My first daughter entered the world fist first and screaming. My second slid into this world in silence. From the womb these two girls have been completely different, as have my pregnancies. It comes as no surprise that their births have been too.
Birthing in Bangkok
As an American living in Bangkok, I have had to navigate the Thai hospital system for giving birth- twice.
The first time, I was terrified of the cesarean rates, and chose a home birth with an American midwife. The only problem is that home births with foreign midwives are illegal here.
So yes, I chose an illegal birth. It was incredibly stupid, and I will never do it again.
I paid a high price to learn exactly why home births are illegal here, and am fortunate enough to have lived to tell the tale.
After that experience of knocking on death’s door, I decided to stick with the hospital the second time around.
Dr. Amy is well known among expats for her bend toward natural childbirth, impeccable degree of informed consent, and all-around kindness.
I could spend an entire day sharing every reason that I love her as a physician, but I’ll reserve that for another post.
My Unusual Risks
After hemorrhaging during Emmie’s birth, I was deemed high risk for a repeat bleed. This would have been manageable if it weren’t for my family’s history of sneezing out babies, and Bangkok’s bad traffic.
A taxi birth had a high likelihood of being fatal, so Dr. Amy felt that it was important for us to stay near the hospital as I neared the end of my pregnancy.
For three days, Chris and I literally camped out on the steps of Bumrungrad while I tried everything possible to induce labor naturally (okay, we stayed at Three Sukhumvit, which is literally right next to the hospital entrance).
After days away from our oldest daughter, with no immediate end in sight, we consented to have Dr. Amy break my water and administer Pitocin.
I had heard nothing but horror stories of Pitocin, so to say that I was hesitant is an understatement.
Dr. Amy assured me that she would have complete control over the amount of Pitocin being administered, and that she would only give enough to “get the ball rolling.”
She was true to her word. Labor moved so slowly after breaking my water and beginning Pitocin that I was asking for more.
We worked together to find a dose that was comfortable for me. There was never a point in time that I felt that she was giving me too much.
Labor went quite smoothly, and was relatively painless until I hit transition (7 cm). Then it was miserable. Thank God that part was only about an hour.
I wish I could tell you how to have a quick labor, but I can’t. Honestly, I hit the genetic jackpot. I have trained myself to relax and step into the contractions, but for the most part, I can’t take any credit for what my body is doing. As my Dr. Amy says, it is a “big blessing.”
When I was giving birth to Emmie, the contractions leading up to pushing were difficult, but the pushing was easy. It actually felt quite good, because with each push I felt like a weight was being released.
This time was the opposite. Most of the time up until pushing was easy. I had to focus during contractions, but they were manageable. The pushing never felt like a release though. It was hard, forced work.
After about 30 minutes of pushing, Petra Mae Woodruff entered into the world in silence. I was so exhausted that I didn’t think anything of it. I was just glad to be done, and excited to hold my new baby.
Then my doctor began clamping the cord and asked Chris to cut it. “Wait!” I said frantically, “We want to delay cord clamping.”
“I know,” she replied hurriedly, “but the baby is unresponsive and isn’t breathing.”
My heart froze. What? Was she going to die? This isn’t supposed to happen. No no no no no.
The Baby Doctor quickly grabbed Petra and whisked her over to a little station in the corner of the room. With a crowd of nurses around him, he began to suction her nose and mouth. All eyes were fixated on my limp, blue little baby. The room was silent except for the sound of suctioning.
I struggled to see from my place on the bed. I was still on an IV and the L&D nurse was administering Pitocin as a preventative measure for my hemorrhage.
Chris ran over to Petra and stood over her. I could hear him choking back tears as he sang her the lullaby he sings Emmie every night. He was stroking her tiny little chest.
It was surreal. I don’t know how long we waited. Time stood still.
Then finally, a cry!
The exuberant joy of my baby taking her first breaths was quickly followed by bad news: I was hemorrhaging again.
I was exhausted, but the work was far from over. For the next 2-3 hours, my doctor and the nurses worked hard to stop my hemorrhage. They were pushing on my belly (SO painful!) and digging blood clots out of my uterus with long instruments.
The pain was unbearable, but I was thankful. I knew this was necessary. My midwife did not control my hemorrhage last time, and I paid too high a price for it.
After the hemorrhage had stopped and we had both passed a period of monitoring, we were both carted down to our room in Recovery with Chris by our side.
By late that night, I could walk without assistance, and by the next day I was carrying my daughter. I was overjoyed.
After Emmie’s birth, it was several days before I could walk without assistance, and a whole 5 days before I had the strength to carry her.
I have been amazed at how quickly my body has recovered this time around. When Petra was a week old, I was making small excursions outside.
At less than two weeks postpartum, I am already figuring out how I will manage life with two little ones. I never imagined that it could go this smoothly.
As I look back on this experience, I am overjoyed.
Dr. Amy was phenomenal from start to finish. The nurses were always attentive and sweet. Receiving adequate treatment for my hemorrhage made my recovery lightning fast compared to last time. And Petra has been a dream baby.
If I do anything different next time, it will be getting an epidural. After two drug free births, I can’t say that it has been worth it for me.
Even though my labors go smoothly, they are still miserable. At the moment, I always regret my decision.
But the biggest reason that I will choose to have an epidural next time is because I will inevitably hemorrhage again.
I would love to be able to hold my baby while the doctor and nurses get my bleeding under control. But I can’t do that while I’m still writhing in pain.
There is no right or wrong way to birth a baby. We are all on different journeys and have difference circumstances.
Some women will sneeze out their babies, others will labor hard for hours with each one.
Some women will experience complications, others will not.
And some women have had terrible things happen to them, making certain types of birth more traumatic than others.
What’s right for you might not be right for the next woman, and vice versa.
Regardless of how our babies end up in our arms, we are all doing the impossible. We are warriors.
If you are planning to birth in Thailand, I can not recommend Dr. Amy Kanoknat at Bumrungrad International enough.
Wherever and however you choose to birth, good luck and may the odds be ever in your favor.
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Birthing at home in Bangkok: Emmie's Grand Entrance