• Meghan Bartok

Having a baby in Vietnam: Claire's birth story

Updated: Aug 3

Now that it's been almost two weeks and we've settled into a routine at home, I figured it was time to write this down before I start to forget the little details. While this experience was nothing like I expected the arrival of my first child to be - last year I was in lockdown living in Hanoi, and I never would have guessed in a year I would have a little munchkin of my own, especially in Vietnam without my family there! Despite this, it was definitely a happy and positive experience overall, and I can't tell you how good it feels to not be pregnant anymore! Hallelujah for being able to wear cute clothes again!


In case you're curious about the cost of giving birth at FV Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City without insurance, I'll add those numbers down at the bottom.

29.3.2021, 2 am (approximately)

Two days before my due date, I woke up to some terrible pains in the middle of the night. It felt like the worst period/constipation cramps you've ever had times at least ten. The thing about first pregnancies is you're always wondering what's normal and what's not, and I had no idea if these were real contractions, 'practice' contractions, or something else. I laid back down and tried to sleep, hoping I would feel better when I woke back up. Except I couldn't fall back asleep and was practically crying with every pain. I woke James up and we started writing down when I would feel pain and what level of pain it was. He was convinced that the baby was on her way, but I didn't want to get my hopes up quite yet.


6:15 am

After falling asleep for an hour, I woke up again and the pain still hadn't gone away. Maybe this was the real deal? I did a lot of Googling to try to find some answers, but I couldn't find anything definitive. James called the hospital, and the nurse on duty said that it was probably labor and that we should come in when I had three contractions in ten minutes. This led to James frantically rushing around the house getting the last minute things to take to the hospital and cleaning up so we could come back to a clean apartment. I was busy laying in bed, trying (and failing) not to cry because of the pain.


9:30 am

Most of the pain had subsided by this point, which really had me worried that it was a false alarm. I felt good enough to get out of bed and take a shower - if I really was going to the hospital, I was at least going to be clean! One of our friends very generously offered to take our dog with almost no notice, so we finished getting ready while she was on her way over.


Waiting for a taxi to head to the hospital!

10:45 am

After getting everything sorted out at home, it was time to head to the hospital. I still wasn't feeling too many contractions, and I spent the entire 40-minute taxi ride worrying that I would go in and they would send us back home. We also decided on Claire's middle name, Amelia, while we were in the taxi - nothing like last minute! We had also put off going as long as we could, as the hospital charges extra for admittances before 11 am. Luckily, things timed out perfectly and we got to the hospital at 11:15.


11:15 am

Upon arriving in the hospital, I politely declined the offer of the wheelchair, and we walked up to the delivery floor. They hooked me up to the monitor, which measures the baby's heart rate and my contractions' strength and frequency. At this point, I was only 2cm dilated, but definitely having contractions. Since we live so far from the hospital, they just admitted me instead of sending us home to wait for a couple more hours. I spent about an hour and a half in the exam room, where I could get up and move around after they had finished the monitoring. They even brought me lunch, which was much better than I expected!

The contrast between no contraction vs contraction...


Our (private) room

1:00 pm

James had run to the store to stock up on some snacks for us before things got really crazy, and some kind Vietnamese man came and collected me from the exam room and wheeled me up to the room in the maternity ward that would become our home for the next three days. The contractions were definitely way worse laying down, so I tried to stand up and walk around as much as possible. James made it back from the store - having him there made dealing with the contractions way more bearable as I would just make him come over so I could hold onto him. I took a hot shower, which helped the pain for a while.


3:30 pm

The nurse came in to give me another check - I had only made it to 3cm. She asked if I wanted an epidural and I adamantly declined. I wanted to do this as naturally as possible, and I could do it without the epidural.


4:07 pm

It turns out I could, in fact, not do it without the epidural. In those 40 minutes, I was crying with every contraction. I wanted to have a good birth experience, and I realized then that I couldn't have that without real pain medicine. We called the nurse back in and they took me down to the delivery suite. Actually getting the epidural was easily one of the worst experiences of my life. They made James leave the room, so I was alone and crying with just some of the Vietnamese staff. The anesthesiologist kept telling me "don't move, it's dangerous" which is not only scary to hear but hard to do when you're having contractions. God bless the nurse that let me hold her hand through the whole thing. Luckily it didn't take long to kick in, and by the time James came back in, I couldn't feel any pain. I did think my legs would go numb, but they never actually did. I spent the next couple of hours trying (and failing) to nap - the beeping machines and flashing lights were very distracting.


