Thursday, June 29, 2017

First-Time Mom at 42: My Birthing Story

Blurry photo of me in the Lamaze room
(Continued from Part III) I woke up my husband, then texted my OB-gyne and called her secretary. My OB-gyne told me to time the contractions and go to the hospital if they come in 10-minute intervals. She was in El Nido for the three-day weekend!

Later, her secretary called to tell me I could also go to the delivery room of The Medical City for an internal exam (IE). So we went. The doctor asked for my details then instructed me to lie down on the bed while the staff attached a machine onto my belly to time the contractions. I was also given an IE.

I wasn’t in pain, nor did I feel anything unusual about the contractions. The results confirmed that they were mild, but were regularly spaced in five- to seven-minute intervals. The IE showed that I was one-cm. dilated. Once informed, my OB-gyne recommended that I be sent home to rest and gave instructions for me to continue timing my contractions. I asked if I was giving birth anytime soon. The DR doctor said it was hard to tell—it could be soon or weeks ahead.

My husband and I went home. That evening, the contractions continued. They were still coming in five to seven minutes apart but were more intense, and while somehow still tolerable, they kept me awake throughout the night. My husband kept asking if we should go back to the hospital but I didn’t want another false alarm. I decided I would wait for sunrise so he could at least get some sleep. At 7 a.m., I woke him up and told him to take me to the hospital. I was surprisingly calm. I took a shower and waited for him to get ready. I had already packed our hospital bag the week prior.

At the delivery room, the nurse attached some wires onto my belly to time the contractions. That took a few minutes so I did breathing meditation while waiting. A doctor came in to do another IE. I was 4 cm. dilated! My OB-gyne gave instructions over the phone and endorsed me to one of her colleagues in case I gave birth before her return flight to Manila.

All this time, my husband was waiting outside. When he was called in, the doctor updated him on my status and told him I will be admitted. He seemed surprised but was quick to say he’ll get our bags and get a room for us.

I was wheeled in to the Lamaze room and was injected with Epidural. After an hour or so, a mature, bespectacled female doctor strode in with two of her young resident doctors. She had a self-assured air about her, and a no-nonsense way of speaking. I liked her immediately. She asked me if I wanted to let my birthing take its course or if I wanted to delay so I can wait for my OB-gyne. She explained that the latter could cause stress to our baby. I was inclined to proceed but called my doctor just the same for reassurance. She said she had complete faith in her reliever who was also her mentor. Hearing her say so buoyed up my confidence.

I was in good spirits as I waited in the room with my husband. I couldn’t believe our nine-month journey will soon be over. My husband had been so patient, accompanying me to every doctor’s appointment and giving in to all my requests, big and small. I was glad I didn’t cause him too much trouble, as our baby remained strong. During my pregnancy, my parents went through major health crises and there were nights when I would cry in bed to unburden. I was worried it would affect our baby but every checkup would confirm that I was giving birth to a feisty one.

I was contracting efficiently until I was between 8 and 9 cm. dilated. Then it stopped progressing. The doctors administered oxytocin to aid the process and also ruptured the membranes to help with the dilation. By 4 p.m., the resident doctors asked me to do trial pushes. After doing this twice to their satisfaction, they asked my substitute OB-gyne's permission to wheel me into the operating room (OR).

In the OR, my OB-gyne asked me to do another trial push. Then she called the whole team to gather around me and give me breathing and pushing instructions. One cycle involved taking a deep breath and pushing hard to a count of 10, followed by a quick gulp of air before continuing the push for another count of 10. I did as instructed but in the second count I only made it to 8. The OB-gyne reminded me to stick to the count.

For the second cycle, I was determined to do better. I gathered all my strength to give the mightiest push of my life, one so enormous it caused all the capillaries on my face to burst. I felt a heavy load slide out of my belly and, when the count was over, I beheld a most precious little being in between my legs. She came out head first, blood covered, eyes wide open, arms and legs in the air, like a warrior who’s just gone through battle victorious. She owned my heart completely. I felt a hand brush my forehead, then a kiss. It was my husband.

That's how it came to be that on May 9, 2016, at 4:45 p.m., my husband and I became Dada and Mama to our beloved Joan Ilsa Alessandra.

My husband's message to our friends
The doctors and nurses swathed our baby in cloth and put her on my breast to latch. She had a good, strong latch. I cut her umbilical cord, then she was brought to a corner to be weighed and checked. She rated 9/10 in the Apgar scale. We were taken to the recovery room together. I couldn't keep my eyes off her. That day, I began my daily account of her life in a notebook I labeled “365 Days of Jia.”

