Sue is a Hero

I came to Bangkok a week early because Sue had been having lots of Braxton Hicks contractions, which now she believes was related to all the fresh pineapple she was eating at the time. Much to my jet-lagged dismay, when she stopped eating so much pineapple the contractions subsided and all but went away.

My second week here – the contractions began to pick up with barely perceptible increasing frequency: Sue would never mention a contraction until after the fact, and sometimes she might lean over momentarily and close her eyes; at which point Joss and I would begin wringing our hands and asking, “Was that one? Was that one?” We continued to go for brief daily jaunts out on the town: a quick run to MBK to pick up a few more fake Le Sport Sac bags, or to have lunch at a restaurant around the corner, or pick up yet more Western food at the Villa Market (cheese, bread, yogurt, cheese puffs…). Throughout all, we walked very, very slowly, and let Sue pause when ever she needed. Still, there was never any pain, and never any regularity to the contractions. Sue’s due date, May 5, came and went.

The next evening, May 6, we were chilling on the king-size, watching another movie from my drug-themed movie queue that Chad packed for my trip (Half-Nelson, Candy, Pusher). The TV screen flickered to black and Joss and I looked over at Sue; she was leaned over her legs. Joss and I began our chant, “Is that one? Is that one?” Apparently she had had six or seven during the course of the movie – now we were finally getting somewhere. Within an hour of the end of the movie, the contractions merited gasping, breathing, and more concentration. Sue labored for another couple of hours at home, which meant lots of pacing up and down in the bedroom between contractions, Joss and I rushing about and doing last-minute packing, and sending a few quick text messages to family. After a particularly painful and long contraction, Sue stretched up and said, “I think it’s time to go to the hospital. What do you think?”

Well, at this point, Joss and I were willing to go with whatever Sue wanted. True, the contractions were still about five minutes apart, but not that regular. I suspected that we were still in for a long haul, but the doctor had wanted us to come to the hospital when contractions were ten minutes or less apart, and Sue had been dribbling a little amniotic fluid and mucus plug-like stuff for a week or so. We had the doorman call a taxi. Boy, folks really jump into action when a woman goes into labor. The doorman, the taxi driver, everybody was dead-serious and very focused on getting Sue to the hospital as soon as possible.

Of course once we got to the hospital there were admittance papers and a check-in exam, all of which probably took about 45 minutes. Sue was in the hospital bed having contractions, Joss and I took up the positions that we would later keep for the duration of the labor and birth: Joss standing by Sue’s head, so she could bury her face in his shirt and hold his hand, me at her feet, massaging her legs and talking her through contractions. We finally were brought to the natural birthing room. It was 2 am. The efficient nurse who led us in, took a look at the fetal heart monitor scan and smiled. Sue was only one centimeter dilated; she thought that Sue would be another ten hours at least. There was no rush – she closed the door and left us alone. I dimmed the lights and we made Sue as comfortable as possible. After another hour of about the same, Sue began to doze between contractions. The contractions were not more painful nor more frequent – I crawled over to the sofa and passed out for a couple hours.

When I woke, we were still in about the same place.

When the doctor came in at 7 am, Sue was only 3 cm dilated – and more than a little panicked in view of the pain and work it had taken to get there. He said he would be back at 11 am, and that if she had not made considerable progress that he would ask to break her waters manually. I let Sue know that, yes, this would likely speed up the labor, but that the pain would also intensify. Also, that her water would break eventually on its own. Sue was absolutely against anything that might add to her pain. In the end, her water didn’t break until the baby was minutes from emerging, and I believe probably provided a good deal of cushioning support until then.

The next four hours passed in an intense, meditative way. Sue’s contractions were between 3-5 minutes apart; they never got very much closer than that, but just increased in intensity. We kept a damp washcloth around to wipe down Sue’s forehead. Although early in the labor she had been more comfortable standing during contractions, by this point she was better on the bed, propped up against many pillows. Occasionally, she would try another position; on the floor on her knees leaning against the bed, or laying down, but she would always return to sitting up – and breathing through her contractions with her eyes closed.

The hospital was great through this; they left us completely alone. Every two hours, a nurse would come in and hook Sue’s belly to the fetal heart monitor for half an hour; that and bringing us bottles of ice-cold water were our only interruptions. And since Sue was not moving around too much during contractions, the fetal heart monitor (like a stethoscope) did not get in her way. We actually found the information on the monitor fascinating (and later had them make a xerox copy of the whole thing), because then we could measure the contractions in a quantitative way. It appeared that the first time a contraction reached a particularly high peak was the most difficult for Sue. The following contractions were more bearable, until a new peak was reached. The doctor kept waiting for the contractions to get closer, but they didn’t get closer than three minutes apart until the very end.

