**Trigger Warning: This post narrates a traumatic birth.**
Sarah Robertson-Barnes, former contributor to the Pregnant and/or Parenting Through Adoption/Infertility/Loss (PAIL) blog collective and writer of Little Chicken Nuggets, shares two birth stories with us. With grace and humor she here describes the challenges of being pregnant after infertility and loss, and the traumatic hospital birth of her son, HGB. Tomorrow, Sarah will share the triumphant and healing home birth of her second son (a surprise pregnancy!), whom she calls MJB.
“After two miscarriages and a bunch of fertility treatments, I am pregnant with HGB. Being convinced that I will complete the miscarriage trifecta within the year, I am too terrified to even consider seeking the care of a midwife which is what I want deep down in my heart. Instead, I stick with the OB sub-practice within my family health team. Because, you know, they can totally prevent random early miscarriage.
The crippling anxiety and depression, coupled with an unbearable interpersonal situation, make my experience of pregnancy almost intolerable. And I have an easy, textbook pregnancy, so what is my problem? I can hardly admit it out loud, even to my husband, BJB. Being told that I should just get over it because “(I) am getting what (I) want” is dismissive, devastating, and mean. I don’t really believe that I will have a real, live baby until about 35 weeks. At that point, it is too late to transfer under the care of a midwife though I deeply desire a natural, unmedicated birth. In the hospital. In case of everything that could possibly go wrong. The things you cannot un-know.
We prepare for our delivery by going to the pre-natal classes at the hospital. They are… the worst. Honestly, they should just call them “Fear Mongering 101” at that place and be done with it. So, no beuno. I am reading all the Ina May I can find and even go to see her speak when I am about 37 weeks. I come out of that talk totally zen, all Earth Mother, confident, and full of crunch.
My friend Carla (a doula!) is incredibly supportive and talks me down frequently. I will show the hospital what’s what! I write a birth preferences document of which, I will soon discover, NOBODY reads a word. I prepare for my birthing time privately with my yoga teacher. I decline the membrane sweep. I am going to have a natural birth and that will reclaim all that infertility and pregnancy loss have stolen from me, dammit. NO PRESSURE.
I am “due” on May 27. On May 28 I lie down after lunch to have a nap. I wake up at about 4:00pm feeling like I am getting the worst period ever. The sensation doesn’t stop, but holds steady for about two hours. I am pacing the apartment like a wild animal in complete and total denial that this is IT. I was told there would be WAVES. That there would be REST in between. That early labour could last for DAYS. Instead, I have a contraction for three straight hours with no respite. I can’t stand up, or sit down, or lie down. I can only sit in the bathtub until I FREAK OUT and start pacing again. My husband, BJB, says, “Um… I’m just going to call triage for a second.” He comes back and says, “Yeah. You are in active labour. Time to go!” AWESOME! So we pack the hospital bag (I KNOW! But everything was out on the kitchen table, just not physically in the bag. I do NOT recommend this!) and get in the car. To the hospital!
7:45 pm: Longest. Car ride. Ever. (Actual duration = 8 – 10 minutes).
8:00 pm – At the hospital, we go to the Preggo Intake Holding Room where they hook me up to the monitor and check me. 6cm! WOOT! Other than the fact that I am still having this LONG ASS CONTRACTION, I am killing this! A doctor shows up, and despite “meeting all the doctors” in our group practice, I have never seen her before in my life. She turns out to be lovely, but I am unimpressed/horrified/UPSET in the moment.
9:00 pm – Runaway Freight Train Contraction stops and I have this weird 15 minutes of lucidity where I feel awesome and totally normal. And then WHAM! Right back on the train for another three hours. But, 8 cm! Nurse assures me I’ll be “done” by midnight. I don’t know which nurse, because despite being told you are assigned one nurse for a whole shift, this is the fourth one I have seen in two hours.
12:00 am – 9.5 cm. FREAKING OUT. I am panicking. There are NO breaks in between my pressure waves. Because there are no waves. It is one giant wave – a tsunami. I suddenly decide I need an epidural NOW. RIGHT NOW. I am no longer able to mentally cope with the amount of pain I am in with nary a 30 second break. The devastation I feel over “giving up” makes it so much better! Blerg.
2:00 am – First stab (literally) at epidural fails. Second one takes. Anesthesiologist is a total bitch. Oh, you are “very busy” and I am “not cooperating”? Cool. You should try being meaner, that might help. I have a human being trying to get out of my body while I’m trying to sit still.
