Disclaimer: This is NOT a short post!
Ever heard of the children’s book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day written by Judith Viorst? It’s a classic tale of an entire day gone awry for a little boy named Alexander.
Alexander, dude, I can so totally relate. I had a day like that, only so much worse.
I’ve often been asked about my experience giving birth in Germany over the past eight weeks (eight weeks! already?!). Was it good? Bad? How did it compare to the two other births in the US? As the title of this post suggests, it was H-E-double-hockey-sticks.
The terrible awfulness actually began with my due date landing smack dab in the middle of August. Though some people may try, it’s not like you can really plan these things. And, even if I did plan it, I would never have known to avoid the month of August.
August is the one and only month a mama should absolutely positively should avoid if ever giving birth in Germany. It’s holiday time – and I mean holiday in the British sense, not in the Christmas-St.Patrick’s Day-Easter sense. Doctors, midwives, friends, anesthesiologists, firefighters, garbage collectors, telemarketers, nose pickers, etc. all skip town to lay on a beach somewhere in Italy until they’re crispy.
While my friends fried themselves in the sand of faraway countries and continents, I was left to wonder what in the world I was going to do with the existing children while I popped out the next sibling.
As my due date approached and the baby made absolutely no signs of making an early or even on-time appearance, I began to realize I would have no other choice but to have my labor induced on the last possible day of the month when I’d have reliable childcare for Screech and T-Rex.
Yeehaw – I just love partying with Pitocin.
By the way, convincing a doctor in Germany to induce labor before your due date is next to impossible unless you have complications. I somehow found myself with an extremely kind hospital obstetrician who agreed to put me on the drip just one day after my due date… but only because I had already had two other inductions and I managed to put on a rather impressive puppy dog face.
On the morning of the appointed day of dread, everyone in the house got up as usual. I knocked some breakfast back, kissed T-Rex & Screech goodbye, and walked myself to the hospital, sniveling the whole way. You’d have thought that would’ve put me into labor. But no. Apparently, I’ve got a bomb-proof amniotic sac.
Doc Sci dropped the boys off at our neighbors house and then hopped on his bike to meet up with me in the labor & delivery ward. Upon arrival, I was given an ultrasound, a nasty needle in my arm, and the depressing news that I was only 2 cm. I was not, however, given a hospital gown or a label on my wrist with my name, blood type, and favorite flavor of ice cream.
I was then shown to my room. It was twice the size of the rooms in the hospital where I had Screech and T-Rex, complete with a king size birthing table, a jacuzzi, mood lighting, and a minibar serving up your choice of regular Pitocin, extra-strength Pitocin, or no-pain-no-gain Pitocin. I voted for the full-on, let’s-get-this-pain-train-a-rollin’ cocktail, but the midwife and doctor wanted me to start with the wussy stuff.
Speaking of doctors and midwives, I was assigned two midwives (a “real” one and a student) and a doctor. Predictably, I saw the student the most. In Germany, it’s the midwife that runs the show, but if you’re in the hospital you do need the doctor for a C-section, rupturing membranes, or other serious matters.
I was ordered by said midwife to lie down on the bed in order to record 30 minutes of baby heart rate and mama contraction data on the monitor (known in Germany as the CTG).
Well, thirty minutes turned into hours. Doc Sci and I asked every hour (or more) when my water would be broken, when the Pitocin would be turned up, when I could walk around, when the pain hurricane would let loose. “Just wait a little longer,” we were told. “The doctor wants to see more data on the CTG.” What is this thing telling the doctor? My fortune? Winning lotto numbers?
I had hoped the doctor would break my water upon arrival. But it’s rare that doctors will rupture membranes at only 2cm. I needed to dilate more, and I needed Pitocin to help me dilate. Such a sick and vicious cycle – all charted on the CTG, of course.
Defying all natural birth common sense, I was never given the chance to get up and walk around to get the contractions going. I was just supposed to lie down and take it. Er, I mean give it… to the slave master CTG.
Well, except for lunch. The staff needed a lunch break, and they didn’t want pesky patients ruining their schnitzel unless it was an absolute emergency (and apparently getting my baby out RIGHT THIS MINUTE did not count). In order to keep us from buzzing the midwife in between her bites of bratwurst, we were sent off to the patient kitchen in another part of the hospital to have our lunch.
The kitchen was deserted. No one paid any attention to what, if anything, I ate. A stein of Bavarian beer and a basket of pretzels was supposed to be waiting for us. Instead, we got water, bubbles or no bubbles, because the hospital was crazy busy and didn’t know to send a lunch up for me. Good thing Doc Sci happened to bring some sandwiches and snacks.
When we had had enough of being bored and ignored, we went back to the labor and delivery ward. Empty. Still working on the schnitzel apparently.
