Giving Birth Abroad

They always talk about nesting— when you have more energy to clean your home before your baby gets here, just to mess it all up again once the baby has arrived... Well that didn’t necessarily happen to me. My sister-in-law was visiting while my husband was away, training back in the states. He would be missing the birth of his first child and we had prepared for this for months. We paid for his sister’s flight out here to help me with labor and to help take care of the baby for the first week.

My nesting turned out to be me just having enough energy
to take my sister-in-law out to dinner for her first schnitzel experience.  For the past few months, since being hospitalized in Dublin, I’ve struggled walking. Braxton-Hicks contractions every few minutes whenever I walked for more than 10 minutes. So showing her around Europe would not be happening. Schnitzel was all she could get until her family came the next week. We had a lot fun walking and taking cute photos by the gothic church steeples and cobble stone roads though. I did have to stop and take a few breathers on the way to dinner, however...

We got home around 9pm and continued our binge-watching of True Blood that we had been doing all week long... my ankles were swollen and the temperature outside was 90 degrees with no AC in the apartment. I was feeling pretty weird. Something I couldn’t explain, but we talked it up to being me hot and tired. I just remember telling her that tomorrow is the day. The day we meet him. I could feel it.

The next morning around 9:30am I went to use the bathroom. I sat on the toilet and felt a bunch of fluid come out of me. No. I didn’t pee. That was a flood. Confused. Did I pee? How could I tell? Then the ever-so slightest of backaches began. Still, confused, I ran out the bathroom to wake up sis. “Uhh I think my water broke!” I shouted. “Really? How can you tell?” She asked, groggily.

“Idk, I was peeing and then more liquid came out?... it was a lot, but I was also peeing...”
“Heh.. I don’t think it broke...”
“Maybe it didn’t...But my back hurts a little too!”
“I don’t think it did.”

That’s when I felt more liquid leave me. I ran to the bathroom to clean it up as I shouted, “it did break, it did!”. I called the Labor & Delivery room at the hospital and they told me to come in. I called my husband (it was about 2am where he was), I texted my friend in Virginia, and I called my parents who were flying from Dublin to Paris. They had just landed in Paris to start the other half of their vacation when they got my text... they ended up taking the first train to Frankfurt. I packed my hospital bag and my boppy and headed out! This was it! The contractions didn’t feel bad at all. This little backache? Pfft. I can totally do the water birth. Bring it! 

Ha. I was wrong.

A neighbor of mine dropped my sister and I off in front of the hospital. I waddled up to the elevator and headed to L&D. The backaches were already getting heavier. I had to breathe through them while waiting for the midwife. Most of it became a blur after this. What I do remember was that the tub I requested to give birth in was “reserved for someone else” who never showed, and yet they placed me in the bathroom tub anyway... on my back. Not so nice when you’re having back labor. They tried to make it nice and calming, though...scented salts, amber lighting using led lights, and calming music that I drowned out due to increase back pain. The floating helped the pain a little bit, but it became more and more excruciating as time went on. And no. No one ever timed my contractions, but they felt like they never ended. 

Waiting to see a nurse or midwife, 5 minutes after arriving to the hospital. That was the room I gave birth in.

An hour in, I demanded the epidural. Here, in our area, they only administer the walking epidural so you still feel most of it, the contractions just aren’t as strong, and they really don’t care for you to use it. They want the births as natural as possible. I almost yelled at them. They gave my sister-in-law paperwork for me to fill out before stabbing my spine...Poor girl didn’t know what was coming.
“Are you on any medications? This includes vitamins”
“No.” I breathed through.
“But it says vitamins!”
“But your prenatals...?”
“Brooke, shut up.” I nearly vomited from the pain.

When I reached 2cm they gave me the epidural. “Arch your back like a cat and be very still!” Was very difficult when you’re going through contractions. I ended up moving ever so slightly and got yelled at, but it worked out in the end. Only my left side though. My right felt every throb of pain.

By then, my childhood friend and her mom showed up. They had just landed in Frankfurt at 8am that morning, great timing! A few months ago I was telling everyone I didn’t want anyone there in the delivery room, but now I’m really glad they never listened because I can’t imagine doing any of this alone. My sister-in-law held the fan and handed me water when i needed it (it was about 85 degrees out and the hospital did not have AC!), my friend held my numb leg up, and her mom was so nice to lend me her hand to squeeze/break off during the pain.

Despite what the nurse had condescendingly told me after receiving an epidural, how the process would be a lot slower— I went from 2cm to 5cm within the hour. Then 5cm-7cm 45 minutes after, then 7cm-9cm 20 minutes. Baby Anthony was ready to come out! The midwife who delivered the baby looked about 19/20, tall, blonde, and I had no clue she’d be the “doctor” telling me to push. I never saw a doctor, actually. And contrary to all the movies I’d ever seen, she never told me to push either. I had to ask if I should, and her response was “if you want...”. They’re really laid back here, I guess. 

