they say... every time a baby is born, a parent is born with it.
I want you to picture the most Hollywood-worthy scene. A man is driving a car, in the storm... heading to the hospital. A woman in labour is screaming her head off from the contractions and in the few meters between the house and the hospital, almost everything that can go wrong, goes wrong.
But this story starts 1,000 miles away, on a ski slope...
For years, Tudor's family has gone on the same week long vacation in the first week of August at the little town of Wanaka in the South Island of New Zealand. If you are not familiar with the geography of New Zealand... it's long, very long, with two islands on top of each other. Auckland (where we live) is 1,500 km away from Wanaka.
This year, was slightly different, as I was going to be 36-37 weeks pregnant during the trip, and naturally would not take part in the skiing and instead hang-out with two of my bestest friends. Enjoy winter walks, drink loads of hot chocolate and binge-watch the 2020 Olympics.
I have distinctly sent the following message to at least 5 people in preparation for this trip
"After this trip, the baby can come at any time!"
But more on that a little later.
Flying into Queenstown, we were greeted with the most spectacular weather. Cold but not too cold, wintery, crisp and sunny. It was the perfect start to a perfect babymoon. Slowly, we drove the scenic 1-hour drive to Wanaka, taking-in the beautiful landscape and avoiding the not so apt drivers that were not a match for some very windy roads.
The next day, my best friend, Marcia arrived and the real fun began. We woke up late into the morning and took a long walk around the lake. Tudor was joining the ski party, and we were left on own to explore the little town, catch up on each others lives and join Tudor's dad for some stories and hot chocolate.
The next few days rolled around like a dream. We laughed our heads off at the terrible commentating watching the Olympics well into the night, hiked little mountains (albeit really slowly on my part), and even got to taste the famous pickle fritters at the Cardrona hotel, one of the oldest hotels in New Zealand.
There were only 2 days left before our flight back to Auckland when we had the bright idea to go cross-country skiing.
I know.. I know.. just bear with me.
In our heads, cross-country skiing was like walking but just on skiis. We didn't appreciate the skill, finesse and complications arising from having your toes glued to the skiis.
We drove up the mountain and got fitted out. Now I should mention:
- Please don't try this pregnant!
- We really didn't know
It turns out, cross-country skiing has a completely different technique to classic good-old downhill skiing, and your instincts are constantly working against you. We had some fumbles, but for the most part we made it around the small skiing circuit, and came out at the end in one piece and with yet another hot chocolate (and marshmellows!) to celebrate.
After an intensive two weekend long private birthing course, I was very familiar with all the supposed and research ways to induce labour... Going home from the cross-country skiing I disctinctly remember telling Tudor and Ang... "I think these are all the moves they recommend to induce labour"
Going back home, we decided to (very unsucessfully) to prank Tudor about me going into labour. There are videos of the event, and I must admit Marcia and I are probably the two worse liars you could find... so needeless to say, the whole ordeal was 20 min of giggling and trying to find the courage to start the prank, and 0.3 secs of Tudor seeing right through it.
That night was the most amazing night of the trip. Ang kindly offered to massage everyones sore shoulders, we watched hour after hour of Olympic finals, we stuffed our faces with Thai food, until it was time to make plans for the next, and final full day, of the trip.
Marcia and Tudor opted for a last run on the slopes, Ang and I planned to embark on a six hour roadtrip to explore more of the area. Exhausted but happy we all went to sleep with the promise of waking up early...
The revenge of the prank
It was as if our circadian rhythms had aligned, because albeit we made a promise to wake up early, we all decided to catch a few extra snoozes. Waking up, I felt super puffy, not unsual for someone 37 weeks pregnant. We got ready, packed the car, and drove up the mountain to deliver Marcia and Tudor to the ski center.
Due to our late start we decided to have breakfast together at the chalet before parting ways.
We were just finishing breakfast at the chalet, when I started to fill like I needed to pee. I will spare the TMI details but I got to make the following disclaimer.
I HATE, and I mean that very seriously... I HATE using any form of public bathroom. I would rather have to wait until I can be home, which I am really capable of, but given we were heading for a roadtrip I didn't want to risk it... so off the bathroom I went.
