You might have already read my birth story. I wrote it for a magazine whose audience is pregnant women. It’s just a version of what really happened. I wrote it with the reader in mind. It’s an optimistic version so as to not scare the woman reading it in her doctor’s office. But the truth is, the birth of my daughter was scary.
There are enough horror stories out there about birth. It’s a big reason why things often go badly. We expect labour to be scary and painful and we invite it. I did. I wish I had a positive birth story to share. In the end, it wasn’t catastrophic. It was 15 hours, there was no cascade of interventions. No Csection, no infections, we both lived and are happy and healthy. But that’s not enough. It’s not about the outcome. My doula told me birth satisfaction is based on if the woman felt in control and if she felt respected. Mostly, I felt neither of these things.
Lying, exaggerating or sugar coating do not make stories true. I re read my birth story recently and I felt I was reading someone else’s fairy tale. The world doesn’t need another negative birth story, but I need to tell mine. If you’re expecting a baby and especially if you’re delivering in the hospital, it’s wise to STOP HERE. This will not encourage you.
A couple weeks ago, after a bit of spotting I went to see my midwife to make sure the blood was coming from a sensitive cervix after sex and I wasn’t experiencing placental abruption.
The sweet, kind midwife started to do a speculum exam and I freaked out. Nearly hyperventilating, I was sobbing and recoiling. What the hell?
I calmed down and we tried again. My reaction was no better. What was happening to me? A friend came to get me at the birthing centre (that friend was actually my doula for Babe’s birth) I was too shaken up to get home alone. She listened as I told her what was happening to me. My midwife had just done the same before I left her office, still unsure of why I had been spotting.
Something traumatizing happened to me in the last two years and I don’t know exactly what. Maybe multiple things. There are things I haven’t dealt with and kind of should before I try this labour thing again. Trigger: the stupid speculum.
I do not like the hospital. I do not think it’s usually the place for a low-risk birth. I don’t feel an obgyn is the right person to follow a low risk pregnancy. Midwife, definitely. GP, fine. An obgyn is a trained surgeon.
I had a particularly bad obgyn. She was rude and very rough during all of my exams. The last time I saw her, at my six week postpartum check up, she was verbally abusive and mocked me for not wanting my wonky third degree tear stitches cauterized. She told me I wasn’t the “type of person” who could use a cervical cap and that breastfeeding isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I never saw her again.
The last time I had a speculum exam was after hours of being forgotten in the emergency room. I was about six weeks pregnant (this pregnancy) and bleeding. They forgot us in the room and around midnight someone showed up and did an exam. There was blood. It hurt. I was terrified I was miscarrying.
All of these memories started coming back only a month before my due date. I thought about seeing a psychiatrist, but that is unfamiliar territory for me and I don’t have much time left. I think one day I will see someone, but for the time being I am choosing to talk to the doulas, midwifes and husband supporting me in this pregnancy and labour. I’m assuming a gentle homebirth will heal this.
My doula told me I might be a bit of a Polyanna and I think she’s right. My sugarcoated birth story’s proof of that. So here’s a better version.
My birth story take two
I was more than 41 weeks pregnant and getting nervous. My biggest fears were delivering in the hospital (reality) and being induced (a serious probability). We did everything we knew to get labour rolling but nothing worked. I was effaced, the baby was engaged but there were no contractions.
I was told I was going to be induced if I didn’t go into labour by 40 weeks. Lots of women are told this but there is no reason for it. If your baby hasn’t come out it’s because she’s not ready. Pregnancy doesn’t automatically become dangerous at 40 weeks and our due dates are only ever an estimation anyways. I knew this.
We waited and went in for regular NSTs where they tested fetal movement, heart rate and checked that the amniotic fluid and placenta were all good. They were, even on our third NST which happened at 41 weeks, 5 days. Only, I never left the hospital.
I called my doula and told her they weren’t going to let me leave, but I don’t know why I said this. I could have left. Instead, my husband went home to get our bags and I paced around excited but very scared. My legs were swollen and rashed. My back was sore, I was huge and already exhausted.
I was admitted. Someone brought me toast and a Kraft single. Yogurt too. I was surprised and grateful. When my husband and Sarah (our doula) were there, they broke my water. It hurt a lot and made me very uncomfortable. I cried and bled. I don’t remember if it was a nurse or doctor that ruptured My Membranes but I remember feeling sad about it. Let the interventions begin.
Contractions got rolling right after my water was broken. I wore my own nightgown and house coat. I paced the halls of the hospital. It is the shittiest place to pace the halls. Like pacing the halls when you’re visiting a family member who’s sick and dying. Hospitals smell like cleaning products and disease. No one I passed offered a smile or encouragement. I was their inconvenience until I was on my back with an epidural. And then, I’d be an Inconvenience until I had the baby and left. Not exactly the vibe that puts you in prime birthing mode.
Walking around got old because the environment was less than inspiring. Mostly we stayed in my room. Lots of people were in and out, each of them eager to touch my cervix.
