My Birth in Bogota

I am 6 days “overdue” and so over being pregnant in Colombia. I can’t remember the last time I slept longer than three hours between my sick toddler and my giant belly.  My sister-in-law, Story, is visiting with her daughter, and offers to stay with the girls so we can spend the night at a hotel and really get some sleep. You never know, she says, a good night’s sleep could put you into labor. It worked for one her babies, at least.

We leave our daughter with her and walk down the street for an early dinner and then to a nearby hotel. By 8pm we are dead asleep.

At 10pm, I wake up in labor. It won’t be for a while, I think, so I attempt to go back to sleep.

At 2am, we discover that our room on the second floor is directly over a discoteca (!), so they move us to the 12th floor. I haven’t slept much in the past 4 hours but the contractions are still about 15 minutes apart. Far enough apart to keep me from getting much sleep, but not close enough together to merit going to the hospital.

Finally, at 6am, we get up, get dressed and head to Fundacion Santa Fe, stopping briefly at home for my hospital bag.

Luckily it is a Sunday and traffic is nonexistent, because my contractions are now 3 minutes apart and very uncomfortable. The taxista speeds to the hospital with a concerned look on his face.

I waddle into the Emergency Room, and the unconcerned nurse at the front desk glances at me before listing all the procedures we must follow to be admitted. Does she not understand that I am about to have this baby on the floor?

The nurse in this ward is equally nonchalant. “Are you here for your induction?” She asks us. “No,” Gray replies, “My wife is actually in labor right now.”

We wait there and fill out more paperwork (!), and after a few minutes they direct us to an intake room. At this point, labor has stalled and I’m back to contractions every 7 minutes.

Actually taken when we toured the hospital a few months prior to the birth.

The doctor is very calm, asks me what I want from my birth, and I list my requests: let me labor and push in whatever position I want and don’t put anything in my IV without asking. She nods and relays my wishes to the nursing staff. She tells me I’m already at 7cm, so it shouldn’t be too much longer.

A young nurse comes over with a gown and asks me to change in the nearby bathroom. “Can’t I wait until I get to my room?” I ask. “I really don’t want to wear that until I have to. Can’t I labor in my clothes until later?” She looks like a deer in the headlights and leaves. A few minutes later, a much older, bossy nurse comes in ready to squash my American resistance. It’s a command this time: Go Change Now.

I decide to save my energy for more important battles today and I change.

“There. Isn’t that better?” She asks.

“No,” I reply shivering. “It’s really not.”

She ignores me and continues taking my blood pressure. She tells Gray that he has to remove all the nail polish from my fingers and toes. (I never get pedicures, so it’s funny and annoying that I had gotten one just the day before.) It’s to monitor oxygen levels, she explains when we ask.

“All twenty?” Gray asks incredulously. “Not just one?”

“No,” she replies curtly. “All twenty.”

I refuse the wheelchair and walk to my room. I still don’t know how to tie this stupid gown, so I clutch handfuls of it together trying to maintain some shred of dignity as I waddle down the hallway.

Labor has really slowed down at this point, so Gray and I hang out in the room for a while. Every so often someone comes in to take my blood pressure and listen to the baby, but I’m grateful they mostly leave me alone. After a while, I try to take a little nap to make up for the two hours of sleep I got the night prior.  Gray and Story leave to go get find some breakfast and I doze on and off for a while.

Eventually, labor starts again and I text Gray, who arrives with a hidden English muffin for me. It’s the most amazingly delicious thing I’ve ever tasted, but I have to hide it because the nurses have forbidden me to eat. (They almost forbade Gray from bringing food in the room in the first place, but he pulled the diabetic card and they backed off.)

I’ve forgotten quite how miserable labor is, but Gray and Story are both amazingly supportive. Story, a nurse-midwife in the US, coaches me through each contraction, while Gray communicates with the hospital staff.

I’m in the middle of an awful contraction when a nurse comes in asking me to get in bed so they can monitor the baby for twenty minutes. She’s lucky I’m in too much pain to move because I might actually hurt her. There’s no way I can move and all I can think is why why why did I not get an epidural this time?

Story suggests that she hold the monitor on my belly while I stand. They don’t want to do this because… protocol. After some hushed conferring in the hallway, they let me stand and labor – but forget to turn on the monitor as they leave the room. After a few minutes, Story notices this and turns it on. When 20 minutes is up, I take off the gear. The staff is annoyed that they don’t have a full 20 minutes of data, but since I refuse to let them do it again.

Besides at this point, I’m ready to push.

All of a sudden, the nursing staff is freaking out, everyone is throwing on gowns and masks, I’ve got about 10 people in my room staring at me (yet doing absolutely nothing!) and in this haze, I hear Gray arguing heatedly with the staff. They want him and Story to leave. Story, who is standing next to me, rubbing my back and coaching me through pushing is the only person actually doing something helpful, and they want her to leave. They want my husband to leave, potentially missing the birth of his son, for the sake of putting on a mask.

He refuses.

They insist.

“I can’t do this!” I cry, but within another minute or so, the baby is here!

Despite instructions to delay cord-cutting and have immediate skin-to-skin, the doctor wants to cut the cord and the pediatrician is reaching for the baby. Gray takes the scissors from the doctor, grabs the baby and passes him to me.

The Colombians are shocked and appalled and I’m crying in relief.

My baby is perfect! He’s looking at me with these beautiful little eyes and breathing and moving and I can’t even believe it’s over thank goodness.

Just then the pediatrician reaches over with a needle and gives my baby a shot. As he tries to take the baby out of my arms, I say very angrily, “WHAT are you doing!? Stop that!”

“We need to weigh the baby!” They demand.

Gray cuts in, “The baby will weigh the same in five minutes. Let him stay with his mom.”

At this point, the hospital staff is livid because we have been fighting their ridiculous protocols for hours.

The same bossy nurse who ordered me into the hospital gown a few hours earlier, dumps a pail of ice cold water all over me to clean up and scrubs roughly. She’s furious. She won’t look at me or speak to me – instead taking out her frustration with the stupid stubborn idiot gringos by making my postpartum experience as miserable as possible.

Eventually, everyone  leaves us in peace.

Our baby is healthy, sweet, and beautiful. We can’t believe he’s ours.

The rest of the story is less dramatic. The night nurse who comes later is sweet, accommodating, and generous. The other hospital staff who come for various reasons are courteous and kind and happy to explain the protocol or reason behind XYZ procedure or documentation they are requesting. We spend one night and leave by lunchtime the next day.

Enough time has passed that instead of getting upset about all the frustrations I experienced, I can just roll my eyes and laugh about it. I’m still glad I had my baby in Colombia and didn’t Medevac. We still had good care at the hospital. We still ended up with a healthy baby. And that’s all that matters in the end, right? 🙂

4 thoughts on “My Birth in Bogota

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