At my very first doctor’s appointment with an in utero Emma, I had one pressing question — will I be able to have an epidural? Japanese women typically don’t have any pain medication when delivering, and I wanted to know far, far in advance what I had to look forward to or dread. My doctor was an American missionary doctor who had been in Okinawa probably longer than he had lived in the US, and about six or seven months into the pregnancy, he told me that if it was a pain-free birth I wanted, he would be willing to induce and do the epidural all at once, given my previous successful induction. (This was even more appealing given the fact that he would be stateside on my due date, which was also typhoon season. The hospital was a forty minute drive away from our house, and as we saw just two weeks before Emma arrived, the typhoons that summer were the worst that they had been in over twenty-five years. I didn’t want to be stranded that far from the hospital in a typhoon!)
We arrived at the hospital at 8:00am on July 26th. I went upstairs to report to labor and delivery, where we saw another woman, obviously in the last stages of labor, gripping the nurses’ station desk and breathing very heavily. After I was hooked up to the pitocin drip in the communal labor room, I heard them move this woman into the delivery room (separated from the rest of us by just a curtain) and heard her give birth. This happened two more times that morning, prompting me to turn up my iPod more and more every time I heard yet another woman weeping and pushing. I didn’t want to think about pain because I was having a pain-free birth! Hooray!
The pitocin was pumping, and I was feeling great, listening to Justin Timberlake albums (I know I should be embarrassed by that) and playing electronic solitaire. Wes sat in the chair next to my bed, reading the last book in the Harry Potter series, which had just come out in the US a few weeks earlier. (My parents brought him a copy when they came, and I insisted that he read it first since I would be otherwise occupied.) I wasn’t feeling a thing as I met the nursing students who would be observing my delivery, as other women were delivering, and as the day ticked by.
My parents picked up lunch for Wes at the McDonald’s down the street, and just as I was getting envious of what he had, the doctor came in to check on me and tell me that they’d be bringing my lunch up from the cafeteria soon. He said as soon as I was done eating, we’d get things moving along. The meal came up soon after, and I feasted on — you guessed it — steamed rice. I was able to go to the bathroom one last time (thankfully not a squatty potty, which I was having trouble using in that ninth month of pregnancy) and was still feeling great when the doctor came in with the tools for the epidural.
I remember feeling what I thought was stomach pain as the doctor worked on the epidural. I had trouble moving my back into the right position for him, mainly because I was hurting with what I thought was rice gone bad. (Yeah, I was kind of clueless.) After he finally got it in at 1:30, he told me he’d be back to break my water. I asked if he’d put the medicine into the epidural before then (so as to, you know, keep me from feeling anything, which was the whole point), and after checking my progress, he told me I was only up to a four and that we’d wait until I was “feeling” something. I waited with what (again) I thought was stomach pain until he came in at 1:40 and broke my water. He left, and Wes settled back in with Harry Potter while one of the nursing students took my blood pressure.
That’s when everything seemed to start going wrong. My “tummyache” was all but unbearable, but I kept quiet, thinking that it would pass. I considered getting up and going to the bathroom, but suddenly, the bottom half of my body started pushing on its own. I finally got a clue and realized that I was having contractions. They seemed a bit more powerful than what I remembered having with Ana, but I reminded myself through gritted teeth that I was only up to a four and that I was just being a wimp. The contractions kept coming, one on top of the other, along with the involuntary pushing. When I started to feel pressure and burning (yes, burning), I told Wes (who was still reading Harry Potter), “Something is HORRIBLY wrong!” At that point, the midwives took notice of me, and by 1:55 (there was a clock on the wall opposite my bed), the doctor was there watching me cry through contractions. I told him, “Something is WRONG!” He was very kind and patient, waited for a contraction, moved to check my progress, and said (when he saw a HEAD!), “The only thing wrong with you is that you’re having a baby. Probably in the next five minutes.” The midwives saw the head as well, and they began pushing my bed rather quickly into the delivery room.
As they were pushing and the burning was increasing with every contraction, I told the doctor, “The epidural! Will you please put something in it? I can feel EVERYTHING!” (All the while thinking, “You put a needle in my spine for nothing! NOTHING!”) He took off the bottom part of the bed and injected a syringe into the tubing of the epidural, telling me, “You’ll likely deliver before this hits your system. This baby is almost out.”
I then gave myself permission to FREAK OUT. I remember crying and yelling, until the doctor finally said, “You’re panicking. Cross your arms over your chest and lie down.” I did as I was told, crying and blubbering the whole time. (I was so very brave, y’all!) I glanced at the nursing students in the corner, who were looking just as terrified as me. The midwives held my legs in place, and when the next contraction hit, I pushed as hard as I could, figuring that this was the only way to end the pain. They all started yelling at me to stop at precisely the same moment that the burning intensified. What was done was done, however, and just a few seconds later, the doctor held up the top half of a purple baby, her face all scrunched up as I delivered her shoulders and her legs. The midwives all started cooing and saying, “kawaii,” Japanese for “pretty.” She was out, the cord was cut, and they were suctioning out her mouth just as I began to feel the glorious tingling relief of the epidural. Just as the pain was officially done, they plopped a very gooey, breathing Emma on my chest, yanking up my clothes rather immodestly so that she and I were skin-to-skin. After snapping a picture of us, Wes excused himself. (He told me later that he had to get away from the intensity for a few seconds. Who could blame him?) While he was gone the doctor showed me the placenta, which Wes would have been very, very glad to have missed. The doctor commented that the epidural must be working as I hadn’t even winced as he began to stitch up what I had done with all of my pushing. (The burning was finally explained.)
After Wes came back in the room and the doctor was done with me, the delivery team gathered around the bed and asked if they could pray for Emma. The Adventist Medical Center was a mission hospital, first and foremost, and it was very special to us that mere minutes after she was born, Emma was being prayed for by a group that included people from our land of birth and people from her land of birth.
Praise God for a very healthy baby…