In the last post, we discussed possible reasons for our fear and anxieties of birth. In this post, I hope to get more specific about how the experiences we have and the stories of others can impact birth. Then, in the final post of this series, I will discuss different ways to address the fears you have. Above all, I want this to be a place to share your concerns. A place where open discussion of birth is supported, and we can find peace whether we are pregnant, approaching our time of giving birth, in postpartum, or are recovering from a previous experience. Please share your thoughts here.
Recently, I read an article in Pathways magazine that discusses the following quote:
There is a secret in our culture, and it is not that birth is painful, but that women are strong.
– Laura Stavoe Harm
We all know that it isn’t a secret that birth is painful. More than 50% of women giving birth in the hospital (some hospital have much higher epidural rates) receive epidural anesthesia. But, does this mean that we have lost our belief that women are strong? Does every woman who receives an epidural go into labor wanting one? Can any amount of being strong change our situation when our birth doesn’t go as planned, or when we find that our birthing environment and provider is not as supportive of our needs as we thought? The Pathways article, Encouraging Words, Unintentional Wounds addresses that question.
The Story of One Mother Who Thought She was Strong and Realized She was Stronger than She had Imagined
My first healthy pregancy. 🙂 7 months along
I hadn’t entered into my marriage wanting to be a mother. I just thought with my temperament and the way of the world, it just wouldn’t fit. But, circumstances changed, and my husband and I both agreed that we would like to be parents.
By that time, my sister had experienced two all natural childbirths. I was her labor support for the second, and that moment solidified my belief that a woman’s body was made to give birth. It might be painful, but nothing we can’t tolerate without a little assistance from those who love us. It was part of our capabilities as a woman.
When I became pregnant, I still held this belief and hadn’t considered birthing any other way but natural. My sister was going to support me as I had her, and I’d have a baby, then celebrate. That would be that. I bought the What to Expect When You Are Expecting book and read it. I did prenatal yoga and worked as a middle school teacher through my whole pregnancy. I was healthy and my baby was healthy. All was right. When I reached 6 months along, I took the birthing classes provided by the hospital where I planned to birth. I remember the teacher asking how many of us thought we’d birth naturally. Myself and another woman raised our hands. The teacher basically said, good luck to you, but you also might need this information about the epidural.
I was a patient in a practice with 7 female obstetricians. I had tried to find a midwife, but there were none attending births in the hospitals in the city where I lived at the time. Homebirth wasn’t something that I thought was a possibility, and I was only vaguely aware of what a doula was. It seemed to me that having my experienced sister with me was enough, and probably could have been had I had a supportive environment. When I presented my written birth plan for natural childbirth to the obstetrician I happened to see that day (you had to see all 7 and had no guarantee about who would attend your birth), she tucked it into my file without looking at it at all. She said she’d look over it, and continued with my regular exam. I felt kind of let down at that point, but this particular practice advertised that they offered holistic healthcare, they were all women, and women will take care of women… right?
Neither was I told that ACOG doesn’t recommend a c-section for simply suspecting that a baby is large. So, when the obstetrician from the group that was on call (not the same as the doctor referring me for the induction) told me that I needed a c-section in order to birth my baby safely, I was shocked. She told us that we would risk many horrible things if we went through with the induction – including shoulder dystocia
(which she didn’t explain), cerebral palsy, and death. I began to cry immediately. The doctor left the room and my husband, sister, and myself decided that the only thing we could do was to consent to the surgery. How could we risk such things? I cried as I signed the consent forms. The picture here is of me waiting for my cesarean.
I was only 38 weeks along. I was not in labor. My baby’s health was fine. My health was fine. How did I all of a sudden end up needing a major abdominal surgery to give birth? I was heartbroken. I was scared. I had never been admitted to the hospital before, and had never had surgery. No one explained to me fully the risks of the surgery. I didn’t know to ask for more explaination. No one around me did either.
When they got me into the OR, they had to sedate me twice. Getting the epidural really made me nervous, and they had me separated from my husband until they were ready for the surgery. I was crying and my heartrate was too high. The anesthesiologist had made jokes about placing an epidural through my tattoo, and having had medicine I was in no mood to hear his jokes that were not directed at me. It was like things were being done to me, not for me. Then, he said, “What are you crying for? It’s your baby’s birthday.” I cried harder. Her birthday? Who made that decision? Not me. Not my daughter. Was it God’s will?
I was reunited to my husband and they began the surgery with loud rock music playing in the background. The doctor assisting mine said, “Wow! Her head is the size of a bowling ball.” Being drugged, I thought he said that she was a boy. I started crying again. I had all this girl stuff waiting at home. I finally heard her cry and my husband went to be with her. I had instructed him to not leave her – ever. If they took her from my side, he was to go too. I saw her only briefly before they took her to be examed and swaddled. We would be reunited again in the recovery room. My arms were strapped at my sides, so I could not touch her. This was nothing like the experience I witnessed with my nephew’s birth. My heart felt like it could be ripped from my chest and the hurt alone would keep me alive.
I tried to breastfeed my groggy baby in the recovery room, but she couldn’t latch. She was too sleepy from the drugs we received. She was taken for her bath, and my sister and mother accompanied me to our postpartum room. The nurse who wheeled me walked fast. When she transferred me to my bed, she walked off with the IV pole too, forgetting I was attached, and nearly pulled the needle from my arm. I had to raise up with muscle strength after having had surgery to save my arm. The pain was immense.
No one helped me get moving, and I became short of breath on the third day. This got me two more days in the hospital because they feared pulmonary embolism – a risk I hadn’t been informed of. My daughter had to have her stomach pumped as well as enemas. Havingg not come through the birth canal she wasn’t passing meconium. A lot of fluid remained in her lungs and she had to be suctioned several times because of choking. Breastfeeding was hard, and my breasts became engorged. But, we eventually got the hang of it after going home.
I was prescribed Percocet for pain, but I did not take it. I feared how it would affect breastfeeding. I had only been taped closed in the outer layer, and the pain from having jumped up to save my arm was intense. After going home, I tore open the incision bending down to pick up a blanket and it became infected, requiring me to take antibiotics.
I questioned everything, and was mad before I left the hospital. I realized that all of this suffering was for no good reason. My baby wasn’t upwards of 10 pounds. She was 8lbs. 13oz. and only 20.5 inches long. I had been my OB’s fourth cesarean that day and my baby was born at 2:31pm. I was angry. I wanted answers. I no longer trusted health care professionals to make decisions in my best interest. I had a lot to work through. So, when I received a copy of my medical records and they read that “she had a change of heart and really desired a cesarean”. I was inflamed. Back to the quote I mentioned in the beginning. Was I not strong having gone through this? Was this somehow my fault?
This experience is partly the reason that I was led to this work. I’m not jaded any longer, just careful. I advocate for informed patient consent, and I advocate for a mother’s active involvement in the decisions made during her pregnancy, labor, and birth. I try to help women know their options, the reasons why interventions should be used and the risks and benefits of each. But, getting to that point was a journey. I feared the hospital and what might happen to me there. I had to work hard at preparing mentally for my second birth, knowing that I would be VBACing and neither with an obstetrician, nor in the hospital.
In the next post, I will highlight ways that first time mothers, and mothers such as myself can work through the fears they have surrounding birth. The work is important, and crucial to helping yourself have a peaceful experience.
Please, feel free to share your thoughts and stories as well.
Many happy days to you and yours,
I apologize for the formatting errors in this post. For some reason the site won’t let me correct them. I hope it doesn’t make this too difficult to read.