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Wednesday
Nov182009

"I felt violated by the process of a hospital birth"

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This story was submitted by a woman who recently stumbled across this site while researching her local birth center.

 

I will preface my little story by saying that I did not have a cesarean.  I had a typical hospital birth, delivering a healthy, 6 lb 13 oz baby boy.  But I narrowly missed having an unnecesarean.  I mean really narrowly.  My epidural was turned all the way up, and my belly was prepped with that yellow cleanser. 

 

First of all, I have always wanted to have kids, and I had conflicting feelings about birth.  My mom had 6 kids, 5 naturally and one with an epidural.  All were vaginal hospital births, even the one set of twins.  She raved and smiled when she spoke of her epidural birth, but said that all the other were awful.  So I figured I definitely wanted an epidural, but I wanted a lot of other things that didn’t go with an epidural.  I wanted a Leboyer birth, with low lights, a body temperature bath for the baby following birth, a quiet room, and no cord cutting until the cord stopped pulsing.  I thought a waterbirth sounded wonderful, and I really liked the idea of a birth center.  But the lure of a pain free delivery was too much for me.  I figured that I wanted at least two kids, so I’d have the first with an epidural, and the second in a birth center. Besides, I could give my doctor my birth plan and make it the best hospital birth ever, right?  I didn’t even think about the fact that, if I ended up with an unnecesarean with the first child, my dream birth with the second would never be. 

I also really wanted to have my first baby with my OB/GYN.  I had had a scare with cervical cancer that was very emotional for me, and ended in me having a LEEP procedure done to remove the abnormal cells.  I was a wreck.  I thought I’d never have babies, or that if I became pregnant I’d have an incompetent cervix that would cause me to go into labor early and miscarry or have a preemie.  My doctor was wonderful, though.  She hugged me, gave me a shoulder to cry on and told me everything would be fine.  It was.  She assured me that she was up on the latest procedures with the least amounts of damage to my reproductive organs, and that I’d be having babies whenever I wanted.  She was right, and I loved and trusted her for it.  I wished I had known that her bedside manner as a gynecologist was not the same as her bedside manner as an obstetrician.

I became pregnant with my son within two weeks of getting married, at age 28.  I was ecstatic, my husband was scared.  It was still a planned pregnancy, though with no fertility treatments necessary.  I had about 4 weeks of morning sickness during the end of the first trimester, but only threw up twice.  Overall, I had a really healthy pregnancy.  I bellydanced throughout each trimester, did yoga 3 times a week, took my prenatals, ate a ton of fruits and veggies, and only gained 27 lbs.  I still could have gained less, since I started out overweight at 5’1” and 168 lbs, but overall I’m pretty proud that I kept the weight gain to a minimum.  Especially since I gave birth in Phoenix in July, and no one wants to move at all in that weather, even when they’re not pregnant. 

I also have another issue that made my OB/GYN decide to induce me.  I had 1/2 a herrington rod attached to my spine, and the upper half of my spinal column fused together when I was 13.  This was to correct my scoliosis.  I had a severe, double 45 degree S curve.  It was bad.  It’s not totally straight now, but I’m not in pain and it’s straighter than it was.  So the OB/GYN wanted to induce me on a day that the head anesthesiologist would be in, so he could be sure to numb me well.  She also cautioned that, if something went wrong, I would be a candidate for a cesarean section under general anesthesia, since they couldn’t guarantee that the epidural would have full coverage on my abdomen.  Scary.  But I figured that I’d kept up dancing, did my prenatal yoga and was in decent shape, and no one in my family has ever needed a c-section.  I’d be fine delivering vaginally.

My son was due on July 27th, I was scheduled to be induced on the 23rd, but my water broke at about 11:30 pm on the 9th.  I later found out that what had happened was called a forebag break.  That’s when the main bag of amniotic fluid does not break, but the thin bag around the main bag does  So, instead of a big gush of water, I had an annoying trickle.  A sanitary napkin took care of it, and I decided to get some sleep, eat and clean a little, since once I checked into the hospital, none of these things would happen.  I napped.  I ate a huge breakfast and packed a ton of snacks and water since I disagreed with the hospital policy of no food and only ice chips once you got into active labor.  I did a load of laundry, picked up the house, and woke up my husband to go in around 7:30 am. 

