12 December 2010

Having a baby in Thailand (or, "It's 1 a.m. Where the hell are you taking my baby?!")

Upon moving overseas, I quickly learned rule number one of being a successful expat: NEVER assume anything will be as you expect. Then, I learned rule number two (specifically for Thailand): NOTHING will be the same as it is in your home country no matter how often you hear someone tell you it's the "Same, Same" (a favorite English phrase of locals that foreigners have appropriately tacked on "But Different"). So, it was my own grand mistake upon entering the hospital for the birth of my third child that I a) assumed I knew what to expect and b) that the experience would be similar to the birth of my other two children.

Several readers have inquired what it was like to give birth in Thailand. Let's start by saying that it was a unique experience best summed up by 'Same, same, but different.' I'm relieved to be home with my newborn and starting out his life in Thailand. I love Bangkok and still am amazed that I was able to survive the pregnancy in the tropical heat with the distinct scents of the city. It was a life adventure I'm glad to have had. And, for those interested in a few further details related to our hospital experience (perhaps humorous in retrospect, horrific while happening) read on...

After realizing that I was mere minutes away from the baby's arrival and witnessing a room that was not prepared for this moment with panicked nurses yelling to each other in Thai*, I simultaneously realized there was no doctor 'on call.' The only doctor who was going to birth this child was my own, pre-assigned doctor and no one else would be available to help should she not get there. My doctor was called and I consciously screamed persistently and as loud as I could (so that no one would doubt my need for the doctor to arrive). She came flying in, baby came flying out and I breathed a sigh of relief. Later I learned that she was in her office, a floor below, and left a whirlwind of paper and pens scattered about as she raced to make it to the labour room.

The after care was where the bigger shock came into play. Thailand is a nursery society. Meaning, babies are routinely kept in the hospital's nursery rather than in the room with their parents. All medical evaluation is done in the nursery and parents are generally not encouraged to participate. My husband had the tricky task of navigating the indirect nature of communication in Thailand while insisting that our child not be taken away from us. He went running after the baby each time our son was wheeled to the nursery for "observation"-- which turned out to mean, put the baby in the wheely bassinet and let him sit in the nursery without looking at him. A completely foreign experience for us whose first two newborn children had hospital issued security tags that would set off alarms if taken out of a specific small ward of the hospital! So, you can imagine my horror when I walked out of the bathroom in my private room at 1 a.m. in the morning to see my sleeping child being wheeled out the door by a nurse attempting to take him to the nursery for "observation." (In case you're wondering, I strongly communicated 'no observation'.) In the end, we were fortunate to be able to keep our son with us, even though our wishes were continually challenged. Our son spent mere minutes out of our sight while we were at the hospital. (Tip: if a nurse says she'll bring your child back, she will not and a parent should go racing along side the wheeley bassinet being pushed to the nursery).

And, then there were the moments that I had to roll my eyes and think "only in Thailand." Such as the moment of seeing my child's feet painted with liquid gold. A small container of beautiful gilded artist's paint was applied with a fan shaped paint brush. A lovely process of collecting his foot print until my curious eyes settled on the paint jar's label-- "Not to be used by children. Toxic." (join me in an eye roll if you wish)

Then, there was the moment when my son was in the nursery for a routine medical procedure. We were told he could come right back to the room when finished. The story changed when my husband was observing the procedure and we were told it was the nursery policy to keep him for 'observation'. My husband came to get me so that I could go feed our son and stay with him. When I returned to the nursery, just minutes later, three nurses were clustered around our one-day-old, with mobile phones outstretched, snapping pictures. (another eye roll please)

And, then there was the moment when I was instructed on how to 'bathe' our child. A new parent is not allowed to be discharged until they are taught how to bathe their child. I had to laugh with the instructing nurse (luckily she found the humor in instructing me!) as she showed me the steps to washing our (third!) child. Put a bit of water on with a sponge ("WATCH OUT for the feet! Keep them dry!" the nurse scolded. I have no idea why, but I wanted to be discharged so his feet stayed dry.),  a little soap in his fuzzy (almost non-existent) hair, wipe off with water, dry, dab eyes with dry cotton ball to dry completely, diaper, dress, comb (previously mentioned almost non-existent) hair to create a part(!).

And, there was the moment when we were finally being discharged from the hospital and informed that a nursery staff member, per their policy, would escort us to our waiting car. After a few seconds of awkwardness, I soon realized it was the staff member's job to carry my baby for me. I reached out, gently took my child and left her carrying the massive amount of goody bags the hospital sends you home with. I'm pretty certain I broke their policy.

Perhaps, you'll understand when I say that a true sense of relief washed over me as we finally left the hospital and returned home to begin life as a new family of five.

*Thai that I, most likely incorrectly translated, to be 'Get the $##$@#@% doctor in here NOW! We're $#%#%# freaking out!'


  1. I have lived in Thailand for nine years, have never had a baby here, but can identify with 'same, same, but different'. Those who have never lived here don't understand the power of that phrase. Things are never the same. Congratulations on your baby. I look forward to reading more about your life in Thailand.

  2. Wow, I don't have any kids, but I find this kind of amazing. Did you think the quality of healthcare was good, though?

  3. @Megan: I did think the quality of healthcare was good. The hospital was much more experienced in cesarean section, rather than natural childbirth-- which made my experience a little bit lacking in some of the amenities I had for my previous children's births (since all three have been natural childbirth). But, the prenatal care was really wonderful and the aftercare rooms were comfortable and beautiful.

  4. same same, but different! we have this here as well :) Congrats on the new arrival. I understand that you are very happy to be home. I think you are very brave to have had your son in Thailand... don't think I could be the same here in Jordan - though they say the docs are good! Here there is also that all your husband's work relation show up at the hospital to congratulate. Don't think I could handle that lol. Wishing you all the best!

  5. OMG! LOL- Great blog!

  6. I am laughing my ass off about the gold paint. Love your blog!

  7. Did you get any photos of the gold painting?

  8. Oh, Shelby, you are the greatest at finding the humor in every situation. How many of us would have even looked at the bottle of paint? I love you and your wit.

  9. Your little boy is going to have the best stories to share with his own children someday, ha ha! Maybe we're a little too hung up on healthcare privacy back here in the States, but I still would have been scratching my head over the nurses taking his picture!

  10. Love your blog! Let's hear about how it is going taking that newborn out on some Thai adventure.

  11. It's good that you were prepared and assertive about your care. It sounds like you had to be very on top of everything, which would have been stressful, when all you wanted to do was relax with your newborn.

  12. I had my twin boys in a US hospital, but can relate to your experience. I wanted to have them naturally, much to the horror of the nurses and doctor, who pleaded for me to get an epidural. After the boys were born, my husband had to fight off the nurses, and tell them to give my healthy boys to me. They could go their "observations" later.

    Sadly, we didn't get their feet painted in gold. :-)

    Great story.


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