It’s been 19 days now since Anniken gave birth to our little baby girl, Vilde. But it all started a few days before that, early morning on May 12, when Anniken thought her water broke. After calling the hospital, she was told to come in at ten in the morning for a checkup. Exciting for both of us, and a little extra exciting for me – the drive to the hospital: This was the reason why I got my driver’s license in April, to get my girlfriend to the hospital in one piece.
At the hospital, they checked that the heart rate of the baby was all right, and concluded, with the help of modern medicine that Anniken’s water had in fact not broke and that there was no birth on the way yet. So we headed home, only to experience the same early Tuesday morning: Water broke, drive to hospital, baby was all right, modern medicine told us that the water had not broke, no birth, drive home again.
But early Wednesday morning, Anniken’s contractions kicked into high gear and there was no longer any doubt: The birth had started, broken water or not. The 24 hours that followed were crazy, scary, and amazingly mind-boggling, all at the same time.
What was now the third drive to the hospital was very different than the first two. This time, Anniken was busy with her contractions, while I was trying my best to make the one hour drive on the winding roads as smooth as possible while at the same time trying to beat the Wednesday morning rush hour traffic.
When we arrived at the hospital at around seven in the morning, Anniken was dilated 3 centimeters, and the birth was well underway. The kid’s heart rate was stable, but the aggressive contractions were already starting to wear our my poor girlfriend. When she was moved to the delivery room, she was so high on natural Endorphins it was impossible for her to pronounce coherent sentences. She later told that she was fully aware of this, knew exactly what she wanted to say, but she just wasn’t able to.
To give Anniken a bit of relief and a brake from the contractions, the midwife filled a hot tub with nice, warm water and put her in it. The hot water can be great pain relief for some and it helped a lot for Anniken. For a while, the reduced Endorphins level in her body made it easier for her to talk coherently again. At this point we were joined by a nursery nurse and a medical student. There are three university hospitals in the Oslo area, and we were at one of them, Rikshospitalet. Previously, we’d agreed to have a medical student assist during the birth. Although a birth is a very intimate and private thing, it’s a fantastic opportunity for medical students to turn theory into practice.
After a while in the hot tub, the baby started its final decent and Anniken went in to the final stage of labor: Pushing like crazy. To make the contractions more powerful, I was told to twist Anniken’s nipples in between the contractions. This might sound like a very odd thing to do during a birth, but it supposedly helps. And while twisting nipples is normally a very sensual affair, I can assure you that there was nothing sensual about it this time. For all you dads-to-be out there, it’s a good chance you’ll get the same request, so now you know it’s not the midwife playing games with you. It’s actually something useful you can do – and it’s very possible you’ll feel of little to no use during the birth, so the nipple-twister is a chance for you to be at least a little useful.
After about an hour of pushing, the most wonderful thing happened. I looked at Anniken, then towards the midwife. No baby. Then back to Anniken and then midwife. And there was a baby there. Suddenly she was with us, alive and kicking!
My fantastic girlfriend had soldiered through it. By pure willpower and without the aid of unnatural sedatives, she’d given birth to our beautiful baby daughter twelve hours after the contractions started. Little Vilde looked like most babies do: Ten fingers, ten toes and while she didn’t make a lot of sound, it was obvious that her lungs were working all right, too. After being laid down on her mother’s bare chest, she immediately started searching for a source of food, which she quickly found, sucked dry and went to sleep.
In a perfect world, this birth story would have ended here. But the world is not perfect and people make mistakes. So this birth story continues.
Shortly after a baby is born, the placenta is released from the uterine wall and pushed out with the help of a few more contractions. The release of the placenta from the uterine wall creates a gaping, bleeding wound, but this is perfectly normal. The uterus will start contracting and erects to reattach to the wall to close the wound. In Anniken’s case, however, this process didn’t happen as fast as it should and she was given medications to speed it up.
A while after the birth, the midwife wanted Anniken to go to the toilet to pee. This is to check that everything is working as it should. When she tried to get out of bed, her face turned grey and she fainted on the bed. Thankfully, the midwife was there to catch her, because that you faint a little after a birth isn’t abnormal either. There are, after all, some blood loss associated with a birth.
