Saturday, April 10, 2010

Battles of The Birth

I woke up on the morning of September 28, 1996 feeling as I had for the last several weeks, like I'd be pregnant forever and starving. Whenever I look back on that day a surreal and eerie feeling comes over me, knowing how oblivious I was to the events that were about to unfold. Not only was I going into labor that day, but I was going into a battle that had bittersweet consequences. A battle that I lost, but set me up to fight a war I intend on winning.

It all started because of my feet. I spent the later part of the morning and early afternoon at my mother in-law's house, taking walks and standing around talking and having fun. After one of her sons noticed how badly swollen my feet were, I was convinced to go have it check out, "just in case". My instincts told me it was no big deal, but I sold out my instincts to her experience (she was the mother of four after all) and felt insecure due to lack of my own.

At the hospital I saw a doctor who check my blood pressure, my urine, my swelling, and my weight, then deemed it, drum roll please, edema! After looking in my chart he ask would I like to have this baby today. I thought he was humoring me so I said that would be great! He said something like, "Let's check your progress" and so now I was laying flat on my back naked from the waist down because of swollen feet. I was 4cm (as I had been for a few weeks), 50% effaced, -2 station. I can't really tell you why I remember all of that, but I do. He asked if I wanted to be induced and because I'd just read in my trusty "What to Expect When Your Expecting" book that induction entailed drugs, I said no thanks. Then things got weird. For the first time in all my vaginal exams I felt pain. It wasn't super intense, just painful compared to all other vaginal exams and by far more uncomfortable. So just like that, my membranes were stripped. No informed consent, no permission to do so, he didn't even tell me what he'd done. I had to find that out later. Also, for the record, I wasn't "due" until October 5th.

My first contraction came very soon after that, in the parking lot actually. I remember dismissing it as a stronger Braxton Hicks, and pressed on in my quest to get my fifth meal of the day. It was about 6pm. As the early evening progressed, my contractions got stronger and closer, but I kept waiting for them to be unbearable. My naive mind kept telling me I have want to cry or scream before it's time to go to the hospital. Sadly, it wasn't until I actually got to the hospital that I felt that way, and not because of any physical pain.

I arrived at the hospital shortly after 11pm and was greeted by a nurse who I felt clearly did not like her job or women. She moved without a purpose, practically cleaning her nails while talking to me. Everything she said was either dripping with sarcasm, disdain, or both and I swear she was popping gum. After I checked in, got the gown on in the bathroom, she insisted the first thing I do before going to my labor room was pee in a cup. I actually took the cup in the bathroom and tried a few times but I simply had no pee. When I told her this she stared at me blankly and replied: "We can't really do anything until we check your urine". I looked her squarely in the eyes, grit my teeth through the contraction and asked her: "What the hell does that mean?" Her reply: "Ma'am, we need your urine." My contraction was stronger and longer than ever before so I closed my eyes and rode it out. When it was over, I didn't open my eyes right away. In my minds eye, I glimpsed what this must have looked like. Me standing in the bathroom, door half opened, in a stupid Kaiser hospital gown. Her standing arms folded with that indignant look in her eyes. It irritated me. I opened my eyes and said: "I have no pee, I peed earlier use that." Then I pushed my way passed her. Round one over.

I have to admit that short exchange between me and the nurse took a lot out of me. I was feeling anxious and intimidated that I pissed off one of the people who would be "delivering" my baby. I felt like I'd made an enemy. It wasn't until I got into the bed, and had my first cervical check that I felt some relief. I was 8cm dilated. Awesome news! Then the doctor told me he was breaking my water. I remember looking over at my ex-husband who quite frankly looked like a lost tourist in all of this, and asked the doctor if we had too. He looked at me with extreme annoyance and said: "Either I break your water or your going home". My jaw literally dropped and the harshness of his tone brought tears to my eyes. I looked at my ex-husband again for help and before I could reply he did it. He stuck that hook into my vagina, rather roughly I might add, and broke my water. Coming from a woman who grew up with domestic abuse in my family (my dad beating my mother), both parents on drugs, and surviving sexual abuse myself, I can safely say it was the single most humliating and terrifying thing I'd felt since my childhood. He didn't just break my water, he broke my spirit that day as well. Round two over.

Everything after that was blurry. I remember vomiting. I remember not wanting my ex-husband more than a foot, if that, away from me. I remember being asked if I wanted something for the pain, but I don't remember what I said. I know I didn't receive pain medication, but I just can't remember what I said. Then I remember being told it was time to push. I didn't believe them, because I'd read that women felt the urge to push when it was time. I had absolutely no urge to push, but I didn't want to argue. God knows what they would have done if I argued. An image of foreceps delivery came to mind. It scared the hell out of me. However, when the nurse said to push during the contraction, I got a bit of my spirit back. Surely she was joking, I thought. She wants me to push when it hurts the most. I stalled. One contraction went by, then another, and another. Still no urge to push. In all honesty I had no urge to birth anymore. I wanted to crawl into my own bed, pull the covers over my head and cry. I didn't do that though. I held my breath, chin to chest and pushed. Just like they told me to.

