Sunday, March 2, 2014

My birth journey, part 1 - unplanned c-section

My first child, who is now getting pretty close to 8 years old, was born at a hospital by unplanned c-section after a failed induction. I'd planned on having a natural, vaginal, unmedicated birth but ended up having the complete opposite. Since then I have learned an incredible amount of information about pregnancy and childbirth, and continue to be passionate about it and to learn more every day.

His birth experience was so traumatic for me that it was over two years before I was able to come to terms with it enough to even write it down. And I remember writing it down and dealing with the panic attacks and honest to goodness physical sickness that I experienced while writing it. Cold sweats, racing heart, choking up, crying jags, even hyperventilating. The title I originally published it under was "Birth Rape: my experience." Birth rape is a known term in the birth support community, look it up. I did, when I first heard it, and it was the first step in my journey towards healing. Many scoff at what a dramatic term it is. But think about it - restraining a woman, performing medical procedures and administering medication without consent or even while the woman is saying NO, mocking her for refusing to give consent, forcefully inserting fingers or objects into her vagina, again without asking for consent or even while she is saying NO - these kinds of things are against the law, except in the delivery room. Even now nearly 8 years later, as I sit here reflecting on how much I've healed and how at peace I am with the experience, at this very moment my heart is pounding and my hands are shaking and my head is throbbing as I'm reminding myself to breathe deeply and let go.

I'm not up for editing it or adding revisions right now, although I probably will at some point in a future post. But here, in its entirety, is the story of my first birth, written two years afterward.

Edited to add: Re-reading this, I realize this doesn't even touch on certain things, like forceful vaginal exams every hour or so to see "how things are progressing." The best analogy I've heard about this one is, have you ever tried to have a bowel movement while someone shoves their fingers up your ass?

Please check out the International Cesarean Awareness Network for more information about c-section awareness and VBAC.