I should have lied about when my water broke.  The hospital attendants were furious with me.  They said that the clock starts ticking for infection to set in once the water breaks (which I later found out isn’t exactly true) and that I’d just wasted 8 of my 24 hours before I was in danger of infection.  The hooked me up to an IV right away (which I really wanted to delay!) to start me on Pitocin, since I wasn’t really contracting.  The anesthesiologist wanted to know where my pain was on a scale of 0 to 10.  I said maybe a 1.  So no epidural yet.  The nurses checked me when I came in at 4 cm, and twice more without any progress a couple of hours later.  Finally I got to see my doctor at 3 pm.  By then, all our friends had shown up to keep us company, about 10 people all told, including my parents.  None of our friends had had babies yet, so this was a big deal in our circle of friends.  I had a regular party going on in my personal birthing suite.  We had a few board games going on and about then my doctor walked in and looked totally annoyed that I wasn’t taking the whole birth process seriously.  She said she’d come back when we kicked everyone out.  I felt deflated.  I was able to overlook my annoyances at being hooked up like a Borg because I was happily anticipating the birth of my son with my comrades.  No, they had to go.  So the doctor came back and, realizing I had a forebag, broke my real water.  Then I had contractions.  Wow, did I ever.  I’d been on Pitocin since 8 am, and they’d been turning it up every 20 minutes since I wasn’t contracting.  All that Pitocin hit me at once.  Suddenly, I was in pain!  I was checked an hour later at 6 cm, and then I got my epidural.

That whole experience was awful.  The head anesthesiologist wasn’t in.  So I got the other one.  She was nice, but it took her over half an hour to get the epidural catheter in place, and everytime she missed the sweet spot by a hair, I felt something akin to electric shocks up my spine.  My husband had to hold me down to keep me from jumping each time that happened since she needed me to be absolutely still to get it in right.  Yuck. 

The pain relief was almost immediate, but my request for a walking epidural was laughed at.  I was so tied down with tubes and monitors that I could never have gotten up anyway.  I had the epidural, IV, catheter, blood pressure cuff (the most annoying thing EVER,) external fetal monitor, and that thing on my finger to take my pulse.  I was pretty pissed.  This was not what I envisioned, but I wasn’t in pain.  I had to give them that.

By 9 pm, an apologetic looking nurse came in to tell me I needed a c-section.  I wasn’t progressing (even though I had not been checked for further dilation since my epidural was put in) and I was starting to run a low grade fever.   I had still only seen my doctor once.  They put her on the phone to talk to me, but she had to deliver 6 babies that day, and clearly I wasn’t a priority.  She’d be there in time for my c-section, though!

I was ready to cry.  General anesthesia sounded awful.  I wouldn’t be awake for my son’s birth, I couldn’t give him his first breast milk until the anesthesia was out of my system, and I’d end up with a c-section to boot.  The anesthesiologist came in to try to turn up my epidural so that we could avoid this scenario.  She turned it up so high that my entire lower half could have been removed and I never would have known.  The doctor happily told me on the phone that we could proceed with the c-section without general anesthesia.  The nurses would prep me so that I’d be ready by the time she drove in. 
They scrubbed my tummy with the yellow soapy stuff and got out all the clamps and scalpels and stuff, and I finally demanded that everyone hold on a second.  I hadn’t been checked for dilation in forever and I though it was weird that everyone thought I need a section for “failure to progress” when no one (including me) knew if I’d progressed or not. 

The nurse rolled her eyes and checked me.  She was shocked that I was at a full 10 cm.  No rim, no nothing.  Just ready to push.  And Goddess knows how long I’d been there, too.  Everyone was surprised, but honestly, I wasn’t.  I had known all along that I could do this without an unnecesarean.  My son wasn’t breech.  He wasn’t twins.  He wasn’t huge.  He wasn’t in distress. 