As I was pushing, I heard the doctor (A totally new doctor by the way. Somewhere during my haze I guess they must have changed shifts or some such thing!) say something about tearing. I don't know exactly what she said, but I blurted out: "I don't want to be cut". Very shortly after that, my friend who was present for the birth, said: "Do you know she is cutting you". I didn't know. All I knew is my bottom was on fire and I felt like not pushing but people were yelling at me to push. All my focus was on that. I heard what my friend said, and I wanted to scream, but I didn't. I pushed. Then at 2:14am, my baby was born. Less than four hours had passed but it felt like a lifetime. Round three over.

Josiah, my son, was loud and strong from the beginning, but at the time I didn't care. I had very little interest in him. I just wanted to go to sleep. I can remembered feeling exposed as she stitched me up. The tugging and pulling I felt as she did it made me sick to my stomach. I remember feeling like nothing but a piece of meat. When she was finished, I mumbled something like everyone has seem him, you can go home now. I am not even sure anyone heard me, but after that everything was a blur. I don't remember what my ex-husband said or when he left. Or his mother, who was there, or my friend. I don't remember transferring rooms. I don't remember how. I just remember being in the bed and having my my uterus pushed on and my pad checked. It hurt like hell and was again humiliating having someone pulling at your underwear to check your pad. I asked if I could do it, and the nurse said something like I heard you were trouble. I shut up and let her do it. She was so smug and her touch was rough. I felt scared and alone and wished they allowed husbands to stay overnight. Round four over.

I remember not wanting to nurse Josiah anymore like I'd planned too. I know that I loved him, but I just didn't have anything to give just right then. I laid there, with him beside me in that glass crib that they put babies in and at that moment I needed him near me. I picked him up and as stared at him. I didn't really know what to think, except that he looked like his father to me. The thought made me smile. The smile warmed my heart and then I cried. I didn't really know why I was crying. Was I happy or was I sad?

Later that evening, I made the mistake of allowing him to be circumcised. He wouldn't nurse after that. I thought, he knew I didn't want him earlier when I refused to nurse him and now I let them hurt him, so he no longer wants me. I cried again, but this time I knew why I was crying. After an hour of sheer heartbreak, I tried nursing him again, and after he got on with a very painful latch, I decided I wasn't going to be sad, because I didn't want people thinking I was weak and looking for pity. There are women in the world being beat by their husbands, raped, and I am not going to let myself be selfish enough to wallow in any grief over what happened to me.

Then, just like that, I had a hard time remembering what happened to me. Out loud I pondered: "What did happen?" I remember, deep inside, being afraid to ask why did it happen. That was the scary question. I buried it, let it go. Didn't think about it again. As time went on and I learned about other women and their birth trauma I vaguely remembered being unhappy with my birth. I thought, Boy was I being a brat. Women have had worst birth trauma's, unnecessary c-sections, terrible iatrogenic injuries and even death. I felt guilty for ever thinking I had a bad experience and so I buried it further. Not until sometime in September of 2004, about 5 hours after finding out I was pregnant again would I recall to memory what happened in the early morning of September 29th as if it was yesterday. It was as clear to me then, as it is to me now. I cried and cried alone in my bed and silently I vowed never again.


  1. That sounded wonder you weren't happy w/ it. I think wherever you were is a terrible place and I would have probably only had 1 child if that happen to me.

    My doctor would tell me EVERY time he did a check "your about to feel pressure" it's possible w/out that warning and something like what you went through, I might have kicked him in the head. Really, them exams are PAINFUL. I couldn't imagine someone being ruff.

    You remember your stats like I remember mine.. I was NOTHING, nothing at all, not even a little soft, effaced, dilated. I'll remember nothing for

    I'm sorry you had such a bad bad bad time. I'm sure you made up for it though :)

  2. OMG!! I didn't know that people could be so mean!! I am sorry!!!

  3. Thank you for sharing your story. I also wasn't ready to push, but I was aware and managed to stop the woman who tried to give me an episiotomy (she didn't ask either and boy did she get mad when I managed to pull free of the grip of the people holding me down to tell her no!) ... unfortunately that stunt earned me an unnecessary "emergency" cesarean. My feelings go out to you and I applaud your effort to educate women because stories like ours should never be.

  4. I have to take in all of your birth story but my first reaction is of understanding and tenderness. I hope this wouldn't be a "wasted wish" but your experience sounds like so many. We arrive at hospitals put our trust in people and end up literally hiding under the covers terrified. I am so sorry that you were treated this way.I wish every health care professionals would understand how their behavior impacts our hearts and souls and motherhood.

  5. OMG! And to think this 'standard of care' is where the 'norm' is headed. I am in tears from reading this & my heart goes out to you for the abuse you were forced to endure in what should have been one of the most beautiful days of your life. Thank you for being strong enough to share.

  6. Wanting to send you a hug across the miles. I have been in your shoes and have seen many others as well. It's a sad, sad thing:( Thank you for sharing your story- these stories need to be told.

