As I sit here next to my perfect sleeping daughter who is nearly six months old, I feel it’s time to finally write out her birth story. I have been wanting to write this out for a while, but I could never get myself to sit down and actually do it. I thought that maybe I was putting it off because I didn’t want to remember it all again, but now I’m thinking that it’s because I’m afraid to realize how much of it I don’t actually remember. Regardless of why I’ve been putting it off, I know that it’s important for my own healing and for my daughter to have this story written out, so here we go!
Let me start by providing a little backstory. Over the course of the eight years preceding my own pregnancy, I had witnessed first-hand the births of four different children to a loved one of mine. Each of those births followed the same general pattern: the mother arrived at the hospital in early labor, Pitocin was administered and gradually upped every hour, an epidural was administered, the doctor ruptured the membranes, the mother’s cervix reached completion, and pushing commenced. After about twelve(ish) hours from the time the mother entered the hospital, the baby was born vaginally and placed on mom’s chest for that glorious golden hour of uninterrupted skin-to-skin. It was beautiful and perfect EVERY SINGLE TIME.
I saw this happen FOUR TIMES.
To me, that’s how birth went. I had, of course, heard other stories of births going differently than what I had seen, but in my mind, if these steps were followed precisely, a baby would be born vaginally within about twelve hours start to finish and without issue.
So, when I became pregnant for the first time, I thought I had it all figured out. I was going to decide when to get induced because I wanted control and I wanted to have my baby when I decided it was time. As a matter of fact, I switched doctors at 20 weeks gestation because I was convinced I didn’t need all of that “holistic stuff” that my current team of midwives practiced; what I needed was a doctor who would let me be induced when I wanted to be. After all, I knew the steps I needed to take to have a perfect birth like the ones I had witnessed and an elective induction would just bring my baby to me that much sooner.
The day that I decided I wanted to be induced was the very day I reached 39 weeks because that was as early as the hospital would allow an elective induction to occur. My doctor was more than happy to schedule that induction for me, no questions asked. I thought, “Yes! This is what I need! A doctor who lets ME call the shots on when I want to have my baby. No midwife telling me to ‘trust my body’ or ‘be patient’. I had been patient long enough being pregnant for 39 weeks. I’m ready to meet my baby RIGHT NOW. This is going to be great.”
Well, spoiler alert: it wasn’t great. Not even close. But I’ll get to that.
The induction was scheduled for 10 a.m. on Wednesday, September 9th. I was so excited the whole day before and I felt so ready. On the morning of my scheduled induction, I received a phone call at 7 a.m. from the charge nurse at the hospital saying that they were too full and as an elective induction, I was being pushed and that they would call me when they had room for me. I was DEVASTATED. I felt like they were robbing me of the control that I had fought so hard to have. I spent that whole day not just waiting for a call, but calling other OBGYNS near me to see if I could change doctors and hospitals and have them induce me RIGHT NOW. That’s how bad I wanted to control the situation because again, I knew that all I needed to do was get into a hospital bed and then proceed with the next steps so I could just get my baby here already.
Shockingly, no doctors would allow me to transfer to their care just to be induced that very same day. Weird, right?
After I had called what seemed like every doctor within a 30 mile radius, my husband, mom, and I took a walk around the block, and then we went back to the apartment to watch a movie and wait for the call. We ended up going to bed without a call, so of course I could NOT fall asleep because I was so intent on making sure I didn’t miss that phone call telling me I could come into the hospital. I finally nodded off at around 3 a.m., only to be woken at 5 a.m. by a phone call from the charge nurse telling me that I could come in.
This was it! I was SO excited! The three of us rushed around gathering our things, and we were out the door within 30 minutes of having received the call. We arrived at the hospital 20 minutes later and I was admitted. Once in the room, I put on my cute hospital gown that I had ordered months before, and I sat in the hospital bed ready to begin the steps that would bring me my baby.