Well that’s all fine and dandy ya’ll, but I’m here to have a baby and I would like him to come out NOW. It was like the Soup Nazi worked there. No baby for you. Come back, one hour.
And come back I did. Time and again. Begging and groveling like a total loser. Oh please oh please oh please send the doctor in.
At half past four, I finally made the cut. The doctor showed up and agreed to break my water. Too bad I was still only 2cm.
I’ve had my membranes artificially ruptured twice. I couldn’t feel anything either time except for whoosh and gush that comes afterward. But, you know things can’t be that simple in a culture where pain is noble.
Instead of the crochet hook, I got fingernails on a chalkboard. Doctor Does-It-Hurt-Yet scratched a hole in my membrane. Let’s put things in perspective. After 8 hours of Pitocin pulsing through my veins, I could barely feel the contractions (and by this time the drip was turned up as high as they would allow it to go), but I felt every last scrape of her nails.
Doctor Does-It-Hurt-Yet’s partner in crime was the Merciless Midwife, a.k.a. the second shift queen of nastiness. She again gave me the bit about lying down for 30 minutes of CTG recording. After 8 hours of that mantra I was done being told to stay horizontal when vertical is what you need to speed things along. I informed her that I would be getting up to use the bathroom, and she retored, “Well, it’s your birth – do you what you want.”
Oh, GOOD! We’re finally getting somewhere. Now that I can do what I want, I’d like to get in the birthing tub.
From that point on, things started to really heat up. I was the frog in the pot that just kept getting hotter, and I was about to be boiled alive.
Sitting in the birth tub, the contractions became too intense to handle. I felt like my tailbone was being smashed to bits. And that’s because it was, only I didn’t know it yet.
I admitted to Doc Sci that I just couldn’t take the pain anymore. It was time for an epidural. What I failed to explain to him, however, is that German hospitals don’t give out epidurals like candy.
In the US, the mother is encouraged to sign all the consent forms for an epidural before going into labor so that (ideally) at the exact minute she wants one, she can have it. In Germany, doctors and midwives purposefully do not give the mother any information or paperwork for an epidural for the express purpose of delaying the intervention as long as possible in order to (hopefully) avoid giving it to her. The bottom line – if you want an epidural in Germany, you’re going to have to fight like mad to get it.
And fight – and scream – I did. Remember Miss Merciless Midwife? Here’s a little exchange I had with her…
“Hi, how are things going?”
“I want an epidural.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I want an epidural.”
“Do you feel a need to push?”
“No, I feel a need to get an epidural.”
“Do you want me to check you? Maybe you’re 10cm.”
“No, what I want you to do is call the anesthesiologist.”
“Okay, I can do that. But let’s just give it a little time and see how you’re doing.”
“The only thing you’re going to give me are DRUGS!”
At this point, I start shaking uncontrollably because my body does not handle adrenaline very well. Here I am, scantily clad, convulsing, shrieking, and begging for a fix. If it weren’t for the swank hospital suite on my insurance company’s dime, I could’ve very well been in some back alley in the Bronx.
After my scary self convinced Merciless Midwife to actually call the anesthesiologist, I had to wait about an hour for him to arrive. The hospital was incredibly busy due to – as I mentioned previously – lots of staff members being on holiday. Plus, Germans generally like to use fewer staff to do more work. I later found out that there was only one anesthesiologist there that night for the entire hospital which just happens to be one of the largest in the whole of Germany. Brilliant.
Because I couldn’t stop shaking, I was given drugs to stop the contractions so I could sit still enough for the big poke. Then I was given Pitocin again to restart the contractions. Back and forth between two extremes, and yet in all of this the baby was not coming down and out.
I wanted to avoid an epidural if at all possible. I somehow managed to get Screech out without one, and the recovery is a million times faster. But if you need it, you need it, and better to get it over with and the baby out as soon as possible. When I had an epidural with T-Rex, and it was glorious. After more than 18 hours of induced labor, I fell asleep for two hours, woke up, pushed for 10 minutes, and that was the end of that.
However, this epidural was NOT the heaven I remembered. I still could feel every. last. contraction. I was breathing through each one, shaking from the adrenaline, and in a world of hurt.
Before the anesthesiologist left, he instructed me to wait 15 minutes and assured me that the drugs should work by then. But, the crash, bang, boom happening at the end of my spine was not letting up. I had to once again beg, grovel, and plead with Merciless Midwife to call him back. And what did she tell me?
“Just wait a little longer.”
“How much longer?
“… Okay, it’s been five minutes. It’s still not working.”
“Just wait a little longer.”
“What is this, a prerecorded speech? How much longer?”
“I don’t know.”
“THEN CALL HIM! In case you somehow missed it, the epidural is NOT WORKING!”
