Friday, October 5, 2007

Madelynn's "birth" story

This story is reposted from my Myspace blog. I wanted to preserve it here, and this way I also don't have to retype it. Telling this story is very painful for me, even three and a half years later. I wrote it during my pregnancy with Emily.

*** WARNING: This is not a warm fuzzy birth story. Please don't read if you are pregnant and trying to gestate in peace. ***

I started this story once already. I got about halfway through when the page refreshed and I lost it all, so this time I'm being smart and writing it in Word! It took me a few days to find the right headspace to tackle the story again. But I really feel I need to get it out there, to cleanse myself of this story. I don't want it coming back to me during the birth of this new baby, so I am releasing it to the universe.

I told the story of Maddie's conception in my previous blog, so I won't rehash it here. I spent until about 18 weeks being really sick. I lost more than 30 lbs. It was really awful, but morning sickness usually means a sticky baby, so it was a relief in many ways. Once I could manage to get myself to the doctor, I went to my obstetrician appointments like a good little patient. But despite the fairly high-tech conception, I wanted a very low-tech birth. So I started looking around for a midwife. I had no idea how difficult it can be to find a homebirth midwife if you aren't "connected," even in a pretty birth-friendly area like southern California. I did manage to find one woman, and I liked her very much. There was just no way that as a poor military family we could afford her fee of $3500. I know now that most midwives will work out a payment plan or something, but at the time I didn't even know to ask. So I reluctantly dropped that plan. But I couldn't drop the idea of a homebirth.

One day Chris said something to me along the lines of, "Let's just do it ourselves." This one simple statement resonated immensely. We did some more reading and decided that unassisted birth seemed like a perfect fit. We didn't really *plan* though, it was more of a cross-our-fingers sort of thing. We also didn't know to keep our mouths shut about it. I told my mom, an RN, asking if she would come attend us. Well, not only was she unwilling to come, she did her best to talk me out of it. She would call us, asking what we would do if XXX complication happened, usually the complication having been dug out of a dusty obstetrics manual and something that happens to one in every billion births. We just had to conclude that you can't control everything and sometimes bad things happen. Bad things happen in hospitals too. If you read the actual research, bad things happen far more often in hospitals than at home. But this was probably the most undermining thing that happened to me. My mother, who fought for and had a vaginal birth after three c-sections, absolutely did not believe in my ability to birth my child. I told myself at the time that I wasn't letting it affect me, but it was. It affected me profoundly. To the point that I didn't even want her to know I was pregnant again when it happened.

At some point towards the end of my pregnancy, we were informed that Chris was scheduled to go underway for a week leaving right on my due date of March 8. I knew there was no way I would have this baby early, after all, first timers rarely go before their due date. So, while Chris tried to get leave so he wouldn't have to go, I tried everything I could to keep the baby in as long as possible. No sex, no cervical checks at the doctor's office, no spicy foods even. I did mention at one of my doctor's appointments that we wanted to go late so Chris would be there. They offered to induce me at 37 weeks, but when I declined, they didn't push the issue.

Eventually, Chris told someone in his chain of command that we were planning a homebirth in hopes of finally being granted the leave we wanted. Boy, did that backfire. They immediately tried to get him to sign paperwork saying he would force me, even against my will, to go to the hospital at the first sign of labor (he didn't sign) and threatening him with court martial if he didn't comply. (This would have been on the grounds of failure to obey a lawful order. It wasn't a lawful order, as kidnapping is illegal. So we would have won, but they could hold him and dock his pay for a long time while it got sorted out.) Doctors from the hospital started calling me at home and threatening me with Child Protective Services. (I called CPS directly and was informed that if the only charge is homebirth, even unassisted, they don't bother to even investigate.) We decided we needed some legal advice. It had to be military, because we weren't doing anything wrong by civilian law. We just had to find out if it was against military rules. So we spent the next day (I was exactly 39 weeks now) in the legal office. The lawyer there eventually told us we were in the right, but they could make us miserable for a long time, which we knew already. But most of the time was spent with her trying to give us medical advice. We were so discouraged. Chris went to try to clear things up with his C.O. and I went home to rest.

After a few hours, Chris called me to let me know that everything was taken care of. The C.O., who had not been involved in this fiasco up to this point, was appalled at how we had been treated. He gave Chris the leave we needed and also prohibited anyone else from discussing it with us. That was such a relief. He had duty that night and had to stay on the boat, but I went to bed. The next morning I woke up around 4:30 to a "pop" and a bit of fluid. I thought it was my plug releasing, though I'm pretty sure now it was my forewaters. I also had this strange "knowing" that I was in labor, even though I hadn't had a single contraction. I got up and went online to let some people on a message board know that something was happening. I got a few light contractions then, but nothing strong or regular.