The first thing the nurse did was a cervical exam to check my dilation and effacement. I think I was about 2 cm dilated and 40% effaced. I was pleased with that and anxious to start the induction. The nurse explained that the doctor wanted to start with administering Cytotec vaginally to help ripen my cervix. She explained that they would administer it and then check my cervix again in 4 hours. They also placed an IV after administering the Cytotec so that I could have antibiotics administered to me every 4 hours since I had tested positive for Group B Strep.
As we waited those 4 hours, my husband, mom, and I hung out, snacked, and even played the Nintendo Switch. It was like a party and the energy in the room was so carefree and relaxed. I remember thinking that everything was going perfectly, just like I planned it. After the 4 hours passed, the nurse checked me again and I had dilated about half a centimeter and my cervix had thinned just a tad more than before. The nurse then proceeded to administer another dose of Cytotec and another round of antibiotics.
Four hours later, the nurse checked me again and I was dilated to almost 3 cm and about 60% effaced. I thought that was excellent progress, but my doctor didn’t agree and recommended I consider using what she referred to as her “medieval torture device”, which was the foley bulb (BTW, I’ve since learned that the foley bulb isn’t nearly as bad as she made it sound). Since she described it that way, I obviously had zero interest in doing that, and I asked her if there was anything else I could try. She said I could try bouncing on the yoga ball for a couple of hours to see if I could dilate to 4 cm on my own because that would make the foley bulb unnecessary.
That’s all I needed to hear. I bounced on that yoga ball for two hours STRAIGHT. I was determined to avoid anything that my doctor referred to as a “torture device.” And what do you know, it worked. When the nurse came in to check me, I had reached 4 cm. At that point, my doctor decided it was time to administer Pitocin. Pitocin was one of my steps! I saw it as an excellent sign that I was getting that much closer to holding my baby!
I believe the dose of Pitocin that we started at was 2 milliunits per minute. I received that through my IV, as well as the antibiotics that were still being administered to me every 4 hours. The nurses upped the dosage of Pitocin by 2 milliunits every hour, and they also performed a cervical check on me every hour to check my progress. I hadn’t mentioned this before, but the cervical checks were SO PAINFUL for me. I was basically crawling up the bed every time they did it. I hated those checks, but I wanted to know my progress.
Once we had reached about 10 milliunits of Pitocin per minute, I began to feel pretty uncomfortable from the contractions. Between the increasingly painful contractions, the awful cervical checks, and a fear of the intensity of the pain increasing, I decided to request my epidural 12 hours after my induction had began. Another step to cross of the list!
By hour 13, I had received my epidural, but for whatever reason, it really wasn’t working all that well. I could still feel the contractions and I was able to move around much easier than I had expected. That scared me. I wanted one of those “good” epidurals that completely numbed me from the waist down so that I could sleep through my labor and just wake up when it was time to push. I mean, that’s how I had always seen it happen so why was I still feeling basically everything?
A few hours passed, during which I was turning from side to side continuously trying to get my epidural to work since the nurses told me that it was gravity based and I need to move from side to side in order for it to work properly. Later that afternoon (on September 11th, day two of the induction), I finally requested a new epidural because the one I had seemed to be pretty useless. I was pleased to find that the second epidural numbed me MUCH more and I was able to sleep for a couple of hours.
As all of this was happening, I had continued to receive cervical checks and I was progressing right on schedule. I reached 10 cm and 100% effaced at about 6:30 pm on September 11th. It was time to push! I knew from experience that this was the easy part! All I had to do was push when they told me to and after an hour or so (or less if I was lucky!) my baby would be in my arms! I was so excited.
But that’s when the tried and true pattern that I knew so well for childbirth started to take a turn.
The first difference that I noted was that my doctor came in right away when I started to push. With the births I had witnessed, the nurses coached the mom through pushing until the baby was crowning and that’s when the doctor would come in and basically just catch the baby. I remember thinking that it was strange that my doctor was already in there with me even though I had just started pushing, but I thought that it must mean that my baby was pretty close to making her debut so I took it as a good sign.
