My Abu Dhabi Birth Story is long overdue. As Levi’s 7th birthday approaches, I hope I can sift through this mommy brain of mine and remember a few key details about my experience giving birth abroad. Here it goes!
Levi was conceived in November 2010. With unrestrained excitement, David and I proceeded to tell our family and close friends in the very early weeks of my pregnancy. I knew I was pregnant about 10 days after conception, I just knew it, I felt it! Plus, at that point we’d been practicing Natural Family Planning for close to 2 years and I knew my body quite well (We’re now 9 years of Natural Family Planning and would highly recommend it).
One of the cons of knowing your pregnant so early, is 9 months feels like FOREVER!!! I took a pregnancy test the day my menstrual cycle was due and after 3 positive tests David and I hopped in our car and drove to the nearest hospital in Khalifa City A for an official pregnancy test. I gave a urine sample and we waited, and waited, and waited. OK, it was really only about 35 minutes, but it felt like 8 hours. For some reason we couldn’t believe it with store bought tests, we needed a Doctor to say, “yes, you’re pregnant”.
It’s not as if my pregnancy came as a surprise, we decided a few months prior while backpacking through Europe that we would start trying for a baby soon when we returned. By the time we were ready, I didn’t expect to get pregnant so fast – on the first attempt; literally the FIRST try, one day during my fertility week (same story when it comes to Malachi, I know the exact day both of my boys were conceived). But again, it makes the 9 months quite long. It’s now attractive to be one of those “I didn’t know I was pregnant ladies” who can go 8 months with absolutely no idea their pregnant! How is that possible?
My body went thorough so much the first 5 months, there is no way I could have missed the baby growing inside of me and making me terribly sick. Yes, I was SICK, sick, sick! All the time, for 5 months.
During that time we searched for a OBGYN in Abu Dhabi.
OB/GYN #1 wouldn’t allow David in the room during my appointments and wouldn’t allow him in the room during delivery. So we kept looking…
OB/GYN #2 would allow David in the room for all of my appointments, but wouldn’t allow him in the delivery room. So we kept looking…
OB/GYN #3 allowed David in both the appointments and the delivery room! But, after about 3 appointments with her I realized she was just a bit too “rough” for my liking and had little to no sensitivity for my misery as I struggled with pregnancy. She basically told me to get over myself, women go through this everyday! True, but I’ve never gone through it and I have NEVER experienced pregnancy sickness. I wish she would have just said, “Mal, you’re doing great! It’ll get better and your baby is growing just fine”. She didn’t. So we kept looking…
OB/GYN #4 Dr. Marwan, he was the winner winner, chicken dinner! By the time we found Dr. Marwan, I was already 5 months pregnant. He was surprised I STILL didn’t have a doctor. He allowed David in all of my appointments and in the delivery room as well.
So now I’m 5 1/2 months pregnant, my Father-in-law and brother-in-law are visiting us from Ohio, USA. We go for a short walk in our neighborhood and I feel slight cramping and tell them I need to head home. We get home, I go straight to the bathroom and I’m bleeding! You know I freaked, calmly, but freaked nonetheless. We immediately head over to the ER at New Al Noor Hospital. As I’m cramping, bleeding and trying not to cry we try to explain to the reception desk that I’m 5 1/2 months pregnant and bleeding. It took a while for them to understand the urgency of what we were saying, so my husband pushed to speak to Dr. Marwan. Thankfully, Dr. Marwan was at the hospital that day and saw me right away. After an examination he explained I was experiencing pre-term labor and from there he and his staff proceeded to do what they could to stop my contractions (what I previously labeled cramping) and bleeding. After hours at the hospital, prescriptions and an order for one month of bed rest I was sent home.
The next month sucked, if you’ve ever been on bed rest you know this. Good thing was I was feeling much better! My morning (afternoon & night) sickness subsided and I was back to my normal self completely enjoying my pregnancy. After a few days off of bed rest my husband and I visit friends. I started experience those “cramps” again. This time, stronger and more painful. I tried to ignore them, I did for about 30 minutes until I couldn’t hide the pain and my facial expressions worried everyone in the room. So, I was off to the hospital again.
I’m 6 1/2 months pregnant and back in the same ER. This time my husband knew how to handle the reception staff and I was seen immediately. It was evening and Dr. Marwan was not on duty. After an examination I was told yet again, that I’m in labor. This time it was more serious and I needed to go to a hospital that could handle premature babies. David and I are trying to stay as calm as possible but it didn’t stop the tears from falling. We asked for an ambulance and they told us we’d get there faster if we drove. So in labor, at 6 1/2 months pregnant we drive over to Corniche Hospital.
