Bringing a Baby Home Part 1: The Turkish Hospital & Having a Cesarean

As I told my half-brother – his wife is ten years my senior, but expecting their first child this September – going to the hospital in Turkey is a bit like taking your car to a good garage: the mechanics know what they’re doing and have all the tools, and your car will come out fine; however, the emphasis of the experience is not on your comfort. My brother (a US-based doctor) called the US health care system “consumer experience driven” – there are cushy chairs and long consultations, framed paintings on the walls, magazine stands and free coffee. In this manner Turkish hospitals are quite comparable to hospitals in the UK (where his wife is a professor) in that they are bureaucratic and Germany (where his wife holds citizenship) in that they’re results-driven and pragmatic. I’m not sure which one is better – if there is an objective comparison. I do know that we paid under $200 for a cesarean operation under supervision of the head of the university perinatology department and a two-night stay in a private room in the hospital, and I do know that I’m healing just find from my surgery and we brought home a perfectly healthy rosy-cheeked, long-fingered baby girl with a firm grasp, intent eyes and a shock of wavy black hair. On Wednesday morning, at 38 weeks and 3 days pregnant, we went in for my usual weekly checkup. A month ago the doctor told me that the baby had already fallen into the birth canal and not yet turned her head – she was afraid the baby would be born prematurely (as during a first pregnancy they usually fall into the birth canal about 2 weeks before birth) and told me I might have to have a cesarean, due to the position of the babies head. I wanted a normal birth, but was more concerned with the baby being born after my husband arrived in turkey on June 11. Three weeks ago I went in again and had to stay in the hospital hooked up to an IV overnight because my amniotic fluid levels were too low. They pumped me up and for two weeks I was fine – it looked like the baby’s head had turned and I might be able to have a normal birth after all. But last Wednesday they did another ultrasound and determined that my amniotic levels were way too low (again) and the baby’s head had turned back to its original incorrect position (facing out instead of towards my back). So I was told to come in on an empty stomach the next morning no later than 8 am for a cesarean.
We left the hospital before 10 am for once, and so walked down the street to a restaurant near my old office that does delicious open buffet Turkish breakfasts, sat down to a last breakfast, E, his sister and I, and then spent the rest of the day rushing around at home getting the room set up for the baby’s very impending arrival – stocked a chest with toiletries and diapers, laid out a changing pad, sorted through all the baby clothes and moved the smallest items and extra bedding and wraps to two cases under the cradle, spent an hour with a measuring tape figuring out how to re-arrange all the furniture in our not-so-spacious guest bedroom to accommodate the cradle bought for a nephew now too big, took out the stroller and prepared the carseat, checked the hospital bags one last time. And then finally we got an ice cream and drove ten minutes to Or’an where we celebrate E’s 34th birthday and our last date night (we traditionally do date nights on Wednesday anyway) at an Aegean fish restaurant behind Panora (Neblis) where we enjoyed a mini-feast of fish and cold assorted appetizers and fresh olives and a beautiful tomato-cilantro-green pepper-walnut salad and a really good conversation as the early evening sun streaked in through wide windows into the nautical-themed hall, quiet in warm blue and white tones in the pre-Ramadan fast-breaking hour. The next morning we woke early, drove across the still-empty city in the bright light of a lush green summer day, and went up to the 9th floor birthing wing of the Gazi University Hospital where I was to have my surgery and lay for the next two days.
The first half hour was a rush of paper work, registration, and last tests. Then I stripped down, put on a pale pink stiff hospital gown, and followed the nurse into an ice cold operations room gleaming with clean steel.
I’m terrified of needles. Till Thursday I’d neither had an operation nor stayed in the hospital except for the one time I got an IV. Somehow the cold and the unknown of what would happen, and the dread of having another IV in my hand (the last time it was distinctly uncomfortable for the entire 24 hours) shocked me, and I just wanted the whole experience over.
But then the anesthesiologist came in, a bright eyed woman with warm brown hair, and used her friendly, mistake-ridden English to tell me how to relax for the epidural, let the anesthetic settle in, and then the operation began. Fifteen minutes later – at 8:44 am – while I was becoming drowsy from the pain killers and not even aware that they had made an incision – they pulled a chalk-white bawling baby with a full head of midnight black hair from my stomach, let me kiss her shocked pale pink cheeks, and then took her away for her first medical examination as I was stitched up and then wheeled into a slightly warmer room where another nurse used something like an industrial hair dryer to warm my frozen hands while she sang snatches of traditional Turkish songs. I was still under the stupor of the painkillers, feeling lulled into an endless sleep. Finally they rolled me down the hallway to the private room where I was lifted onto the bed and lay waiting for the baby.
We stayed in the hospital for two days, the first numbed by sleep, excitement and exhaustion – the thrill of touching her cheeks, having her successfully latch on during breasfeeding; the hot June sun baking the west-facing room until we were all stripped down to t-shirts and me to a breastfeeding cotton nightgown and what were basically adult diapers that I had to wear until my incision healed a bit; the bewildered exhaustion of trying to understand what the baby wanted with her cries at night; the cold sweet first sip of apricot juice after 18 hours of not eating or drinking; the first stumbling steps down the hallway, clutching E’s arm; nurses who came in to check vitals and give me what one woman called “a vaginal carwash” – pragmatic nurses, in, check, mark, out.
When you’re pregnant, everyone touches your belly (if you’re actually “showing”, which I wasn’t due to a combination of genes and a decision to bring lots of tunics, leggings and loose dresses); right after you give birth, everyone touches your breasts. There’s no shame or sexuality in that – just a straightforward pragmatism as a doctor checks to see if you’re producing milk, and a sister-in-law shows you how to hold your breast while feeding the baby and another one corrects her hand position. Motherhood in Turkey isn’t sexual.
Neither is there the same stigma over cesarean sections (c-sections). When I found out I was going to have a cesarean (i.e. on Wednesday night) I did a little internet research on recovery. Almost every English article I found talked about how many mothers feel disappointed, cheated out of a “real” birth, or disconnected from their bodies after the proceedure. For me, it really wasn’t that important. Yes, I wanted a natural birth. But perhaps there’s too much hype surrounding the experience of birth itself. For me, the most important two things are that two days later we left the hospital with a healthy baby and, one week later, I’m fully on the way to recovery. It might take me six weeks to recover; people in my family live long and I’ll most likely be her mother for the next sixty years.
And one week later, as our bab is developing a distinct personality, distinct facial expressions and gestures, and (amazingly) a distinct sleep pattern, it’s like it has always been this way. For in a way it has – she is the product of every conversation, every shared experience we’ve had, already an integral part of our lives just as she is an integral part of us. And now she’s taking that and developing something entirely new.


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