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“Are you really going to have your baby in Saudi Arabia?”
I think if I had a dollar for every time I heard that question, I’d be rich! Yes, having the baby here was always in the plan since we first started interviewing. Why? Well, our logic was simple. I needed my husband with me, not on the other side of the world, when this sweet boy came into our family. So yes, despite the fact that we turned everything in our lives upside down in just a few weeks time, we felt very strongly that we needed to be together for this.
Since this was baby #4, I felt pretty comfortable in knowing what to expect from this. All of my pregnancies and deliveries have been complication free, so that helped to alleviate a lot of my concerns. In fact, because of that, I completely put the subject on the back burner until we arrived here. When it finally did hit me that this boy would be born in Saudi Arabia and what that would entail, I was already here and it was too late to turn back (literally…I was so far along I couldn’t fly anymore). And then I freaked out. Who in their right mind would LEAVE the US to have a baby?
The rationale that I kept using was that people had babies all over the world all the time, so why couldn’t I? Since I had no idea what to expect, I came in with low expectations. I knew it wouldn’t be like the US, but really, that was fine with me (I thought). All that I really wanted was for both of us to be healthy and other than that, I told myself that nothing else really matters. Well, it doesn’t and it does all at the same time…
I had gotten a quick glimpse of the hospital where I would be delivering the week before when I dragged the kids down on the bus and we met with the doctor. The sole purpose of that visit was to schedule a date for me to be induced since I was NOT comfortable living so far away from the hospital considering my history of relatively short labors! It was confusing and I felt like an outsider, which is pretty much the story of my life these days, but overall it was clean and relatively modern. I was going to deliver at Dr Soliman Fakeeh Hospital in Jeddah, basically because I didn’t have another option (the nicer hospital IMC wouldn’t accept me as a patient since I was too far along when I got there). Since my babies are traditionally a week late, I asked to be induced 2 days before my due date, right before the weekend so that Andrew could have a little more time at home right after. The doctor was not happy with that (she wanted to induce me immediately), but I figured it was my body and I knew best – HA!!
Well, on Sunday March 23rd, in my quest to be “SUPER MOM”, I was at the store stocking up on lots of groceries so that our troops wouldn’t starve in the coming weeks. While I was holding a tired Jimmy, he starting getting really wiggly and accidentally kicked my stomach HARD! (In his defense, I may or may not have been tickling him at the time…just sayin’) I stopped cold and bent over – half in pain, half at the shock of a really strong contraction. Now that was weird. For the remainder of the trip, the contractions continued about 15 minute apart. On the way home I mentioned it to the friends I was with, who jumped to action, while I kept telling them it was probably nothing a nap wouldn’t rid me of!
Well, 3 hours of lying down and the contractions are still going. Not getting stronger or closer, but definitely not going away. As I started to make dinner I gave Andrew an update and he jumped on the bus to come help. By the time dinner was on the table, the contractions were 7 minutes apart and getting stronger. I
yelled spoke lovingly at everyone to eat quickly, while Andrew called our friends who were going to watch the kids while we were gone. 15 minutes later, we were at the ER asking for an ambulance to take us to the hospital.
They wanted to bring in an OB doctor from 40 minutes away and monitor me while they waited for her to get there, just to make sure I was in labor. SERIOUSLY?!?! Well, that set me off and I started to half yell, half cry at the doctors that if they didn’t get me to the hospital NOW, I was going to have this baby in the ambulance! After about 5 minutes, they got the picture, and off we went! I’m starting to think that the only way to get things done around here is to start yelling…
Thus started the most difficult part of the birth – the ambulance ride. I think to make things more
uncomfortable memorable for me, they decided to remove the shocks from the ambulance so that I could feel every. single. blasted. bump in the road. So yes, while we’re speeding down the highway at 150kmph, I’m having contractions, bouncing around like crazy, and on top of that I now really have to pee. To make the ride even more memorable, we got to Jeddah right at rush hour and were weaving in and out of traffic, jumping curbs, and constantly jerking around as the ambulance tried to go as quickly as possible through the traffic. So a midst all of this crazy ride, something amazing happened – my contractions started slowing down to 10-12 minutes apart. Crazy! Yes, I had been praying for weeks (and constantly during the drive) that he would wait and be born at the hospital – it was amazing!
When we got to the hospital, I got off the stretcher as soon as I could and ran to the bathroom to relieve my poor bladder. As soon as I finished, my contractions almost instantly began to be about 3 minutes apart. I instantly knew that God was watching out for me. So despite the fact that the Labor and Delivery ward looked like it was straight out of the 60’s or 70’s, I felt at peace and was able to relax knowing that God was with me.