7:30 pm

Another check from the nurse and I had only made it to about 5cm dilated. My water hadn't broken yet - she asked if we wanted her to do it, and we declined. We still wanted to try to let things happen as naturally as possible.


9:30 pm

The nurse came back for another check - 6cm. She asked again about breaking the water, and after she told us more about why we should do it - mainly that it would speed things up a lot, we agreed. This pretty much just involves using a crochet hook-looking instrument and popping you like a water balloon. You can't feel anything except the sensation that you're peeing but can't stop. Five minutes later, I was already at 8cm, and the baby was coming sooner rather than later.


10:15 pm

I'm not sure if the epidural was wearing off or the contractions were getting super strong, but I was back to crying with every contraction again. All I wanted was more drugs, but James wouldn't let them give any to me. At the moment, I hated him a little bit, but I'm glad I pushed through and didn't have to deal with waiting for anything to wear off once I had popped the baby out. This also meant it was pretty much time to push. They brought the doctor in - sadly not my doctor, just the one on duty whom I hadn't met before, and the nurses were scurrying around making sure everything was ready.

Our first family photo

10:57 pm

After about 17 minutes of actively pushing, Claire Amelia Burke made her entrance into the world. She was tiny and bloody and kind of blue-ish, but 100% healthy and adorable. Overall, the actual act of giving birth was not as bad or painful as I expected. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that you're so focused on pushing that you can't focus on any pain. Holding your baby for the first time is the most surreal experience. I was trying to wrap my head around the fact that what I had carried around in my belly for 39 weeks and 5 days was now laying on my chest. It's also very strange to look down at your stomach and be almost back to your pre-pregnancy size after having just looked like you swallowed a whole watermelon.


After getting Claire to nurse for the first time and holding her on my chest for a while, they weighed her, measured her, and cleaned her up. She was 3.35kg (7lbs, 4oz) and 51 cm (21.5 inches) with very long legs! The Vietnamese staff kept saying what a big baby she was, which made me laugh because she's on the small side of average by US standards.


30.3.2021 1:15 am

They finally came to wheel me up to our room, holding baby Claire on my chest. I felt a bit like a mummy, lying on the gurney with my arms crossed around her. We were now on our own (mostly) to figure out how to take care of our newborn after about 2 hours of sleep in 24. I might be biased, but I think we did a pretty good job with this little princess!


FV Hospital specific birthing experience

Overall, I feel like I had a pretty good birth and hospital experience, but I wanted to highlight some key points for anyone considering giving birth at FV Hospital.


The Good:

- They never take the baby out of the sight of one or both of the parents. They did all her checks in our room, and anytime they had to take her out of the room, James or both of us went with them.

- The staff all spoke very good English and in the small chance one of the nurses didn't, she would go get another nurse who did.

- Our private room was comfortable and the food was better than I expected.

- They are also super pro-breastfeeding which was very important to me.


The Bad:

- They gave me an episiotomy during delivery, which was something I really didn't want (if you don't know what it is, Google it - I think it might be a little TMI for the blog). If my French doctor had been there, this probably wouldn't have happened, but the Vietnamese doctors are known to do it pre-emptively. The recovery from that hasn't been great.

- We also got a lot of conflicting information from different nurses. One would tell us one thing and the next nurse would tell us the complete opposite.

- The pediatrician we saw on one of the days told us she had an 'uneven face' and then something else about her feet, and that they would both need rehabilitation. This wasn't explained to us very well, and she looks fine to us. No one's face is exactly even anyway and we didn't want anyone poking at our 2-day old infant unnecessarily. It felt a bit like a way to get extra money, as even our midwife said that it didn't seem like she had any problems with her face or her feet.

- There are always people coming in and out of your room. I know a lot of this is because it's a hospital, but when you've had no sleep because of a crying newborn, the last thing you want is someone coming in to clean your room twice a day.


Cost - 31 million VND//$1350

Overall, this was not a bad price for delivery at a private international hospital (known to be one of the most expensive in the city) with no insurance. This included the delivery charges, all medication I had, all my meals, the baby's first immunizations, checks from the pediatrician, 3 nights in a single room - which is an upgrade of around 1.5 million VND//$65 per night; and 2 overnight guest passes for James (they didn't make us pay for him the first night because it was so late by the time we got back to our room). Why they make you pay for a guest pass in a single room still confuses me, but anything to make some extra money, I guess.


The quality of the care was good, and the facilities were as well. Besides the things I mentioned above, it was a pleasant and easy experience. I would recommend FV, especially if you want somewhere with good English communication and international-standard healthcare. As always, the comments and my email are open to any questions about my experience, both in general or about FV Hospital specifically.

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