I woke up just after 5am on Monday 17th August. My partner was already awake and standing up. She’d apparently been awake for a while, but I’m used to that — I don’t know how she always gets up so early every morning! Our 5 year old son starts school at 7am, and the Filipino habit of cooked rice meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner tends to mean a lot of time is spent in the kitchen — hence an early start every day.
But this morning was different. After the normal “Good morning hon”, and “How are you feeling”, we finally got to the important stuff — “I’ve been having contractions since 3am.” What?? And you left me sleeping this whole time?? She was so matter-of-fact about it, I didn’t know whether I needed to rush to prepare, or whether we still had hours to wait.
“How far apart are they?” About 4 minutes. Okay, then it’s probably time for us go!
Irish already had everything she needed, but I still needed to have a quick shower to wake myself up and look half decent. I don’t think it had fully sunk in yet, so I didn’t really rush my bathing. After all, Irish just seemed so relaxed, almost blasé, about everything.
I dressed, evacuated the bathroom, grabbed the bag that Irish had packed to bring with us, and a few minutes later I was standing at the front door, ready to leave. Irish took a few minutes to come, but when she did she announced that her waters had broken. Okay! Now we’re really in business!
“We’re just going to take a tricycle?” With that agreed we headed out to the roadside in front of the house with overnight bag, pillows, and handbag in hand. But when we got out there and couldn’t immediately see a tricycle, Irish said “Let’s just walk”.
I could tell this was going to be a very different experience to the births of my older children!
The place we had selecting for the birth was only a few streets away. It’s what Filipinos call a ‘lying-in’ (Tagalog — “paanakan”) and it’s basically a birthing centre which is usually staffed by midwives, and has an obstetrician/gynaecologist and paediatrician on call. But apparently you don’t even need to be a licensed midwife to open your own lying-in.
It wasn’t always going to be this way. When Irish first started visiting her doctor for the antenatal care, we had pretty much assumed our son would be born at one of the main hospitals in Lucena — we had a preference for Mount Carmel, but there was also the choice of Quezon Memorial Hospital or St. Anne General Hospital.
It wasn’t until I attended a couple of appointments with Irish that I started to realise that giving birth in Philippines is very different for Dads, who don’t normally get much opportunity to participate in the pregnancy and the birth of their child. This came as quite a shock to me. I’d never even considered that this might be an issue! After all, my brother was born in Asia (Nepal) and from my recollection there was never any issue in Nepali hospitals with husband’s being present to support their wife for pretty much any procedure except surgery. But as I should already know by now, every country, culture, and circumstance is different — and it pays to question my own fundamental assumptions.
During the antenatal checks, Irish had to have quite a few ultrasounds. At the ultrasound clinic, they have a sign saying “No partners allowed in the ultrasound room”. However, on one occasion I was extremely fortunate that the clinic was very quiet and the ultrasound technician/sonographer took pity on us, allowing me in to watch the ultrasound. For a short moment during this whole medical adventure, things felt “normal” to me. But that was the only time. At all future ultrasounds, I wasn’t allowed in. And the gynaecologist was firm in her assertion that “in Philippines, Dad’s aren’t allowed in the delivery suite”.
We started to do some research and found that, if you were prepared to travel to Manila and spend a lot more money (PhP 75,000+), you could book in at a hospital like St. Luke’s Medical Center in Global City, Taguig, or Asian Hospital in Alabang and you could expect a service very similar to what I was accustomed to in Australia. But the logistical challenges of this, not to mention the cost, were weighing on our mind so we kept looking for other solutions in Lucena City.
Armed with the knowledge that it IS possible for Dad’s to be present for the birth in Philippines, at our next antenatal appointment I decided to have one last shot at swaying our Doctora — I told her that we were considering going up to Manila a week or so before the due date in order to access one of the hospitals there, as this really was such an important moment for me. I fully expect this to be my last child, and I couldn’t imagine missing his birth! When we told her about the Manila hospitals she said, “Oh yes, but it’s hospital policy at Mount Carmel”.
We only had a few weeks left to go when, one day, we popped into our regular cafe, Don Joaquinito’s Cafe and Irish thought to ask Joaquin whether he had been present for the birth of his son just 3 months earlier. Yes, he told us. Where did your wife give birth? Mount Carmel.
What? Mount Carmel allowed you to attend the birth of your child? Who was your Doctor? It seems our Doctor is the obstacle, we’d love to talk to your Doctor.
We made a few more phone calls and our momentary joy was quickly dashed when we learned that this Doctor, too, would not allow me to be present — apparently Joaquin’s parents are both Doctors who work at Mount Carmel and the only way he was able to be present for the birth of his child was because of his connections, an all-too-familiar story here in Philippines.
We were now down to our last option. It seemed a little ridiculous, but what about not giving birth in a hospital at all? Our baby seemed to be fit and healthy, positioned correctly for a straight-forward birth. And I’ve frequently seen a sign along the main road near our house pointing to the “Lying In”. I initially had no idea what that was, but Irish explained to me that it’s a local clinic-style centre at which Mums can give birth and it costs very little. In my mind I’d always pictured it as a hot, crowded, dingy, dirty chaotic place — but we were getting desperate, so it was at least worth visiting.
When we arrived at the Lying In, we were greeted by some cheerful, friendly, joking midwives who immediately made us feel welcome, and assured us that nothing was too much trouble. And PhilHealth would even cover the costs. We took a tour, inspected the air-conditioned suite, and suddenly our spirits rose. The centre was basic but clean, fresh, and unbureaucratic (a breath of fresh air after dealing with regulations, procedures, paperwork, and “can’t” everywhere else we went). Aside from the birthing suite, which is air-conditioned and can accommodate two labouring women side by side if necessary, the rest of the accommodation for the after-birth care is not air-conditioned but each woman has a small room for herself which is basic but fresh and nicely maintained.
As is typical in Philippines (at the hospitals as well), patients bring pretty much everything they need with them when they arrive for maternity or medical care, including sheets for the bed, pillows, a fan to stay cool, and family members bring food to them throughout their stay. The hospital or lying-in clinic provides none of this.
So as Irish and I arrived at the lying-in around about 6:30am, we suddenly realised that we would also need a fan from home. I was despatched on a mission to collect the fan and my camera. When I returned, Irish wasn’t in her room. So I went in search of her — I found her in the ‘labour ward’, with a midwife encouraging her to “Push, Push”.
By 7:20am the head midwife was predicting our son would be born by 7:45am, and at 7:39am we were one son richer!
Of course, the birth of a son is just the beginning of an entirely new story — so in my next post, I’ll regale you with tales of ancient typewriters, archaic bureaucracies, baffling procedures, and a mysterious expedition to obtain a “birth certificate” and then a “birth certificate” and then, eventually we hope, a Passport, and then one more Passport.