The idea of packing up and moving our whole family for two months did not sound very fun, especially since a lot of that time would just be somewhat aimless waiting. (Of course there are ways to redeem the time, but being away from our work and in a totally different culture and using a different language makes us feel even further away from where we are called.) As well, since everything went so well with Clara Anne and Chloe's births, and this pregnancy has proceeded normally with nothing unusual, the "giving birth in country" option was looking better and better.
I also felt relieved that I was able to get such a thorough check-up in Hong Kong just a few weeks ago. If there had been anything, even a small thing, that looked suspicious with the baby (like evidence of a slight heart murmur or a cleft lip or something), we would have immediately changed our delivery plans. But thankfully, the baby looks to be very healthy, active, and a good size--no forseeable problems whatsoever.
But then, last Friday happened. Last Friday was the day that I took Chloe in for her brief visit to the doctor, getting her urine checked etc. My experience at the hospital was less than ideal--a doctor who seemed like she was bored with it all and would rather have been anywhere else, a waiting area with kids peeing on the floor, the cleaning ladies swishing dirty water around in pointless effort, and in general, a very dismal and depressing place.
While we were waiting the girls were eating some raisins and Clara Anne dropped one on the floor. "DON'T touch that!" I practically leapt up to prevent her from picking it up and eating it off that very unsanitary floor. I tried to keep them from touching anything, actually, since it just gave me the shivers to think about what germs were floating around there.
That experience really made me wonder, "what in the world am I doing planning to give birth to a baby in a place like this!" True, the hospital we would go to is affilated with an International Clinic, with (hopefully) more international standards of cleanliness, but I started to think again about all of the unknowns in this situation. Nursing care in this country is almost non-existent (usually families hire a helper or stay themselves with a loved one in order to help the patient to the bathroom, provide meals for the patient, etc) and so I found myself thinking about basic questions like "who will check me to see if I'm fully dilated?" and "Will there be someone to bathe the baby after she is born?" And, I admit it, I started to worry a little bit.
Enter John. He encouraged me to sit down with him last Sunday evening and organize our birth plan, as well as talk through all of the questions that still remained about giving birth in this very different culture. We came up with a list of probably 50 questions that we wanted to ask the doctor, whom we had met briefly once. Topping the list was "So can you get special permission for John to be with me during the entire labor and deliver?" as well as "What do you think will necessitate a C-section?" [My helper estimated that 90-95% of women in this country have c-sections, which I truly want to avoid if at all possible.]
We then realized that if things didn't, in fact, work out in this neighboring city with the International Clinic, we would have little time to plan a trip to Thailand unless we did it soon. (I'm already 33 weeks!) So on Sunday night we made some plans, on Monday morning we made some calls and bought train tickets, and on Tuesday we made the trip! The city is nearby, 2.5 hours by a fast train, and so we took the train there in the morning, had lunch with a friend who lives there, and met the doctor at 2pm. We were finished at the hospital at 3:30 and had time for a brief stop at Starbucks and McDonald's for some early supper, then were back on the train again at 5pm and home by 8. Amazing!
What was the result, you say? Well, everything went VERY well at the hospital. The main factor in our favor is that the doctor is very excited about having me, the foreigner, give birth under her care, and so she did numerous things throughout the time we were with her to show that. She introduced me to the head of the department, she got me in to see the labor and delivery rooms which are normally off-limits; she took me to a private place to do a brief exam of the baby (usually everyone stands in line and then crowds around in one room during examinations--no privacy at all), and best of all, she basically agreed to everything we had on our birth plan. There were only a few small sticking points and they weren't the essentials.
I think it really helped that this is my third baby. John did a lot of the talking/negotiating, and he kept saying "well, in the first two births it was like this . . . " and so we have experience on our side. It also helped that this doctor is very interested in western ways, and really wanted to accomodate us wherever she could. She had worked with some western doctors before and so I think she sees this as a great opportunity to actually help someone give birth "the western way."
All this to say that we left the hospital feeling very encouraged and with a settled peace that this is where we are supposed to go for the birth of our daughter. Many other factors worked out as well, such as our friend in that city arranging a business trip so that we could stay in his apartment rather than live in a hotel. The neighborhood where he and his wife live is very convenient for shopping and getting around, which is an added plus. Also, we are planning to take Lou, our helper, with us for the three weeks or so that we'll be gone. She'll stay in a cheap hotel nearby, and be available to cook lunch each day, clean, and watch the girls occasionally, all things that get harder and harder for a very pregnant mama to do! This nearby city is on the coast, so we can take long walks down by the sea and of course, visit Starbucks frequently! We will be able to function in Asianese, we won't need to travel internationally, and all in all, I think it's going to be a great situation.
So we returned home Tuesday evening (Lou had stayed with our girls all day) to find that (in John's words), our trip was smashingly successful whereas the girls' day at home was just . . . smashing. They had not behaved terribly well for Lou--didn't take naps, fought over toys, Clara Anne colored on the wall with a marker, they ate practically every snack available in the house (the final count was 9 containers of yogurt and 7 individual boxes of raisins), and Chloe got a huge purple goose egg on her forehead from running into a doorway while chasing Clara Anne who had snatched her toy.
BUT, on the flip side, everyone was alive, Lou was glad when I said she didn't have to come in until 11 the next morning, and Clara Anne got plenty of consequences for her misbehavior. If you remember, Lou is single and really hadn't had much exposure to kids until she started working for me. We had worked her into watching the girls slowly, an hour here or an hour there, but Tuesday was definitely a test for her! All day . . . and I'm sorry to say that I think Clara Anne took advantage of the fact that we were gone and so was somewhat manipulative and naughty. The language barrier doesn't help, but we certainly need to keep working on this with Clara Anne.
All I can say is, it certainly was easier to make Tuesday's trip without carting two small children everywhere! We are thankful for the new high-speed train that makes this journey, previously 5-6 hours, only 2.5, making it possible for us to go there and back in the same day. Now our plan is to travel to this city on April 7 and wait for the baby (due April 23) and then leave fairly soon after the baby is born, as soon as I feel recovered enough to make the short trip.
We are thankful! I feel strangely energetic this week after having the burden of that big decision off my shoulders. Obviously, there are always risks associated with childbirth, but I feel confident and peaceful that we have made the right decision without putting the baby at undue risk.
And if you made it to the end of this very long post, you've done well! Here's a recent pic to enjoy as a reward! It was taken last week when Chloe wasn't feeling so well, but the girls were both enjoying playing the piano "like Mommy" and singing along. Sweet songbirds!