Monday, April 9, 2012

An All-American Birth Story

With permission, I'm sharing this email I received from a mom I met in Walmart.  I know what you are thinking, and, yes, I talk to pregnant mamas everywhere I go!  I rarely hear what happens after our encounters, however.  This is one of those emails that has been hard to forget.  This story is indicitive of how women are treated in American hospitals everyday.  It makes me terribly sad that women reflect upon their birth with sadness and powerlessness.  There is a saying that a woman will always remember how she felt -- or was made to feel -- on the day she gave birth. 

Hi, Donna. You probably don’t remember me because we met only briefly almost a year-and-a-half ago, but our meeting had a very profound impact on my last birth experience and on the way that I am looking at my present pregnancy and future labor. My husband and I lived in Mansfield for a short while when I was pregnant with our third child. We were shopping at Walmart when I was seven months pregnant when you approached us at the check-out lane. You asked where I was going for maternal care and when we told you, I was surprised to see your facial expression change so dramatically to serious and concerned from happy and congratulatory. We were so thrilled to be accepted at such a ritzy clinic because it is difficult to find quality care with Medicaid. I had not yet met with my doctor, but I was excited to receive good care at such a late time in my pregnancy. You informed us that our OB group had an extremely high c-section rate and encouraged us to look further into our decision before you gave us your card and told us about your work. We had considered ‘alternative birth methods' with our son, but home births are illegal in South Dakota where we had moved from so we had never followed through – midwives, although not as expensive as hospitals, are still a luxury that we cannot afford. This is why we have Medicaid.

However, since I had already toyed wistfully with the idea in my head, I was intrigued with the idea that natural births are better than hospital births and doctors and hospitals are the equivalent of the Big Bad Wolf and I went home and looked around on The Unnecesarean and Banned From Baby Showers websites. I was shocked to find so many statistics and the underhanded methods of physicians. The things that they will say to coerce a woman into a cesarean and the way that they will take cruel control in the name of ‘health’ shocked me. I showed the site to my husband and we went to meet my new doctor fully prepared with a few questions about his personal cesarean rates and a list of my expectations for my birth.

I told him my doctor the only way that I would have a cesarean is if my baby was in serious and immediate risk of death. Period. He quoted a cesarean rate much lower than the one that you gave us and explained that many cesareans rates quoted from their clinic included the cesareans for women who have already had cesareans in the past. He completely agreed that I should not have to undergo surgery unless the situation called for it loud and clear. We left feeling more confident and happily attended our ritzy high-end doctor’s appointments for the next several weeks, until…

I went in for a regular appointment at 35 weeks and the doctor checked to see if I had begun to dilate yet. To both of our surprise, baby girl had moved from the head-down to the butt-down position near the end of my pregnancy! This had happened with my son at 38 weeks as well, and my previous doctor had simply done a little sliding motion across my belly and he went right back into place quickly and almost painlessly. She then sent me next door to the hospital to be monitored for an hour and sent me home.

Dr. Ritzy informed me that this is a very difficult and risky procedure and I would need to go to the hospital in Arlington in a week to have baby moved if she hadn’t already done so on her own. So we went into the hospital a week later and found that our baby had not yet moved. They put me on a bed, prepped me for surgery for ‘just in case’ and gave me a drug in the IV to relax my uterus and make moving the baby easier. I thought that this was quite a bit of hoopla just so that the doctor could gently run his hand over my belly as my previous doctor had done for me, but I let him have his way and waited for the magic. What happened next was not magical, at all. He dug his hands into my belly and wrenched the baby to the side. It hurt more than anything I can describe to you, more than anything I have ever felt. They kept telling me to breathe, but I just couldn’t. Over and over he wrenched at my belly until I thought I might die. Just before his last try, he asked me if he should just stop and schedule my cesarean. I gasped out ‘no’ and he did it again. He failed. He moved her, but she was still not in the head down position and he didn’t dare try anymore. He informed me that he would schedule me for a cesarean in a week. I asked why we needed to do this- what if the baby moves herself? He told me that if the baby moved we wouldn’t need a cesarean. He would simply induce me and I would have they baby vaginally as I wished- YAY… wait. Why wouldn’t we just wait until I went into labor myself? That would give the baby more time to move and grow and become ready for the outside world, right? 37 weeks is not premature, but it is still early. Then he started with the lines that I read about on your site: ‘The baby is getting too big’, ‘You’re tired, it’s time’, ‘For your safety and the baby’s’… He went on and on over my protests and then walked out of the room. The nurse came in a couple minutes later to inform me that the doctor had scheduled me for the next week and had ordered me off of my Valtrex (I have genital herpes. Taking Valtrex in the end of my pregnancy ensures that I won’t break out and require a cesarean). I told her that I needed to take it. What if the baby moved? She walked out and came back to tell me that the doctor said I could continue taking the Valtrex.