Since I had an epidural, I was pushing on my back with my mom and husband each holding one of my knees. That’s when I noticed another difference in the process. I looked to my nurses and my doctor for guidance on when to push since I could not feel the contractions due to the super strong epidural, and from what I had seen, the nurses always told the mom when to push. Well, I didn’t feel like they were giving me much guidance so I finally asked, “Should I push?”, and one of the nurses said, “You tell us.” I was so confused by that and felt like I must be doing something wrong. Eventually, I just started pushing every couple of minutes because they wouldn’t give me any guidance on when I was contracting or not.
Meanwhile, my doctor just sat on the edge of my bed with her hand on my perineum not saying anything as I pushed over and over again. At one point she excused herself and went in the hallway to make a phone call. I continued to push with everything I had. I pushed and I pushed until I finally asked my doctor if I was pushing okay and if my baby was getting close. She said I was pushing fine but my baby wasn’t budging past my pelvic bone. I thought to myself, “Oh, okay, I just need to push harder, then.” And I did. I pushed for two and a half hours with my doctor sitting on my bed, her hand on my perineum, barely uttering a word to me. Finally, my doctor told me that I could continue to push but it might be possible that my pelvis was just too small for my baby to pass through. She looked at me and said, “It might be time to consider other options.” I asked her if she meant a c-section and she said yes. I immediately began to sob uncontrollably. Up until that moment it had never even crossed my mind that I might need a c-section. That had NEVER happened in the births I witnessed, so why on earth would that happen to me?
Through tears, I asked my doctor if I could just keep trying. Even after 36 hours of labor and nearly 3 hours of pushing, I had so much adrenaline pumping through me that I didn’t feel tired and I just wanted to keep pushing. I wanted so bad to have the birth that I had envisioned, and that birth did not involve the OR. My doctor said I could try for about a half an hour more and then we would revisit the situation.
The funny thing was, though, that she did not give me any advice or direction at all for different positions to try to get baby into a better position or anything like that. She just stood there and looked at me as if to say, “You can push all you want, but that baby isn’t coming out.” Finally, a nurse suggested I try pushing with the squat bar and with a sheet. And I did! I was willing to try ANYTHING.
After the thirty minutes had passed, (during which my doctor had stepped out AGAIN to make another phone call), my doctor told me that my baby was still in the same position. I looked at her and asked her directly, “Is there any chance that my baby can get past my pelvic bone?”. She said it was unlikely. As a last attempt to avoid a c-section, I asked her if she could try forceps or a vacuum. She said it wouldn’t do any good. I looked at my husband and asked him what I should do. He was just as distraught as I was, and he didn’t know what to say. After a few minutes, we decided to go ahead with the c-section because the doctor said it was likely my only option and we didn’t see a reason for me to continue pushing with all my strength if it wasn’t going to do anything. My epidural had also begun to wear off completely so I was feeling a ton of back labor and my ability to make any sort of decision was basically gone. I looked at my mom, who had had 4 c-sections of her own, and I asked her with tears streaming down my face if I was going to be able to pick up my baby after the surgery. She assured me that I would be able to and tried to comfort me as best as she could.
So, I signed the consent for the c-section, and again, my doctor stepped out to make a phone call. Meanwhile, I received a boost on my epidural and my mom and husband began to gather our things up in the room since they would be taken to the recovery room.
That’s when the room began to spin. I was aware of what was happening, but I became so filled with anxiety that I started to shut down inside. I remember watching my husband call his family in tears to tell them what was happening and my mom tell my dad what was going on. Then I remember being wheeled down to the operating room as I slowly began to feel my chest tighten with fear and panic.