Because of Anniken’s fainting and the medication she’d received to help the uterus close the wound, we were in the delivery room for five hours before we were moved down a floor to the maternity ward. There, nurses visited Anniken regularly to check that her uterus was still erect and thus attaching itself as it should. And apparently, it did.
At around half past eleven in the evening, Anniken was once again told to go pee. And once again she turned totally grey and almost fainted. Suspecting that something was amiss, the nurse paged the doctor on duty, who arrived a minute later. She examined Anniken, checked her hospital record and the time frame of the birth and quickly came to the conclusion that the uterus hadn’t attached itself correctly and that Anniken had a severe internal bleeding.
From there on, things moved very, very fast. The nurses at the maternity ward took care of Vilde, while Anniken was moved back up one floor where she was handed over to two nurses and a surgeon’s assistant. Blood samples were drawn, before Anniken was moved on towards surgery, where I was not allowed in.
If you wonder what it feels like to be totally helpless, try this: See your girlfriend being rushed off to surgery, while you yourself is stuck without being able to do a single thing to help. Fortunately, the staff took good care of me as well. One nurse stayed behind and talked me through what would happen. She told me that it was a fairly standard and short procedure – that the uterus doesn’t attach itself correctly happened from time to time. Normally, dads and partners are asked to leave the hospital before nine in the evening, but in our case, they made an exception. I was given a bed in an office to sleep on and as soon as Anniken was out of surgery and moved to post-op, they told me that the surgery had gone as planned. When Anniken woke up from the anesthesia, I was also allowed into post-op to say hello.
At what I think was around one in the night, the surgeon paid me a visit to tell me that the surgery had gone as planned and that Anniken was recovering as expected. The surgeon also told me what had happened with Anniken during birth: When the placenta had been released from the uterine wall, a fairly large piece of it had not separated as it should have. This had prevented the uterus from closing the wound and normally this condition is easy to spot because of continuous vaginal bleeding with coagulated blood. But in Anniken’s case, the stuck piece of the placenta was in a position where the erect uterus prevented the blood from escaping. Anniken bled, but it was hard to tell visually because of the lack of vaginal bleeding. But during surgery, when the anesthesia kicked in, the erect uterus relaxed, and all the stored blood pored out of the wound.
Even though the internal bleeding was hard to confirm visually, it could easily have been spotted by a simple blood test. The samples taken right before surgery showed that Anniken blood count was 5,5 – from what I can gather on the internet, a normal value should be between 11 and 17. From the actual birth until she went into surgery, no one had measured Anniken’s blood count. And this was the main issue. The internal bleeding itself wasn’t uncommon, but the time it had taken hospital staff to realize Anniken was still bleeding was a big no-no. And this pissed off the good doctor. She wasn’t aggravated, she was furious. Before she talked to me, I’d overheard her scolding some of the nurses about something, and I’m guessing it was the lack of blood samples. The next day, the surgeon returned once again, this time to talk Anniken through the surgery. And she was still bat shit crazy about the lack of blood samples. It’s very unlikely that anyone giving birth at Rikshospitalet goes twelve hours without getting a blood sample drawn ever again.
But in spite of this incident, I can only praise the staff at Rikshospitalet. Every single one, professional to their fingertips. Everyone, from the surgeon to the guy bringing up food from the central kitchen. Friendly and service minded. What happened to us could happen at any hospital. But when it did happen, I can’t describe how happy I am that we were at Rikshospitalet were we witnessed an incredibly impressive machinery put in motion when we needed it. I’m also very happy that we weren’t doing anything foolish, like a home birth. If that was the case, I could easily have been a single dad now. I’d also like to thank ever blood donor. Because of the severity of Anniken’s bleeding, she received three units of blood during surgery and while in post-op. Without that blood, this story might have had a very different ending.
What you read in mass media are only the bad stories, when something goes horribly wrong. Because sometimes shit happens. People make mistakes. This time it could have gone horribly wrong, but thankfully it didn’t. So my hat off to every single one of you at Rikshospitalet. You won’t be reading this, but you still have my heartfelt thanks.