We walk into the ER and explain to the reception what has happened, the receptionist proceeded to ask my address and phone number…if I had the energy I likely would have smacked her and then repeated myself! I know, so bad…instead I said louder “I’m 6 1/2 months pregnant and in labor, I need to see a Doctor NOW!!” she nodded, apologized and ran off to get help. The next 45 minutes is a blur. I had needles in both arms, one in my hand. They insisted my husband couldn’t join me in the room so I was alone, crying, in pain and trying to make sense of the chaos that surrounded me as 6 or 7 medical professional were doing various tasks to and around me while speaking in either Arabic, English or Hindi. After 45 minutes, the ER Doctor on duty came in told me they weren’t equipped to take a baby as they did not have any incubators for a pre-mature baby born so early. I needed to transfer to another hospital in preparation for delivery. They called around and the only hospital that had an incubator was in Al Ain. A 60-90 minute drive away. I request an ambulance and again we’re told we’d get there faster if we drive.
They help me out of bed and I call David in to help me get dressed as they kept the IV in my hand so it didn’t need to be inserted again at the other hospital. They proceeded to yell at David telling him he wasn’t allowed in the room with me and I just gave them the look…you know the look! They all quieted down and looked away.
We’re in our car, driving to Al Ain. Praying, silence, crying, silence, praying, but then I had to poop. It was the middle of the night and we’re surrounded by sand. There is no restroom (that I would use pregnant with an IV in my hand) for miles. Plus, we didn’t want to stop, I was still technically in labor and we needed to get to the hospital. On top of that, one stretch of the ride there is no signal. We didn’t want to risk stopping, David kept telling me I could hold it. Listen, you can’t tell a pregnant women to hold her poop. Especially one in labor. I grabbed the tissues out the glove compartment, crawled to the back seat, grabbed a box that was on the floor, emptied it and pooped in the box. I haven’t had a moment that low since…but it was the laughter we needed at the time! Yes, disgusting, but hey, we laugh about it to this day!
We get to the hospital and I can’t remember what happened. By that point, this was the third hospital, I was in pain, hours had passed, I pooped in a box…in our car and I had a major migraine from crying. What I do remember is waking up in a calm, quiet room feeling a lot better. David on the couch next to me and a female Emirati doctor entering the room to reassure me everything was fine. They were able to get my contractions to stop and the baby was fine. I stayed for four days and upon discharge was prescribed bed rest again for one month. It was one of my best hospital stays, the staff and physicians were lovely!
A few days later I sat with Dr. Marwan and he told me quite compassionately but bluntly, “My dear, if your baby is born early it is likely he won’t survive. Abu Dhabi is not as medically advance to handle a pre-mature baby’s born at 6 months gestation. Please prepare yourself”. I needed his bluntness. I was thankful that he could look me in the eyes and tell me the truth and tell me plainly. I knew I had no control over the situation and all I could do was have faith, pray and follow Doctors orders.
Over the next few months I had to go to Dr. Marwan weekly for hormone shots in my back. Painful, painful, painful! And to monitor my contractions, if any.
By 7 1/2 months I was consistently praying to make it to 8 months. At 8 months, my baby would be safe if born early in Abu Dhabi. By 8 months we were preparing to move from our 1 bedroom apartment in Khalifa City A, to a 2 bedroom on Reem Island.
Long story short, on move day, the movers were not moving fast enough and I put myself to work in attempt to hurry the process along! That evening David and I went out for dinner and I felt contractions again. I didn’t pay them much attention because they weren’t strong and were similar to Braxton Hicks. That night I kept getting up to pee because I was slowly peeing on myself in my sleep (pregnancy, don’t ask). After the 3rd trip to the toilet I woke David up, I realized my water was breaking slowly and it actually wasn’t pee. I was actually in labor at dinner and didn’t realize it.
We headed over to the hospital around 2am, excited because we were only 5 days from my due date!!!
I had my birthing ball, my playlist, essential oils, Bible, journal, baby clothes, everything was ready!
When we were settled in my room, I reminded David that no one under any circumstances should offer me pain killers! No matter how much pain I looked to be in, don’t offer it. I’ll ask if I want it. The nurses insist I stay on the contraction monitoring machine because of my history. I fought a few times to be taken off and allowed to walk around because it was ruining my birth plan! As the nurses approached over the next 10 hours trying to insist on an epidural, David did his job well!
