On October 31, 2006 I went to see my OBGYN for another prenatal checkup. My estimated due date was somewhere around November 5, 2006. I looked forward to each and every checkup with my doctor because I had developed a deep sense of trust in her ability to help me deliver my baby. She was the first doctor who made me feel completely comfortable and unashamed. At that prenatal appointment she told me my baby had descended into the correct birthing position, and that I would deliver it soon. She asked me if I would like to have a manual scraping, which she could perform immediately, and which would probably start labor within 48 hours. My first reaction was to consider that an unnecessary intervention. I had read an excellent book by Sheila Kitzinger, and was determined to deliver my baby entirely naturally, without any unnecessary interventions. For some reason I did not listen to that voice inside my head, and opted for the scraping. I knew my partner, Matt, had two days off of work, and I thought it would be a good idea to deliver my baby within the next three days. The scraping hurt, but I was so excited about the upcoming birth that it didn’t seem to matter.
The next day around 10:00 am I began having pre-labor contractions, which seemed to become strong and frequent by about 12:00 noon. I was sure I would be in active labor soon, so I told Matt that it was time to go to the hospital. We arrived, were admitted, and I was checked for cervical dilation. I was about four centimeters dilated and felt excited and anxious to have this baby.
I had decided not to contact anyone until after the baby was born so that I would be able to labor uninterrupted. The rest of the day was spent in and out of the Jacuzzi and birthing room, bouncing on the birthing ball and trying to get through painful contractions. At times the pain seemed unbearable, but I was determined to deliver without an epidural.
I was uncomfortable with the hospital staff because I didn’t want a bunch of Med. Students watching all of the “vag” checks, though I didn’t say so. I was sure I had recently served one of them in the restaurant I had worked in during pregnancy. It was really awkward being a guinea pig for all of them, and I didn’t know who my doctor or nurse was, they kept changing. I started to get really annoyed with doctors coming in and asking me if I wanted an epidural. They asked me every damn time they saw me, and I refused it every time. Where was my OBGYN? Did they call her? Is she on her way? I didn’t know who to ask, who was the nurse in charge of me anyway?
Finally, around 8:00pm my water broke. I felt relieved that it had finally happened, but realized that I went to the hospital too early, and should have stayed home longer. I was in so much pain for so long. Why wasn’t it going faster? To me it seemed like one big long contraction. I couldn’t time them without the fetal heart rate monitor. I remember one nurse asking me how close together they were and my response was a frantic, “I don’t know, really close, they don’t stop at all.” She scrunched up her face in disapproval and said, “they have breaks, you have to breathe, tell me when the next one starts.” I really didn’t feel the breaks though, and I thought I was breathing, I was still alive wasn’t I?
Matt didn’t seem to help at all. I was glad he was there, I needed his presence, but he would say things like, “just relax, check your breathing, think through the pain, it’s all about controlling it with your mind.” I agreed with him to a point, but I felt like he really didn’t understand how painful it was, I couldn’t just think my way around the pain, it was excruciating to me. I moaned and groaned a lot, and Matt said that it sounded like a really bad porno. That really pissed me off. I started to become ashamed of the sounds I was making. I started to lose control. I started to feel like I never had control in the first place. I started to think, “I can’t do this anymore, what am I trying to prove? I want this to be done.” I saw no other way out, I was exhausted and didn’t want to be in so much pain. I ordered an epidural.
About three hours later an anesthesiologist showed up to administer it. I was weak, shaky and totally depressed. This was not what I wanted my birth to be like. It seemed like my body was not living up to its expectations, like it was incompetent. I was still only four centimeters dilated. All of that work was for nothing.
I was instructed to sit up and lean forward on this weird stool thing, and to keep completely still, (easy enough for you to say! What do you mean by keep still, my whole body is contracting)! I tried my best, and I kept still long enough for them to insert the epidural. I was surprised how much it hurt, I don’t know why, it was a giant needle in my back! I was anxious to get some pain relief. I got it. I was hooked up to fetal monitors and an IV, and the epidural, and I slept.
When I woke up I was amazed that I had slept for hours. I felt no pain, was I still in labor? The room looked the same, monitors still running, belly still big, let’s get up and walk around, someone come detach me so I can get up. A nurse came in to check on me. I was still four centimeters, what the hell? This baby doesn’t want to come out. It’s not in distress, it just doesn’t want to come out. Now what? I discovered that I couldn’t stand because I couldn’t feel anything from the waist down. So much for walking, so much for pushing, so much for peeing on my own. They ordered me a catheter, which fortunately didn’t hurt one bit. I talked to Matt for a while, he had crashed on the chair at the foot of my bed, then got up wondering what was next. We waited for a bit, and eventually Matt went to get a drink. He was glad I was no longer in pain. I was told by my nurse that since I had not dilated any further, that usually the next step is a cesarean section. I felt disappointed, but I didn’t know how long the baby could survive without the amniotic fluid, it was over twelve hours since my water had broken, so I consented to a c-section. I wanted them to do another “vag” check first…still four? Still four. Why did it stop? What’s wrong with me? The baby’s fine, so it must be me.