I normally don’t share personal stories on my blog but I know that if you put something out here on the Web, it lives forever, and I want this story to live forever. For my daughter, most of all. But also for every one else who could use one more love story.

Friday, June 23, 2017

First-time Mom at 42: The Second and Last Trimesters

(Continued from Part I and Part II) My second trimester was a breeze. I felt a renewed love for cooking. After work and on weekends, I prepared meals for my husband. 

I kept a record of my pregnancy in The Bump’s Pregnancy Planner and Journal. I still kept away from malls and crowded places and did practically all my shopping for maternity clothes and baby items online. I made a list of all the things our baby will need on her first year and was able to tick off the items one by one, thanks to family who sent in loads of gifts and friends who threw me a baby shower. I even managed to get this blog updated and do some spring cleaning to make room for new purchases.

Gifts from my husband's siblings

First tub
One of the highlights of our second trimester was the congenital anomaly scan, a highly advanced ultrasound procedure that can examine in detail if all the baby’s vital organs developed properly. It was quite unnerving but also such a relief to find out that everything—kidneys, skull, brain, lips, limbs, etc.—was all right. It also confirmed that we were having a girl! My husband was ecstatic. My long-slumbering maternal instinct was roused upon hearing our baby’s heartbeat and seeing her outline on the monitor with legs spread out, her lips moving as she chewed on her fingers.

I managed to sustain this energy until the third trimester. I never missed family gatherings, especially because we were all looking forward to the high school graduation of my eldest niece, Joanna. I touched base with dear friends. I even managed to book an Easter staycation at Aruga by Rockwell with my pamangkins.

Bathroom selfie
But as the third trimester progressed, I started feeling the weight of my pregnancy, literally. My butt was in constant pain. I experienced edema on my feet. I wore Fitflops everywhere.

To make matters worse, what started as allergic rhinitis advanced into a cold. My OB-gyne prescribed an antihistamine initially. I took one tablet, which I regretted instantly, fearing the possible sedative effect on my baby. I didn’t take any more.

When my sniffles didn’t clear up and I began to cough and have a low-grade fever, my OB-gyne prescribed an antibiotic. I was against it but my baby was nearing full term and I had to get well before my due date. I decided to go with her suggestion. I got better quickly.

Throughout my pregnancy, my OB-gyne repeatedly said I was likely to undergo a C-section delivery, considering my age, the fact that I was an elderly primigravida (a term referring to a woman older than 35 years who is pregnant for the first time), and that I had only one ovary (one was surgically removed in 2000 due to an ovarian cyst). Yet, despite all the factors working against me, my pregnancy went very smoothly and I remained strong and healthy except for the recent bout with cold.

At my last checkup end of April 2016, my OB-gyne said that, since the baby and I were doing so well, she'd give me the chance to deliver normally, provided I went into labor before the 40th week. She advised me to start walking regularly, especially up and down the stairs.

By this time, I had gained around 25 pounds so walking was not as easy. And there was little free time because I was still reporting to work. But I took her advice seriously and walked as much as I could.

May 8, 2016, Sunday, was Mother’s Day. It was also a long weekend because the next day was election day. My husband and I made arrangements with my parents and my brother’s family to meet in Shangrila Plaza for lunch. I set my alarm clock at 10 a.m. When I got up, I had the distinct feeling that I had peed on my pants. I went to the bathroom to check. I saw blood. (To be continued)

Monday, June 19, 2017

First-Time Mom at 42: The First Trimester

(Continued from Part I) Then life threw me a curveball. In the middle of 2015, my boyfriend asked me if I still wanted to have a baby. Without hesitation, I said yes. We weren’t even sure we were viable. In previous conversations, we talked about giving it a try for a year and then giving up if nothing happened. But we never gave it a go.

As soon as we tried, I got pregnant, as if parenthood has been waiting in the wings, standing by until we gave it our holy Yes. And when we did, we gave our Yes to the whole shebang—marriage, family, ever after. It all came naturally, because our commitment to each other had been established much earlier. We had already agreed to get married, but because my guy is more romantic than he would admit, he still decided to seal the deal with a diamond ring. He proposed to me on my 42nd birthday.

I was a ball of anxiety that first trimester, so protective of my precious cargo and so afraid that my 41-year-old body would betray me. A month after conception, pregnancy symptoms kicked in, booting the foodie in me out the window. I bristled at the mere sight of steak. I couldn’t stand the smell of sautéing garlic and onions. I stopped cooking entirely. I had sinigang almost every day because it helped keep the nausea at bay. My meals were limited to all things broth-based. I battled fatigue the entire day every single day.

