I was not around for the birth of my first child, something that I have always regretted. When Sarah was born I was working in another city and I was not able to successfully time my trip back to Phnom Penh. By the time I walked in through my doors at 11:30 AM, my wife was already holding our daughter in her arms. I had vowed since then that this would not happen again with my next child so I was intent to be there for every single moment when my wife became pregnant with our first son. Although I was quarantined in my condo alone for 3 weeks, I only missed one doctor's appointment and was able to accompany my wife on all other visits. As the due date neared things were fairly uneventful as both my wife and our child checked out normal on all visits. But just 2 weeks prior to the due date, everything would change in a way that brought every fear a father could possibly have into my mind.
My wife has always been a woman of small stature and frame. This was not an issue in her first pregnancy but when Sarah was born it really took a toll on her physically. It took her a long time to recover fully and I was a bit worried when she became pregnant again that she might suffer from some complications. She assured me that she would be fine and that she would take better care of herself. The initial trip to the doctor was also reassuring as we were told that everything should be fine as long as my wife kept up with her prenatal vitamin regimen. As I previously mentioned, I went to every doctor's visit with my wife save the month when I was quarantined. Every appointment went very well and all pointed to a smooth delivery come the due date. But on our final visit the doctor expressed some concern over my wife's blood test results. It turns out that she had developed anemia and that our son was now registering as a bit underweight. I had not noticed that my wife was not getting enough red meat and iron in her diet. As a girl from the province who grew up poor, eating something like beef regularly was a rarity in my wife's home and so she thought nothing of the fact that she almost completely lacked this element in her diet. The doctor prescribed some medication to alleviate the issue but also ordered my wife on a strict diet in which she basically had to eat beef with every meal, 3 times per day. So I got on my phone and ordered as many steaks as I could from the local butcher, stuck them in the freezer and told my wife's sisters that they were to cook them with every meal for my wife.
This was an easy enough fix and sure enough my wife's condition did improve. But during our next trip to the hospital the doctor informed us that we should still have some extra blood on hand just in case there was any loss during the birthing process. She also suggested that we opt for a cesarean section as that would minimize the loss of blood. I had never donated blood nor needed it during my time here in Cambodia so I asked the doctor to please inform me on the process. It turns out that the onus of obtaining the blood for a patient is not on the hospital, but on the patient. So I was told to go to the government run blood bank in town and exchange 3 bags of blood to get 3 bags back. If I can find three friends who matched the same blood type as my wife then the bags would be free. Otherwise I would have to pay for each bag, but still donate 3 bags of blood of any type. So I found three friends who were all nice enough to assist and met them at the hospital to go to the blood bank with one of their nurses. But when we arrived at the hospital everything changed and I was now told that they had to receive 3 bags of the exact same type or else they would not release any blood for my wife. I was obviously infuriated with the hospital for giving me the incorrect information as had I known I would have tried to find 3 friends who matched my wife's type. But when calling the hospital I was told that they informed me of the correct policy and that for whatever reason the blood bank had changed their normal procedure. Perhaps it was the fact that I am a foreigner and that I walked in with several others, but such is only speculation on my part. Fortunately one of my friends did match the blood type that was required and so he ended up giving a bit more than we had originally planned. He gave so much in fact that he nearly fainted once we left the blood bank, for which none of the staff surrounding us offered any assistance.
Once I reached the hospital the doctor told me that while it was a bit less than what she had hoped for, the amount of blood received from the bank should be enough. The planned date for the cesarean was not for another few days so I thought we could all relax, at least for a little bit. But on the very next night my wife started having violent contractions and said we needed to go the hospital immediately. The city was in lockdown during this time and people were not allowed to travel outside during any hours, except in cases of emergency. This obviously falling into that category, I called a taxi from Grab and prepared my wife's belongings for her stay at the hospital. But once I booked the ride on my phone, the driver called me and said he would not come unless I paid him $25 for the ride. I should mention here that this is normally a $4 ride but he cited the lockdown as the reason for why he would not come pick us up for any less. I told him that my wife was about to give birth and that this would qualify for as an emergency and that we would have no issue getting past the police barricades. He nonetheless did not care and insisted that I pay him the $25. I angrily hung up on him and immediately booked another ride but then that driver also called me and said he would come for less than $20. I quickly realized that my wife was in great deal of pain and so I agreed to the price with the driver and he quickly arrived in a few minutes. We arrived at the hospital within 15 minutes and quickly got checked in. As it was past midnight the doctor had to be called in so all we could do was wait. My wife was screaming in pain nearly the entire time and when I asked her if this was normal she said it was more pain than she had endured during her past pregnancies. As this was my first time being present for a birth, I was quite worried and every bad thought raced through my mind. The doctor finally arrived around 1:00 AM and by 1:30 AM my wife was taken into the surgical room. The doctor told me that the anesthetic had already been administered and that my son should arrive shortly after 2:00 AM.
While I was in the waiting room my friend unexpectedly arrived at the hospital, the same friend who had donated blood just a few days earlier and nearly fainted. I had sent out a mass text to all my friends when my wife went into labor, but I hardly expected anyone to show up. As I previously mentioned the city was in the midst of a lockdown and so there was also an alcohol ban in effect. But that did not stop my friend from sneaking in a bottle of cognac and some plastic cups into the hospital so that we could have a drink and a toast as soon as my son was born. At 2:15 AM we both heard what was the cry of a baby and since we were the only ones in that section of the hospital I assumed that my son had arrived. The doctor came out of the surgical room and confirmed his birth and assured me that everything was completely normal and healthy both for my wife and our son. My friend and I waited for the doctor to leave and then brought out the bottle of cognac for our celebratory toast. I told him how grateful I was for not only showing up, but also for the blood that he had donated earlier. He offered to stay longer but as it was quite late already I told him to go home and that I would text him the following day after we all got some sleep. My wife and baby were then moved into the room that I had rented for 6 days for her to be able to recuperate and heal from the procedure. The nurses brought my son into the room on a rolling bed, wheeled him up to me then immediately left as if to say "here you go!" I quickly tried to stop them and asked whether or not there would be any after care for the baby. I could have sworn that they laughed at me as they walked away. I was a bit dumbfounded as I had paid $2,000 to the hospital for this entire procedure. I spoke to the doctor and she informed me that I had only paid for the Gold Package and that I needed to pay for the VIP Package in order to receive such care. I did not even ask how much that was before I started screaming at her that I did not care and that I wanted my wife moved to such a package immediately. My wife then stopped me and said that she was already aware of this and that it would be fine as her sisters were on their way to stay with her in the room to help take care of our newborn son. I calmed down and left it up to her judgment as she had been through this before. It seemed as if the most trying parts of Aiden's birth were now over and that we would be able to enjoy the fact that my first son had arrived into this world.
During this time I had to go and look for a new apartment for our family as I did not think a 2 bedroom was big enough for our expanded family. I was fortunate to find a nice and spacious 3 bedroom apartment rather quickly for only $800 per month. The plan was to move everyone in after my wife's 6 day stay in the hospital but as the Covid situation worsened here in Cambodia, that plan quickly changed. In my next blog article I will write of how my wife's family started moving into this new apartment one by one until there were all of a sudden 12 people sleeping there every night. My family had expanded in a way that I had not expected, but as they were all out of work and money due to the pandemic it was not something I felt I could refuse. Life is full of unexpected surprises and this is not how I intended life to be like for our family after the arrival of my son. But at least he is not lacking for family as many are all around to show him love and attention at any given moment.