When Matt returned I told him I was in line for a c-section. He got really angry and told me I should wait a bit longer. I thought, “longer? How f*%#ing long do you want me to stay here like this?” I started to cry, and told him that I needed him to support me through it. He said something about the c-section being unnecessary, and told me that he didn’t want me to have an ugly scar. That made my cry harder. He was being totally insensitive. Will he really think I’m ugly after this because of my scar? I felt so lost and lonely. I wanted this to be done. I had given up, and now my baby would be cut from me.
I was to have the c-section at around 11:00 am. I waited longer though, other women went ahead of me because my baby was not distressed, and theirs were. I remember how thirsty I was. I wasn’t allowed anything to drink, only a few ice chips here and there. I was so desperately thirsty that I remember thinking I’d do anything for a drink; get the baby out now so that I can drink! Finally, at around 1:00 pm I’m “prepared” for the surgery after another “vag” check determined I was still at four centimeters.
I started shaking uncontrollably. The nurse told me it was a natural response to hormones in pregnancy and childbirth. I couldn’t believe it, women shake like this all the time, really?! I tried to focus on breathing and keeping my jaw loose so that I didn’t break teeth. Matt was there, he did apologize for his comments, everything will be over soon. The surgeons seemed in control, very calm and collected. Too calm, they discussed last night’s episode of Lost, talking as if they were having a cup of coffee. I was horrified. I wanted to say, “can you just focus on cutting me up please?” I feared they would make a mistake and something horrible would happen to me or my baby. Then I feared jinxing the whole thing by thinking about it too much. I couldn’t believe how unprofessional it all seemed to me, and I could barely breathe. I just lay there, arms extended like a cricifixion, teeth chattering, crying. Why was it happening like this? Why couldn’t I do it?
I felt a weight lifted from my middle. I knew the baby was pulled out. I didn’t hear it cry. What was going on, was it OK? Then I heard it cry, and I cried too. “It’s a girl!” Matt said, “what?” If I could have laughed at that I would have. She’s OK, everything is OK, I made it. It’s all over. I was still shaking when they brought her wrapped little body over to see me. I couldn’t hold her, I wanted to hold her. They stitched me up and sent me to the recovery room. As soon as I could, after measuring, weighing, checking and wrapping her, I finally got to hold her. I couldn’t feel anything from the chest down, so I couldn’t nurse her, but the nurses reassured me that I would be able to as soon as I regained some sensation. I couldn’t wait. I told them not to offer her any supplements or soothers, and they agreed.
I got lucky: there were no public or semi-private rooms available, so I got a private room at no charge! Everything seemed to be getting better, I was happy and in love with my baby. All of the nurses were very encouraging and reassuring. I was determined to breastfeed, although I had difficulty getting a good latch. I didn’t realize how painful it would be. I saw the lactation consultant in the hospital. She told me what I already knew, so I was confident in my ability to breastfeed.
My OBGYN arrived at the hospital the next day. She missed everything. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me earlier that she may not attend the birth. I saw my family doctor, friends and family, and stayed in the hospital for two nights before going home.
That concludes the birth portion of this story. I hesitate to venture into the postpartum adventures that followed, but I feel a compulsion to tell the whole story. We were home for only a few days before a nurse came over to remove my stitches. About a day or two later I was admitted again, suffering from bleeding at the incision site and heavy vaginal bleeding. I later suffered an infection, and was put on antibiotics, which gave Leila and I thrush. I stubbornly persisted through an extremely painful period of breastfeeding, and am proud to say that I continued to nurse her for two and a half years. Exclusive breastfeeding was the best decision I could have made for both of us. It strengthened our bond and brought out the best maternal instincts in me.
We were back and forth from the hospital several times in the first month post-partum with: the subsequent infection: the possibility of retained uterine matter, (discovered by an ultrasound technician): and the reopening and bleeding at the site of the incision. I remember it as living through hell. Matt and I were both stressed out and exhausted. I was always in pain, and he hated seeing me like that. My nipples cracked and bled, as did my incision. I called upon family to be with me throughout the days that Matt worked, since I couldn’t even sit up on my own. I didn’t realize how easy it was to reopen my wound until it happened. Although I was grateful I had supportive family members to help out, I felt like a burden being unable to care for myself. I barely slept more than three hours at a time for months on end. It was impossible for me to get comfortable nursing while lying in bed, since her latch was painful, and I couldn’t roll over or twist at the waist. My physical recovery period lasted well over seven weeks post-partum. I had difficulty nursing her even after six months due to the thrush and painful latching. I was not prepared for the consequences of major abdominal surgery. I still suffer from post traumatic stress disorder from the birth experience. I am still grieving the childbirth I wish I’d had, and I am wrestling with feelings of inadequacy, since I feel like my body failed me. If I knew then what I know now, my birth story would be different.
I have spent years now researching what went wrong, and what could have been done differently. It’s a journey of curiosity and healing. I will have an empowering birth the next time, armed with much more information and support.