I was the only woman there that day who hadn’t yet had an epidural. I was in labour and using the techniques I had learned from a yoga breathing workshop I took. Low and Slow. Every time I had a contraction a nurse flew in the room warning me not to push. I was 2cms dilated I wasn’t pushing.
“You sound like you’re pushing.”
“I’m not pushing, I’m in pain”
“We have something for that you know”
“I’m very aware, thank you. Please don’t offer it again.”
She didn’t, but the next person on shift did. When you’re in that Much pain and you want it to stop and you are offered an epidural, most women will take it, no matter how strong they are. Especially if you threaten them. Which is what happened just before I took the epidural. But we’re not there yet.
Because I was the only labouring woman that still had use of her legs, I had the jacuzzi tub to myself. It was awesome. I went in and stayed in and felt great. I took breaks, but mostly stayed in water where things felt bearable.
My fondest (only good) memory of labour, was being in the big shower with my husband. We did our low and slow moaning and the world disappeared. It was just us. At that moment, I knew I was capable of birthing my daughter without drugs or intervention. I was strong, powerful and in charge of my own body.
More interruptions, more pressure. At 7cms I was back in the jacuzzi pool. This was transition, a very important time in labour. I think the nurses and resident were worried we were going to try to sneak a water birth by them. Why else wouldn’t they have just fucked off.
I was in a substantial amount of pain. I asked my husband and doula to drown me and I was quite serious. I thought I was going to die anyways. The resident who had already offered me an epidural more than once came in at a really bad moment and said the following, “Your water has been broken for 10 hours now which puts your baby at risk for infection. Especially in the water. You might want to think about having an epidural which will relax you.”
My baby was at risk for infection. I wanted the epidural. The shitty thing is this was a lie. My daughter was not at risk for infection after 10 hours of my water being broken. I was lied to at the most terrifying moment of my life. I was in pain, so I ate the lie up and prepared to have the needle in my back. I thought to myself, if we don’t do this, I will wind up with a C section.
The anesthesiologist came into my room when I was dried and dressed. He wasn’t friendly. My doula was told to leave and my husband was given a gown and cap. I hadn’t prepared for this moment and thought now that I was having the medication my husband would be dressed that way for the long haul. I started to panic and waste the the doctor’s precious time. My husband was there to reassure me but I think it was hard because he knew how I felt about having this done.
But then it was done and I laid down and was in a good mood. We chatted. We slept. The machines told me when I was having contractions.
At some point they put me on some Pitocin. I didn’t care anymore. I couldn’t feel anything anyway and already had an IV in my arm. I surrendered. I gave up.
Contractions continued on. I continued to dilate. It was time to push. One nurse came in and informed me that no one she’s with pushes for two hours. I took that as a good sign and as encouragement but now I know is it’s likely the reason I had a third degree tear. Too fast.
So many people in the room. Lights, moving, shuffling, instruments. Everything was chrome. People seemed to be fast-forwarding through the room.
The nurse placed her fingers inside me and applied pressure that I could actually feel. She told me to concentrate on that place when it was time to push.
Suddenly I had a team. Or a cheering squad. Sarah and the nurse each tugged on a leg. Well, Sarah didn’t tug. Someone invited my calm, cool husband further down to watch. There was a male doctor there to catch the baby. I never met him before but he was kind. I was glad it wasn’t my obgyn.
I don’t know what happened in the 1…2..3… Pushing, but Sarah managed to get some pictures of my daughter crowning and her little cone-head squeezing out. I might have pushed three times? It didn’t take more than 20 minutes.
I remember thinking, I had an epidural and that’s where it’s going to end. This baby will not be born by a vacuum or forceps. I will not have surgery.
She was born, the cord was cut. She was whisked away. She was grey. The table they took her to seemed miles away and I didn’t have my glasses on. Realistically, it was probably a few meters but I don’t know what they did to her. She came back, and I loved her. I tried feeding her. She was perfect.
Soon after we were transferred to the recovery area. I was hungry but there was no food. Babe stayed on me as someone wheeled me to my new room, which I shared with a woman recovering from a C section and begging the nurses for formula.
It was after 4am. Babe was crying. I needed painkillers because wait was back to reality– the epidural effects were wearing off. There were no natural hormones to help me.
We stayed for a long 22 hours. Nurses came in, each showing me the right (inconsistent) way to breastfeed. After a few crappy latches both my nipples were bleeding. They would get worse for weeks and we would almost give up Breastfeeding. The best advice I got was from a male college student. The same kid who spent way too long “looking for my uterus” was giving me advice on Breastfeeding. Awesome. At some point they brought me a pump. I still have no idea why.
Grandparents came and left. We floated through in a daze. Babe was swaddled and we all got some rest. I was warned multiple times about falling asleep with her one chest. I begged for Motrin. It was hard to get. They made us sign something saying we wouldn’t shake the baby.
We left. We were home and alone. Away from the noise. We listened to Chet Baker as I tried to breastfeed. We still listen to Chet as I breastfeed.