I am posting my birth story here. I am somewhat anxious about opening up this very intimate and horrible experience to a bunch of people that I don't know. But I think it is a part of the healing process for me. So here it is. Please be gentle in your responses. I still can't read this or talk about the birth without crying and it has been over 6 months now...
My baby was delivered at Community Medical Hospital on June 21st at 9:13 PM. I cringe when I hear women say “may baby was delivered” rather than “I gave birth to my baby” – but now I use the phrase intentionally. My baby was delivered. The loss of my peaceful, home, water birth is something I will be dealing with for some time.
Pre-labor started at around 4 AM on the 20th. I woke up with lower back pain and light contractions. I spent the day with my family. We went for a walk, ate some gelato, made final preparations for the birth and generally enjoyed the day. Around 5:00 PM we started timing the contractions. They were very irregular still – sometimes lasting over a minute and less than a minute apart, and sometimes lasting only 30 seconds and 2-3 minutes apart. Some contractions were really intense – others were like stronger Braxton Hicks contractions. Around 9PM both of our midwives came over. They suggested that I get in the water. I did, and shortly after the contractions became more regular. They got more intense around 2:00 AM. I labored in the birth tub, walked around the house, and took comfort in having Eric hold me. The midwives were sleeping at this point. I think they were trying to get me to sleep. This was actually annoying because there was no way I could sleep through the contractions. I remember feeling somewhat scared and alone and tried to get Eric to stay awake with me. I wanted him to get into the tub, but he was hesitant. Eventually he did get in for a few minutes. The contractions were really getting intense and I wanted to time it so that I was in the water for the contractions. I would get out to go to the bathroom or to cool off in between contractions. They were still ranging from between 1 minute apart to three without a regular pattern.
At 4:00 AM, my water broke. There was lots of meconium. This was the first sign that things were not going to go well. The midwives said that there was a lot of meconium and that it was thick. We had talked about what we would do if there was meconium and had decided that if it was thick, we would not have a water birth so that the baby could be suctioned while she was crowning. This was a hard thing to accept. I wanted my water birth and imagined giving birth on land to be much more painful. I had to really work to let go of this idea of not having water when pushing my baby out. At this point, I allowed the midwife to check my dilation. I was only 3 cm dilated. I labored in and out of the water for a few more hours – I tried various positions, squatted through contractions tried some belly dancing. My contractions were not getting any more regular – although they were really strong and painful. At about 6 AM, I took some homeopathic blue cohosh and a labor aid that the midwife had. We went out for a walk.
During the walk, the contractions got very strong. I was scared and had forgotten the entire point of the labor – that I would have a baby at some point. I was grateful when the midwife reminded me of this. It felt strange to be in public and in so much pain. I was very aware of the sun, the way the air smelled, the sound of my feet hitting the pavement and the people we passed. I remember feeling very annoyed at the midwife and Eric for talking about “normal” things. We were gone for about an hour. When we came back, I was so exhausted and fell asleep for the first time since labor had started. I slept for about 15 -20 minutes. After I woke up, the midwife wanted to check my dilation. I felt sure that I would have dilated more – the contractions felt powerful and I had walked and taken herbs. I was devastated to hear that I was only “maybe” 3 ½ cm dilated.
This was the lowest point for me. I felt discouraged. I was crying, scared and feeling like a failure. The worst part was that I knew that a moment like this would come. I just assumed that it would be at transition. But I was still very far from this – at 3 ½ dilation I had a long way to go. I was emotionally and physically exhausted. I really lost it when the midwife took the baby’s heartbeat – it was up quite a bit – by about 25 bpm from the start of labor. This combined with the meconium, my “failure to progress”, and the swelling of my baby’s head made the decision to go to the hospital a pretty easy one. I was scared for my baby.
The moments in-between making this decision and arriving at the hospital are a blur. I vaguely remember packing a bag and noting the irony of this. I had consciously decided NOT to have a bag packed because I wanted to put all of my attention on having a safe and successful homebirth. I remember packing my pillow and the book I had been writing to Cora in. The car ride is a blur. The next thing I remember is walking by the NICU and really losing it. I saw all of those babies hooked up to all sorts of machines and all that I could think of is that I wanted to escape – to leave this situation. But I stayed. I was given a room – a sterile, cold, hospital room that was everything I didn’t want. I was scared. I don’t think I stopped crying for an hour or two.
I remember trying to explain my fear to some of the nurses. Some listened and understood. Some did not. At some point, I decided to get an epidural. I think my logic was something like, “as long as I am here, I might as well get some of the good things about being at the hospital” – and pain relief at this point was clearly a good thing. I could not handle the pain and the anxiety of being at the hospital. I was hooked up to IV’s, monitors and feeling very much strapped to the bed. Contractions are really more painful on your back and I could not move around as much as I wanted to.
But before I got this pain relief (about 2 hours after I arrived at the hospital), I learned who the on call physician was. Valeria Knudson. I had heard many stories about how bad she was. I immediately was scared and worried that I would have the kind of hospital horror birth I had read so often about. I started asking about how to get a different doctor. I was advised by my midwifes to meet Valerie first and then ask about switching. She was in the room for less than 5 minutes. She was rude, cut me off, did not listen and communicated that she disapproved of my choice of having a home birth. After she left, I started talking to the nurses about trying to switch doctors. It was about 11 AM at this point.