We left the hospital devastated. I cried the whole way back to Mansfield and spent about an hour-and-a-half in despair, trying to accept what had happened to my pregnancy. I couldn’t though. I kept on thinking about your site and I slowly became angry. I spent the rest of the day trying to find a clinic that would take me in the end of my pregnancy. I found one and made an appointment for the day that my doctor had scheduled my cesarean. They did ultrasounds and monitored the baby immediately. Not only was she head-down already, but she was NOT too big at all. She was perfect.

You would think that this would be the happy ending, right? No. I went into labor at forty weeks and went to the hospital. My doctor was not on call. I spent the day being bombarded by all these different nurses and doctors that I had never met. Some were nice, some were pissy to be at work and it showed. When shift change came, I was assigned my last nurse. She came in from time to time to ‘check’ me but basically just kind of left us alone, which is what we wanted.

I had an epidural (I blame this on uneducation) and it started to wear off so my husband called her in. She told me that the anesthesiologist was working on a cesarean and would be about another 25 minutes. She checked my dilation and I was 6 ½ centimeters. Less than two minutes after she left, I had another contraction and felt the baby move into my birth canal. I almost jumped, it was such a surprise. I told my husband and had another contraction that sent the baby even lower. I sent my husband out to find the nurse. She told him that there was no way because she had just checked me and sent him back to the room alone. The next 25 minutes were so beyond painful that, again, I am unable to describe it. The act of fighting my urge to push only made my labor more painful and I was so scared. My husband went so far as to tell me to just push. I didn’t though. Who would catch the baby? (silly me) I wish I had. When the anesthesiologist came in I told her that I needed to push now and she immediately got my nurse. My nurse came in scolding me. She scolded me again when she checked me and was unable to find my cervix because the baby's head was in the way.  "Girl! I just checked you!" and then she put my legs in the stirrups, turned on the bright light, and told me to push. Half-way through my first push, her head crowned, but was blocked by the hand of my nurse. Half-way through that wonderful, relieving push I was ordered to stop and my baby’s exit was blocked. The nurse then paged the doctor and made us wait in that position for the doctor to arrive. When I asked if this was safe for my baby, the nurse scolded me again and told me that it was her job to worry, not mine. My baby was born with her cord wrapped around her neck and a slight case of jaundice.

Thankfully, they allowed me to nurse her for an hour before they whisked her off to a room where, contrary to the information in their brochure, my husband was not allowed to follow. Privacy and all that. Just as my husband was not allowed to tape or take pictures of our daughter’s birth.

If not for our chance meeting at Walmart that day, I may have let that first doctor cut me open. I may have fallen for his lines. My daughter was born 8lb 3oz, smaller than my son who was 8lb 8oz so his whole ‘baby too big’ line was a complete lie. I wish I had not gone to the hospital at all. Now I am pregnant again and I am facing a dilemma that I am sure many women face. I can’t afford a midwife or a birth center. My husband is unemployed and I am a stay-at-home mom. I get nauseous and anxious when I take my kids to their doctor’s appointments. I feel like I will be coerced into some sort of treatment that I don’t want for them. My last birth experience seems to have turned me into a bit of a mouse with doctors and I often take my husband to their appointments for support and a little bit of muscle.

(The midwives we are seeing) still go through the hospital and I am afraid of another hospital birth. I fear their policies, and I fear that when I am in pain and in labor they will take advantage.I fear that I don’t have the strength to stand up to them. 

 I don’t want wires and tubes stuck to me. 
I don’t want to have my water broken or a timer set for me.
 I don’t want my baby taken into another room at any point after his birth. 
I don’t want to be checked over and over by strangers who change with every shift. 
I don’t want my control over my body to be taken forcefully when I am at my most vulnerable. 
 I’m scared. 

I want a wonderful empowering beautiful birth experience where I find myself and my child. I want long hours of bonding and nursing uninterrupted by strangers and tests. What can I do? Please give me advice.  Is it possible that the hospital could drop their policies for a patient? If I was experienced at all I would consider an unassisted birth, but I am not and I don’t have the money for supplies. Thank you for taking the time to read this and for intervening with my last pregnancy. Things would have been very different without your concern for my baby and I.