By hour 11 Dr. Marwan insisted on inducing me because they couldn’t track exactly when my water broke (and because of my history), he wanted to speed up the process to get the baby out. Trusting Dr. Marwan, but against my birth plan and against my personal judgement, I agreed to be induced. The pain tripled. It was horrible, (but don’t dare offer me an epidural, haha). By hour 13 after reviewing the baby’s heart rate Dr. Marwan told me bluntly, “we need to get him out now!” By the look on his face, I decided to scratch my birth plan, no arguing, no questions, just get him out safely. I looked at David and back to Dr. Marwan and nodded my head in compliance to the c-section.
The nurses swiftly inserted a catheter, transferred me to another bed and rolled me to the operating room. David and I had very little time to talk, so we said goodbye with a quick prayer and kiss. David pulled Dr. Marwan off to the side and I learned later he told him that I must come first, and did some type of man-to-man talk, I don’t remember the details. Although I was the one being rolled into the Operating Room, the look on his face matched my own anxiety and concern.
In the OR, I held a pillow tightly and slouched over as requested. They inserted the local anesthesia in my back and then the full body epidural. It was painful, I felt it although I was told I wouldn’t. I bit down into the pillow and tried to stay perfectly still.
Dr. Marwan, the anesthesiologist and the OR nurses spoke in Arabic and shared a few things with me in English. I know they didn’t put me totally under but I remember almost nothing. I remember telling them to take some fat out while they’re down there and feeling like my joke fell flat because no one laughed. I faintly remember them telling me to “kiss your baby” as a wet, bloody and tiny crying baby was put next to my cheek. I remember saying “hi baby” kissing him and telling him I love you. They brought the baby to David (who wasn’t allowed in the OR). The next thing I remember is waking up in my room and David bringing me Levi, he tried to have me hold him but I was shaking uncontrollably and was in so much pain.
I whispered to him with the energy I had and told him, “I think I’m dying” which of course scares the crap out of him. He asks the nurses again and again if I’m OK? They assure him I’m fine. Dr. Marwan has left by now, so we trust their word. Ten minutes later I tell him I need more medicine, I was in so much pain and I was sure I was dying. He asked if they could give me more pain killers and they told him I had my limit for the day, and that maybe I had a “low pain tolerance”. This clearly angered David because he responded, “She just went through 13 hours of labor with no medication, she doesn’t have a low pain tolerance!” (10 point for the hubby)!
Throughout the night, David kept trying to get me to hold and cuddle and name our baby. I couldn’t. I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t hold him near my incision. This was not how I planned my birth! I already felt like a bad mother and it had only been 4 hours…
Levi was born the afternoon of August 4th. By the morning of August 5th the pain had slowly subsided. By now, I could hold him, look at him – REALLY look at him; I cuddled him and apologized over and over under my breath, I prayed for him and we finally named him!
Dr. Marwan came in a few hours later to check on me. I told him how miserable my night was and he replied quite calmly, “yes, well you were induced an hour before delivery. So your body was likely still contracting and in labor”. What the?? David and I looked at each other and then at one of the nurses, why couldn’t they tell me that? Oh, by the way mam your baby is in your husbands arms but your body doesn’t quite know that yet…
Anyways, we spent four days in the hospital and they wouldn’t let me leave until I pooped. I know, enough with the pooping, but this is real life and in real life we poop!
My experience afterbirth at the time was miserable, I wanted to leave and I was so stressed out. Now having Malachi in Hong Kong, I can say my time in the Abu Dhabi hospital was lovely! We had our own room and bathroom. David stayed the ENTIRE time and slept on the couch. I had privacy and was able to sleep and have help with Levi when needed.
At the time, what angered me was the bully nurse that made me feel so horrible about breastfeeding (another post, another time). Another nurse refused to hand Levi back to David. The 12-15 nurses that kept coming in our room to see the “cafe latte” baby, because they wanted to see what a biracial baby looked like (weirdos), and the fact I wasn’t allowed to eat anything for a while so I was HANGRY!
We went home on August 8th, one day before his original due date. I couldn’t have been happier to get home! But then, we were home and alone, with a baby! What now?
Well, thankfully, he’s almost 7 years old and we survived.
Dr. Marwan, our Iraqi OB/GYN, will forever hold a special place in our hearts and family; and Abu Dhabi will always be a home to us as the birth place of our first born! I’ll also add that Abu Dhabi, as such a young country, has grown leaps and bounds year after year. They are likely well equipped to handle premature babies without as much hassle.
Levi is our little miracle baby, our answered prayer!