My birthing experience at Sarawak General Hospital

On the 11th of September, I went to Sarawak General Hospital for a routine checkup but was admitted immediately due to one of the boys showing early signs of distress. I asked to go home to pack my things and returned an hour later with my bag of essentials.

It took another 5 hours to get me admitted, but that’s how it works in the government. Something that should take 15 minutes will take hours, even when there is nobody else in line. I registered myself, went to the labor ward to see a doctor and watched as they ran back and forth between patients, depending on who is in a more critical condition and scribbling in books.

After an emergency and watching two mothers go ahead of me, I was finally seen to but the nightmare did not end there. My doctor spoke intermittently because she kept getting distracted by sounds, sights and the prospect of dinner. I don’t blame her, I would be frazzled too, if I worked in such a stimulating environment.

She took my babies’ vitals and told me for what I’m sure is the hundredth time, whether I am aware of the dangers of C-section. Of course I did, but if I went with natural birth, the younger twin might go into distress and there’s the potential of having to go through with an emergency Cesarean anyway so why not just take the short cut?

Despite the horror stories of having to stay in an open ward, I was thankfully assigned to an air-conditioned room, shared with two other mamas. This is due to the length of my stay. I was in for the long run. Three days pre-op and two days post. If you’re already in labor or waiting to go into labor in the next 24 hours, you will most likely be admitted into the open ward.

12 Sept – Steroid Injections

The food was disgusting to say the least, and you cannot expect any service. A nurse shouted “bubur” in the morning and I told her “yes, please” but I didn’t get any porridge and found out later that I was supposed to go and serve myself. When lunch time rolled around, I was smarter but then discovered they do not include cutlery – so bring your own!

I kept getting pricked and prodded because they needed to run tests, a doctor took pity on me and set up a peripheral line (it hurt). I especially hated when they came to monitor the babies’ heartbeats because I had to lie on my back for 30 minutes at a time and they kept getting the same heartbeat so they had to keep re-doing it. The steroid shots to help the babies’ lungs develop HURT LIKE A BITCH, AIN’T EVEN GONNA LIE. Feels like ice being injected directly into your muscle and it burns white hot. As those injections might boost my blood sugar, I had to take my blood sugar readings myself near the nurse’s station before and after meals. I even had an endoscope shoved down my nose at one point because I told them about having nosebleeds.

To comfort myself, I cracked open a packet of ID.AZ and pampered my skin a little and I had my favorite butter chicken rice for dinner.

13 Sept – The Operation

36 hours after the first steroid shot (DID I MENTION HOW MUCH IT BURNS?) it was time.

I was scared, I wanted to run away. I wanted to chicken out. But I stayed in the bed as they wheeled me to the prepping room. We stayed there for an hour because the cleaning crew had not showed up. The anesthetist was very kind and explained to me what was going to happen and made sure I was reassured. I wish I saw his face but all I could see were his eyes.

Suddenly they said the operating theater is ready and wheeled me in. The first thing they did was give me a pillow to hug and palpated my spine. They found a spot, told me to stay still and injected a mild numbing agent before pulling out the big guns. I could still feel it though and it didn’t hurt so much as it felt weird. It felt like they were injecting sparks into my spine so I jerked and I could feel multiple pairs of hands suddenly gripping my back to hold me steady, panicked voices telling me not to move. Then it was over. They lay me down and I began feeling a numbness spread through the bottom half of my body and distantly felt a catheter being inserted.

When they opened me up, the sensation was similar to being stroked with pressure. Imagine petting your dog with force in the same spot, over and over again. I was quite certain I would be able to feel something because I was entirely conscious and sober but I didn’t. The most painful part of the operation was the anesthetic.

Once (I assume) they cut through everything, they began pressing down on my ribcage (like they were trying to resuscitate me) and Liam popped out at 10:10AM. He cried bloody murder and sounded pissed as hell. Tobias followed a minute later and cried like a kitten.

I was relieved that everything was over, happy that I didn’t have to subject myself to anymore little pains or fears (I was wrong, there was still the removal of the catheter, the stitches, but all in all, at least I skipped the big pain of actual labor). They kept talking to me, asking if I was okay. If I can breathe.

A nurse came by to show me my babies and shoved them into my face saying “cium dia” which mean kiss him but I thought she meant sniff him. She then proceeded to show me their genitals and asked me what gender they are. Another nurse came by to show me two wristbands and asked me if the details were correct. I said yes without paying attention to the digits because the adrenaline was leaving me and I felt kinda woozy. Or maybe it was the morphine.

They kept me another hour for observation and when everything seemed stable, they wheeled me to… the nightmare ward.

