I had had a lot of Braxton Hicks contractions and pelvic pain from the pressure of Marie stretching and moving around like crazy for most of my last trimester so when I woke up in discomfort around 7:30 on Saturday morning, March 8th, I assumed it was more of the same discomfort that had plagued my sleeping hours for the past several days. Being 6 days overdue with an ever growing baby who was somehow still managing to turn herself from breech to head down and back again in the past couple of weeks, I was quick to chalk up my discomfort to just being REALLY pregnant. The discomfort and pressure continued throughout the morning and finally around 11:00 after having to stop and breathe through what I thought was a moment of pain from Marie pushing down on my pelvis I decided to take a shower and told Ryan we should probably go in just in case. I spoke not a moment too soon because by 11:30 my water had broken. The good news is I was in the shower! (I’m now 2 for 2 on already being in the bathroom and avoiding a huge mess when my water broke!) At that point Ryan called the hospital to let them know we were coming and canceled the plans we’d made with friends to go to karaoke and celebrate my birthday early before grabbing the rest of the last minute items for our hospital bags while I stayed in the shower as long as possible to allow as much of my water out as I could before trying to put on clothes and get in the car. Unlike with Anya when I felt a pop and then soon after had a gush of all of my water, this time around it was coming bits at time, some more than others, and it seemed every time I thought it was safe to get out of the shower more would come.
I finally managed to get dressed and get into the car with some towels for the remaining water, and we were off to Iwakuni Byouin (Iwakuni Hospital) to have our second baby girl. We were nervous about whether she was still breech as she’d been at our last appointment a few days before but had faith it would all work out whatever happened. I continued to have what I now knew were contractions throughout my shower and in the car that were intense enough to grab a nearby object to brace myself and breathe through them, and they were coming anywhere from 2 to 5 minutes apart. We arrived at the hospital just after noon and were taken straight to the delivery room. My water was still coming and finally reached the point of being too much for the liner and clothes I had on when we reached the delivery room. Thank goodness it didn’t happen in the lobby, but I was still embarrassed because I’m me. They quickly had me get dressed and up onto the table to be checked and hooked to monitors for the baby’s heartbeat and my contractions. When the nurses checked me I was told I was almost fully dilated already and asked if I would like an epidural to which I gave a resounding yes. Contractions were getting more intense though still not at the level I remember with Anya when I was only 4cm dilated and having to try not to vomit with each contraction which is crazy to me seeing as now I was apparently almost ready to push and hadn’t felt anything beyond mild discomfort until maybe an hour beforehand.
I was given an IV, and the doctor came in to place the epidural around 12:30. I concentrated on breathing through my contractions and squeezing Ryan’s hand while the doctor did his work. Apparently the epidural process was a bit much for poor Ryan, though, who at one point had to step out for about a minute to sit down and drink some water so he wouldn’t pass out. The Japanese staff were all chuckling at him as he returned to hold my hand, and they gave him a stool to sit on just in case. I had been told by other Americans that the epidural here wouldn’t be what I remembered from my first birth experience, and while they weren’t wrong it was definitely more effective than anyone had made it sound. Contractions became but a twinge that made me look at the monitor to confirm I was indeed having one, and I was able to relax for the next hour as they washed over me and Ryan and I talked and anticipated Marie’s arrival. I began to feel pressure around 1:30 so Ryan called for the nurses who checked me and confirmed that it was time to start pushing. For the next 40 minutes or so the nurses stood close by and allowed me to simply breathe through the contractions that pushed Marie down into position. It was so much more peaceful than my experience with Anya, and I am so grateful for the patience of the nurses to let me push in my own time as it felt right for me without a word of criticism or pressure to do things in their time. The epidural was enough to take the edge off but allow me to feel what was happening in a positive way.
I could feel when Marie was getting close to crowning, and when the nurse confirmed that she could see the baby’s head of hair Ryan and I were both relieved that she had turned back head down in time for the big day. At this point the pressure was getting painful, and I was grateful for the edge the epidural had taken off. Ryan was standing again and holding my hand through the pushes, but at this point the nurses had me sit up a bit more and hold onto some handles at the base of the delivery table next to my legs so Ryan just put his hand on my back and encouraged me along with the nurses as Marie crowned in the next few contractions of intense pushes. Though it was painful, and I felt more than I had with Anya, it was an empowering feeling to know I was pushing Marie into place and was allowed to do so with as many pushes as I felt comfortable mustering during each contraction with complete encouragement from the nurses. Then it was really go time, and as the nurses and Ryan both repeatedly encouraged me to keep pushing and telling me I was doing great and she was almost here and I was so close, I spent the last ten minutes or so of contractions pushing like my life depended on it. I had been quiet and breathed through the entire labor and delivery up to this point, but being able to feel more this time around I finally got vocal during those last pushes as Marie crowned and was born at 2:25PM, a mere 2 1/2 hours after arriving at the hospital.