My boyfriend and I kept the pregnancy to ourselves. It was my idea. I researched diligently and discovered that the likelihood of a miscarriage was very high during the first trimester, even higher for women my age. That being so, many couples hold off the big reveal until the second trimester, when the percentage begins to taper off. The downside to this is that I had to pretend to friends, family, and co-workers that everything was okay when in truth all I wanted was to spend the entire day in bed.

In hindsight, I had it easy during the first trimester. Except for the nausea and fatigue, I didn’t have other symptoms. But I was constantly bitten by worry about our baby. I asked my OB-gyne to order a triple test for me to rule out certain birth defects. I had it done in St. Luke’s and was relieved when the tests came out okay.

I have always been obsessive-compulsive about hygiene and became even more so. I wore a mask to hospitals and malls. My hands became dry from constant rubbing with alcohol. It became a habit to wash my hands three times with every visit to the restroom. I became wary of anyone coughing or sniffling.

By the second trimester, the nausea and fatigue began to subside. By Christmas, I could eat! What a relief that was! I still couldn’t bear the sight of steak and the smell of sisig, and my preference for anything broth-based remained. I also looked forward to my servings of fruits specifically papaya, mangoes (ripe and green), and pomelo.

Another source of relief was being able to tell our loved ones about my pregnancy. I told my brother first, then our friends, and finally my parents, who couldn’t contain their delight that their 40-something peripatetic daughter was finally settling down.

When January 2016 came, I became busy with preparations for our civil wedding. My fiancé and I agreed to keep everything low-key, inviting only immediate family and the closest of friends. Our count ended at 24, plus the two of us. We got my brother who’s an RTC judge to officiate, with two of our dearest cousins as witnesses. I loved the intimacy of it all. It allowed us the freedom to be ourselves. We ate. They drank. My husband delivered a heartwarming speech about us that brought tears to my eyes. My niece Joanna and our friend and kumpare Dingdong offered up a toast. My sister in law Pam and niece Jenna sang. We danced. We cried. We laughed. While all these took place, I felt gentle thuds in my belly, stronger than the gentle pulses I started feeling just before the new year began. I kept stroking my baby bump in response. I had never been happier. (To be continued)

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

First-Time Mom at 42 (Or Why I've Been Quiet On This Blog For Some Time)

While many people I know approach turning 40 with dread, I looked forward to it with elation. I’d never felt better about myself. The last time I felt that way was when I was 25 or so, living an itinerant life while publishing a multicultural magazine named Tribu. In a stroke of youthful braggadocio, I wrote in one editorial that I had never felt my mind so sharp, so free, so incandescent. Intellectually, spiritually, I was soaring.

With turning 40, it was different. I experienced a delight that came from groundedness, gratitude, and acceptance. I remember spending the weekends with my nieces and nephew, learning how to ride the bike along with them. I remember embracing my boyfriend and our life together, without reservations or expectations.

Sometime past my mid-30s, I was diagnosed with endometriosis. I felt crushed, especially because I had already lost one ovary due to an ovarian cyst when I was in my 20s. I didn’t expect to feel so devastated. I had no plans of having a baby so it shouldn’t have mattered if I kept or lost the other ovary.

I went to another OB-gyne for a second opinion. The diagnosis turned out to be wrong. She gave me some medication, which I supplemented with several sessions of acupuncture, and in two months, I was perfectly fine.

But I was never the same in the years to come. I began to wonder whether I should consider motherhood as part of my future. There were days when I was convinced it should, and there were others when I’d almost retch at the prospect.

I asked my boyfriend about the possibility. We always had this notion that we were made in the mold of Carrie and Mr. Big (of Sex & The City) and that our life was complete with just each other. I was dumbfounded when he said yes, and when later he would change his mind, I felt a mix of regret and relief.

Life went on and our relationship became stronger than ever. We were different in a lot of ways but the same in all the ways that mattered. He gets me completely, and I knew I didn’t want to spend my life with anybody else.

We loved exploring new places together, trying out new experiences. We took my pamangkins on staycations and road trips. We also spent a lot of time with our married friends whose children we treated like our own, as well as with single friends whom we could drag to late-nights out at a moment’s notice. I would hie off to Tagaytay for an all-girl weekend with our fairy godmother Sonya or enrol in cooking, calligraphy and other courses that caught my fancy.

So as I approached the dreaded age of 40, I didn’t feel that something was missing. My heart was full, and the gypsy in me was dancing ecstatically to a life untethered. (To be continued)


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