I cried while I wrote this, as it is the first time that I have told my story to someone outside of immediate family. It took me quite a while to recover from (my daughter's) birth. I felt kind of empty afterwards and even a little bit ashamed. I felt like it was partially my fault because I didn't stop the nurse. Sometimes when I remember it I change the ending so I can kick the nurse out of the way and deliver my own baby or give birth to her before the anesthesiologist came in. I keep remembering the smug look on her face when the doctor walked in. She waved her hand over my daughter's crown like we were a show piece on The Price is Right, or like she had done something great and deserved a cookie. The doctor wasn't surprised which tells me that this is some sort of normal procedure there and they have done it to other women.  

I am working on a list of my birth expectations, complete with arguments for why it should be that way in case I come across any resistance. I get pretty busy with the kids and school so I haven't finished and I don't want to go to my first appointment unprepared. Also, it's always so busy there and I'm not even sure that the doctor will have time to listen to me. 

I have put her in touch with a fabulous Certified Professional Midwife that lives in her area since recieving this email.  I don't want to be a loud-mouth (well maybe I do), but I believe that change begins with each one of us.  We must speak up for ourselves and for each other.  Fathers need to know how to advocate for their wives and their babies.  Spread the good news of natural and normal birth, my friends.  Support the care providers -- in and out of the hospitals -- that provide Mother-Friendly maternity care.  Don't be afraid to speak out against the ones who are not.  If the demand is great, the change will be great! 

Send good thoughts this mama's way come September, that she'll have an empowering birth experinece, feeling loved and supported along her journey. 


Mellanie said...

This post made me want to cry for this mama. EVERY mother and EVERY baby deserve honest, respectful, evidence-based care. What are our doctors being taught in medical school???

Sally T. said...

I have all kinds of nasty things I want to say about the doctors and nurses who traumatized this mother. What a horrible thing to happen on a day that could have been beautiful. This makes me want to go to battle!

I'm up in Garland and I have found a wonderful birthing center and midwives. My insurance company won't cover the costs, so it's all coming out of pocket slowly and painfully. But I refuse to compromise another birth of a sweet baby over money. It's meant some financial stress, but I believe it will be worth it.

Regina said...

So so sad. Unfortunately this really is an All American Birth Story. I feel very fortunate that when I was pregnant with my first, my doctor refused to induce me early. Even though I asked for it. Can you imagine? I feel positive I would have ended up with a c-section, as I almost did anyway when he finally agreed to induce me a week late.

I wish all the best for this momma and I hope she gets that great birth she is wanting. It really is something!

Heidi said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Donna Ryan said...

Over the years, I have never made a habit of deleting comments. They do get deleted, however, if profanity is used or have they been rude and thoughtless towards someone else. Heidi, your comment was deleted for this reason. I hope this mama didn't have a chance to read your comment before it was deleted.

beccalouise said...

I hope she can become more empowered and less fearful. For me, that happens through education. Some silly things happened during my first birth too, but thankfully it wasn't that bad for me. It is shameful that the doctor did those things. And from her story, she did stick up for herself and her baby on quite a few issues. So don't feel guilty and I hope you have a better experience this time!

Amanda said...

I've heard Molly and Emily Germash, CPMs, in Peaster, TX give discounts to those who qualify for medicaid. They also have a birth center there.

Fyer Flai said...

Wow! Just ridiculous! I felt similarly pressured at my last birth so I have a definite dear of hospitals now too! My doc tried telling me I would need a c section twice... I prayed & God made it unneccessary! But they seem to be against natural birth all together! Refused to let me choose not to be induced, refused to let me labor without AROM & then my baby was in trouble so they had to replace the water artificially! It was traumatic. Even tho I can't afford it I'm planning a homebirth with a midwife this December! A water birth. But never again will I set foot in a hospital to birth a baby! The interventions might well have killed my daughter! I don't trust doctors anymore! How dare they try to control what only God can! Labor & delivery weren't meant to be controlled!! 8(

penguins said...

Donna I love the information you share <3. If it hadn't been for your DVD classes I would have had something quite similar happen to our first experience.

Two days before our first was born we went with a homebirth, thank GOD. We had complications during the labor which the midwives didn't have any trouble working with and fixing. Had I stayed with our OBGYN he said we would have had a c-section, certainly.

I love you Donna!! And I love even more what you stand for!!!!

Ginger said...

That is just horrible that nobody mentioned a Chiropractor to turn the baby! My baby turned breech at 35 weeks, and I was immediately referred to a Chiro for the Webster technique. Worked on the first visit. Doc opened up my pelvis and relaxed my ligaments so baby had room to turn. I could feel the difference in baby's position within just a few hours.

Cori Gentry said...

I have tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat because this is what's normal. Some version of this is every birth story I hear from local moms. It just kills me.

Molly M Peterson said...

I don't know if she's already had her baby but please let me know how I can donate $$ for her midwife care. She deserves the birth she wants. Molly.mjmphotography at gmail