I was NOT mentally prepared to have a c-section. I had not considered that to ever be a possibility, so I had not prepared for it in any way. I had never had a surgery before in my life and I was scared to death. They wheeled me past my husband and mom as they were putting on their PPE and into the OR. I remember thinking that the room was a lot smaller than I had anticipated, and it was so, so bright. They told me to move to the operating table and lay my arms out. They placed heavy, warm towels over my arms, hung the drape, and that’s when my doctor came in with her assistant and stood over my stomach. They began to run the scalpel over my skin and asked me if I could feel it. I told them that I could. The anesthesiologist boosted my epidural, and then they did the same thing with the scalpel and I told them I could still feel it. This continued one or two more times, and I could STILL feel the scalpel. Then the anesthesiologist said, “Okay, I’m going to administer a medication into your IV that’s going to make you feel a little funny.” I said okay and the last thing I remember was my doctor telling her assistant about her weekend plans and then I was completely out.
After what I can only assume were just a few minutes, my brain began to wake up little by little. I remember this part pretty vividly. I began to see colorful shapes and patterns like those old screensavers on the computers in the early 2000s. After a few seconds of that, I started to hear voices but they were far away and all their words were mixed together. I started to pick up a few words here and there, though, and then I finally remembered that I was being operated on. As all of this was happening, I could not open my eyes. All I could do was listen and watch the shapes and colors.
Suddenly, I heard my husband. I could tell he was crying and he said “She’s here! She’s here, and she’s perfect!” I could tell he was so upset that I wasn’t really “there” with him. I wanted to open my eyes and see my baby so bad but I still couldn’t open them. I was paralyzed. A few moments later, I felt my baby against my face as they put her next to me and told me it was her. My eyes welled up with tears, but they remained closed tight and out of my control. My husband was told to go with my baby and wait for me in recovery, but he didn’t want to leave me. He asked the doctor if he could stay and I somehow managed to tell him to go with the baby.
Once they had left, I began to vomit. I’m told that’s because they were putting my uterus back inside me, but truthfully I couldn’t have told you what was going on with my body. I remember the vomit just falling out of my mouth and filling my mask, still as my eyes would not open. I stayed like that for a few minutes until I vomited again and someone finally noticed and wiped my face and hair with a rag. That’s when I passed out again, I assume because more drugs were administered through my IV.
I woke up again in recovery an hour or so later. My husband was in the chair in front of me holding my baby, while the nurse pushed on my belly and I pleaded with her to stop because it hurt so bad. I was crying and my mom was telling me that it would be over soon. I started to lose consciousness again and was in and out as they wheeled me to my postpartum room and told me I had to say goodbye to my mom because she couldn’t stay. I said goodbye to her in the elevator and then lost consciousness again.
Another hour passed, and I finally woke up and stayed awake. I was finally able to meet my baby. I held her and nursed her for the first time. Those first moments with her are still such a blur, and I’ve since asked my husband multiple times to describe to me how it was because I barely remember.
It’s taken me quite some time to come to terms with everything that happened. I blamed myself for a while. Why didn’t I stay with the midwife group? Why didn’t I check the cesarean rates at the hospital before I agreed to have my baby there? Why didn’t I just let my baby decide when to come instead of forcing her out on my own schedule?
But ultimately, I’ve realized that it wasn’t my fault. I wasn’t cared for and advocated for as I should have been by that hospital staff. They failed my husband, they failed my daughter, and they definitely failed me. And I’m not alone. Since I gave birth, I’ve read and heard countless stories VERY similar to my own. Birth should be sacred and it should be protected. It should not be traumatizing. I know that now, and I am so excited to do things so much differently for my future births.
While my experience was traumatic and painful, I am grateful for what it has taught me. It has opened my eyes to what a woman’s body is capable of, and it has inspired me to become a labor doula so that I can support other women in their birthing experiences and help them feel empowered and safe as they labor and give birth.
And more than anything, I am grateful for my beautiful daughter and my strong and supportive husband. They are my whole world and I can’t adequately describe the joy, peace and healing that they have brought me and continue to bring me!