The last time I did any obstetrics and gynaecology has got to be a good four years ago when I was still in medical school. As a result, I honestly do not remember very much about pregnancy, labour and other associated women’s problems. Pregnant women are a challenge to manage medically due to added concerns about the safety of medical interventions on the fetus, as well as the need to consider the immense physiological changes that accompany pregnancy. To me, their problems are complicated and always best referred on to an obstetrician; I have always hoped and prayed to avoid them at work as much as I can.
However, during a compulsory 3 month stint in obstetric anaesthesia from August to November, there was no way to hide and shun from these mothers-to-be. Thankfully, my experience at the women’s hospital had been a lot less dreadful then I imagined it would be. Whilst it is true that I really struggled to re-learn a lot of the obstetric knowledge that have evaporated from my brain since medical school, I know that I have learnt so much more on top of that- spinals, epidurals, CSEs, crash GA sections, managing PDPHs, pre-eclampsias, major haemorrhages… my anaesthetic skills have been developed immensely. What’s more, I know that my views on pregnancy and motherhood have been moulded and changed by the tears, screams, and smiles from the women I have met at work.
I am sure we all have a rough idea of what mothers have to suffer through their pregnancy. Nausea and vomiting, anorexia, indigestion, breathlessness, an inability to lie on one’s back, swollen ankles, backache, pelvic pain, and of course, labour pains. These “little” problems associated with pregnancy are troublesome and frustrating, but mothers grin and bear it, because they know that it will all be worth it in the end.
However, what I think most people do not realise, has got to be how dangerous a pregnancy can actually be to a woman. A lot of complications that arise in pregnancy can be potentially life threatening to the woman. Major obsteric haemorrhages are capable of causing exsanguination within just 10 minutes! Maternal sepsis can occur following a prolonged rupture of membranes or even an intrauterine death. The hypercoagulable state of these women means that they are more at risk of DVTs and potentially fatal pulmonary emboli. Hyperemesis gravidum can quickly lead to hypovolaemic shock. Maternal airways are more difficult to manage due to mucosal oedema and hyperaemia, breast engorgement, and an increased risk of aspiration- hypoxia quickly ensues due to their decreased oxygen reserves and increased oxygen consumption. Truly, it is no understatement to say that a pregnant woman literally puts her own life at risk for the sake of housing and feeding the little one in her womb!
I should make it clear though, that I do have a skewed view of the horrors of pregnancy and the extent to which they occur. Being an anaesthetist, my involvement with pregnant women occurs usually when there have been complications in their pregnancy or labour, or when they are suffering such intense pain that an epidural is sought after. The women I see on the delivery suite are writhing around screaming for pain relief, whilst the ones I look after in emergency theatre are crying uncontrollably, petrified for their own and their baby’s life.
When I look at these women, I cannot help but be awed by the greatness that is motherhood. Their endurance of physical suffering, their acceptance of dignity loss in labour, their bravery in putting their lives at risk for 9 months, and finally the unconditional love poured out to the tiny human being who eventually makes an appearance. To think that this is just the beginning of a very long journey to come!
A journey that will hopefully not be a lonesome one, but one that is supported and accompanied by the child’s father; right from the beginning at conception, through the pregnancy, at birth, and onward still. From my 3 months at the women’s hospital, I remember 1 young couple particularly well. The woman was a year younger than me, an American. Her husband on the other hand was British, and he bore a cunning resemblance to Prince Harry. They were married (not the most common of relationship statuses for couples in our delivery suite), presumably Christian, and expecting their first child. The woman was clearly suffering as her contractions came on fast and furious. Everytime she winced in pain, her husband would hold her hand, kiss her, and talk her through it. I heard her say to him softly “Darling, please say a prayer for me and the baby.” And he did. He knelt down and laid both hands on her bump, begging the Lord to help her through the pain and praying for the little one to be safe. As a bystander, I felt so touched to see such love- committed and supportive love, founded in Christ and rooted in prayer. Their experience was so different from some of the others I have witnessed- 16 year old scally kids for example, obviously having a child out of wedlock, a child that both the young mum and dad are completely incapable of looking after. It feels wrong that young children should be having children. The mum obviously has not had any mental preparation for the long, horrifying labour. The dad, on the other hand, is too immature to even bother offering any encouragement to the woman he impregnated, preferring to “go outside for a fag” because he “can’t stand blood.”
Finally, “Children, obey your parents.” (Ephesians 6:1) For you are the manifestation and continuation of their love. Consider the unconditional affection that they have poured out on you. Their lives have been turned upside down and inside out from the day you were conceived. They have sacrificed so much for you- their time, sleep, money, careers, dreams, freedom. Mum and dad were once young, attractive, hip and cool. They used to enjoy a nightlife, hang out with friends, spend money on lavish holidays and cool gadgets. They did whatever they wanted with not a care in the world. Until you arrived. When you arrived, they had to wake up 6 times a night to nurse and comfort you, then they would wake up wearily at a ridiculous 5 am in the morning to get you out of bed. They run after you trying to get you dressed for school, then spend immense effort trying to coax you to eat your breakfast. They stress over childcare arrangements for when they are at work, then spend the whole day at work worrying if you are ok at school. They are anxious when you come home late without ringing, so they call up all your friends to check (thus embarrassing you). They fret over your exam results and worry over whether you will get into the University you want to study the subject you like. They are burdened when you start job hunting, hoping and praying that you succeed in procuring the job of your dreams. They frown and fret over your relationship status, worrying over when you will finally settle down and start a family of your own. Children, remember that your parents have become so “uncool” because they had you. They chose unreserved, self-sacrificial love for you. A love that is a shadow of God’s mind-blowing agape love for us.
Mum and dad, thank you for everything you have done for me.
God, thank you for the parents you have given me.