Kuching has been hazy lately (thanks to Indonesia since 1972) and the ward is all open windows and ceiling fans. After they wrapped me in a diaper and changed my outfit, I pretty much drifted in and out of sleep. I remember being hungry. I had been hungry since midnight when my fasting began. The nurse told me I couldn’t eat till 6 hours post op but I didn’t care. I drank, I had an apple and I noticed random things.

My stomach has flattened considerably. The IV drip wasn’t working. My face was itchy (side effect of the morphine). People kept taking my blood pressure, over and over again. I saw a picture of the twins. I realized the nurse had added two more wristbands to my own. I sat up. I lay back down. I texted. I slept. I woke. I bled through my bandages.

A specialist checked up on me and I asked if I could be changed to an air-conditioned room. He said sure and told the nurses to see that I was moved. Midnight rolled around and the lights were switched off. I told a nurse that I’m still waiting to be moved and she answered back with, “we can’t move you until your catheter is removed” and as I explained that the specialist – and she turned and walked away, without giving me a chance to finish with my explanation. Rude. But then again, if I wanted top notch service, I would have gone to a private hospital.

14 Sept – Got Milk?

I asked a nurse if I could be discharged today or be moved to the aircond room because the haze was really bad and I could smell it. She laughed and told me to use my brain, the haze was everywhere and I cannot escape it, even at home when I open the door, the haze would follow me in. I pointed out that the windows are open here and she said if they closed the windows, it would get very hot. I was appalled at her logic. I gave up trying to talk my way into comfort. Haze or not, I’d be leaving the next day. The nurse must have said something to the rest of the crew because they forgot my painkillers twice and I had to ask for them multiple times.

I was asked for milk but I didn’t know how to pump. I didn’t know how to express. I didn’t know anything. A doctor from the nursery told me that if I still didn’t have anything by the morning, they would have to start the twins on formula and there’s a risk of rejection or infection. What other choice did I have? I told him to proceed with it because if we kept their stomach empty too long, their gut will begin to die.

15 Sept – Discharge Day

I tried the Youha breast pump at five in the morning and got such a tiny amount that it dried up in the bottle. One of the nicer nurses gave me a syringe and told me that I can harvest my colostrum slowly by massaging and I managed to get 3ML. It wasn’t much at all, but it’s supposed to be amazing for the babies.

She told me to send it to the nursery when I was done and I did, painstakingly. I made my way to the nursery, syringe in hand and was told that the milk is contaminated as I did not cover it up so they cannot use it. It was disposed. The frustration I felt was so real, I wanted to punch the nurses in the face for not telling me the correct way to transport the colostrum and effectively wasting it.

To all soon-to-be-mothers: avoid all this by hand expressing your colostrum when you’re past your 37th week by squeezing your nipples gently. Keep whatever fluids you manage to get in a milk storage bottle and freeze it after 24 hours so it lasts. Please note: While babies at 37 weeks are full term, you might want to consider the possibility that doing this may trigger labor.

The process for discharging was a lot smoother but it was not very systematic. There is no real protocol in place, nobody to guide you – a doctor checked on me and told me I will be discharged today, a nurse came past later and said “you are ready to go” but there were no further instructions. I asked around and they told me to go to the front desk. It was like finding your way around in the dark.

The nurse in charge of discharging was weirder still. She told me to ask for a letter from the nursery so I can visit the twins whenever I want and said I can ask my husband to fetch me now. After I got my letter, she told me to make sure my husband brings our marriage certificate. Obviously he was already on the way, so he had to turn back and take it.

I received two slips: one for pain meds and the other was my hospital bill. Totaling close to RM200, I couldn’t complain about the service (or lack-thereof).

Would I recommend Sarawak General Hospital? 

Yes, if you’re having multiples due to the risks and complications involved or if you’re on a super tight budget and you don’t mind that visitors can only visit you at these hours:

6AM – 7AM
12:30PM – 2PM
5:30PM – 7PM

If your baby is healthy, be prepared to take care of it from the get-go. They will put your baby in an incubator next to you and expect that you feed and change it, fresh out of the operating theater.

6 Comments

  1. Hi there. Glad to read your feedback on your experience in SGH. Quick question about nipple massage and collecting colostrum by 37weeks though. Have you considered the risks of pre labour rupture of membranes and stimulating contractions that can ensue nipple stimulation?

    1. Hi! Yes, actually. Babies at 37 weeks are considered full term so I assume it should be safe to begin collecting colostrum despite the fact that it might bring on labor but it’s a good point! I’ll edit the article to warn mamas of the possibility.

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