All of a sudden I sense something is off. I am bleeding (the most tiny bit), and my stomach feels a little different to usual.
If there is one thing to take away from this story... is TRUST your intuition. Before this story is over, it will come handy several times!
Part of me thought I am imagining it, and part of me was going through the lists of early labour symptoms that we had heard time and time and time again! I was debating whether it was something serious, when a wave of emotion took over me... what if something is wrong? You have to check this out.
I got out of the bathroom and rushed to Tudor, patting him on the shoulder trying to find the words to describe what's happening.
"This is not a joke, I promise!" - Let's all remember the age-old story of the boy who cried wolf, and my pathetic attempt at pranking him the day before!
- "I am bleeding a little bit and I want to go home."
- "Okay, we can drive back to Wanaka"
- "No, home as in our home, Auckland home"
We exchanged a few sentences. I don't remember exactly what was said, but I remember Tudor's stare. I translated as in "Is what I think is happening about to be happening?" kind of look.
Finally, we decided to let Ang and Marcia that everything is okay, but we need to call our doctor just in case is something. We get outside to escape the busy chalet, and looking over the slopes we are listening to the phone ring a few times before the OBGYN picks up!
Side-story: Our OBGYN was vacationing in Wanaka two days before, so we kept joking with her that there is only a 3-day window that the baby CANNOT come!
I described to her the situation, and after a few questions and a few answers she lets us know that it's best to drive into Queenstown and see a midwife or an obstetrician. She made sure to reassure us that even if it is early labour, it might take days for the baby to make the grant exit and that we shouldn't worry... just stay in Queenstown (close to the airport) for tonight.
And this is where the story gets complicated...
The ski slopes are almost perfectly half-way between Wanaka (Airbnb) and Queenstown (hospital and airport). Approximately 1-hour each direction. Having only one car, we decide against going to Wanaka and then Queenstown, we drove down the windy dirt road to the intersection with the highway, dropping Marcia and Ang to hitchhike back to Wanaka while we were making a straight line to the hospital.
It’s a simple plan. Ang and Marcia are team “throw everything into suitcases and come to Queenstown”, Tudor and Giota are team “get to Queenstown and figure out if we need to take extra measures”.
The logistics wizard
The drive to Queenstown couldn't be more beautiful. The weather was sunny and clear. On the way, we kept looking at each other with a mixture of disbelief and reassurance. Part of me still thinking I might be imagining everything, and the labour ward is going to discharge me laughing.
Through a small series of unfortunate events, we find out two things:
- Queenstown medical center is not Queenstown hospital
- Queenstown has a hospital
Coined as the adventure capital of New Zealand, you would think accidents happen, and a large hospital would be required, unfortunately, that is not the case. In addition to the above, the large developments in the area in recent years has left Google maps, a little out-of-date, thus ending up wrong entrance to the hospital.
Long story short, we got to the wrong place, followed by getting to the right place and finally got in a room with a midwife. We briefly go over what has happened in the last few hours, and from the way she is listening I can already tell this is not a “it’s all in my head situation”. With a few swift movements she hooks me up to the tocometer (a little machine that determines if there are indeed contractions and how far apart) and performs a few more exams.
As Tudor is entering the room, he had to park a while away, she gives us the news...
You are definitely in early labour, and this baby is coming sometime tonight or tomorrow is the fastest way to summarise this.
The problem being... I am hundreds of kilometers away from the nearest tertiary hospital and giving birth in Queenstown = no epidural!
She leaves the room to call the nearest hospital (Invecagrill) and comes back with yet another wave of news.
“So, we usually send women that want to give birth in a hospital to Invecagrill, however they are at capacity, so your nearest choice is Dunedin. It means that if you don’t want to give birth here you will have be chopered out as it’s a long drive (more than 3 hours) to get there.”
That was definitely the part were panic started to creep in. I am not ready to commit to an unmedicated birth, without my doctor and thousands of kms away from home. Tudor is frantically typing on his phone, and looks up at me. We don’t need to say anything as we have discussed the birth plan and our preferences time and time again lately.
He looks at the midwife and goes “there is a flight leaving for Auckland in 50 min... can I book it?”