The nurses delivered Marie, and Ryan was beaming as he watched her take a breath and cry for the first time. I didn’t think he would want to actually watch her be born, but he did so from beside me and was able to tell me how close she was as I pushed and then told me, “She is definitely a she and has all her fingers and toes!” when she was out. After only being able to witness Anya’s birth over Skype, he really embraced getting to have the experience this time around and was so great at encouraging me and giving me just the amount of support I needed. He kept telling me, “You did great, Honey! You were amazing.” The nurses showed Marie to me by holding her right next to me and allowed me to touch her for a moment before taking her off to clean her up. I had expected to get to hold her right away, and though I’m a bit disappointed that didn’t happen I should have been more vocal about it being what I wanted. In the long run, I’m not upset as the rest of the experience was so great, and as soon as they had her cleaned up they handed her off to Ryan who got to be the first one to hold her and reveled in the experience he missed and long regretted missing the first time around. I do not begrudge him that moment one bit.
The doctor returned to stitch me up as I had torn yet again during delivery – though they didn’t tell me to what degree – and during the 2 hours of monitoring afterward in the delivery room we Skyped via phone with Anya, who was with Mom and Shelby at home, allowing her to see that I was alright after rushing out of the house in chaos earlier and to see her baby sister had arrived. Then we were moved to our private room for recovery which was worth every penny as far as I am concerned. They brought Marie to the room right away and only took her a couple times each day for a bath and blood tests, etc. Ryan went with her every time and took pictures and hovered over her. He is super protective of his second baby girl and is always wanting to hold her and care for her. I think he’s making up for lost time the first go around, but he has always been very involved and protective with Anya as well since he came home when she was 6 weeks old so I am not surprised by how caring he is with our newborn daughter. He stayed with me in the hospital and changed way more diapers than I did, a trend he’s kept to since coming home. I am blessed to have such a man to be Daddy to our girls and my partner in parenting them.
I finally held Marie and fed her for the first time once we were in our room and was allowed to stare at her adorable baby face and feel that bonding setting in. For much of my pregnancy I was so concerned about what the changes would mean for Anya, my first baby who I had devoted so much of myself to for the past 4 years, that I sometimes caught myself feeling guilty for not thinking more of Marie the way I had prior to Anya’s birth. All that washed away as Ryan and I spent the 2 days in the hospital snuggling her and feeding her and changing her and just being able to sit and talk as we watched her sleep and had her all to ourselves for the most part. The staff mostly left us to our own devices unless we asked for something and let me recover in peace and allowed us to care for Marie and have that time with her for which I am so grateful.
On our second day in the hospital Ryan brought Anya and my family in to meet Marie. Anya was so excited and all smiles. She put her hand on Marie and said, “Hello, baby Marie. I’m your big sister, and I love you.” It was the sweetest thing ever. She has been phenomenal and wanting to hold Marie and feed her and play with her and “teach her how to do things”. We are very blessed.
I did not find any of the negativity that flies around base about delivering here in Iwakuni to be true for me. Maybe because I really didn’t have a lot of specific requests regarding Marie’s birth and was able to go with the flow of what the staff allowed or encouraged me to do, and it just worked out that they worked with me in a way that’s what I would have wanted had I asked for the most part. I felt so peaceful during the entire process. The staff played soft music on a stereo in the delivery room and were just so encouraging and yet stood back just enough to give the space I needed at the same time. Ryan was able to be there and be involved and was never told no about following them around when they had Marie or being there for me during any step in the process. The room was comfortable enough for me, and the food was actually great. Maybe just because I was starving after delivering a baby! Ha! But it was great either way. We opted to formula feed from the start, and I was given no trouble or resistance to that end. They even offered to sterilize the bottles we’d brought with us for us. They had someone come by who was there to help with breastfeeding had that been my decision, but when I told her we were formula feeding she was very kind and just checked to see how much Marie was eating and left satisfied. I was just glad to see the support there for either decision a new mom might make without judgement or questions.
The hospital loaded us down with free gifts for our stay and departure. I was given toiletries and diapers and a quilted baby bag with the hospital’s name embroidered on it with a blanket inside. They gave us a card with Marie’s tiny footprints on it before we were discharged, and we were able to take home her little pink hat and the white kimono like garment they dressed the babies in. I was discharged much more quickly than anything I’d been told by others, and was gone by 48 hours post delivery. The hospital sent over a Japanese baby book already filled out with Marie’s information and signed by Dr. Shoji – though he was not the doctor who was there to do my epidural or stitches, he had done all of my prenatal care – as well as a beautiful photo they had taken of her and postcards they’d made with the photo on them with the Kintai bridge in the corner and Japanese text announcing her birth. Having delivered in an American hospital, one that was actually quite nice and very similarly clinic-like to the one here, I was very impressed by just the little details like that that were given such great attention by the Japanese staff and am glad for all of the mementos Marie and I both will be able to have to look back on regarding her unique birth in Japan.
More photos over on Flickr.