Chris was having his wisdom teeth out that morning, so I went to the store around seven to pick up some soft foods for him to eat and something easy for dinner. I was pretty sure I wouldn't feel like cooking. By the time I got home and had the groceries put away, the contractions were coming every ten minutes or so, but weren't very intense and I was able to continue what I was doing through them. Chris called to be picked up from the dentist's office, so I headed out.

After hitting the pharmacy for Chris' vicodin, it was almost lunch time. We went out to Carl's Jr. for hamburgers (so much for all the soft food I got!) Then we went out to WalMart to try to get the contractions to strengthen. Chris remembers almost none of this. Vicodin does strange things to him. There was something really neat about being in a crowded place and being the only people who knew that we were in labor. While we were at the store, I had a few contractions I needed to stop and breathe through. We stayed for about two hours and then I wanted to go home.

We were still telling each other and ourselves that we were going to stay home, but deep down I think we both knew that if this child didn't fall out of me, we were going to the hospital. The risk of someone changing their mind about harassing us just wasn't worth it. Plus our spirits were completely crushed. Our long awaited baby was on her way and all we could think about was Chris going to jail!! So when we got home, I started packing a hospital bag. We said it was just in case. We also set out tarps in case my water broke. It took a long time to pack the bag because the contractions were about 5 minutes apart and I had to breathe through all of them. They weren't painful or even anywhere near as intense as they eventually got, but they did require my attention.

Once the bag was packed, we had dinner and watched a movie on T.V. I don't remember now what the movie was, but I remember being amazed at the time that I was still keeping up with it despite the frequency of contractions. Its funny now, but I was sure at the time I was in advanced labor. I was sitting on my birth ball and during contractions I would slip backwards off the ball onto my knees and rest my body on the ball. By the end of the movie I could no longer follow the movie and I didn't care. (I know now this was the switch from early to active labor, but you could not have convinced me of this at the time.)The contractions had changed and were really intense. I felt like I was being twisted around my spine. I had to sit on my knees with my hands behind me and lift my belly in the air or the contractions were unbearable. The strange bit of all this is that I was not in any pain. They were just intense. I was also doing this alone. Chris was too out of it to really help. We tried to go to bed, but lying down was impossible for me. So Chris slept while I labored alone for awhile. I had to go to the bathroom constantly. For some reason, it never occurred to me to just stay in the bathroom to labor. I would have three or four contractions on each trip to the bathroom and the same on the way back to the living room. So each time I would get to the living room I had to head back to the bathroom. I did this for maybe an hour, though it felt much longer at the time.

I woke Chris up because I did not want to be alone any more. I needed someone to tell me I was doing well, that I would get through this. But just him being conscious was an improvement. I tried one contraction on my hands and knees in the shower, but gave that up. Then I had Chris try pushing into my lower back. That helped a lot, but I felt like I was inconveniencing him, so I had him stop. After that, I felt completely lost and confused. I had a few contractions where I was shaking and throwing up. I was thinking, "Finally, transition. This will be over soon!" But when the contractions returned to the way they had been, and for over an hour, I was feeling desperate. I had Chris check my cervix. He didn't know what he was doing, but from his description, I guessed I was about four centimeters. I was done. I could not do this basically alone anymore. I needed to sleep. So we headed to the hospital. It was 2:00am.

The trip to the hospital was really quick; we only lived 5 or 10 minutes away. I was so afraid of dealing with contractions in the car, but I didn't have a single one. I felt so much better once we were there. I was able to handle the contractions so much better hanging from Chris's neck. I was having a ton of contractions. It took a very long time to get from the parking lot to the elevator. I didn't really want to go up to labor and delivery. Something about being outside was wonderful. March in San Diego is cool and beautiful. And Chris was really "there" with me. For the first time, he didn't seem completely spaced out on the medication. But I felt like I had committed. So we went up.

