I recently reached out to some of my former doula clients with the offer to share their birth story on my blog. Over the years, I've had mothers write the story of their child's birth as a way to process their experience. It can be a avenue to explore feelings, celebrate joyous moments, or find healing in disappointment.
The first birth story I am featuring is from Elizabeth. She was a first time mother who planned a homebirth, but ended up birthing in a hospital. Hers is a difficult story, one that she is still processing and healing from. In honor of Hazel's first birthday today, here is the story of her birth, told by her mother. | Jenn
"It wasn’t until I was about 10 weeks pregnant that I made the decision to have a home birth. It was something I had never even considered before then. I knew that there was a documentary about birth, The Business of Being Born, and I don’t even remember how or what I had heard about it, but I remember thinking - “If I watch this it’s going to make me feel guilty for not having a natural birth”. A friend and I were talking about it and she told me I should watch it, so I did, and I was so grateful afterwards that I had. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I felt like my eyes were opened and the more I read and learned from that point on, the more I was sure that this was the right decision for me. And for the first time, I was excited about labor. Not just about planning everything that would happen before and everything that would happen after, but for the actual process of bringing my baby into the world. Until this point, that had been an afterthought.
When I told my husband that this was what I wanted to do, I told him that I didn’t want to share this with anyone. For the rest of my pregnancy I didn’t want to have to endure any looks or comments from people that would leave me feeling like they thought I was naïve. I didn’t want to have to be the poster child for home labor, answering questions for people who didn’t know much about it and feeling like I had to justify or explain myself to them. I didn’t want anyone else’s opinion or negativity weighing me down. This was my experience and I wasn’t going to let anyone ruin it. I went all the way to the end telling only a few close friends. It wasn’t easy, especially towards the end when I was approaching 42 weeks and everyone was asking “so when is your doctor inducing you”? I suspected all along that I would go past 40 weeks. My mother had a c-section when she was 17 days overdue with me. I talked with my midwife about how long she was comfortable with me going over. Her answer was 43 weeks, but she also said it depended on the exact situation and how the baby and I were doing.
I had a wonderful pregnancy. My husband still brags to people that I never complained during my entire pregnancy. We tried fertility treatments up until the point where they told us surgery would be the next step. After we quit, I was pregnant within two months. I was so grateful to be pregnant and I had a lot of respect for the process. I ate healthy and gained a little over 20 pounds, even with going to 43 weeks and 1 day. The last few days of my pregnancy was the most stressful time that I have ever endured in my entire life. The medical model of childbirth treats every woman like a statistical average and doesn’t allow for women to go past 42 weeks gestation. Because past 42 weeks there is small increase in risk, they induce everyone by then. But being induced does not come without its own set of risks and guaranteed shortcomings in comparison to your body starting labor on its own. A woman should be able to make an informed decision with the assistance of her chosen health care provider, not be forced to conform to a general rule for all. I knew that I was comfortable going to 43 weeks, but after that I wasn’t sure. There is little to no information or statistics to go off of because 99.9% of births in the U.S. happen in hospitals by 42 weeks.
I thought my water broke around 42 weeks, but when labor didn’t start, my midwife decided it was likely just a tear in my bag of waters. From that point on I took my temperature every 4 hours and monitored baby’s kicks. I felt fine, but after about 4 or 5 more days my midwife suggested I go to get a biophysical profile to be extra sure things were still okay. I called around and couldn’t find anywhere that would administer the test. Finally, I called my OBGYN. I had been a patient of hers for almost 10 years. At my 12-week appointment I told her I was going to have a homebirth and I asked her if she would care for me if I needed to come to the hospital. She looked at me like I had three eyes and said she wasn’t sure because no one had ever asked her that. She had been practicing for probably 25 years. What a bunch of bull, I thought. Ultimately, she said that she couldn’t do it because her malpractice insurance wouldn’t allow it. Again, what a bunch of bull.
I was very apprehensive about calling, but I didn’t have any other options. After being laughed at on the phone and told no, I hung up and sobbed. All I wanted was to make sure that my baby was okay, but because I wasn’t doing things their way, they turned me away. I honestly can’t think of anything more twisted and messed up than that. The only option left was to go the hospital. So we did. But before we left, my husband and I talked and agreed, that no matter what, we were coming back home that day. I was 42 + 6 that day and I was comfortable going to 43. I knew the second they laid eyes on me they were going to do all they could to convince me that I needed to be induced. We went and had the tests done. Everything was good, but sure enough I had to sign papers saying I was going against their advice by leaving. We told them we would come back the next day.