She looks at me and goes “ I know you would really rather give birth in Auckland, I think it’s highly unlikely the baby is coming in an hour, let me check with your OB and we are gonna get you there”
A few more rings, and a few more conversations with the OB later and we have a plan.
T-45 min to the flight.
I leap up and head to the bathroom wiping off the thick layer of gel on my belly and dressing up as fast as possible. I look at the mirror and think of the little baby in there, and it still feels totally surreal that we are meeting it at any moment.
We head out the door and with impeccable timing Ang and Marcia arrive!
The late bag
We are only five minutes from the airport but there are plenty of things to be done.
- Return rental car
- Pack suitcases from Marcias car
- Check in
- Check in bags
We try to summarise the last hour in five sentences to Marcia and Ang as we are walking to car. Everyone is working like one to get to this flight. Suitcases fly open, Tudor is getting undressed (he is still in his ski pants this whole time), Marcia arranges to return the rental car, we get a few essentials in the carry ons in case the big bags don’t make it and we finally reach the counter!
“Your bags are late, but head straight to the gate it should be ok” the person behind the counter tells us.
I felt so guilty about keeping this little “I am in labour secret” that I was half-expecting that they are gonna read my mind and start interrogating me, which of course didn’t happen. As we head to the gate we are overcome by a wave of relief, we have made it. I look at my hands and realise how swollen I must look, it’s like my fingers have morphed into fluffy sausages.
The plane ride is otherwise uneventful, I can slowly feel the contractions coming and going, without any pain.
And just like that, we land!
The Eye of the Tiger
On the way home, I get on the phone with my OB. She goes over a few technical and logistical things about getting to the hospital, when to go there etc. However, she is still thinking that this baby might be a while away. She tells us that if I don’t go into active labour tonight to just check in with her in the morning and get in for an exam. Once again, she reminds us of the “oh first babies take a while” and to take it easy.
Heading home, Tudor is getting straight into food and sorting out the car seat that is still sitting all packaged up in the middle of our living room. Yet another thing we thought we will slowly get to in the following weeks, how naive we were.
Ang grabs a few things for dinner from the local Mexican place and after we devour it making small talk in our kitchen, I am heading straight to the shower. As I step in, I hear the all familiar first notes of Eye of the Tiger starting to play from the bathroom speakers. Tudor’s little flavour of encouragement!
As I step out, the first few painful contractions are coming in. The easiest way to explain this feeling is like every muscle in your stomach cramps involuntarily, squeezing so hard you feel that it can no longer squeeze anymore, and then slowly relaxing again. I try to relax and head to the bedroom thinking I will get a few hours of rest. I am starting to time my contractions and slowly and steadily they are getting closer together. At this stage I am definitely feeling some pain, but less than an hour has passed so I try to push it aside.
A few more contractions and I realise there will be no sleeping tonight. I am struggling to keep a straight face when they are coming, and the app that I am timing contractions through starts beeping saying “time to head to hospital”.
I realise that we have reached those magic numbers the OB was talking about earlier and I tell Tudor I would rather head to hospital now.
We get on the phone with the hospital and the midwife in charge asks to talk to me. In the 3 minutes between making the decision to go and getting through the line the contractions have amped up in intensity to the extend I can no longer speak through them.
And then... what I fear the most. The midwife says “this is a first baby, it’s probably a long way away, if you are at this stage another 3 hours that would be the ideal time to come in.”
A wave of anquish takes over me. I hang up and call my OB, who luckily says, head to the hospital and I will be there.
There is no more waiting we head to the car.
Made for the movies
Now if there is one take-away from this story... let it be this! Make sure every logistical detail of the birth plan is taken care of first.
We hop in the car and it’s the perfect night for a baby to be born, dark, cold and pouring with rain. Luckily, our house is a short 3min drive to the hospital and less that 2km away so we expect to be there in no time.
But we were so wrong!
Of all nights, this night was the night to have a traffic jam. We turn the corner from the apartment and we are sitting in line 2 cars behind the light. I watch as the lights turn from green to orange to red, but no one is moving.
