Ellen Shares Her Journey and Regrets
My pregnancy was easy with no complications. I obsessed over natural birth information, took classes, read books, did yoga, and planned on an unmedicated birth. A doula friend said her 2nd choice for natural birth was the midwife practice right up the road. The practice had 2 midwives and an OB, and delivered at our local hospital, with the wonderful reputation for supporting natural birth. I LOVED the midwives until I went into labor. I didn’t think I needed to have a doula, because I felt so confident and relaxed about the process. I trusted my midwives and the hospital. I also fully trusted that my body would know what to do when it was time. I didn’t realize how much I would need someone to advocate for me. I was naïve.
My due date was Thursday August 11; it came and went. Wednesday night the 17th – I was up all night with contractions and bloody show. By morning things had slowed down, so my husband and I went to my scheduled 41 week appointment that morning.
I saw one of the midwives, M, and she said everything looked great. She said my fluid felt great, baby was in a great position, and she did not see me needing to be induced. Said we’d probably have our baby by the weekend. She stripped my membranes, which got me to about 4 cm dilated, and told me to keep doing what I was doing and just wait. Then she realized we were supposed to have had an ultrasound before we saw her. So she sent me across the hall so that they could do an assessment of the following 4 areas: fluid; movement; heartbeat; and placenta. This is where things started to go downhill. The baby would not move. She moved all morning, and don’t you know, she moved as soon as we left that office, but when it counted, my girl wouldn’t budge. They also couldn’t measure an “acceptable” amount of amniotic fluid, despite the fact that my experienced midwife could tell by feel that my fluid levels were fine. They must be able to measure a pocket of a certain size. They couldn’t. So we failed 2 parts of this test, and scored 4 out of 8 points. The midwife informed us that they needed to induce. I started crying. She said it was not an emergency, and that nothing was wrong. She told us to go home, eat, do what we needed to do, and then go to the hospital. She repeatedly said it was not an emergency and that we did not need to rush.
We arrive at the hospital about 90 minutes later. The admitting nurse fusses me out for taking so long. She scolds me like I am an idiot, and tells me the baby is in danger, and why in the world did we take so long?! Of course I start crying again. When she gets us into our room, she says dismissively, “Don’t worry – your baby is still viable at this point.” I will never forgive that woman for saying that. There is a flurry of activity and they inform me that the OB in the practice – whom I have never met – has ordered Cervidil and Pitocin. <I am unsure if Cervidil was actually used since she was already 4cm dilated- I believe based on the story, it was only Pitocin that was used.> They get me on the monitors.
There is one nurse – BLESS HER – named Denise, who advocates for me at this point. My contractions are already 2-3 minutes apart. This is around lunchtime on Thursday. I am in active labor. She knows we want natural birth, so she calls the OB and explains that I am already in active labor to see if they will hold off on the Cervidil and Pit. No dice. She tried. Through the rest of her shift, which was only a few hours, she definitely encourages me. She says she used to work in a holistic practice, and she understands where I am coming from. She encourages me to stay strong, and said I can still deliver without pain meds in spite of the Pitocin. Too bad her shift ended after a few hours.
The Pit amps things up a great deal. Through the afternoon – I have a number of family members and friends in and out. I try to just stay relaxed and to breathe, and focus on letting my body do the work. Because the baby is “in danger” I am required to have constant fetal monitoring. Every time I move, or even laugh, it jacks up the monitor reading, and the nurses get pissy with me. No walking, no moving, and CERTAINLY no shower or bath. They act annoyed whenever I even need to get up to pee (which was a lot since they are pumping me full of fluids). I am flat on my back, as I have been assured multiple times by my midwives I would not have to be.
During this whole time I am laboring, no one from the practice is there. No midwife, no OB. After Denise, the nurses barely even speak to me, except to tell me I need to be still so that the monitor could stay on me.
My midwife, M, finally shows up around 5 or 6 in the evening. She is in the room for less than 10 minutes. She says everything looks fine. She says, do not let these nurses tell you that you can’t get up and move around – you can, and it’s good for you! I am aware that she had been attending consecutive births and had not been home in several days, and that she is getting ready to go home. I ask repeatedly when the other midwife, J, will be in. She evades this question and never gives me an answer. I never see either midwife again after this point.
After M leaves, I ask a nurse if I can get up and move around. She says I may stand, but I have to stand right next to the machine, since the cord for the monitor doesn’t reach that far. And I must be still, so that the monitor can accurately read the baby’s heart.