This is of course, just measured from her expressions and sounds. She was clearly in a lot of pain and working very hard. We all cried a little.

But most impressive was that Sue never once even considered asking for any kind of relief. She was fully committed to giving birth naturally and just went straight through with it – even though when Joss and I prematurely guessed she was in transition because the contractions were so painful and long. (This meant we told her that pushing, and hence a little relief, were around the corner for over an hour…I don’t know that what we said mattered at that point anyway. It was our presence that mattered, and our focused attention.)

By the time the doctor came back in, I was crossing my fingers that Sue had made some measurable progress. She had already been up all night and drinking only water and a little Gatorade. I knew that she would start running out of energy sooner or later. Plus despite all our talks that numbers didn’t matter and each woman dilated at her rhythm, Sue needed the mental recognition that her work was producing tangible dilation. When the doctor proclaimed she was 7 centimeters dilated when she was in the middle of a contraction, we cheered! Almost there! At this point the doctor said he didn’t think it was necessary to break her water, winked at me and Joss and said to call him if she felt like pushing.

I think she began pushing before the doc came back. And I’m glad we didn’t call him earlier, because once he was in the room, the atmosphere quickly became a medical one, poised for intervention. There were five or six attendants milling about, carts with surgical instruments, bright lights, the whole works. Good thing Sue’s eyes were closed, because it was intimidating to be surrounded by so many medical personnel.

Even with so many people around, the doctor respectfully let us alone. At this point the contractions were extremely powerful, and Sue screamed if either Joss or I tried to shift our position in any way, so we just stayed put, leg cramps and all. While the rest of the staff seemed confused why we would want to stay (on the bed), and would make motions to ask us to move, the doctor said it was fine for us to stay. I was in charge of Sue’s left leg. We did shift Sue over towards the center of the bed at some point.

We reminded the doctor that Sue did not want an episiotomy (because he had already forgotten at several previous visits), and he began to massage the perineum rather vigorously. He said, “Hey! I can feel the head; you are fully effaced. Let’s push!” Now this is the only time that I thought the doctor rushed things a bit by having Sue push so hard, and sometimes without a contraction; however, as Sue said later, she was thrilled by the encouragement to push and was ready to do so. I think she perhaps tore a little more than she needed to, but even the doctor said Sue tore very little.

This part of the labor I remember in flashes and bits, because there were such huge rush of energy in the room. In between contractions, we would scramble to get Sue a little more water or fortify our positions, and during a contraction we would shout encouragement, while massaging with one hand and snapping pictures or shooting video with the other. I made a huge effort not to direct too much of my time to taking pics, but I also knew that she would appreciate the documentation later.

Suddenly we could see the top of the baby’s head and everybody really started shouting. The baby’s head was very wedge-shaped – and I briefly wondered if the baby was okay – but when the baby’s head actually made it out, it was much more round. Sue later said that once the baby’s head was out, the baby started kicking inside and she had the startling realization that the baby was ALIVE and was really coming out to join us as a another fully-formed human being. There was a pause, then another tremendous PUSH! and the rest of the baby gushed out; slipped out in a torrent. The baby was held aloft upside-down by one foot. I could hear the baby bawling and Joss’s hushed, “It’s a girl.”

Once the baby was out, the other medical personnel kicked into gear: the baby was suctioned and dried by three orderlies with much hissing, sucking, and gurgling. I would have preferred to hand the baby directly over to Sue and have the baby rest on Sue’s chest – but I figured that we were pretty lucky to have had so little intervention thus far – and the baby did get back to Sue pretty quickly.

Sue was dazed. Was it really over? After a short rest, the doctor encouraged her to push again and the placenta and amniotic sac came out fully intact. The baby was placed by Sue’s head, and new parents looked on with widening eyes.

The rest was really just clean up. Joss followed the nurse out with the baby, because the baby needed to spend twenty minutes down at the nursery being measured, prodded, and poked. Again, I would have preferred the baby rest skin-to-skin on Sue, but at least Joss stayed with the baby the whole time. I stayed with Sue while the doctor stitched her up (he just did a couple stitches) and slowly became aware that I had both blood and poo on my clothes. Slowly, one by one, we each got cleaned up and rested. The baby came back, swaddled and calm. We propped up an exhausted Sue and the baby turned out to be a nursing champ. We rested, gathered our things – and made our way slowly to the post-birth room.

The baby was born at 1:33 pm, May 7, 2007. She was 3200 grams, or just over six pounds; this is considered a healthy normal size for an Asian baby. Sue was in labor for about 15 hours. She had a completely natural, drug-free birth.


Welcome to this world, Nabi Grace Dimock.

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