By the time he was crowning she told me to push only when I felt a contraction, I told her I couldn’t feel the contractions because all I could feel was the burning pain from his head pushing its way out.

At 4:55pm my baby was born. On his due date. 6lbs 14oz. I couldn’t believe I was a mother. Surprisingly, after the birth I felt no pain— even after a second degree tear. They stitched me up as I held my friend’s hand out of fear of pain, though they numbed me up pretty good so it was all in my head! 

Visiting hours were ending and so I said my goodbyes to my friend and her mom. I couldn’t be more grateful to have them there. They rolled me into the empty maternity room where I was happy to not have a roommate... yet... but that’s a horror story for another time. My sister-in-law helped me settle in and I said goodbye to her as well.

My parents arrived after hours but they let them visit me for a few minutes to see their grandson. They took some photos and then I had to say goodbye. Their visiting hours were pretty horrible. 9am-12pm and then 3pm-6pm. Dumb. 

The nurse came in asking if I wanted any dinner. Usually they don't bring you in the food, you have to get it yourself, however, my leg was still numb so she offered me a tray. The food was lousy. Dry bread, deli meat, and potato salad. Every dinner. And every breakfast. Lunch was the star meal, though I only had it once there.

I only had lunch once, because I was so sleep deprived that getting up and walking down to the cafeteria to feed myself, and eating alone, was just not appealing when I could try to see the inside of my eyelids instead. My roommate's husband saw my name on a tray in the cafeteria and brought it in for me though, which was nice. A lady would come in every morning and hand you a lunch menu you would have to choose from that list. There was a lot.

The hospital had no nursery, so my son stayed by my side for three days. Sleep deprived for those three days, no one warned me my son would be spitting up all night long, choking, and how it was completely normal. I freaked out and didnt sleep in fear he’d choke. On top of that, no one helped me breastfeed for two days, either. I cried and begged for some advice on how to feed him at night. Desperate for sleep, and a baby’s poor latch, he was crying all night in his bassinet, and nursing from 2am-5am. The nurses refused me to give him a bottle, they wanted me to keep trying to breastfeed. They refused me their pumps. They wanted me to keep trying to breastfeed. My baby was starving and there was nothing I could do. The first night he was fine. Quiet and sleeping soundly. The next two nights he’d cry until he was nursing or in my arms for hours. I couldn’t feed him enough and I was at my wits-end.  Not even their swaddles helped him. The swaddles I would refused because it was 90+ degrees outside and the hospital had no AC so he’d overheat and cry again. It also didn’t help that there was horrible construction right outside our window, keeping him awake when he did try to nap. I even went against my beliefs and bed-shared with him the last night just to try to get some shut eye. It worked... until my roommate would find ways of waking us both up.

I had to deal with all of this, and a nightmare of a roommate, all alone. I couldn’t tell if I had baby blues or I was just so frustrated with all of the stress as a new parent and how little help the nurses were. I didn’t see a doctor until my last morning there. I tried to put on a happy face so I could leave ASAP... but then I looked down at the bassinet and saw blood under my son’s cheek. He had coughed up blood... 

I began to cry and called in a nurse. She told me it was from my milk and walked away. Not something to do to a new mom who knew zilch about breastfeeding. Then, right before seeing the hospital’s pediatrician, there was a clot of blood where the other blood stain was. This was not my milk, but they still told me it was. I couldn’t believe it. I took a picture of it for later when I could see an American pediatrician, who explained to me that sometimes babies still have stuff in their lungs they’re getting out. No one ever talks about that. 

The german doctors gave us the green light to leave and I prayed there’d be nothing else stopping us from leaving. My parents and friend came to pick us up after we took some newborn photos of him at the hospital. I was finally going home. 

The night we got home I immediately started pumping. I decided I’d pump exclusively from now on since having cracked, sore, and bleeding nipples was not bonding time with a baby who couldn’t latch well enough. Any way to feed him, I’d find it. Eventually, though, we got the hang of latching and I rarely pump now! 

These last two months have been the most difficult days of my entire life, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Having my husband back home has brought back my sanity and after 19 days of sleep deprivation, I definitely needed a savior. My husband may have missed the first 19 days of our son’s life, but I’m so glad he didn’t miss the 2 months that we had debated on. 

8 weeks postpartum update: I’m just 7lbs away from my pre-pregnancy weight. I know I shouldn’t focus on things like that but I do. Each day I try to wear another piece of clothing I couldn’t fit into while pregnant. It’s a good day when I can fit into my beautiful jumpsuits again... so far, I can’t.

My stitches are gone, but there’s still some healing that needs to be done. My doctor told me the muscles I’ve used have been damaged from labor and will take about a year to fully heal (ugh). 

Other than that, I’m spending each day loving my baby boy. We tummy time, dance, read stories, play with new toys that rattle and jingle, and just giggle whenever his chin gets tickled! He’s growing so fast and I’m so excited to see who he’ll be in the future. Just don’t grow up too fast, kiddo, we’ve got lots of stuff to do!

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