This begins 12 years ago when I was 20. I was carrying a child I knew I couldn’t raise, so I opted for adoption. Her parents are fantastic people and we were lucky to have them in a position to come witness her birth. We thought H would be a boy, actually, but she surprised us, and from all accounts, continues to surprise her parents. Labor was induced because contractions came and went and I wasn’t able to sleep. Once, Mom applied some counter pressure to my back and hips. It helped. But then my step dad told her to stop. He didn’t think I needed coddling.
Labor just never seemed to progress. First baby, nerves, not a great mental place, etc. So the hospital induced me. And then refused to feed me. Or let me walk. Or move much. And once I was over 5 centimeters, I couldn’t even get out of bed. I hate ice chips under normal circumstances. It was bad. I caved to an epidural I was afraid of, and finally managed to relax enough to dilate to the full 10 centimeters. But my doctor was dismissive and apparently thought I wasn’t going to push the baby after so long (and I did push for more than 2 hours!), so he prepped the surgery team. And then I crowned. They had to recall him. The nurse put me flat on my back, and palmed the baby’s head, saying she wasn’t going to fill out the paperwork for delivering that baby. By the time the doctor made it in, the baby was kicking her way out. Planted both feet against the top of my uterus and shoved, hard. She went from crowned to her shoulders in an instant. Even the doctor jerked back in surprise. She tore me (guess how I found out I’m allergic to dissolving stitches?!). She scored a perfect 10 on her Apgar scales. Her new dad cut the cord, and baby was wiped off and wrapped up and handed around and they went off to the nursery for a mandatory observation. I barely got to hold her.
And then the doctor pulled on the umbilical cord and pulled out the placenta, hard. It hurt. It briefly pulled me upwards towards him when he did it. None of this was okay with me. I was bulled into many things I didn’t want. The only thing I truly consented to was the adoption itself. Mom spoke for me and around me, and I had no agency. While I was pushing, a nurse stood on a stool at my side and applied fundal pressure, using her entire body weight. Her feet came up off the stool. She bruised my gallbladder, we found out later. I asked her to stop and was hushed and told it was this or surgery, she was trying to help me. The head nurse was between my legs, manually stretching my vaginal opening, and there were a lot of people in the room, coming and going, and the door was open. The lights were bright. My first birth experience was not a good one. There are memories I can’t scrub or whitewash. Later, I heard my mom telling my step dad that she didn’t hold my hand, that I’d done it on my own. I detected a lot of sadness there, but an odd note of pride, too. I’ve never forgotten that conversation.
Later, when I found out I was pregnant with a son I could raise, I chose a midwife and a non hospital birth. The birth center was quiet, and no one touched me without asking. No one examined me without consent. But the damage was done, no one could touch me to comfort me either. Again, with my second son, my partner could not touch my stomach once I was in labor. His touch set off warnings in my head that I didn’t understand or take time to ponder before the next contraction hit.
A third child. A new city, new midwife. Her policies were different, and I ended up with a long gap between visits between 17 and 23 weeks. On October 30th, 2013, we lost the heartbeat. She couldn’t find it. I waited 24 hours before going to the hospital. No one wants that memory on a holiday. Ultrasound showed fetal death occurred in the 18th week. The placenta and cord were beginning to deteriorate, and I could not wait for my body to get the notice, or risk sepsis. They induced me. This time it was different. My wishes were respected. I was not examined until I was ready. They let me move and eat and drink. When I asked, they even shut off the IV, though they left the needle in, for later needs and blood draws. I was able to labor and deliver in the positions I chose. There weren’t a bunch of people in the room. The lights were natural. The door was shut and there was a curtain in front when it was opened briefly. I was allowed two of my friends and my partner. My friends held my hands and helped me get into a birth position. When little one began crowning, V called for a nurse, who came quickly. They cut off my underwear at the hips (the meshy absorbent hospital kind) rather than make me move. That tiny baby tumbled right out into my hands. The placenta followed moments later. The nurse helped me arrange him and the placenta into a small towel and hold him as long as I needed to say good bye. They never cut the cord, just like I asked.
I named him Jamie Lou.
As absolutely horrible as the experience was… it was also peaceful. It restored some trust and hope. The nurses were wonderful. I truly hope good things happen for them.
Three months later when I missed my period, I was terrified. I chose another midwife, one closer with better hours. She held my hand through my fears. When baby flipped breech, we discussed the possibility of a hospital birth plan. Her scope of practice did not include breech for legal reasons and insurance and I respect that. I also felt, after the peace of delivering Jamie, that my own limits and wishes would be respected if we had to face the hospital. I felt okay. I felt strong enough. I felt supported. And then he flipped and presented normally anyway! But I still couldn’t be touched during labor. My partner asked me why, many moons later, especially why I didn’t want to be touched on my stomach, where I love to be rubbed when I’m not in labor. When I said it felt oppressive, it clicked the memory of that nurse leaning on me with my first daughter. I understood. My step-dad used birth against me. He used my own power to try to punish me. And nearly won.
August 28th, 2016, I came full circle. I birthed my daughter, the girl I was terrified of, touched and comforted by someone who loved me. The way I always should have been. I feel cheated that my sons’ births could be better, but I still view them as wonderful experiences. Overcoming the huge obstacles set in my way feels like I’ve stopped something from following me into another life. And that feels bad ass.
12 years. 6 pregnancies. 1 girl placed for adoption. 2 healthy boys. 1 angel boy. 1 healthy boy. 1 world changing, chain shattering daughter. When someone sought to use my own strength against me, to cripple and shackle me me, loss led me to trust and love healed and changed me. I could not have done it without my partner, his love, and understanding. This is what family is built on. Not fear. Love.
Story and photo submitted by Stefani L.