Just as a reminder this is my own personal birth story and not for births that I was attending..
In early april of 2010 my family had just moved to a tiny two bedroom apartment (actually it wasn’t that tiny, but since we had moved from a 3 bedroom 2 car garage with all our stuff shoved into this space, it seemed rather tiny to us) in another state. We had no friends yet, my husband was starting to work in a new place (same employer, different job and location). And we were just starting to feel out the area, and I had gotten horribly sick a few weeks before when we had no furniture in our new apartment yet…. and I’m not walking up the stairs with a fresh box of pregnancy tests when suddenly I realize that I had been reading the last tests I’d taken wrong.
I was pregnant. I felt sick every morning on my walk with the dog and our two year old and when I’d read the tests wrong and thought I wasn’t pregnant I was sure that either the test was wrong, or I was becoming deathly ill… I recognized pregnancy illness, I recognized breast tenderness, I was even lactating already for goodness sake! I called my husband up to have him laugh with me while I told him how dumb I’d been for reading them wrong, he told me to go take another. I didn’t expect this one to be right considering the time of day and that I’d only just gone to the bathroom a little bit ago, but there it was, a perfectly clear pink line. We were expecting our second child.
Getting set up with medical care in a new city is never fun, but since we’d found out we were moving I’d decided to check out the hospitals where I’d likely deliver our next child and knew exactly what I wanted and thought I knew how to get it. I called to get a ‘pregnancy confirmation’ and intended to immediately switch my care to an off base provider, but they informed me that wasn’t how they did things at this new navy base. They assigned me a midwife (as per my request) at the base facility, I still figured I’d switch my care, but would wait until after my confirmation. They didn’t schedule my first appointment until I was 12 weeks pregnant. In the mean time I suffered from extreme morning sickness, my husband ended up cooking all meals he was home for, and the house was never clean. My two year old didn’t care much for his toys and wanted to be outside all the time. The most activity that I could persuade my ravaged body to do was to walk him and a few of his balls out to the tennis court and let him run around in the sun once sometimes twice a week.
We attended a church where I met a sweet woman who eventually would become one of my best friends, and when I was 11 weeks pregnant, though I still didn’t know her well I called her on the phone explained that I was too ill to care for my child and didn’t know what to do. After talking to her husband we all decided that she would come and take my son for the day and give me some time to sleep or to call my husband to take me to the ER… which is what I did, a half hour after she left I was getting ready to go to the hospital and waiting for my husband to pick me up. Once there I received 3 bags of fluid (which I only recall making me really cold), they did an ultrasound of my baby just to check and make sure it was ok, I asked them to please make sure there were no twins in there, cause anyone feeling as awful as I felt must be having twins. They informed be there was only one baby. I was sent home early in the morning with antibiotics for a UTI, and some zophran to help my nausea, it was awesome! I felt no headache, I felt ‘full’ of fluid, something that you don’t know you don’t have until you get it again. My friend kept my son until the next morning, said he was very good, and I thanked her by crying and telling her how much of a God send she was.
The morning sickness didn’t leave me until I was six months pregnant, my midwife didn’t seem too concerned because I was gaining weight, but I felt awful, faintish, and overloaded all the time. I was also informed the only way I could deliver this baby at the hospital of my choice was to switch my insurance and to expect to pay high co-pays for the care I would receive. Paying high anything was out of the question for us at the time so I opted to stay, hoping for the best from my midwife.
They dated my pregnancy two full weeks before I knew I was due and I worried about this date, but figured it would be ok since my son was born early… It didn’t end up ok.
November 30th was the date they gave me to have this baby by, and on December 9th I went for a Non stress test, and as at my previous ones they told me that my water level was very high, 33cm, and that my daughter’s umbilical cord was long… both of these things sounded as if they would be concerning, at least the way they said it to me, so I had asked my midwife about it and she pulled out her office ultrasound machine and measured my fluid then told me that the ultrasound tech didn’t know what they were talking about, my fluid was only 15cm.. and she wasn’t concerned at all. I asked her ‘what if it is high, what does that mean?’ she said “it isn’t high, it means nothing” I got no where with her. Which was how I felt through all of my appointments with her… but back to Dec 9th, after having me sit and my contractions were monitored for a time a doctor came in and sat down with me and said “Your fluid levels are really high, have you been feeling the contractions you are having?” I answered “yes, but I dont’ think they are much to worry about right now.. they feel like Braxton hicks contractions” Then she checked somethings on my chart, stated that I was past my due date, i corrected her and said the due date was wrong but no one would listen to me, and then she said something that I knew was meant to make me see the gravity of the situation.. “I’m worried, I’m worried that if we let you go home right now with these contractions, your water could break, your daughter’s cord could prolapse and she could die before you even get back to the hospital” I told her that if that happened, which I honestly thought it might, given that my son had broken his bag of waters before I went into labor, that I was prepared to do what needed to be done to get to the hospital in time, and stated research I’d done on positions to get into (butt in the air basically), and she looked at me like I was crazy and said “you might not know if her cord is prolapsed, often mom’s don’t, I’d like you to go to L&D and talk to your midwife, she is on duty right now, and you two can decide together what to do”.