I planned on a natural birth (no pain medication) for my son. He was due on June 29, 2006. I took for granted that I would have a natural birth. When I was pregnant there were no childbirth classes in our area so I read lots about different birthing methods, I practiced my breathing, and my husband and I wrote out a birth plan that we gave to our doctor and the OB nurses at the hospital.
However, I now realize that everything started to go wrong 3 weeks before he was due. During my weekly exam to check whether I was effacing and dilating (by the way, I now know that unless you have a medical problem, there's no need for weekly internal exams as your due date approaches!) my doctor stripped my membranes - to start things "moving along", she said. Stripping your membranes is a very painful procedure in which the doctor inserts a finger inside your cervix, and manually separates the bag of waters that the baby is in. This is performed to irritate the cervix and cause it to begin dilating. She told me that some women go into labor within 24 hours of having their membranes stripped.
This encounter with my doctor triggered some kind of pre-birth mania in my brain. I became obsessed with trying to find a way to get the baby out. Now, I realize, that there was no need to get him out of there. I wasn't going into labor on my own because it was three weeks before his due date, and he simply wasn't ready to come out yet! I now know that everything I tried to cause myself to go into labor was just more stress on him, as he was trying to finish all the development he needed to do before being born. I was trying every home remedy out there - the nipple stimulation, the raspberry leaf tea, sex, squatting, you name it. Every week we'd go back to the doctor and gloomily report that there was no new activity, she would check me internally, and then she would strip my membranes again. Then she'd suggest some other home remedies to try.
Two days before his due date, I went for my weekly exam. My husband made sure to come with me that day. I'd made up my mind that morning that I was sick and tired of stressing out about getting labor started, and I just wanted to go to the hospital and get induced. Now I realize that, considering how much trouble it was turning out to be to GET labor started, getting induced was the worst decision I could possibly have made. However I was so tired of all the hard work I was doing to make myself go into labor. I was having almost constant Braxton-Hicks contractions (no doubt because of the stress my body and my baby were under!) I just wanted this miserable experience to be over with, and I had the full support of everyone else in my life - my doctor, my husband, my family who was calling every day to find out if I was in labor yet. 
My blood pressure was SLIGHTLY high at that appointment, and amniotic fluid was SLIGHTLY low. (Both, again, perfectly normal considering that the temperature was 100 degrees! But I didn't know that then - I trusted my doctor to know what to do.) Neither one was actually very concerning. What WAS concerning to my doctor, however, was the fact that the 4th of July weekend was coming up very soon. The 4th was going to be on a Thursday, so there would be a four day weekend. If, she told me, my blood pressure happened to go up more - say, during the holiday weekend - it would be "more difficult" to get everyone to the hospital on time, especially of course, if something were to go wrong - and we wouldn't want anything to go wrong, would we?
I realize now, of course, that it was ridiculous to say something like that. I was going to give birth at the hospital, there are staff at the hospital who are perfectly qualified to birth babies 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, even during the 4th of July weekend. However the thought of having a blood pressure emergency during the holiday weekend was terrifying to me. What if something DID go wrong, and I could have prevented it by simply getting the induction? At this point I started begging her to send me for an induction.
We quickly made the appointment to go to the OB department at the hospital at 5:00 the following evening to start the induction. That night I felt more relaxed and calm than I had felt in the past month. I wasn't trying any of my labor remedies. It was probably the calmest and healthiest that my son had been in the past month, too.
I went to the hospital the next night and they inserted the Cervadil pill inside my vagina. I watched some TV while I was sitting there in the bed, hooked up to various machines and monitors, and pretty soon I was ready for bed. The next morning I woke up around 6:30 and they took the pill out at 7. I started having intense contractions almost immediately. I called my husband to tell him to come down because these contractions were different than the ones I'd been having for the past 3 weeks. The response at the hospital was for me to hurry up and use the bathroom, then get back in bed so they could hook me up to the Pitocin drip.
Now I realize, there was no need to hook me up to Pitocin! I was contracting perfectly well after just having the Cervadil. What I should have done was gotten up and walked around, maybe taken a hot shower, eaten a small snack. I hadn't eaten anything since the night before. It was the policy at OB that patients being induced or who are in labor are not allowed to eat - in case they need a c-section. However I did as I was told, rushed back to lie back down in bed, and they hooked me up to the IV.
Immediately the contractions started slamming through me, each one worse than the one before. The nurse who was in charge of my induction told me that soon I could have my pain medication. "I don't want pain medication," I said. She said "Of course you want the pain medication." I said that I didn't want it several more times, but was completely ignored. When my doctor came to check me out she spoke briefly to me, and then spent several minutes analyzing charts that showed my contractions and the baby's heartbeat. She looked at the clock and commented that I could get my pain meds started now if I wanted to. By then I was in agony, I was not allowed to get up and move around or even to change positions on the bed. All I could do was lie there and let these monstrous Pitocin contractions rip through me, over and over again. I resigned myself to the pain medication and they gave me an IV of Torridol.