4:00 am – I am now being told that I am “failing to progress” as I am still at 9.5cm. They start talking Pitocin. I start crying. Nay, SOBBING. Because everyone is looking at the monitor and nobody is looking at the human woman in the bed. BJB talks to the doctor in the hallway and declines. They bring it up a few more times. Finally, at 6:00 am I say for the first of many times, through sobs, “Fine. Just do it.” so that everyone can stop talking about me like I am not there and I can have a moment’s peace.
7:00 am – Shift change. Dr. Asshole is now on duty and takes over. And by that, I mean he flicks the light on and barges in in the middle of a check. Hey guy! I know you’ve seen 2987329873 vaginas, but we just met. You could fucking knock.
11:00 am – I am told it is time to start pushing or I am looking at a C-section. Dr. Asshole says I am “on the clock” and I have two hours. NO PRESSURE. Cue a lot of people yelling “Push! Push! Push! Push!” while pushing my legs up to my ears and looking at the goddamn monitor. I don’t even know where BJB is anymore. Lights are on full blast. There must be 10 people in here. At least.
1:00 pm – Still pushing! Still being screamed at. Dr. Asshole now tells me that he wants to put in the fetal scalp monitor for a “clearer picture”. I am looking at BJB sobbing, “No no no no no” and Dr. says “Fine. It’s your life, do whatever you want. But you’ve got 10 minutes to push this baby out or we’re heading to the OR.” Sounds like a valid reason to me. And so I lie back, defeated, and sob, “Fine. Just do it.”
1:10 pm – No baby, but he’s literally right there. Dr. Asshole is telling me, “Time’s up!” when some resident suggests a vacuum extraction. Dr. Asshole says they have one shot. Feet in stirrups! More yelling! Can we get more people in the room please? Make it a little brighter? MORE YELLING!
1:13 pm – HGB is born! I assume. I didn’t see it. I couldn’t see him. BJB says they cut his cord and took him right to the warming table, where he was FINE. They rubbed and wrapped him up – no skin-to-skin for you! At least BJB brought him over to me. I did the placenta thing and got stitched up, still in the stirrups. Suddenly, everyone was gone and I had a cheese sandwich and ginger ale. And a BABY! Huzzah!
Which means it is now time to get in the elevator with people off the street and go up to the maternity ward, where everyone will just waltz into your room and squeeze your nipples.
And now, the EMOTIONS…
All in all, I realize that this birth experience is not “that bad”, at least in physical terms. Believe me, I am fully aware that it “could have been much worse.” What I struggle with, still, is how I was treated during my birthing time. I felt like a patient, not a person (on kind of the most important day of her life). I did not feel supported, comfortable, or safe in the hospital. At times, I felt abandoned, bullied, and threatened. I felt helpless. I was told I was failing. I do not feel that I was afforded any dignity.
None of these conditions make for an ideal birthing environment. I wonder how different the same circumstances would have been with adequate compassion and support from the birth team. For months afterward, I felt so guilty and ashamed that I was feeling this way when “at least” I had a baby. Every so often, I would have a breakdown to BJB about what a total failure I was as a wife, mother, and woman. He would assure me that I was NOT, but really, I was. That is how it felt. After all the failures in trying to even conceive this baby, I couldn’t even birth him properly. I had failed again.
That feeling of failure was REAL and pervasive. Another in a long list of failures in my journey through infertility and loss. I believe that it influenced my early bonding with HGB and contributed greatly to my very serious PPD episode. Trying to talk about a negative birth experience is very difficult, particularly when it is a non-emergency situation. While folks are trying to be helpful, platitudes like “Just be happy/grateful that at least you have a beautiful baby!” are not helpful. It made me feel even more guilty and ashamed that I couldn’t “just” be happy. And so, for the most part, I have stayed silent for the better part of two years.
To be clear, I feel much better about this now. I have forgiven myself for things that were beyond my control. I have found a few women my age (with similarly aged children) to discuss it with who are loving and understanding. And I’ve been to a LOT of therapy. Writing this out, finally, is part of that. I hope that if even one woman reads this and sees herself that it brings her some peace, lets her know she is not alone. That her feelings are legitimate and I wish I could hug her.
My previous birthing experience led me down a very different path in terms of prenatal care and choice of birthing place for my next baby. I am going with my gut this time, and I think it is going to make a world of difference.”