I went as she suggested to L&D and was told that she would check my dilation, I had seen her for an appointment the day before and she had checked then so any progress at that point was progress made from the contractions I was experiencing, there was a 1/2 cm change, and I’d gone from 25% effaced to 50% effaced. She recommended that I go walk around the hospital grounds, I asked if I could go home and at least get my bag, she said “no we don’t want you that far from the hospital incase of cord prolapse” I wanted to walk out of there anyway… I was tired of being told what to do when I felt perfectly safe, and knew my baby was safe too… I felt less safe in the hospital to be honest.
I walked, I started to feel more contractions and a bit stronger, and we called my friend to come get our son because it looked like we were going to stay, and have a baby. The contractions did get me to sit a few times, but more because they just took away the little air I’d been able to get, than because they were painful. Back upstairs after our hour long walk and we had to wait for my midwife to be available again for another hour and when she finally came in the waiting room (to get something out of the closet located there) she seemed surprised to see me. She had to get cleaned up, there had been a birth and she needed to take care of a few last things so I waited a bit longer, and suddenly a woman in a wheelchair burst through the door followed by who I can assume was her husband, and two or three older children. She screamed at her husband for driving the wheelchair (gently) over the door frame which caused her a tiny bump. On the one hand I felt compassion for her, she was in labor, I didn’t feel like I was in labor at all, and on the other hand my doula training wanted to go and smack her in the face (no I’d never do that to any client I promise, she just really needed a reality check) and then tell her if she didn’t relax then she’d be feeling that awful pain the rest of her delivery, and then show her how to breathe and relax through a contraction… but I didn’t, she had her hands full with the sad faced man and his quiet and withdrawn children, you’d think by looking at the family that they were about to put their mother down or something, not welcome a new child to the world.
The midwife came to get me, and for whatever reason my husband didn’t come into the room with me, I think he might have been on the phone with his boss, not sure. She checked my dilation, I’d gone from a 4.5 to 6cm in the time I’d been there, my contractions were serious enough to consider real, but still in no way painful, and I informed my midwife calmly and patiently that I had a few things I’d like to talk about before agree’ing to be admitted. 1st, I was not a patient, and I would not have a hep-lock. 2nd, I would not consent to pitocin, and 3rd, no one would break my water.
My pain in the butt midwife told me all of my requests were not allowed, that hospital policy was that I would have to have a hep lock, and there was no flexing on that rule at all, that she wouldn’t give me pitocin until after my baby was born but at that point hospital policy demanded that she administer some to ensure that my uterus delivered the placenta, which I knew was not proven to be accurate information at all, and that they would only break my water if my labor stalled out.
I countered with I will accept the hep-lock, but will not accept any fluid and will drink water as I feel necessary, I do not want pitocin for the birth of my child and would prefer not to have it after the birth either but after the birth IF my uterus doesn’t expel the placenta in a timely manner I’ll allow it, and You will NOT break my water.
She countered again, hep-lock is a must, you wont be required to have fluid, I must give you pitocin and we’ll talk about your water if we get to that point.
Basically she gave me nothing but made me feel like there was hope. I was admitted… to a male nurse. UGH! He sweetly asked me if I minded if he did the hep-lock and then would transfer my care to someone else if I still felt the need. I told him it wasn’t anything against him personally but that I had requested only female staff to be allowed in the room. He was nice and left, though I could tell he was mad that his gender was the reason I was kicking him out.
Sunny was the nurse who would take care of me the rest of my stay. She was sweet, and friendly and took great care of me. I labored in my room (the wouldn’t let me walk the halls!) Walking back and forth from the bathroom to the doorway, and stopping only when a contraction came that I couldn’t walk through.. to be honest I walked through most of them, they didn’t hurt even a tiny bit.