I became completely disoriented and dizzy from the Torridol. I laid there with my eyes closed feeling like my head was spinning around and around. I kept thinking about how I was failing my baby, how I was supposed to be actively involved in giving birth to him but I was just lying there while these terrible things kept happening to me. I heard someone comment about how peacefully I was sleeping, and how it was good for me to get the rest. I couldn't compose myself enough to say anything, and it was emotionally easier for me to remain shut down in my own dark little world.
I got several more doses of various pain medications over the next few hours. I had quite a cocktail of drugs coursing through my body - and, I realize now, through the tiny body inside of mine. My doctor broke my water at 3 pm - to move things along, of course - and a torrent of dark green water poured out of me. The baby had his first bowel movement inside of me. I stared at it in horror. The doctor told us that it was a good thing we decided to induce today, because he could get really sick from staying in that water. I realize now, that the reason he had a bowel movement in me was because of the horrible stress of the induction - the drugs, the artificially strong contractions, the internal exams, the fact that I was not allowed to eat or move.
At one point, I needed to pee. I told the nurse, and she said "Okay, go ahead." She, in all seriousness, expected me to simply urinate on my bed, on my gown. Nevermind that everything was already wet from all the fluids of the induction. I felt like I was an animal being told to potty on some paper. I told her that I needed a bedpan if I wasn't allowed to get up, and I wanted her to leave while my husband helped me use it. 
They hooked me up to a hose of saline solution that flowed up my vagina to clean the baby off and keep clean fluid on him. The fact that my water had been broken meant that now there was a time limit on my labor. The clock was ticking until the time I'd be sent for a cesaerean section. By this point I couldn't stop crying, and I was going into shock. I needed to wear an oxygen mask several times, and at one point I was uncontrollably shaking. They gave me more pain medication - this time, an epidural. The anasthesiologist came to meet me, and he was the most decent, respectful person I dealt with during this whole ordeal. He spoke to me by name and treated me with as much dignity as someone could in that kind of situation. He gave me the epidural, and he left. Within moments, my contractions completely stopped.
They started the Pitocin again, but it was to no avail. My contractions never became strong enough to feel over the epidural, and they were coming very irregularly. Eventually they made the decision to stop the labor (another drug through the IV) and send me for a c-section.
I was a wreck. I have never been such a mess in my life. I was hysterically crying. When they kept my husband away while I was first wheeled in, I nearly screamed. At one point I just went numb. I just let it happen to me. I just laid there numb while they cut open my body. I felt like I was detached and I was floating around somewhere else. I could hear them saying what they were doing. Sometimes I tried to be a "good little mama" and respond to their comments. Sometimes I made a joke. I feel sick about that now. I needed TWO spinals before I stopped having feeling in my abdomen. I felt them tug and push and pull, and then pull my baby right out of my body. I heard him grunting. I said, "Is it him?" and my husband, with tears in his eyes, nodded yes. 
I was aching to see my baby, to hold him, kiss him, put him to my breast. After the pediatrician took care of him on the examining table, he carried him to me and I looked at him and gave him a kiss on the cheek. I remember the pediatrician saying that he wanted me to do that. I am so thankful for him being there now, and having the decency to give me that moment with my son. Then my husband and our son left the room along with the pediatrician and one of the nurses, and the rest of them stitched me up. After my son was gone, the anasthesiologist was the only person who interacted with me. I told him I was going to be sick, and he gave me a pan to throw up in. He stroked my hair and told me that it was normal and I was going to be okay.
Then I was wheeled to recovery. I kept saying that I wanted to see my baby, where was my baby? They told me that he was fine, and that I just needed to do this first. The nurse in recovery was very nice. He told me about his three sons that were all born by c-section. He said that the wonderful thing about c-section babies is that their heads are beautiful and round, right from the start. I spent 2 hours in recovery. 2 long hours in which I tried desperately to think of a way that I could get to my son. Eventually I lied to the nurse. I told him that I could feel him touching my feet. He told me that I was moving my feet, too. I pretended that I knew I was doing that. He told me that I could go see my son now, and he wheeled me to OB and into my room.
My husband came in with a nurse, and they were wheeling the baby in a bassinette.  I felt so strange, like I was being given this random baby to take care of. I hadn't seen him until he was 2 hours old, so it just didn't feel natural to me. And I still had so many drugs coursing through my body. I got my first breastfeeding lesson, and my mom and some of my sisters came in to visit for a few minutes. They wanted to hold him too. I didn't care anymore. I didn't feel like I had any right to claim him over anyone else. I'd only spent five minutes with him since he'd been born, anyway. I fell in love with him right away but it took longer to feel like he was MINE. 
My sweet boy who is now two years old is awake from his nap now, so I have to end this. But I hope that this story will not scare anyone, or make anyone be frightened of their labor and delivery, but rather to make you think. This is supposed to be one of the most important days of your life. Don't let your special day be hijacked by well-meaning doctors and nurses and their many interventions. Trust your body that it will do what you need it to do. After all, women's bodies are almost magical and have been doing this great work for millions of years. Take an active role in your birth. Don't assume that your caregivers always know what is best - do your own research and be strict about your own rules. Birth is NOT an illness, trust your body to take care of you and your sweet baby.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.

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