Hospital Trauma and Healing at Home: A Story of Two Births (Part I)

**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!

new shoots

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.

hospital birth image

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.”


  • Bethany

    Thank you for sharing! I also share an experience similar to yours. With nurses yelling in my face and threatening to cut me and a whole lot more! The part that hurts so much still is that people don’t understand how abused you feel. Birth is such a rite of passage for the mom and we deserve respect and dignity. It was very traumatic for me. I hope in the future to have a peaceful water birth with a midwife!

  • Michelle

    I’m so sorry, I’ve had a very similar birthing experience. I labored for 36 hours & eventually had a c-section. I was young & naive. I’m finally having another baby 14 years later but because of my lack of knowledge so long ago I will need a repeat c-section.

  • chelsea

    you are such an amazing and strong woman! I couldn’t imagine going through what you did, physically and emotionally with everything! I’m a mother of 3 and sadly didn’t know about “birthing without fear” and all of the amazing women and their experiences. parts of yours made me smile and parts brought tears to my eyes, but I’m so glad and happy for you to be able to grow and forgive yourself! I’m still trying to forgive my self for many things and hope to be where you are now some day. thank you! and thank you for the hug! 🙂

  • Anne

    Well… that’s nearly exactly the same story as my delivery in Belgium, Brussels this year, some months ago. Edith Cavell Hospital. Instead of yelling and doing the same as to you, they also didn’t allow me to change position for more than 2 hours – pushing my legs up to my ears which caused awful burning on my buttock. I was without epidural or any other anesthesia.
    “HGB is born! I assume. I didn’t see it. I couldn’t see him” – that was the worst moment: midwife told me: look at your baby, she is there. I couldn’t see her! I saw instead two mans (now I know-pediatricians) and also had no skin-to-skin instead she was 10-10-10 at APGAR 🙁 This hospital should not call themselves mother friendly!
    Thanks for sharing that Sarah! Big hugs! I am waiting for second part of your story 🙂

  • Erica

    I am a Registered Nurse but do not work in Labor/Delivery. It horrifies me that you were treated this way. Some health professionals have forgotten that delivery day is the most important day of your life, a day you have been planning for 10 months or even years. They probably wouldn’t talk to a bride on her wedding day like they spoke to you and treated you on D day. I glad you were able to have the baby you so longed for. I also hope you send your story to the unit manager, chief nursing officer, chief medical officer and president of the hospital and the larger corporation that may own them. That is the only way I know of that will possibly spark a change and hopefully prevent other women from experiencing the same thing. Thank you for sharing your story.

    • SRB

      Hi Erica,

      I have thought of writing a letter many times, but until recently was not willing to share my story with even dear friends. It was not something I was willing, or capable of going over with hospital staff and reliving. I will continue to consider this though. Thanks for your support.

      • Svea Boyda-Vikander

        There’s also the factor that this story comes out of Canada, not the US. With a non-commercial healthcare system, patient experience is not foregrounded the way it (sometimes) is in a corporate health insurance setting. Don’t get me wrong – I believe in national, non-profit healthcare! – just that the politics of the two systems are different…

  • Megan Casey

    I had same experience. I told Dr Jackass I DID NOT NEED PIT , just my water broken and let me MOVE! thank you very much. After all I had done it four times before! He being, Dr Twat dictator in cheif , that he is knew better then me. Or in all reality he just wanted to seem like he knew better. I ended up with 40-80 stitches (I lost count) because of course pit w/ no epidural was hard and I just pushed as quick as I could to get it over with.
    It makes me so sad to read all these comments and this story where woman have something that should be beautiful be tainted. Of course we are all thankful for healthy babies but it could of been so much better. And sister you deserved to be listened to as we all do. My prayer is the more woman who come together about this type of experience we can get CHANGE ! God bless I am hoping part 2 is the experience you deserve

  • Jennifer

    I’m sorry for your experience. Childbirth is an emotional experience and I wish everyone could have exactly what they envisioned. One suggestion I have – obtain copies of your medical record and have your OB or midwife look at them with you and explain what was happening. This may give some better insight into why the MD’s and nurses were reacting the way that they were. I am a labor and delivery nurse and I don’t know a single co-worker or doctor who enjoys stripping a mom to be of her dignity and choice. I am always happy to abide by birth plans so long as the well-being of mom or baby is not a concern. I venture to guess there may have been more going than you realize and people were rightfully concerned. No doubt, those involved could have done a better job of keeping you informed. Sadly for everyone, the lack of understanding tends to flow both ways.