I had a visitor, she marveled as I would talk to her until my contraction got to just about it’s peak then I’d put a finger up close my eyes and relax into my blankets, pretending to be part of them, and then once the contraction subsided I would return to our conversation. She didn’t stay long, and when she left I walked some more.. it was getting so late though and I was tired. Every two hours since being admitted the midwife would come in to my room and check my dilation and effacement, swipe my membranes and leave again satisfied that I was progressing. At 11pm I was checked and found to be 9cm 90% effaced, and I was tired, I told them all I was going to go to sleep and would prefer to be left alone… they told me that wasn’t possible but that they would see me in two hours. YAY…. not.
at about 1pm they came to my room (a new midwife, mine was off duty by this time) and after checking my progress said there was none, and that they would be breaking my water now. I immediately informed them that my own midwife should have written in my chart that I didn’t consent to that. The midwife on duty did not look at my chart, but informed me that it was policy that if labor had stalled they would then break the waters. I told her no, and that I was going to go to sleep and we’d have the baby in the morning, she informed me that wasn’t what would be happening, and that she’d be back with another midwife in a little bit. I stopped her and said “could you tell me the station of my babies head?” she said it was “-3” and I said “at my NST earlier today they informed me that I had high fluid levels, that my daughter’s cord was long and that if she wasn’t engaged in my pelvis then I could experience a cord prolapse, nothing has changed except my dilation, how likely is it that I’ll experience a cord prolapse if you do this?” She answered “I’ve never seen a cord prolapse in all my years of midwifery.” Was that supposed to soothe me?
About 15 minutes later a group of three women came into the room (my nurse was already there beside me), she informed me that a midwife in training would be performing the procedure, and that she was only in training at this hospital in fact she had been a midwife for several years in Mexico. I was so mad. I asked them all to leave for a minute so I could talk to my husband.
A word about my husband here. This man had been so incredibly helpful at my first birth, waving wash clothes getting ice chips, rubbing my back, catching puke… he was amazing, but to be honest I didnt’ need him at the second labor at all, so he sat in an uncomfortable chair looking at a tv that was placed much higher than is comfortable to look at, and stayed by my side in our non windowed room for the past 9 hours, with really nothing to do, we didn’t have our birth bag with our entertainment items in it, we had nothing… and aside from the short visit from our friends he had no reason to want to be in this dark room on that uncomfortable chair (they didn’t even have a pull out bed thing for him to sleep on)… so when I asked him about how he felt about having my water break he countered with “It’s just going to hurry things up right? lets get this show on the road.” I was tired of fighting, I least of all wanted to fight my own husband. I relented.
When the midwives came back in I again asked about cord prolapse and they again brushed it off like it couldn’t happen to me, and I relented… The midwife in training sat at the edge of my bed with her crochet hook in hand, and though they said it wouldn’t hurt it did, I had tears both of fear and pain running down my face, and the other woman in training told me to just relax everything would be ok.. I tried, the nurse sweetly tried to rub my arm and assure me that it would be ok.
And as soon as they’d accomplished their goal they all smiled, especially the midwife in charge, and then left. She told me as she was leaving that she would come and check on me in awhile and that she expected I’d be having my baby soon.
My nurse meanwhile was cleaning up my bed because as my water broke it poured out of me, like someone had turned on a faucet that was on full blast. A contraction ended and the faucet momentarily stopped. I’ve honestly never even pee’d that much. Just as Sunny was finishing up her job of cleaning my bed pads and making me more comfortable a second contraction hit and everything she had just done was needing to be done again. She started to clean up again but then realized she was loosing the battle and decided to wait for the contraction to end and focus instead on checking on my babies heart rate as the monitor was no longer getting it. It was at this point that everything changed. She got the heart rate but then lost it again, then found it very faintly, and then instead of cleaning up any more of the fluid pouring from me she was buzzing the desk, and almost frantically asking for my midwife to come back immediately. And then there they all were, all three women, the one who broke my water climbed onto my bed, stuffed her hand up my vagina and announced that the cord had indeed prolapsed but she was trying to see if she could dislodge it. No dice, my bed flew apart, my head was lowered as far as it would go, a sheet was drapped over me and the midwife with her hand stuck in my vagina, and we were leaving the room. I closed my eyes, I went to that place where I was one with the sheet, I heard words around me, my nurse Sunny reassuring me that I was doing fine, the midwife with her hand inside me saying that the cord was so long if she swept it off from one side it came down on the other… she was loosing the battle with my daughter’s cord. I heard the team of people pushing my bed met with another team of people probably from the OR and the midwife in charge was giving them a lot of information regarding what had happened. I zoned out again, I prayed, I asked God for strength, I calmed me nerves and asked about my baby, I felt instinctively she was going to be ok, and then began to pray about myself… how would I be able to get through this, forgive all these people who forced me into this situation?