I had already filled out all the paperwork, but when we got to the floor, they insisted I fill it out again because someone needed to see me do it. They made Chris run back down to the car to get some stupid card so they wouldn't have to write down my address two extra times. The whole time they were so cold and awful. So I dealt with contractions while being looked at like I was a bug or something equally vile for ten or fifteen minutes, then was taken back to the room where they decide if you are even in labor. When Chris came back up, they wouldn't tell him where I was, so he's panicking and I'm all alone. For some reason, they insisted I take a pregnancy test before they would do anything else. I don't know the point of that, as it came back negative (only blood tests came back positive that pregnancy. I don't know why.) They didn't do anything different with a negative test than they would with a positive test, at least that I could tell. They made me get into a hospital gown even though I didn't want to, and was hooked up to a monitor, which by that point was showing the contractions as irregular (hmmm… wonder why that could be.) and some doctor I never saw again gave me a cervical check. I was 4 cm, as I had thought, 60% effaced and a -2 station. They said I should go walk the hall because it is impossible to tell if I was in labor because I hadn't had a cervical check before I was in labor. I don't remember what I said in response to this idiocy, but they shut up real quick and admitted me. I wish I had taken the opportunity and gone home. Or, better yet, had the baby on the lawn. Chris finally found me as I was headed to the room.

I was exhausted and really had no strength to fight anything they wanted to do to me, so when I got to the room, I let them hook me up to the monitor and start an I.V. It took the woman a very long time to start the IV and my arm was purple by the time she finally had it. I was GBS positive, so they started the antibiotics. I asked about some IV meds so I could sleep for awhile and get up and labor more in an hour or so and was told I could have an epidural or a spinal. I was not allowed to have anything else. I have no idea why, though I suspect it has something to do with the crap we had been through with being threatened by the doctors earlier in the week. When I requested my records later, huge papers were in two different spots informing everyone who looked at my records that I was a "problem patient." Every time I got up to use the bathroom, some nurse would run in and yell at me for disturbing the monitors. Eventually the anesthesiologist came in to explain my "options." I kept interrupting him for the contractions. I was not going to let him try to talk about the risks when I couldn't pay attention. Once, I heard a woman's voice (a nurse, I assume) in my ear telling me she's never seen anyone handle contractions as well as I was. I never saw her as my eyes were closed, but it was the only time all night anyone said anything nice to me. My eyes still well up, almost three years later, thinking about how nice she made me feel.

I opted for the epidural when it became clear they weren't going to budge on the other medications. It was given to me right away though. And they waited until it took effect to put in the catheter, so it wasn't all bad. Or rather, it could have been worse. I really wanted to sleep, but I wasn't allowed to turn out the lights and someone was in and out constantly. I tried to lie down but if I was on my side, the monitor wasn't registering. That meant someone had to come in and yell at me. I could not get comfortable lying on my back with a rolled up towel under my butt to keep my hip up. So I kept rolling on my side and they kept yelling. Eventually they got fed up and told me if I wouldn't be still I was going to be strapped down. Some of the padded straps from the psych ward were put on the table next to the bed to make the point. My cervix was checked again around this point by the one doctor I had prayed the whole pregnancy I wouldn't have to deal with. I was 6 cm, 80%, and 0 station. For only two hours, this was great progress. But the doctor didn't think so. He told me he was going to break my waters or give me pitocin. I told him he couldn't do either of those. He pushed my legs apart and did it anyway. I was telling him no and not to touch me, but the nurse didn't even blink while I was assaulted. She just hooked in the pitocin I had said no to. As soon as the doctor left, I sat the bed up, which pulled out the epidural, but we didn't know it. Ten minutes later another nurse gave me another dose of pitocin and a few minutes later I had more. No one ever bothered to write on my chart that I had been given the ordered pitocin, so I was given a triple dose, at least. My records just have a question mark under pitocin dosage.

Because I was feeling very unsafe in this situation, my labor stopped dead. (I thought for a long time that I was "broken" because of this. But really, my body did what it should. It tried to keep my baby from coming into a hostile environment. I thank it now.) But my body couldn't resist the pitocin forever. My uterus contracted and wouldn't let go. It just kept peaking and peaking. My baby tolerated this for a few hours, but eventually her heart couldn't cope. She started having the decelerations in her heart rate that made everyone flip. I was given oxygen and people were fluttering around. Some doctor came in and said, "Its okay, you were going to need a c-section anyway. Your pelvis isn't shaped right. But I've had three women prove me wrong just today." Idiot. Someone else came in saying they were going to put in an internal monitor. I said no, and she said, "Well, you can have five minutes, but we ARE going to do it." I was not about to not believe her after what I'd already been through. I was NOT going to let them screw anything into my poor baby's head. So we tearfully decided just to have the c-section now. Once we decided that, we were left alone for over an hour, believing the whole time that the baby could die any second. No one came in, no one talked to us. It was terrifying. I cried the whole time.

