MY BIRTH STORY ♡ A Walking Epidural In Korea

November 16, 2019 2 Comments

My husband was watching TV when I plopped in front of him and asked for a shoulder massage. Taking pity on his 4 days overdue wife, he got right to work.

I didn’t even have time to relax before I felt the dam break.

I awkwardly excused myself and waddled to the bathroom, briefly entertaining the idea that perhaps I had peed myself. Except every couple of shuffles there was another gush. My water had definitely broken.

I changed my pants, donned a massive pad, and made my way back to my unsuspecting husband. I said, I think, maybe, my water broke. Despite trying to will this labor to start for the past week my husband looked absolutely shocked now that it had. Honestly, I kind of was too.

I walked 4 miles earlier that day. By the end of the walk the weak contractions that I’d been having on and off had fizzled out completely. I even told my family for the hundredth time that nothing was happening, another day with no sign of baby. Then after like 30 minutes I had to text back to say, just kidding on the no baby thing, my water just broke!

With no consistent contractions yet I thought it might not be a bad idea to get some sleep. I cuddled up to Rowan. He slept so peacefully, oblivious to how much his life was about to change. Eventually, I gave up on the idea of sleeping and watched 1 Million Dance Studio videos instead.

My contractions started to get more intense and Rowan had woken up on his own, so it felt like the right time to head to the hospital. We got there at around 2:00 am. They had my husband and Rowan wait in the lobby while they brought me back for monitoring. I don’t speak or understand Korean, so I felt so sorry for the nurses who had to work with me.

They could see my contractions on the monitor, Mason’s heartbeat was perfect, and it was definitely amniotic fluid, but I was only 1 cm dialted. Darn it, I thought I was further along than that. At this point they let Rowan and my husband join me in the labor “room”.

Now when I say room, what I actually mean is an incredibly tiny curtained off bay in a room. There was only space for a smaller than normal hospital bed, a cart with the monitor, a stool for my husband to sit on with his back against the wall, and just enough floor space left for a staff member to stand. There wasn’t even room to put my hospital bag! It looked awfully similar to the triage area of the hospital I gave birth at in the US. So I assumed that’s what this was too. I figured eventually, when a room opened up, they would move us to a private room to labor in. Nope, this was the labor room. We passed the time trying to keep Rowan happy and quiet so as not to disurb the other laboring moms.

While I was on the monitor they required that I lay flat on my back. For me that’s pretty much the most uncomfortable position to be in while laboring. With both my pregnancies I felt the contractions most strongly in my back. Luckily, they agreed to intermittent monitoring so I was able to walk around for awhile too.

My in-laws arrived a bit before 7:00 am and took Rowan up to our private recovery room. I’m so grateful they were were willing to drive 2 hours to babysit for us. I don’t know what we would have done without them!

It was good timing too because things were ramping up. The bad news was that I wasn’t dialating. To speed things along Pitocin was started around 9:30 am. It made my contractions a million times harder to handle. Our little cubicle was unbearably hot but opening the curtain for airflow was too awkward with so many people around. I don’t know how his arm didn’t fall off but my husband fanned me for hours to keep me cool. By 3:25 pm I was in a lot of pain and asked for the epidural.

When I was researching giving birth in Korea, one of the things I learned was that the epidurals are not as strong as the usual kind given in the US. And not only are they weaker, they are also meant to wear off by the pushing stage. In the US these are often called walking epidurals (but don’t be fooled by the name, while you can physically walk with one, your hospital may not actually allow you to). I had a good regular epidural experience with my first birth but I kind of liked the sound of this walking epidural.

I’m not sure why but I started crying. I felt a little sad about giving into an epidural, I missed my family, and I felt so lonely. I cried the entire time the anesthesiologist was placing my walking epidural. That was about 4:15 pm. I felt the coldness of the medication as it entered my back. I writhed in pain from the contractions waiting for the anesthetic to bring some sweet relief. I waited through more contractions. I tried to notice any discernable difference in the pain level. I couldn’t. I could, however, move legs just as advertised. I don’t know if it failed or what exactly happened but my walking epidural did nothing for me at all.