We entered the OR, I remember only because I opened my eyes briefly at this point. I saw only a little bit… the room was green, there was a bright round operating room light right above me, shining at me. I closed my eyes again. Someone shouted that they needed my IV line, I stuck my arm out toward the voice, then I heard a voice say “we’re going to move you onto the table, we need to you help us out” I did what they told me, I kept my eyes closed as much as possible, I felt like if I just shut it out and stayed in my calm place I wouldn’t freak out and I could in that way save my daughter. There were no tears at this point, I just accepted what was happening and decided to do what was asked of me to save my daughter. I opened my eyes again because it seemed like the business had stopped, I saw in front of me a blue curtain, when had that gotten there?
Suddenly I felt a horrible pain across my abdomen, I knew what had happened, I was being cut open! I jumped from the surprise and pain and quickly reminded myself that I needed to stay still, I needed to save my daughter’s life. The woman next to me, I dont’ know if it was Sunny or someone else said “Mommy can Feel that!” in a lecture like tone, as if she was saying “hey you idiots there is a woman on this table that you are cutting open and you didn’t even give her the anesthesia!” and I remember opening my eyes once again, and a mask, it looked like something you’d find in a military hospital, flew over my face and I was gone… I don’t think it could have been from the anesthesia, I think it was pain and shock and I had just passed out… but I don’t know.
My daughter was born at 2:55am, and I met her at 7am-ish. When I woke up from the anesthesia I didn’t know what was happening, I felt sad and tired, I wondered where my husband was, I hadn’t seen him since he had told me we should go ahead with the procedure. I asked about him, the nurses told me he was with my baby.. my baby? Oh, I had a baby… yes those were my thoughts. I was confused, surely she wasn’t born yet, I should remember her birth… it came slowly to me that she had been born via c-section. The scary and painful details would surface much later, at this point I was trying to figure out why I felt like I should still be pregnant, couldn’t remember anything between being pregnant and this moment when the nurses told me my baby was with her dad, who I had no idea where he had gone or what had happened to him.
After I was a bit more with it I guess they brought me to my room and where my daughter and husband would meet me. I don’t remember meeting her, all I remember is she wasn’t there, and then she was, nothing in between. My husband tells me they brought her in after I came in, but I seem to remember them being there all along, and me being the one who wasn’t there…
The next three days the only things I remember are, falling asleep while trying to breastfeed (something we never mastered), feeling hungry and feeling like it was magic and food would appear in my room carried by a man who had the worst timing ever (falling asleep while breastfeeding often meant I wasn’t covered and I was very embarrassed by this). I also remember a few visitors and I’m fairly certain I fell asleep in the middle of conversations with all of them.
*If I left this story where it is, you may think it was a horrible birth, or perhaps you would just think it was medical, I don’t know, what I do know is that I had PTSD that took 4 months to show up, and once I began to see a therapist I started realizing how very beneficial my experience could be in regards to my ability as a doula. I know that due to a shattered view of birth and breastfeeding I felt weak and like a failure, and that I worked through that too. I know that while I looked at my daughter for months all I could think about was how she got into this world. My few memories of my daughter wrapped themselves around something that was the worst memory of my life, and made it hard, if not impossible to love her, but I know I fought that too. I refused to let the things surrounding my daughter to define her. She was my child, born of my womb, blood of my blood, and a smiley delight regardless of the fact that due to failed breastfeeding (though I tried everything possible) she didn’t even exceed her birth weight until she was 2 months old, and was literally starving, and labeled failure to thrive.
All these horrifying things (at least to me) made me more and more determined not to connect them to my daughter. So for more than a year I refused to think about my daughter in the context of her birth at all… and I refused to think about her birth when thinking about her… now I can tell you I can think of her birth, connect her with it, and separate the feelings I have surrounding her from those surrounding her birth. I can also say that my birth stories help me to relate with other women facing similar things. I have a natural labor (via my daughter) a pitocin labor (via my son), a pain med free delivery (via my son), and a c-section delivery (via my daughter)… all things that I can use, and remember, to help my clients to go through what ever they are facing and come out on the other side looking and feeling like they’d done all they could and to help them find the silver lining in the grey clouds.
I don’t regret my daughter’s birth, and I don’t want to use her story to scare others, but rather to educate, build up and help other women, and I think that other women should share these things too. We all have a responsibility regarding our stories. When sharing a scary story, do try to use it to educate and edify other women rather than instill fear regarding birth. and When reading or listening to a birth story regardless if it was scary or pleasant, do not assume your birth will be anything like that mom’s, use it to educate yourself.