On April 8th 2012, we welcomed our son Zakry Aiman Nazrudin into this world. At about 3 in the morning, one day after his due date (just like Zara!), I woke up to little sharp pangs low in my abdomen. Every night for a week up until then I had been experiencing the familiar tightening sensations of Braxton-Hicks contractions, wondering whether they were the ‘real thing’. Was this another false alarm? I lay in bed alone, wondering whether to call the hubby who was downstairs with his mates playing ‘Risk’. Nah, I thought, it didn’t feel like the labour I had with Zara, which were closer to Braxton-Hicks but more severe. So back to sleep I went.
At 4am, I woke again to the same pangs. Were they getting stronger or was I just imagining it? I decided to lie awake and time the twinges, to see if there was any pattern or regularity to them. 20 minutes later, and again 20 minutes later, there they were. I called Naz. “Yang, I think Im in labour…’ He bounded up to the room to check on me and then went back downstairs, I assumed, to call off the party. 20 minutes later, after another surge, he still wasn’t back. “Yang,” I called again, “Where are you?” Unbelievably, my darling hubby had resumed his game! “Naz,” I pleaded, “Please ask your friends to go home… I am pretty sure this is it.” Up he bounded again, went over to the dresser and picked up my pregnancy book. Flipping over to the page “Is it real labour?” he began to interview me about my ‘symptoms’. I vaguely remember wanting to kill him. “Ok ok,” he surrendered, “I’ll call it off.”
By 6am, there was very little doubt left what the pangs were. I got out of bed, finished packing my hospital bag and hopped into the shower. Naz had finally come back upstairs and was surprised to see me all packed and showered. I think about then it finally dawned on him that I really hadn’t been kidding. His eyes were like saucers as he gathered his things. In a few hours, our family of 3 would become 4.
0730hrs – We arrived at the hospital and checked in at the A&E where I was immediately wheeled into the Labour and Delivery Ward. By then, the surges were hitting me every 3-4 minutes. After being hooked up to a machine to check the baby’s heart rate, I was examined and told that my cervix was already 5cm dilated. This was fabulous news to me because with Zara’s 20 hour labour it had taken me considerably longer to get that far. Plus, I had already decided that with Zak I was going to attempt a completely drug-free delivery, so 5 cm along would also hopefully mean a shorter labour. Naz had brought along my ‘labour ball’, a gym ball that I’d been told would help ease the pain. I requested the nurses to take me off the monitor and quickly got on my knees before the next surge came. Wiggling my bum while hugging the ball, and with Naz coaxing me along, I managed to get through the next 3 hours of labour without too much difficulty.
Experiencing labour without the help of an epidural (with Zara, I caved after 13 hours) was nothing like I had imagined. I know this sounds strange but I never went for pre-natal classes of any kind – somehow I thought that I could ‘wing it’, and I mean hey, after Zara, how difficult could it be? But labour the way it’s meant to be is no easy feat. Hypnobirthing practitioners will probably be very upset with me for saying this, but the truth is, drug-free labour was the most excruciating pain I have ever felt in my life. When I got to 7cm, my awesome doctor (who has seen me through both a miscarriage and Zara’s birth) recommended breaking my water bag, and as soon as he did, the pain went literally off the charts. Not being able to hug my labour ball anymore at this point and having to lie prone on the bed meant I couldn’t ‘wiggle through’ the pain as I had the previous 3 hours. Naz, exhausted by now without any sleep, had to endure me tearing his shirt and grabbing at his hair as each surge came. At this point, I believe a primal urge sort of came over me – I was no longer really aware of what was happening, and Naz says I was groaning and growling like a wilderbeast. Im sure this cant have been very attractive and Im grateful that despite the bald patches he now has on his head from my hair-pulling, he still thinks I did great.
Barely an hour later, I was 10cm dilated and, as with Zara, I felt an overwhelming need to shit. Except this time, without an epidural, I honestly thought I was going to shit a football. With every surge, I felt my body being turned inside out. Dr Alex strolled in calmly in his scrubs and ‘wet market boots’ just as I yelled that I needed to push NOW.
A few seconds later, in my haze of disorientation, I heard Dr Alex say something about the baby’s umbilical cord and that I needed to stop pushing. Now for anyone who’s ever been in drug-free labour, this is an almost impossible feat. Torn between the unbearable pressure bearing down on my hips and Naz’s voice screaming out to me to “Focus! Focus on me! The baby’s cord is around his neck… STOP PUSHING!”, I somehow managed to snap out of the haze and pull myself together. Naz said later that he had never seen me so terrified, my eyes so blank and yet so crazed. Looking back on it now, I recall feeling like my soul had left my body briefly before being sucked back suddenly into reality. I remember telling Naz that I had gone to pick up Zak’s soul from heaven to bring back with me. Corny, I know, but that’s really how it seemed to me at the time!
At 10.58am, after what seemed like an eternity as they loosened the cord from his neck, I felt little Zakry slide out of me with a gush of warm liquid. Just like that, the pain was gone. Zak lay on my chest squealing and I managed to hold him for a brief few seconds before he was whisked away for a quick clean. It was then that I was told he was having difficulty breathing and that they would need to rush him to the Neo-Natal High Dependency Unit for more oxygen and further tests. I still hadn’t fully recovered from the drama of the last few minutes and I don’t think it really registered until I was being stitched up. I remember asking over and over “Where’s Zak?”, before it finally hit me that our little boy was not well and it would be a while before we’d get to hold him again.
With my parents and in-laws an hour after delivering Zak.
The next few hours were a bit of a blur. I still didn’t have a clear idea of what was going on with Zak until Naz told me he had gone to see him in the HDU. After hearing that my little man was in a plastic box with tubes sticking out of him, I knew I needed to see my boy and make sure he was OK. I had been under some mistaken impression that delivering without an epidural would mean I’d be able to walk, run and jump around straight after, but I was so very wrong. Truth is, I was so sore my butt felt like it had been hit by a train. Not from the stitches but from the trauma of having a baby squeezed through my pelvis! I couldn’t walk or move without feeling bruised and battered. Despite this, I begged the nurses to please get me a wheelchair so I could go see my baby.
My poor baby boy.
Nothing really prepared me for the sight of seeing little Zak like that. He was so very pale and tiny, half his body in a plastic box, with a tube down his throat (to remove fluid that had gotten into his lungs), an IV poked in his arm (for antibiotics and glucose), and lots of other little wires stuck to him (to monitor his heart rate and temperature). I couldn’t hold him or feed him that day or the day after until the tests showed he was stable. I was told later that had it not been for the quick response from the midwife and nurses on duty that day, Zak might not have made it.
I finally got to hold my little man 2 days after he was born, and I must admit, being able to smell his mottled wrinkly skin after everything he’d been through, will always rate as one of the simplest but greatest joys of my life (the other being my Zara).
*We owe our heartfelt gratitude to Dato’ Dr Alex Mathews, the midwives and nurses of Gleneagles Hospital for making sure our Zak would be the healthy chubby fellow he is today.