At this point the monitor was consistently losing Mason’s heartbeat even though I was doing my best not to move around at all. This freaked everyone out. They put me on oxygen and had me focus on breathing. In, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, out…

I recalled my childhood training and pretended to be a ballerina practing port de bras while focusing on breathing. I probably scared some first time moms in early labor with all my moaning and groaning. Making noise helped me cope with the pain. My husband was doing a great job of translating things for me but I still felt a little confused and out of the loop. I think at some point Mason’s heart rate was decelerating but it was never communicated clearly to me. All of a sudden the pain spiked, it was unbearable. And I felt that telltale need to poop.

My husband went off to fetch a nurse and they returned with a wheelchair. I got myself up and into the chair. The nurse put on an almost comical show of being in a huge hurry while we waited for the elevator. I’m sure it was for my benefit but I found it annoying at the time. We got to the delivery room and I moved myself onto the normol sized hospital bed. The contractions no longer felt like seperate individual waves. It was just one continous contraction.

And it was the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.

I wish I could say I handled my labor with poise and grace. But that would be a lie. The truth is I handled it by screaming and crying for my mom. Every time I felt like pushing everyone was telling me not to push. Then they would tell me to push when I didn’t feel like it. The neverending contraction still hadn’t let up at all and it was getting more difficult to attempt pushing at all. I was exhausted. They put me on oxygen, then I promptly removed the mask and threw up all over myself and the floor. I apologized over and over again. For throwing up, for failing at pushing, for crying, and for making too much noise.

I was desperately pleading with everyone in the room to help me. I couldn’t do it anymore. After failing to convince me to stop crying and screaming a nurse suggested I sing instead. I started singing “I am a Child of God”. I haven’t been to church in more than a decade. I suppose it makes sense though, afterall it had comforted me before, through some of the most formative years of my childhood.

I was scared not for my own life, but for Mason’s. I was sincerely worried that I was going to hurt my baby. I was so consumed by the pain of the contractions I couldn’t push and I kept removing the oxygen mask to throw up. Reflecting back on it, I realize how over-dramatic it sounds and honestly it’s kind of embarrassing. So many woman go through child birth without making such a fuss and I so wish that could’ve been me.

Luckily, the contractions were still doing their job just fine on their own and I could suddenly feel the baby right there. Somehow the pain was gone, replaced by the distinct urge to push. I felt the ring of fire clearly but it hardly hurt compared to what I had been feeling earlier.

Mason was born at 5:49 pm. Once I heard his cry and knew he was okay, I was okay too.

Even though I was already a mom, Mason’s birth was just as transformative as Rowan’s. The experience was somehow both embarrassing and empowering all at the same time. I held him skin-to-skin, unbothered by the pain and fear from before, and felt so so so happy.

After an hour or so they brought a little bath tub to the bedside. They sort of washed him very gently then had my husband and I give Mason our own little blessings. We have a video of it. I’m sure my husband must’ve said something very thoughtful and eloquent in Korean. I tried my best but mine was kind of lame. I’m normally one of those people who would be all about delaying the first bath but in an effort to not be a difficult foreigner it was important to just go along with some things. Not just for the sake of the staff at the hospital but my husband and in-laws too.

For as difficult as the birth was, I was feeling great physically. Before I knew it they had taken Mason away to the nursery. I didn’t even get to say good night to him. Then my husband left too. I waited by myself for awhile until someone came to bring me up to the recovery room.

As I finish up writing this, Mason is 7 weeks old. I hope to have a post about the hospital stay and early postpartum period soon. Until then, I’ll leave these as my final thoughts;

  1. It was worth it
  2. I’m skipping the walking epidural if there’s a next time!

2 Comments

  • Rina November 21, 2019 at 2:54 AM

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful birth story, pain and all 🙂 You did it, Mama! Now you KNOW you can do anything…

  • Ashley November 23, 2019 at 9:19 PM

    Yes! Most things in life are not as important or high stakes as birth but I definitely realized that I’m more capable than I thought I was and fear shouldn’t hold me back. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I’m giving blogging a go!

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