Once the prep work began, though, it was fast and furious. I don't even really know what all was done to me. The only thing I remember was hearing, "Its okay, she's still numb." It turned out it was the anesthesiologist. The student wanted to double check to be sure I was numb enough not to feel the surgery. The doctor was trying to talk him out of it. God bless that student, he checked anyway. He's the one who figured out my epidural wasn't even in place anymore. I was still numb a little, but not enough for the surgery. So they knew I needed a spinal. I told the nurse that I didn't want my baby given a bottle or eye drops and I didn't want her under the warming lights. I wanted her to be held by daddy and no one else. She just looked at me and said, "That's a little Woodstock-y, don't you think?" I didn't have much hope my baby would be treated well, so I was very stressed.

On the way to the operating room, the baby's heart rate dipped to the 60's, which is cardiac arrest for a tiny baby. My own heart rate was in the 150's, so everyone thought they just had the pulses mixed up. A quick manual pulse check showed the machines were right, but no one besides me bothered to check. I was given the spinal and Chris came in. Things get a bit fuzzy for me here, because my blood pressure went down to 70/40. I saw it on the machine. I was given two doses of epinephrine to get it up, but it didn't work. I know that I heard the water splash on the floor when they got to the point of breaking the hindwaters. There wasn't enough suction. I heard her cry before her body was out. Just a screaming head. She was peeing as they pulled her out. Someone shouted, "She's peeing in the field!" I think I said, "Good for her!" or something like that. For some reason it made me proud that she was going to give them a piece of her mind. I expected to be shown over the drape, and I was (and am) so sad that I didn't get that. She was taken over to the warming table where Chris cut the cord. He also took a picture of her, and I got my first glimpse of my precious child as an image on a camera screen. That hurts more than I can say. I appreciate so much that he thought to take that shot, but no mother should have to see her child for the first time like that. When I took her out, I was given a quick glimpse, but she was wrapped up so tight and her head was covered in a hat. All I could see was a cloth bundle. I kissed it dutifully, but it didn't matter. The whole time the student anesthesiologist was talking to me and telling me what was going on. Not gory details, but keeping me engaged. After Chris left with Maddie, I think I would have gone completely insane had it not been for him. I had a tiny bit of hemorrhaging and as they cauterized, I could smell myself burning. It was awful. I don't remember much else of the hour it took to put me back together, except that the surgeon seemed to be teaching the resident. (It turned out the resident did the surgery. And in her own words, she did "a piss poor job of it.")

In recovery, I was crying because I wanted my baby so bad. It only took an hour to get her to me, but it felt like forever. It had been two hours since she was taken out of me, and I have never felt so empty in my whole life. The woman in charge of recovery was an older grandmotherly type woman. She was so nice to me. She kept calling around to find Chris and Maddie. It turned out they were in some side room, not where they "should" have been and that was the delay. But she got me all cleaned up, she was very gentle and sweet to me.

Finally my baby was in my arms where she belonged. It took 8 hours, but she finally nursed and didn't stop until I got pregnant again. We had a great nursing relationship, and physically I recovered well. I had no major complications. Mentally, though, was another story. I was a wreck. I was very depressed and the antidepressants actually made it worse. I tried to get counseling, but the therapist I saw simply couldn't believe that it was possible to be scarred from a birth experience if the baby was alive. I was having flashbacks and I couldn't sleep. I cried everyday. I still cry. Writing this out, almost three years later, has been a very tearful experience. I was raped, and humiliated, and robbed of the most important experience of my life. And people think its okay because the baby is healthy. Physically, she was, but she had nightmares too. Constantly. Mental states count when measuring health. And moms count just as much as babies. There is no excuse for the way we were treated. No one should have to go through that.


Anne said...

I'm so sorry that happened to you, I ended up having a c-section too ;-(

Elizabeth said...

That is so sad! Thank you for posting it though, for the rest of us. It is shocking how many people just don't believe what happens and are in a "trust the doctors" mindset.

I'm so happy you were able to have a better experience after this.

Sheridan said...

Oh, that is so sad. It amazes me that women can be treated so cruelly during their births, but I have seen it happen (not to the degree during your birth). It shouldn't happen to anyone.

I am glad that you are becoming a midwife to help other moms have the support they need!


Anonymous said...

I saw your link to this story on Hypnobabies and, not being pregnant right now, decided to read. I'm so sad for you, but good for you for being empowered and working to change not only your future births but those of other women as well. Best wishes.

Jill said...

I am so sorry that you were put through this cruel abuse.

Thank you for sharing your story.