    • SRB

      As I mentioned above, I do not necessarily question the medical decisions being made. I do, however, take issue with how I was treated VERY much. There is simply no excuse for how I was treated by the staff, and having spoken with others who birthed there, it seems to be the culture in that delivery unit. Again, this is not a matter of my wishes not being honoured where possible – it is a matter of not being treated with dignity or respect.

  • Kate

    I wouldn’t call my birth experience traumatic, but I did experience grief over the loss of my planned homebirth. I had a really hard time giving myself permission to grieve because my hospital birth wasn’t “that bad.” I saw something on the internet recently that was awesome. She said something like, “Hard is not relative. Hard is hard.”

  • Shauna

    I’m sorry you felt this way. I try to teach my moms that if you go into the hospital with the attitude that medical personnel are the enemy and do not want to help realize your birthing desires, you will likely find it to be true. I’ve come acoss some very prickly women who look at me as their adversary, and what they don’t believe is I want to support them and help them in any way I can. With time I can usually warm up to most every mama, but my job is one that few understand. I am a labor nurse, and I try to respect and honor the women I serve and meet all their wishes I possibly can. Stories like these make me sad, and I hope/believe that birthing in hospitals can get better and better for moms and babies!

    • SRB

      I do not believe that I went into the experience looking at the hospital staff as “the enemy”. Other than the nurse teaching the childbirth class, I found every doctor within the OB sub-practice to be very warm and felt comfortable. I attended the practice information night to ensure I met “all” the doctors who we were told were in attendance. The doctor from my practice on-call during my labour I had never met, but mentioned above was lovely. It was the on-call OB and hospital staff I felt were seriously lacking in grace and compassion. The culture in that hospital NEEDS to change. I believe I will take Erica above up on her advice to contact the unit.

  • Candice

    Thank you for sharing! Oh, how I relate. During the delivery of my little girl, I was actually hit on my stomach bc “I wasn’t pushing correctly.” The head doctor (not mine, but the one in charge of the l&d) told me that she was face down and I was not pushing correctly. Honestly, it has traumatized me to never want to give birth again. I thank you for sharing your experience, and helping me to know there are women who have been traumatized at the hands of the “all knowing, all powerful doctors.”

    • Candice

      Let me clarify, the residents he was training hit me on my stomach to try and “help” my daughter to come out. I actually had bruises and all…

  • Colleen

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I too had a birth that was ok in the end, I had a healthy baby, but the process was dehumanizing to say the least. I was threatened with a C section and completed an induction in under 12 hours when I walked in there hoping for the least amount of interventions possible and a drug free birth. 20 minutes of pitocin and I begged for drugs. You summed up my feelings exactly and I am so happy to know I am not the only one who feels dejected when I think about the day my son was born. I am hoping you got the birth you wanted with number two!

  • Deanna

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. You did amazing, I think it was the lack of support from the staff that contributed to the end result. That would have devastated me during labor. I would have been so furious with the way they treated you. I had an awesome nurse for 12 hours that really made my birthing experience better. I am thankful for her-the stability and kindness during my labor. It really makes a difference. Thanks again for this story.

  • Karen

    Thank you for sharing! Your writing was interesting, your picture had me in tears, and you’re feelings were *almost* palpable and so similar to mine!