I told you she was real special.
When she finally called him, he had gone home for the night, and the next anesthesiologist had to be briefed. The new guy gave me something else which did end up working after another 20-30 minutes.
But by then, I had had it. It was almost midnight, and all I could think of was how ridiculous the whole ordeal was. The staff was not interested in helping me get this baby out at all. The last hours were spent in a freakishly awful pendulum of pain and progression (though mostly pain and little progression). The whole point of me being in the hospital at that time was to get the baby out. And he was not coming out.
I looked at Doc Sci with all seriousness and said, it’s time to do a c-section. I can’t handle this any longer, pain or no pain. I’m giving up. Yep, I’m a wimp. A wimp who wanted to see my new baby and get home to my kids and away from this sick hospital circus.
We called the doctor (she actually came!) and asked her to do a c-section. Shocking my socks off, Dr. Does-It-Hurt-Yet agreed and said it was no problem. But… she wanted to check me first. Surprise, surprise, I was ready to push.
In the US, I included a request in my birth plan to push in some position other than the standard flat-on-your-back approach. The doctors told me flat out they were uncomfortable delivering babies any other way. In Germany, my hospital room came complete with a smorgasbord of pushing options. However, given that I had an epidural and wasn’t able to stand up, I couldn’t take my pick. The midwife and doctor both wanted me to push while lying on my side. It was one of two moments that saved me from utterly despising their total existence until the end of time.
As precious baby boy #3 sailed his way into the world, he was abruptly shoved back the way he came. I’m sure if he could consider it rude, he would’ve. But, it was brilliant from my perspective since that one nasty smack from the midwife saved me from blasting open a wider escape route for the dear little bub.
And when he finally, finally came out, he was, as the Germans say, looking at the stars. Sunny side up and screaming his little head off. And, speaking of his head, the poor thing must have been so sore from banging against my tailbone. all. day. long.
Well, even if he was sore or misshapen or madder than a wet hen, I couldn’t tell. All I could see was a beautiful baby boy – here at last!
– – – – – – – – – –
You’d think that would be the end of the story. And that would be lovely if it were true. But no – there’s more…
A (much) nicer midwife measured and weighed him, and gave him back to me sans bath and still covered in stinky white stuff that no one in the hospital ever bothered to wash off (!). We were then moved to a temporary holding cell (hang on to your hats, it’s about to get prison-like) where my awesome, amazing, and exhausted husband was forced to try and get some sleep on a stool. No back. Extra grease on the wheels.
Around 330am, I was finally given a room. Only the maternity recovery ward was full (see? August is a terrible time to have a baby in Germany!!), so I was wheeled to a room in another ward on the other side of the hospital. What I didn’t realize at the time was this ward was full of sick women, and only one (ONE!) nurse was on duty.
Oblivious to what I was getting myself into, I sent a weary Doc Sci home around 4am. Our sweet neighbor was staying the night with the kids, and I wanted her to have at least some normal sleep in her own bed. Oh, and Doc Sci was not allowed to stay in the room with me unless we paid for a “family room” which cost almost double the price of a single private room.
I buzzed the nurse, and asked her to remove the epidural that was still in my back and also the “baggage” that comes along with getting said epidural. She said no.
NO, she would not call the anesthesiologist (only he could remove the annoying little thingie shoved in my spine) because he wouldn’t come anyway since he had other important things to do. NO, she would not help me try to stand up because she was alone and didn’t want to have to help me up if I fell down. NO, I could not go back to the labor and delivery ward. NO, she would not do anything at all because there were other people more in need of her than I was. NO, I could not believe this was happening.
So there I lay, alone, in a small room with a tiny new baby. I was unable to open the window, get something to eat, use the bathroom, or change the baby. I was stuck in bed incredulous at this frustrating turn of events especially after all that I had been through in the past 24 hours.
Thank God, I had my phone next to me, so I called Doc Sci. But, there was nothing he could do either. He couldn’t leave the boys, and he couldn’t ask the neighbor to come back until a more decent hour. I decided right then and there I was going home at the first possible instant.
If I had possessed the ability, I would have scooped up the baby and gone home in the middle of the night. But several items of business had to be taken care of first, so I pestered the nursing staff every hour in order to get everything I needed to be discharged. At 3pm, I was ready.
I’m used to the high security hospital wards in the US, but from my experience in a German hospital, I’d guess baby stealing and switching is only an American fear. Doc Sci did not need to check with anyone or show any ID before coming in my room. When he walked the baby over to the pediatric nurse station to get more diapers, no one stopped him or asked where he was going. Upon checkout, no one verified that the baby I left with was actually mine.
Sheesh. Good thing I’m sure. I think.
So, there you have it. The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Birth that left me with a handsome, healthy boy we’re calling Big Foot.