But now we had another problem: I was too numb to push.  They turned the epidural down and put me on more Pitocin.  It took an hour to wear off enough that I could push, and then another hour of pushing something I couldn’t feel.  The doctor only appeared in the last 15 minutes of the birth.  She was there long enough to tell me that my son was in distress and that she needed to give me an episiotomy, something I’d told her I did not want unless the baby was definitely going to die.  I still don’t believe my 6 lb 13 oz baby needed more room to get out.  Anyway, he was born blue, with the cord wrapped around his neck and not breathing.  I’d expressly asked before the birth that my baby be put on my bare stomach first, but they took him to the other side of the room and gave him heat and oxygen, something they could have easily done on my tummy while we bonded and cuddled.  The strangest part was the detached feeling I had the whole time.  I remember thinking, I could give him up right now and not care.  It horrified me.  I’ve seen videos of moms bursting into tears from the rush of emotion at seeing their baby for the first time, and had no way to relate to it.  I know now that this is sometimes a side effect of the epidural.  No one bothered to tell me.

My son was born at 12:12 am on July 11, 2007.  He weight 6 lb, 13 oz and was 20 inches long.  I can’t remember his head circumference, but I was told he was in the 50th percentile.  He nursed right away, as soon as the doctor grabbed the umbilical cord and yanked out my placenta.  The nurse offered to let my mother hold him before she ever offered him to me.  I was feeling too detached to care a whole lot at the time, but now I wish her dead.  I hate that she was so pissed off about my refusal of the Hep B vaccine that she unnecessarily kept my baby from me in those precious moments after birth.  Those can’t be replaced.  I hope she dies painfully.  And slowly.  In a fire.

They all gave me crap about refusing the Hep B vaccine, but I informed them that I was Hep B negative, and they could worry about giving my child a Hep B vaccine when he was likely to start having sex or using IV drugs, which is how it’s spread.  I was adamant, but if I’d been weak for a second they would have given my baby an an unnecessary and useless vaccine.  The one given at birth wears off by age 15, the age when these behaviors are more likely to occur.

Anyhow, since my son was born at midnight, and the hospital’s policy stated that the baby had to be checked out by a pediatrician when he was 24 hours old, we had to stay an extra day.  The entire time I was there, I hated it.  The bed was uncomfortable, my husband had to sleep in a cot that was worse, the “lactation consultant” was either not on staff or was quick to be there with bottles of formula “just in case.”  I started feeling more attached to him about 6 hours after his birth, but it still felt weird.  I knew something was wrong with me emotionally.

The first month sucked.  I was tired and sore.  I felt like a horse had kicked me where the epidural had been inserted.  That took over a month to go away.  I felt like it took me longer than normal to really bond with my son, though I nursed him around the clock on demand, coslept with him and held him all the time.  I wore him in a sling whenever possible and I only left his side to nap twice once my in-laws came to help with him when he was 3 weeks old.

I breastfed throughout my hospital stay and am still breastfeeding my son today, three months after his second birthday.  To this day he has never had a drop of formula.  He coslept with us until last week, and is vaccine free.  I started him on the “Your Baby Can Read” program, and he recognizes over 75 words.  The pediatrician says he’s one of the most active, talkative, and physically fit children she’s ever seen.  He’s a little accident-prone, but no one’s perfect.  He’s still skinny, at about the tenth percentile for weight and the 50th for height.

Immediately after my son was born, I felt violated by the process of a hospital birth.  I can’t imagine how I’d feel if I had ended up with an unnecesarean.  To this day, I am bitter and angry about the entire thing, from start to finish.  I am determined to have my next baby at home or in a birthing center, with a midwife and a doula.  No amount of money can compensate me for the way I was made to feel, and still feel about having decisions made for me about my body and my baby.  I hate the idea of another hospital birth, and I don’t know what I’ll do if the next baby is transverse, breech or twins.  I guess I’ll have to hope that doesn’t happen.  Because I won’t birth in a hospital again.  I’ll have an unattended home birth before I’ll put myself through that hell a second time.

I hope that anyone who reads this understands that I really tried to make the hospital birth process work for me.  I did everything I could, and I was vocal about my preferences.  No one cared.  That’s how it is.  Educate yourself.  Consider home birth and look for birth centers near you.  If you are stuck with a hospital birth, look for a midwife who does them.  Try to steer clear of OB/GYN’s.  They’ll be there to catch the baby or do your c-section, and that’s it.  Know that this experience is one you’ll never forget and don’t let anyone else taint it with hospital policies that override your desires for a memorable and wonderful birth.  Realize that red flags are waving in your face the first time your doctor or midwife says that what you want in your birth might not happen.  And realize that you can refuse any procedure at any time.  I should have.  And I regret not doing it.

