time, I imagined looking somewhat okay when I gave birth. I remember being with my cousin, Maxine, while she gave birth, and once her epidural was in I helped her put on make-up and get pretty for the pictures. HAHA! Not a chance — the nurse came over to check my dilation shortly after Justin got back and Amber had left to go rest in our hospital room upstairs. She said nothing about my progress to me, but suddenly Amber was back, eyes-wide and looking totally shocked. Apparently I was 10cm and the baby was ready to come out!!! WHAAAAT?? I wasn’t ready!! Never mind trying to put on make-up, I didn’t even have time to think about the fact that I was about to push a baby out my wooha! The nurses had been asking me for the past hour if I felt the need to push. I didn’t feel that at all. What I did feel was a heavy pressure in my crotch area, but no desire to push. Apparently that pressure was little baby boy moving down into position. He was ready to come out and meet us, so we were then wheeled to a third room, the delivery ward. THANKFULLY, there was no one in there except the nurses, Justin, and Amber. The room was huge, and felt so cold and clinical. Again I remembered Maxine’s delivery, and thought to myself, “Man, this room looks so intimidating”. It looked more like a room where you would operate, not deliver a baby naturally. Essentially, all that mattered to me was that it was clean, and it definitely looked to be spotless!
Justin and Amber had to dress in blue scrubs… again, this was odd to me since I was having a natural delivery! I started to feel very scared. I started doubting my abilities. For some reason, even though I had made it through those horrid contractions, I felt that perhaps I wouldn’t be able to make it through pushing Elijah out of me. I was moved to the delivery bed and my feet were placed in the stirrups. I was told to push whenever I felt a contraction. This was where things got tough because, as I said earlier, my contractions were so close together that I felt like I barely had time to catch my breath and get some air before I had to start pushing again. The head nurse (who was helping me deliver my baby) was very sweet and encouraging, and she kept on giving me a thumbs up and smiling at me. Her mouth was covered, but I could tell by her eyes when she was smiling, and this made me feel so good. I prayed about this for months – a kind person to help me deliver our baby – and here she was. Whenever she gave me an instruction in Chinese, Amber would shout them out in English. It started to get really hot in the room and both Justin (who was beside me) and I were dripping with sweat. Amber was standing back taking pictures and translating what was being said to me. During one of the breaks between contractions, the nurses said that they could give me something to speed up the contractions. I recall thinking that they were insane because I felt like the contractions were already so incredibly close together! I refused the drugs, and fortunately so because within 40 minutes of entering the delivery room, Eli was born!!!
I have no words to describe the delivery, and especially not those first few seconds when we saw Elijah! I did not feel that crazy love-at-first-sight thing that everyone describes. All I felt was absolutely SHOCKED that a baby just came out of MY body! I was amazed. In awe. In the pictures that Amber took, my facial expression perfectly sum up what I was feeling at that moment! Complete amazement! Elijah came out with his lips puckered up and he wanted food immediately. His cry was adorable. The nurses lay him on my stomach and didn’t cut the umbilical cord until it stopped pulsating, as I had requested of them in my birth plan. I lay there looking at him in complete and utter astonishment. I then turned to Justin and said, “It’s a real baby.. our baby!” I still couldn’t believe that we had made a baby, and he was finally there with us. I felt so grateful that I was blessed with the ability to give birth to a baby!
The nurses then took Elijah to be measured and weighed, and I asked Amber to go over and take a few videos and pictures. Justin stayed at my side while I received two stitches, which by the way, were more painful than pushing the baby out. I couldn’t understand why they hurt so badly. At this point, the combination of extreme heat and masses of blood were making poor hubby extremely queasy. He wanted to get up and go see Eli, but he feared that he might faint at any second so he stayed next to me and held my hand. All I wanted was for the stitches to be over so that I could finally hold my baby in my arms and kiss him! I looked over at the nurses and they were all posing with Elijah and taking pictures with their camera phones… hahaha, BORN A CELEBRITY! Half amused and then mildly annoyed, I shouted over to them to hurry up and bring my baby so that I could hold him.
After my epidural was removed, I was moved to a gurney and wheeled out of the delivery ward. Elijah was wrapped up in two thick blankets and put on the bed with me. We had only been gone from our hospital room for about three hours, so Zach, Heather and CJ didn’t think we would be back for quite some time. Suddenly we arrived at the door with the baby all wrapped up. They all looked shocked! I was moved to the hospital bed in our room and given Elijah so that I could give him his first feeding. He stayed on my boob for ages, and the nurses were all so impressed. Hungry little guy!
Within the next couple of hours our sweet friends had all left to go home to rest, and Justin and I got to spend some alone time with our little bundle of joy. You would think that we would want to take a nap, but we were filled with energy (especially mommy), and when people started to call and ask how we were, we said that they were welcome to come over. We therefore spent the rest of the afternoon and evening with visitors and on Skype, showing Elijah to our friends and family. I was amazed at how great I felt straight after giving birth. I was able to get up, walk around, and felt barely any pain except for my stitches. The contractions were extremely rough. More painful than I ever could have imagined, but now that we have this little guy with us, I would do it all again in a heartbeat. We are absolutely thrilled with how everything happened and how God provided for everything that we had prayed for, and more!…
We will share more about our three day stay in the Chinese hospital in an upcoming blog post.
If you are interested in seeing pictures of Elijah’s birth, you can view them here:
Eli’s Birth (in Pictures)
Catherine is a contributor to havingababyinchina.com. She was born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa, but met her American husband in South Korea, while they were both teaching there. They moved to China in 2011, and have since traveled the world and had their first child. Catherine enjoys running, photography, blogging, food, and outdoor adventure. She and her husband blog about life, love, travel and all things in-between at travelingwithjc.blogspot.com.