  7. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I think it is very important for care providers and anyone who works with birthing women to understand that it isn't necessarily procedures themselves that are traumatizing, it is how the woman is treated and cared for during these procedures that can make what is happening traumatizing. I would go so far as to speculate that if the very same procedures had happened on the same timeline with this birth and you had been treated with respect and supported and given the power to OK the procedures - that this birth would not have been as traumatic as it was. I love how Panny Simkin puts it: We can't always control birth, but we CAN control how we care for women. HUGS.

  8. The way you were treated is beyond awful. I am SO sorry. Big hugs to you :(

  9. So ...Then what happened? What happened to the second pregnancy? Did you find a way to have a joyful birth?

  10. Thank you! All of you ladies who took the time to read my experience. Thank you for your supportive comments. I was moved to write this down after reading some rather mean-spirited comments on another blog about birth trauma, in particularly after cesarean section. An argument was made doubting the veracity of claims made by women regarding their feelings after cesarean sections, and it was even said that only a certain group of women, namely educated, privileged white women feel this way. This was an insult to women, white women, and all women of color. I was put off by these statements, and decided to blog about my own trauma. Me being a black woman, of limited financial means, only high-school educated. It's a hard cold slap in the face to women of any race, social background or status, to be basically told trauma is something made up by an elite.

    As for Bonnie B. Matheson, your question about what happened next. I went on to have a standard hospital birth again with my second son, without any trauma, surrounded by people I love, pain med free again. However, it wasn't as intervention free. The difference is I was a bit more educated, supported, and consented to the interventions. My third birth, was drug free, and intervention free.

  11. Thank you so much for sharing.

  12. Thank you for sharing this. It is beautifully written and I am so sorry that you were treated this way.

  13. Thank you for bravely posting your story. Moms need to know what is possible and surround themselves with support who can help protect them. Reading your story may help them know that.

  14. I am so so sorry to hear that anyone would treat you this way- that anyone would BE treated this way.

  15. What a frightening and shattering story! Sending love and warm feelings from one hurt heart to another. I hope you are able to heal.
    You are so brave to share, and it's awesome that you educated yourself so that your future births would be less traumatic.
    I always tell people, if I have to choose between caring and competence, I'll choose caring any day for birth.
    Every mother deserves to be treated with respect, no matter who she is. Age, color, religion, race, birth transcends all of these.

  16. I am so horrified by what happened to you and I am so sorry *hugs* Thank you for sharing your story, though.

    I was encouraged to push without the urge, too. I thought I had it just because I wanted to have my baby. I didn't want to "purple push" and I said that, but I was ignored. So I tried for an hour and a half, being told I wasn't "really trying", etc. until I collapsed in exhaustion, my baby completely unmoved. I had an unnecessary cesarean as I went into transition and was unable to properly respond. I couldn't really understand what they were asking, or reply, but when I realized what was happening, I panicked. A nurse grabbed me by the face and yelled "Shut up! You're scaring the other patients!", etc. and she was the one I was trapped holding on to when they shoved a needle into my spine.

    With my VBAC, I had a nurse tell me "Well, it's either the pitocin or a cesarean" when I asked to be checked to make sure that I wasn't progressing before having it administered (since it almost killed me in my first birth, it seemed a reasonable request--I was gone for 3 minutes and didn't know until the next day) as it was only being given because I'd stopped contracting, which I knew was normal for me, my body was resting. I just consented and went back to sleep, hurt by the unwarranted threat, since I had only requested a check.

    Then, when it came time to push, I said not only did I not WANT to be in the stirrups, it was counter-indicated by my condition (Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction) and that it could hurt me and was very important since I had an epidural NOT to do it. They grabbed my legs and forced me in. Afraid of throwing myself out of the bed and being unable to get into a better position, I gave up the fight and just jacked my bed up into a chair.

    Despite the nurses, though, my OB supported me in my daughter being born into MY hands. I caught her. It was the most amazing thing.

    The epidural damaged our bond for about 6 months and screwed up the nursing so I had a lot of work to fix. But I had my VBAC, dangit (I was in transition for 8 hours before I got the epidural, that finally allowed me to progress, btw, so it was necessary and with INFORMED consent that I requested it).

  17. I am angry and sad. I am identifying with so much with what you went through as part of my own story. May I write one for you sometime? I have two horrible, separate brith stories (the first I was an unmarried, single mom with a sponge left in me. The second a married mom, induced and institutionalized by the system, followed by my last, beautiful homebirth. I have never read a story as moving as this. I am humbled and sad and empowered by your sharing. Thank you. Thank you and thank you again. Women sharing our stories enable other women to share their stories and maybe together we can make real change; prevent other women from having to go thru what we have gone through.

  18. Thank you for sharing and validating that birth trauma is REAL. Thank you for not pretending that this was "business as usual" and working so hard to make sure this doesn't have to happen to other women.

  19. Oh my god, your story broke my heart. I'm so, so deeply sorry that this was your experience. It saddens me to know that you are not the only one who has this story to tell. But you are doing something good by telling it and letting women know that THIS IS NOT OK! You should be proud of yourself. I know your next birth will be so much better, and will hopefully right the wrong that was done to you.