 

 

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Reader Comments (13)

Wow. I am so, so sorry for your experience. I admire your strength and your courage to speak up, even being moments away from being cut open, and half numb to boot. I love that you have fearlessly been the mom that you desired to be, not deterred by a horrific start. I wish you well with any future delivery(ies).

November 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkateisfun

Ugg, I hear you. It is like a very bad trip that did not look anything like the brochure.

November 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbriome

I've got tears in my eyes from reading your story, and they are fueled by a combination of sadness that this is a typical birth, anger at the way the staff treated you, and amazement at your strength and persistence as a mother. Your story ended with the following words: "And realize that you can refuse any procedure at any time. I should have. And I regret not doing it." But you DID!!!! Yes, you could have refused earlier, but when the rubber hit the road...or rather, when the scalpel almost hit your belly...you advocated for yourself. It's one thing to be assertive when we're fully clothed, not in labor, not being actively managed by experts....it's a whole different thing when naked, numb, and surrounded by experts who believe they know everything and you know nothing. I'm so impressed that you made them check you. I hope you're OK with me sharing your story in my childbirth classes, in the hope of inspiring other women to question, both in pregnancy and in labor.

November 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLiz Chalmers

Wow. Thank you for sharing your story! I am so sorry your birth was such a fight. But I want to back Liz up...you absolutely advocated for yourself! You stopped the proceedings and demanded a recheck, you didn't let yourself get bullied into the Hep B at a very vulnerable moment, and you are using your experience to help other women understand their rights and make good choices - and you are actively planning for your next birth. You can feel proud of your self-advocacy and strong voice.

November 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

"I wished I had known that her bedside manner as a gynecologist was not the same as her bedside manner as an obstetrician."

Wouldn't it be kind of nice to be able to 'audition' a doctor? Like, actually get to see them in action before signing on with them? Obviously it's logistically impossible for any number of reasons, not the least of which is the privacy of the other mothers' birth experiences you'd be spying on, but I'm just sayin'. We'd have fewer such Jekyll/Hyde transformations playing out in women's birth stories.

November 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDou-la-la

@Dou-la-la: I wrote a blog post about that very thing, recently - I said, I wish all care providers were held to the same emotional and cultural selection criteria as doulas. Current literature guides on hiring a doula recommend that families interview between 3 and 5 doulas before making their selection.

November 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCompass Rose

I want to agree with everyone else--I am so impressed that you stood up for yourself and made them check you! That took real strength and courage. Your story is both angering and inspiring, and I hope I have that kind of chutzpah during my VBAC.

November 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

I think this is a story of tremendous courage. It took a lot of courage to say, in other words, "That was abusive B.S. and I'm not going to put up with that ever again."

It will be different next time.

November 19, 2009 | Registered CommenterJill

This is so similar to my first birth story- it's eerie! My Daughter was born about six weeks after your son and I'm still angry too! There are several nurses that I would like to kick in the teeth for the way that they treated me and my child. I'm now going into midwifery myself after a successful, unmedicated, midwife-attended hospital birth with our second daughter. Next time? I'll stay home...

November 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

Tears flooded my eyes and face as I read her story. It was too close to my own experience with my son. Though they never cleaned me with the iodine, the doctor on call had not checked me in over 4 hours (36 hours total in labor) he told me the baby was in distress and I should "suck it up and get this over with" and let him schedule an OR so he could slice me open. I was a healthy, physically active 21 year old first time mom at full term with a healthy baby. There was no reason for it, and some how I fought him off. (My husband quotes me as saying "If you cut me open, I'll cut you open." But I don't remember that part.)

That was 2004. I got pregnant 4 months after I got married and at that point knew very little about being pregnant and delivering babies, just that I wanted to do it. So I trusted my doctor. Too bad he didn't show up for the birth.

Since then I have had an unassisted birth in a hospital three days before your son's birth. The doctor, again on call, not mine, didn't show up and the nurses refused to help me. My husband and doula grabbed towels and handed them to me to clean off my beautiful baby girl.

One year and one day ago I had my second beautiful baby girl at home with two midwives, my friend as my doula, and my husband and two other children. It was perfect. You too can do it!

June 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer
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