  • Shauna

    I teach a childbirth prep class, and I work on the labor unit. I try to instill power into the couples I teach and let them know they can have a plan of how they want things to unfold, but to remember that labor is a fluid situation and interventions may be suggested at some point for the sake of the health of mother or baby. If mothers can accept that some women have labor and birth go just as planned, and others have detours, then they can more likely accept the birth they have with joy, rather than feeling robbed or defeated. I’m sure this has been very painful. I hope I can prepare parents to find joy in the birth of their child, no matter the path. I’m glad you’ve been able to work past the devastating feelings you felt at first. Every child is miraculous and it is my goal to help birth be as joyful as possible. I am here to say that hospital birth can be wonderful. It was for me personally, 4 times. I had 3 unmediated births, and one with an epidural. I’m sorry your hospital birth was not one you felt good about. Telling your story to the hospital higher-ups could facilitate changes that need to happen there. I hope you do it! 🙂

  • Prairie Wife

    I can totally relate, my first birth story was nothing like planned…induced two weeks early, epidural, bleeding…and I was the LAST ONE to hold my baby. I used it as a learning experience and my following 3 deliveries were all natural and exactly what I wanted (even in a hospital). Cant wait to read part 2!

  • Kimberly

    Thank you for writing this. My situation was very similar to yours. My son is now 15 months old and it still makes me feel so down when I think about his birth story. I was so depressed and scared and hurt after he was born that I literally spent weeks with just him in our bedroom, refusing to talk to people or even wanting to see people and absolutely NO ONE could take him from me. PPD was hard and when you refuse to talk to anyone, no one even knows it’s hard. I want a large family, but I am too afraid to get pregnant again because I can’t go through another birth like his and where I’m from – very limited options for a different experience, or I can’t afford it. So maybe I won’t ever get a chance to have a different story, but I will tell you… reading this did give me a moment of peace with my story.
    So thank you for being honest. Thank you for telling your story. Thank you for being you. Congratulation on your second little one.

  • Danielle

    The right birth experience can make ALL the difference. My second daughter had a very traumatic birth which did not end in a healthy baby. My laboring and delivery was largely supportive with very few moments that took away from that. My husband caught her with the OB standing by. She was immediately put on my chest for skin to skin and stimulated while we waited for a breath. At one minute, she was transferred to the isolette in the room for more intervention, and at 5 minutes, she gave her first cry at the threshold of the door as the nurse was running her to the nursery for more support.

    Even after my baby needed so many interventions, including transfer to a higher level of care 2 hours away, my team remained supportive and considerate. I was given the room furthest away from other babies. My nurse stayed with me so I wouldn’t be completely alone having just delivered. My husband took a video of my baby breathing, just 30 seconds long, and it came back with the nurse and a message that so long as he was gone, it was still happening. These little things mattered.

    Lily is 4 1/2 now and a happy child, though still not a healthy one. I’ve seen both nurses that attended my delivery again, both of them meaningful occasions where we shared our experiences of that night again. One of them cared for us when Lily was hospitalized at 5 months, giving me the full treatment with my baby that she would have given me had the transfer not taken place, including hunting down the hospital goodies they normally send home with newborns that had been overlooked with the chaos of the transfer.

    Knowing that even a traumatic birth can be a positive experience in motherhood when handled well, I mourn for the mothers who have these kinds of experiences. When I look back over Lily’s birth, my memories are fond sprinkled with the fear for her condition at that time. My heart goes out to any woman who cannot reminisce about the day she became a mother (or became a mother again) in the same way.

  • Svetlana

    Thank you for sharing. I wish I knew about this website before I delivered my baby in October 2015 Your picture after delivery so reminds my emotional state. But I was just numb. I waited for my
    Baby for 15 years and the worst part after all abuse , restrain and lies which happned in that supposed to be the best day of my life was that I didn’t bond with baby. My baby was taken to nicu because I developed the temperature after about 3 min all wrapped up with me. . So I just pulled all dripping system as soon as nurse went out , took shower and cryed myself to sleep. When I woke up I was no longer pregnant and had no feel for baby. Nicu was another sad story to add to already traumatic delivery. My baby was treated for infection she never had and stuff was so mean to me. She was. Realesed eventually with no after care and no apology. I always will feel that I just adopted my baby. I gave birth in Los Angeles , ca

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