The delivery, Queen Mary hospital, HK
Leila and Rahul were born two months early, at 31 weeks. Rahul was very low in the womb so a Cesarean section was risky. Leila was under my rib cage and in a transverse position. A natural vaginal birth carried the risk that she might not turn head down and an emergency c section would then be needed. Maher and I had to decide what to do on the spur of the moment, while I was contracting and in an emergency delivery setting. Until now my doctors were all men who said I would need a c-section. This doctor was a refreshingly young woman who was insinuating that I opt for the natural birth, which is what we decided to do. We didn’t have my blood type on paper, so they couldn’t operate until they got results from the blood they drew soon after I arrived in the late morning. They could not administer an epidural for the same reason. I secretly wanted to give birth naturally, and for the first time in the entire pregnancy I realized that it was possible, with risk of course, but we were accustomed to that by then. I felt like I was in good hands. The efficient and natural way in which my case was being handled made me realise they did this often every day.
I had a mask which released some gas to ease some pain from the contractions. A very sweet nurse called Angel held my hand through many of them and Maher was by my side. I remember frantically asking for him as I was being transferred from the ambulance stretcher to a bed and frantically wheeled through blue hallways, metallic elevators ending up in the little delivery room. Maher was not with me and I had no idea if he had found his way. He doesn’t speak a word of Mandarin, forget about Cantonese. The contractions were getting stronger, and longer and I had no idea how long before full dilation. He made it. I managed to relax a little as soon as I saw him. It was around lunch time because the nurses insisted that he grab something to eat. There would be a wait before the delivery. My parents were waiting outside. Maher took them down to the Starbucks that I would get to know very well over the next six weeks.
Between contractions Maher drew my attention to the view from a window next to the bed. It was beautiful. The afternoon sun was shining, the blue sea was glistening, and there was an island. The gas relieved some pain, but as the contractions became stronger I started to do bhramari (humming bee sound), and sheetali (sucking air in through a rolled tongue) pranayama. It was spontaneous and that’s what helped. I used ujjayi breath all the time, contractions or not.
Just before five pm, i had finally fully dilated to 10cm. The room suddenly filled up with nurses, doctors and two teams of paediatric specialists. One for each baby. Maher caught a glance of Rahul when he was born, just before he was rushed to the Neonatal ICU. In the mean time a doctor was pushing on my belly to help Leila turn around. Another doctor had already given me an episiotomy and was ready to enter and manually turn Leila if needed. L turned on her own and was born seven minutes after Rahul. She didn’t cry. She was resuscitated and her team of pediatric specialists rushed her to the NICU.
A few minutes after all the delivery procedures ended Maher went up to the NICU to see L and R and to get some information about them. Only parents were allowed in during the visiting hours, 9am to 8pm. In the span of a few minutes, the room I was in went from being full of shouting nurses, and doctors to empty. I found myself alone, eating a bowl of rice and Cantonese beef or pork. I don’t remember which. There were two attendants who came in to ask which I didn’t eat – beef or pork. To them my brown skin automatically meant that I was either muslim or hindu. I asked for chicken.
The women then wheeled me to a room with about thirty little cubicles separated by green plastic curtains. Each space fit a tiny single bed and a little cupboard. I was to spend the next three days and nights there. It was almost eight o clock, the end of visiting hours. My parents and brother in law who had just flown from Chengdu made it in for a few minutes. They gave me my clothes, mobile phone, and whatever food they had on them. Maher came by for a minute with no news of L and R yet. The doctors were still taking care of them and he had not been allowed in. He rushed back to catch the 8pm deadline.
The attendant on duty who was changing sheets, cleaning the cubicles, handing over babies to their mums for feeds and bed pans to others was not in a good mood, obviously bored and exhausted from her day in and out of dealing with new mums and their crying babies, and especially lacking patience for one who doesn’t speak Cantonese. I was exhausted but the adrenaline was pumping through my veins. Maher had seen the babies and had sent me photos by SMS. They didn’t open on my phone. I spoke to family and friends. They were all upbeat and congratulating me. Maher was stressed and worried and I was reassuring him. I slept for a few hours before I had to pump again, and then again. The room I was in was always awake with the thirty mums trying to feed their babies, sleep, and contain their excitement and pain.
What a strange night. A nurse came by to check my blood pressure. It was high as it had been for the last few weeks. I was not to leave the bed until early the next day. She also handed me a syringe and showed me how to express milk by massaging down on my breast, and then pushing in and down, but not squeezing. In the future I was to wash my hands before expressing, clean the nipple and make sure the syringe was always in its wrapper. This I did every three hours that night, and for many months after. The nurse was surprised by how much colostrum I managed to express. Each syringe had to be labeled and kept frozen until I could take them to the NICU in the morning.