That night I was up all night laboring. It was the third night where I had been up all night. During the day the contractions would go away completely. By this last night, the contractions were strong and close together. We had an appointment to be at the hospital at 10am. Looking back it’s easy for me to think, “why didn’t you stay home that morning”? But the truth is, I had been on such an emotional roller coaster that last week and I didn’t know if the contractions were going to stop again like they had been. So we went. Because I didn’t have a doctor, I was given to the clinic, which is a nice way of saying “we are going to let the residents treat you like a test with wrong and right answers instead of like a person”.
From the beginning they were already taking about a c-section. I remember vividly Dr. Clay coming in while I was heavy in labor and saying “Has anyone really gone over our concerns for you having this baby vaginally yet?” and on and on he went. “The baby is so big that we can’t even measure her on some of our tests. If you try and deliver her vaginally there is a very good chance that she will get stuck and you could die. And she could die. And we might have to break her collarbone to get her out, and she would be paralyzed for her entire life. And she could die. And you could die. And she could die.” He must have said die at least 10 times.
Up until this point, the only reason they had to try and get me to have a c-section was that they thought my baby was big and there was some meconium staining. To them I was 43 weeks pregnant so of course my baby must be gigantic. All I kept saying in my head was “Get the F away from me.” What I said out loud in between contractions was “I want to deliver vaginally”. I won’t go into all the details of what happened, but basically after being there for almost 24 hours we were strongly urged to have a c-section. They all came in the room at once, probably six different people. As soon as I heard the word, I didn’t hear anything after it. Jenn suggested Andrew and I take a minute to ourselves and before everyone could leave the room we both broke down sobbing. We didn’t have to say one word. We just looked at each other and fell apart knowing exactly what the other one was thinking. Aside from their concern that the baby was big (which they listed in my medical notes that I later got from the hospital as macrosomia, shoulder dystocia, and brachial plexus injury- literally three ways of saying big baby) they were now saying that there were variable decelerations with pushing, meaning variable dips in the baby’s heart rate.
We decided to go ahead with the c-section. One of the hardest things for me is when people say “Oh, so you had to have a c-section”? The thing is, when you prepare for a home birth you are pretty aware of the fact that anything can happen and while you may have preferences, you know you can’t fully plan out what is going to happen. Of course it’s devastating to go from one complete end of the spectrum to the other. But, what makes everything so much more painful, so painful that I can still breakdown just thinking about it, is that I will never know if I had to have a c-section. That might be hard for some people to understand. The doctors said I needed it, so I needed it, right? It’s not that simple. If it were up to those doctors, I would have had a c-section almost as soon as I got to the hospital, because my baby was so huge. Some huge baby - she was 8 pounds 11 ounces. On the big side, yes. But so big that we were both at risk of dying - far from it.
I felt like a sitting duck from the moment I arrived. Like they were just waiting to be able to tack on whatever next reason to push for a c-section. They weren’t advocating for me. I can’t begin to try and explain the depth of the heartache that I felt and still feel. These things that I carefully and thoughtfully planned for and that I wanted my baby to have, she didn’t get. I felt like I let her down. I will never forget Hazel’s birth and the feelings that surround it, but the doctors that were there that day forgot about it a long time ago. I remember laying on the table being prepped for surgery. I had sobbed the entire way there and throughout the entire procedure. I was filleted out naked on a table, just sobbing. The anesthesiologist wiped away some of my tears and asked if I was nervous. In an attempt to try and reach out for some compassion and understanding, I managed to get out “we planned for a homebirth”. And like a knife in an open wound, she began to go on and on about how lucky we were to be at the hospital and how dangerous it is to have babies at home. I have never experienced a moment of anguish like that. How could someone be so condescending at the most vulnerable moment of my life?
Then as I lay there I heard one of the nurses ask the surgeons what to list as the reason for c-section on my chart. “Failure to progress” they said. It was like another slap in the face. I had been pushing for over an hour, so there was no failure to progress. Why wouldn’t they list the reason as variable decelerations if that was what they told me to get me to have the c-section? I just felt so full of overwhelming emotion, that I felt numb. It was an out of body experience and then, she was there. Hazel was perfect. 9 out of 9 on both APGARs and my placenta was fully intact.
Being with her those first few days in the hospital was so surreal. It’s hard to imagine the best moment of your life and the saddest moment of your life overlapping. You can’t explain the emotions. The one thing that truly made the entire experience bearable was having Jenn there with us. Hazel’s birth story isn’t the one I wanted for her or me, but through Jenn’s participation in it I’m able to look back and find some moments of comfort." | Elizabeth