The discussion was interrupted by the arrival of the anesthesiologist. He was unwilling to take the time to answer my questions and made me feel horrible. I tried talking to him about turning down the medicine when I started pushing. He was very against this and generally refused to engage in any sort of discussion about the pros or cons of this decision. Here I was – about to accept a form of pain relief that only “lesser” women use. I was not supposed to be having this done. The degree of judgment I had about birth has really been a point of reflection. But it was there – and I was terrified. Within a few minutes, I started feeling less pain and my body started itching. The sensation was annoying at worst. I started to relax a little.
The nurses came back and had talked to the program director about switching doctors. I was told this is not something that usually happens. I was told that there was no guarantee that I could make this change. I was afraid of making things worse. I didn’t want Valerie to have another reason to take anything out on my baby or me. So I didn’t push it. I didn’t feel like I had any options.
Valerie came in and out – the monitor was left on constantly. But it didn’t matter. I was stranded on the bed and couldn’t even roll over without help. I felt really helpless. My baby was not doing well. She was having decelerations in her heart tones after every contraction. Valerie started talking about C-Sections. I resisted and let her know that even though I had to let go of my idea of a home birth, a natural birth and an active birth, I was not going to accept a C-Section.
Somewhere in all of this, they started pitocin because I was not dilating. The does was increased until they were giving me close to the maximum amount possible. Valerie was horrible. She would walk in, roll her eyes at my questions, and showed me very little respect. I felt so violated, scared and degraded. Looking back on it I can’t imagine how I survived the experience. My visual memory is not from my body looking out, but from some vantage point above myself looking down.
Throughout all of this the midwives were wonderful. I can’t imagine not having them there. I felt like at the very least, I was not the only one who was powerless in this situation. And they were a comfort. But it was clear that they could not challenge the doctor.
As the evening progressed, the talk of a C-section intensified. At one point, Valerie actually walked in and said, “Now, if I think there needs to be a Cesarean, I am going to do it and I don’t want to hear any argument”. I think I was too shocked by that to respond. We continued to state that we wanted a vaginal birth. I had started to dilate – however slowly and the baby’s heartbeat was stable. There was no reason to even talk about a C-Section.
About 7PM, Valerie went to perform a C-Section for another client who had been laboring down the hall. I was really scared. I knew we had about an hour before the pressure to have this operation would become very intense. I had dilated to about 6 at this point. I asked my baby to please let me give birth to her vaginally. I prayed, meditated and put all of my energy on the final dilation.
About 8:30, the epidural started to wear off. Since the dose was constant, this could only mean that the contractions were getting more intense and birth was close. I knew this internally, but felt so defeated in this environment that I didn’t even allow myself to hope this was the case. When Valerie came back, she checked me and said I was ready to push. She then did one really good thing – she asked my midwife to “coach” me with pushing. I was grateful for this one gesture. Pushing was one of the hardest things I have ever done. It was incredibly painful as the epidural had been turned off. I felt like my body was totally out of my control. There was hardly a minute to catch my breath in between contractions. I wanted to escape the situation but felt totally trapped. I had lost the reason for the pushing – thoughts of my baby were the furthest thing on my mind.
And then in-between contractions, I heard Valerie ask the nurse if the lytocaine was ready. I asked her what this was for. She looked at me, rolled her eyes and said that she would do an episiotomy if she thought it was necessary or I would rip all the way to my anus. I can not describe the horror I felt at that moment. My body was out of my control and the woman that I had given that control to was disrespectful to me in this moment. The emotional pain of that is something that I will be dealing with for some time.
The rest is a blur. At some point, I pushed my baby out. They took her away. I cried.
It was a good 5 minutes before I got to hold her. But the moment was magical. I lost everything else around me except for Eric and my baby girl. There are no words.
But then they took her away again. Valerie pulled at the cord – it had been less than 10 minutes since I had given birth. The placenta came out with a gush of blood. And more blood. I remember looking down and realizing what she had done. Although pulling out the placenta is something routinely done in the hospital, midwives would never do this due to the risk of hemorrhage. And so there I was, alone (Eric was with the baby) and for a moment, I honestly thought that I could die. There was so much blood. They had to try 3 different drugs to get my placenta to clamp down and stop the bleeding. The concern on the faces of the nurses was more and more evident.
But they stopped the bleeding and brought my baby back to me. The next few hours is a blur. I remember being wheeled to our room, I remember holding my baby and looking at her beautiful face. I remember nursing for the first time. I remember the intense pain after the lytocaine wore off. I asked the midwives about the episiotomy and was shocked to learn that Valerie had done the most drastic kind of cut – once down the middle and another cut off to the side.
It was not the birth I had wanted. The physical pain lasted a good 3 months. I am still dealing with the emotional pain. It has taught me a lot – about myself and Cora. But I will be dealing with the loss of the birth I had wanted for some time.