The next few hours are a blur of contractions, nurses and visitors. I don’t know how intense my contractions would’ve been without Pitocin. They are pretty rough, and they come in clusters of 3 or 4 back to back, then with a break for a couple of minutes. They keep me on the monitors the whole time, because the baby has heart decelerations throughout. I am not making any progress as far as dilation. I am around 4 ½ centimeters the whole time.
Around 1 AM I can’t take it anymore and I ask for narcotics. I am still afraid of the epidural. They tell me the narcotics will last for an hour and then wear off, and that I can only do this twice. They do provide some relief, but the hour feels like 5 minutes, both times. They tell me I will likely be in labor until lunchtime the next day. I think, there’s no way I can endure this until then. I already felt so defeated, and so far off course, that I pretty much give up. I know that I cannot take one more hour of these contractions, let alone 7-10 more hours. I ask for the epidural, around 3AM. Even though I feel heartbroken and devastated, the epidural is wonderful. I sleep. With the epidural comes the internal fetal monitor, another “required” intervention I don’t want. The room is dark and nurses are monitoring the baby the whole time. They finally acknowledge that it is the Pitocin causing the fetal heart decelerations (DUH), so they stop the Pit. Once they stop the Pit, my contractions stop. I never progress further. The OB has not even been in yet, but has been updated over the phone, and has decided we need a cesarean. The nurse tells me that the baby’s heart is too distressed, and that if left on my own, I will be in labor for probably 12 or more hours yet, and the baby’s heart can’t endure that. The OB is on her way. Once she arrives, she comes and talks to us briefly about the cesarean. I don’t remember anything she said.
In utter defeat and despair, they start getting me ready for the section. I sob. My mother and I have a private moment around this time, where she tells me how scared she was when she had a cesarean with my older brother, 35 years earlier. She says she knows I am scared. They give my husband scrubs to change into, but they don’t really explain anything to either of us. They start wheeling me out of the room, while he is still changing in the bathroom. I ask them to wait; they say he will join us after I’m prepped. He tells me later he came out of the bathroom and was totally alone, and had no idea where they’d taken me or what he was supposed to do. He was scared, too. They take me down the hall, and I feel completely alone. I sob in a way that I never have before. All through the prep in the OR, I weep.
Once in the OR, no one really speaks directly to me except the anesthesiologist. I continue crying. Eventually my husband comes in and is able to hold my hand. I just can’t stop crying; can’t seem to pull myself together. The process goes so fast. I can’t see the baby, and it takes a few minutes before we can hear her. They put her by my face for a couple of seconds, but I am sobbing too hard to even kiss or touch her. My husband goes with the baby when they take her down the hall. Just as fast as she came out, she is gone. As they close me up, the OB and other doctors are talking about golf. The anesthesiologist is asking me what I do for work, etc. I’m sure he is just trying to distract me to calm me down, but when I tell him I am a stockbroker, he asks me for stock tips, and asks me about his retirement plan. Even though he was the only one speaking to me, and the only one who was kind, I wish I’d told him to go fuck himself. As they start closing me up, suddenly I can feel EVERYTHING. Extreme pain. I tell the anesthesia guy, and he starts adjusting things, but I can still feel too much – I am in a great deal of pain. The OB and other doctors – while I am saying this – still never look at me or speak to me.
I am wheeled to the recovery room where my mom is waiting. My husband and the baby are away – somewhere in the hospital doing things with the baby away from me – for nearly two hours. I wait and worry that something is wrong. I have stopped crying and I feel numb. I learn that after the baby was born and they were wheeling her down the hall, my family and friends who were waiting got to see her – and touch her. Before I did. I still resent the fuck out of that.
When I read women’s birth stories, and hear them tell of how empowered they felt, I feel envious. I felt powerless and out of control. I felt violated and abused. It was one of the most disempowering experiences of my life. I felt humiliated, and I felt like a failure. 10 months later, I still feel rage. At the entire practice, at the OB, at the midwife who was on call during my labor, at the nurses, and at the hospital LC. There were other shitty things that happened – with the LC; with a nurse forcing me to give my baby formula when she was about 12 hours old; with the complete lack of post surgical instructions we received; with the OB at my 10 day follow up; with the midwife at my 6 week follow up; and with the staff regarding a hefty sum of money they owed me. All of those things were just insult to injury after the horrific birth. I hope I never hear anyone tell me again “The most important thing is that you and the baby are both healthy.”
I wish I had gone to Intown instead of where I did go, or that I had just planned a homebirth instead. I wish I had hired a doula. I wish instead of going to my 41 week appointment, I had just labored at home. I know that nothing was wrong and that there was no reason to induce.
Writing this out, I hope, will help me to heal some.