There is a function at a large hotel right on that intersection and the cars ahead of us are waiting to turn into the hotel entrance, which is backed up, hence blocking the whole intersection.
Green, orange, red...
One car moves through.
Green, orange, red...
I am clenching my teeth through each contraction. The pain intensifying with each one, and everything made worse having to sit still in a car seat.
There is plenty of space to turn but the last car ahead does not move.
Green, orange, red...
I look at Tudor, and declare if the car ahead doesnt move on the next green I am getting out and screaming until he does, or breaking his windshield with my bare arms.
Green, no movement...
Green, no movement...
Tudor presses down on his horn until he moves... one tiny bit, and then stops again...
The horn continoes until he moves through the intersection.
I look at my watch and it has been 4 contractions and almost 13 minutes... on that intersection... the pain is unimaginable, every bit of concentration and relaxation I was building up on has extinguished.
We go over the small bridge connecting the city to the hospital and I am thinking “this is it...we made it!”
We are making a turn into the hospital complex and Tudor turns to me asking “where are we going?”.
Now I should mention this little detail. The Auckland hospital, like most large hospitals, have several buildings. To make it easier for expectant parents to navigate the labirynth of parkings, buildings and entrances the labour ward has a short video on the hospital website showing exactly where the labour ward is and how to get to the right parking.
Of course, when I had asked Tudor a few weeks ago “you have watched the video right?” he dismissed with a “yes yes”, but it was more like a “no no”.
We drive through the narrow streets of the hospital complex and my contractions are almost constant. I am trying to understand why we are heading out again, and turn to Tudor to say “can you just stop and watch this”.
He likes to remind me I wanted him to watch a video in the middle of our labour marathon, but in my head sacrificing two minutes to make sure we are heading in the right direction is better than 3 more rounds of going around the hospital.
We get out of the complex, and get hit with another red light.
Contraction after contraction is coming.
I remember distinctly yelling at Tudor “I am the only person within 2km of the hospital that will give birth on the side of the road”. He honks down another car once again and lets say runs an “orange” light and we are back in the hospital!
Signs everywhere, but we have no clue what’s the right direction. The main entrance is closed afterhours. I am starting to panic, there is not a soul around. Tudor makes a snap decision to park right on top of some thick red lines saying “Ambulance only”.
I try to mumble “but... but...” but I am too tired to object. The pain is so intense I am sobbing, tears streaming down my face, and struggling to get out of the car. My thoughts are rushing from “this is the wrong spot, to what if they say it’s too early to be here and this all has been for nothing.”
A lady comes around the corner and talks to Tudor. We are definitely in the wrong entrance, wrong building and wrong side of the hospital but she is just starting her shift in the labour ward and tells us we can follow her.
We walk to the elevator and I have to stop for yet another contraction, I am holding on to Tudor like my life depends on it and he tries to give me some good news.
We get to the right floor and the labour ward is a long walk away still. I have to stop a few more times before we get there. Every contraction is like a sawing pain, my head is in the wrong space and the stress over all the little things is making
The one with the baby
We finally make it to the labour ward and the nurse takes us to the our room. Our lovely midwife and OB are already there, and in what seems one swift motion they get me on the bed, changed in a robe and start going over the things that need to be done.
I start to feel a little more relaxed, they have done this a million times before and it shows. The midwife is the re-incarnation of misses Doubtfire. Soft-spoken, confident, supportive, sweet but assertive, she is made for this.
My OB asks me if I want to get checked. For those not very familiar with labour, dilation checks help determine how far away from pushing (aka getting baby out) one is. Usually, a 10cm dilation is considered fully dilated, and the most painful part known as “transition” is around 7-8cm.
She finishes the exam and looks up at me, “you are 7cm, this baby is coming fast, I want you to be prepared that you might have to do this without an epidural”.
Finally, I have an answer to my question. No, it wasn’t all in my head. Yes, it hurt this much for a reason, and yes, this baby is coming.
I won’t get into the little details of what happened in that labour ward in the early hours of that night, but less than two hours later with a scream and a cry Apollo was born.
We were shocked, dazed, tired, happy, thrilled, preplexed and all kinds of things at the same time.
And this was just the beginning!