It was quickly determined that I was 8 cm dilated and the doctors were worried that I wouldn’t have time to get an epidural working before the baby was born, so they suggested a spinal block instead. Basically they told me it was like an epidural, but was all in one injection so it starts working almost immediately. Sounded good to me, but really, what kind of pain relief wouldn’t sound good at that point? That was all they told me, and soon I was pain free and my mind was relaxing while my body labored. After about an hour, I started to feel a weird pain in my abdomen and the doctors noticed that the babies heart rate was dropping quickly. We decided to have the doctor come break my water, and within 5 minutes, and 3 pushes, I now had 4 kids. He was 2 lbs lighter than my last baby and had a normal sized head (my other kids have enormous heads), so I was feeling awesome!
At this point, I was in heaven. I was thrilled at this beautiful boy who was now mine and basking in the amazing experience of bringing life into this world. So yes, despite my fears and concerns, we were both healthy and well (or so I thought) and that was all that mattered. The doctor and nurses who had been attending to me were all very helpful and I felt good about the whole thing. We were then left in the delivery room for the next 2.5 hours (still not sure why it was so long) until they moved us up to the recovery area. Unlike in the US, very little was done right after the baby was born. They did the apgar test and that was it. No weighing, measuring, testing, cleaning, or anything. This was a little odd for us, but we were told that they would do all of that after we were in the recovery area. No biggie.
Finally after showing our little guy off a bit to the grandma’s (gotta love Facetime), we went up to our room for some rest. The nurses took the baby to go and give him a bath, weight him, and give him his shots, so I sent Andrew along with him. He returned about 5 minutes later saying that they wouldn’t let him go into the nursery. Still riding out my post-birth high, I didn’t think much of it and decided to get a little bit of sleep (it was about 1 am after all). Around 4 am, the nurses brought him back to me to feed. I thought that they were just being nice and wanted to let me have a little sleep, but little did I know this was how the rest of the stay would go. About 45 minutes later they took him back to the nursery to check his vitals, and kept him for over an hour and half. Again, I slept while he was gone, and woke up with a horrible headache. I told the nurses about it and they gave me a pill that they were sure would take it away (come to find out, it was 1 Tylenol…yes, just 1!!!). After an hour of laying down, the headache started to subside.
This was pretty much how the rest of the day went. They took the baby more than I had him, and anytime I was sitting or standing for more than 30 minutes, the crazy headache would begin again. None of the doctors or nurses were worried at all so I just attributed it all to a lack of sleep and pre-baby stress catching up with me – HA! After lunch, they took the baby to go get circumcised and didn’t bring him back for over 3 1/2 hours. That was the last straw!! They told us that they line all of the babies up in the operating room where they wait their turn until the doctor can take care of them – for 3 1/2 hours!! When our other 2 boys got circumcised, it took about 15 minutes! We were livid. No matter what we tried, we couldn’t get them to tell us where the baby was or when he would be back. Top that off with my crazy headache and flood of hormones – let’s just say that I was losing my mind. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. All I wanted was to hold my baby and be back with my other kids. Despite all of my mental preparation for this, I was constantly comparing my experience to my previous 3 back in the States, and I was getting really frustrated by the whole thing.
As soon as they returned him, we informed them that we would be leaving as soon as we could get a taxi home. Well, remember that we are in Saudi, so nothing can happen fast. It took 3 hours to get a taxi arranged and get us on our way. Before we were discharged, we had to make a special request for a pediatrician to even come and talk to us – I guess that they normally don’t even do that here (and they made a big deal out of even getting one to come talk to us).
We left the hospital with a firm resolve to keep our family healthy while we were here so we would never have to return there AGAIN!
The ride home was torture. I was still fuming over the days events, and I was furious about that since this was a day that I wanted to just enjoy with my husband and newborn. I was angry at the staff and angry at myself. To top that all off, every time we hit a bump, accelerated, or hit the brakes, my brain felt like it was being jarred around in my head.
Now before you jump to conclusions and think that I’m insanely high maintenance, let me clear a few things up. I honestly think that I’m an incredibly laid back person when it comes to child birth (or at least with my previous 3 I have been). I am happy to go in and get my pain medication. I have short labors. I don’t scream and yell. I actually LIKE to be in the hospital just staring at my sweet baby. I enjoy having the nurses take my baby when I’m tired so I can actually sleep. I smile almost non-stop. This was why I thought I’d be okay jumping right in and having my baby here. However, my mama-bear instincts of protection took over as my baby was taken over and over and over again. It was like he wasn’t even mine and they thought they could to whatever they wanted with him, which I was 100% not okay with.
That night we got home around 9:30 and picked up our kids from our amazing friends and introduced them to their little brother. (BTW, calling our new friends amazing is a serious understatement. We had only met them in person 3 weeks before this and they took care of our kids, loved them to death, and then completely took care of our family when we got back. Greatest blessing EVER!!).
The next morning, the kids didn’t have school so Andrew stayed home to help for a bit. We spent the morning in our jammies, oohing and ahhing at this sweet little soul. My headache returned…
So Andrew did what any great husband would do. He took the kids to go play and get insanely tired, while I got to nap with my baby. By that night, I was starting to feel human again, and ready to conquer the world. The next day would be my first on my own and I knew that I needed to be at the top of my game. After we put the kids to bed, the headache returned…
Are you seeing a headache trend here?
Luckily, the next morning, I woke up feeling fantastic, despite being up with a sick 6-year-old for most of the night. We decided to keep the kids home from school since our oldest wasn’t feeling well and there were rumors of measles and scarlet-fever outbreaks at the preschool, neither of which we wanted to even mess with. While we were Skyping with Grandma after breakfast, my headache returned worse than ever. I couldn’t turn my head or bend over. Light was hurting my eyes, I thought I would throw up. I knew something wasn’t right. I immediately called my doctor. I cried my way through the entire phone call because I was in so much pain.
She quickly gave me a rough diagnosis. I was having a problem because of my spinal block that they gave me during delivery. The hole from the injection had likely not healed and my spinal fluid was leaking out of it. She was also concerned that if the hole was large enough, other things like blood clots could potentially get in and a stroke would be likely.
Not what I was prepared to hear.
She wanted me to give it a little more time before they jumped into action and sent me back to the hospital and ordered me to drink lots, load up on caffeine, and sleep (can you guess how well the lots of caffeine and sleep turned out?). I called Andrew and he came to rescue us again. He stayed by my side and tried to help me stay calm. A friend came over and helped with the kids so we could both focus on me and to be there in case there were any problems.
Soon, it was morning in the US and I was able to call the best doctor I know and talk to him about it, my Uncle Keith. He agreed with the general diagnosis of my doctor here. I was having what he told me were spinal headaches. Basically spinal fluid was leaking out any time I would sit or stand. The result is that there isn’t enough fluid to cushion the brain, resulting in some of the worst headaches imaginable. he said that the procedure is relatively simple (at least in the US), where they take blood from the arm and inject it around the injection site where the blood will clot and plug up the hole. A stroke wasn’t even a possibility he said. He also told me that there was about a 50% chance the headaches would clear on their own in about 2 weeks, but that they could last up to 9 months.
My options were clear and I knew I had to go back to the hospital to have this fixed.
The hospital I had sworn just 48 hours earlier that we would NEVER VISIT AGAIN!!!
I called the doctor back and after a long discussion about my fears of going back, we determined that I could go to another hospital. The only catch was that they wanted to take me in the ambulance, but wouldn’t transport the baby. After the last few days, I was determined that no one was taking him away from me (plus, I am breastfeeding). They told us we would have to take a medical taxi. Long story short (okay, I know that this whole story is insanely long), they cancelled our taxi 4 times and we didn’t end up leaving until 10 am the next morning. In the meantime, our oldest had to go to the emergency room (here at our clinic) with excruciating stomach pains and then had an allergic reaction to his medication. Honestly, this week was going downhill fast.
When we finally arrived at the other hospital, I was promptly told that they would be happy to give me a prescription to deal with the pain, but that was all. NO WAY!! That totally set me off. I told them that we were not leaving until they did the blood patch to fix my headaches. They brought in the ER anesthesiologist to talk to me. She basically told me that headaches are normal after delivery, everyone gets them, and that I needed to stop being a stubborn American and take care of my body and get some rest. If I still had headaches in a week they would help me then.
No, none of this was normal. What I was feeling, was far from normal and I knew that. I had 4 kids at home to take care of, and I needed this fixed NOW! We asked for a new doctor, one who had been trained in the US, Canada, or UK, and I’m so glad we did.
After about 20 minutes, the head of anesthesiology, who had been trained in Canada, came and met with us. He immediately agreed that I was having spinal headaches and that I needed a blood patch. He had performed this procedure many times and was very confident in his own abilities and the effectiveness of the procedure.
As we were talking to him, I immediately felt at peace and knew that things would be okay. God was watching out for me knew what I needed. Still, it took 6 more hours for the doctor to get the procedure approved my the hospital administrators.
The entire procedure took about 20 minutes and I felt immediate relief. I will always be grateful for the fantastic doctor who knew what he was talking about and cared enough about helping me to spend his entire day making this possible. In the end, we spent about 10 hours at the hospital that day, but finally all came home healthy.
So, there you have it – My Saudi Arabian Birth Adventure, because there’s no other way to really describe it other than an adventure. Because really, not all adventures are great, but they all push us to our limits, teach us more about ourselves, and help us grow in ways that we couldn’t otherwise. Back in the US, none of this would have happened. I wouldn’t have been allowed to leave the hospital with a spinal headache (especially after talking to the doctors and nurses about it constantly like I did here), and even if I had, I could have gotten the blood patch to fix it relatively quickly. Nonetheless, I’m sure I’ll never forget quite how crazy the week that our little guy came into the world was.
Like we keep learning, life is an adventure – especially here in Saudi!
Now on to our next adventure…life as a family of 6!