May 2012 - My water began leaking at 35 weeks and I waited a day and a half before telling anyone (it was an inconsistent trickle and I thought I may just be incontinent). The Cambridge Midwives chastised me and we met at Cambridge hospital. I was 35 weeks.
Once the hospital testing showed that it was indeed amniotic fluid, the midwives said that I'd waited too long and now because I was over a month early and had been leaking for 24 hours without consistent contractions, they were handing my case over the the OB. Just like that. I had no fever, the fluid was clear, baby and I were both okay.
While they babbled over signatures and forms, I started madly trying to get contractions started. I did NOT want to be another cog in the maternity wheel. I knew what I was up against for my intervention and drug-free birth desires and now my only lieutenants in the birth battle were waving their surrender flag before we even TRIED! I felt so abandoned. Like I'd been double crossed. When the midwives returned, I showed them on their stupid monitor that when I used nipple stimulation, I could indeed produce regular contractions. Could we not try for an hour or two to naturally start my labour?! They gave the strip a bored look and said yes, but what happens when you stop stimulating. I did, and those mountains soon evened into plains. "Yeah, this is going to take a while, the hospital will take good care of you."
Now, take note that this is in the middle of the afternoon. Lunch is over, supper a few hours away. It's not like I dragged them out of bed at 3am. Why wasn't I allowed to even try? How could I believe in my body if the people who told me I could do it had suddenly bailed? From this point onwards, I questioned everything I knew. When the doctor wanted to start me on Pitocin, I declined, noting that in a prior pregnancy, my body and baby had reacted badly to it, plus I had a prior c-section. "Did you have a vaginal birth?" I did. "Then what are you worried about?" With no comrades, my protests seemed petty and argumentative. As if they were patting me on the head like a child. "Be a good patient and listen to the doctor, would you? She didn't go to ten years of university to be challenged by a writer."
And so, in went the pitocin. I made it clear that I only wanted the minimum amount, just enough to start regular contractions. Every time the nurse came to check on me and the machine, she'd raise the rate of delivery a little. When I caught her doing it and asked if she was increasing it, she outright lied and told me they were just trying to adjust the dosage to align with my contractions.
I knew from that moment on that all of my protests and requests would be ignored. Not keen on pushing on my back with monitors all over me, I called defeat and asked for a c-section. The doctor came back and checked my progress. She said, "No, I think you can do this." Me, who hadn't even been out of the hospital for a week after suffering from kidney stones and pneumonia before my water broke. I was weak, still labouring to breathe without sparking a choking cough.
...Maybe I can. A ray of light shone through. Someone believed in my body. I accepted an epidural to help me rest for the pushing stage. It was late at night by now, so we dimmed the lights and my husband, mum and I drifted into fitful sleep. But that nurse wasn't napping. She was gradually increasing my Pitocin to the MAXIMUM amount allowed. This despite the fact that I had a prior c-section (Pitocin has been shown to cause uterine rupture because it over-stresses the scar tissue by making contractions abnormally long and closer together. But hey, less waiting around.) Despite my requests to only have the minimum.
I started to feel the contractions above the numbness of the epidural. Something felt wrong. My heart was beating too fast. Teagan's too slow. They tried a test to analyze her blood to indicate distress. The results were inconclusive. They couldn't keep the doppler on her heart because she still had plenty of room to swim around in there, being five weeks early. They applied a scalp probe (the same instrument that nearly blinded my first daughter). Anxiety levels were rising. As soon as they heard the slow, scary thump of my baby's heart, the room exploded.
I was rolled onto my left side, given oxygen, given nitrous under my tongue. People shoved forms in my face while yelling that we were losing the baby, and generally being scary as shit. We were whisked into the OR and the tension in the room was thick enough to taste. I was having a panic attack. I told the aneasthetician that I couldn't breathe and thought I was going to be sick. Obviously what the OB was yelling was more important because he patted my head like a good dog and completely ignored me.
My husband was still waiting to be let in, people were rushing around behind the curtain of mystery. Metal instruments hitting the tray, someone asking me if I could feel this or that as they tested the numbness. Suddenly my husband was there and I clung to him like a startled chimp would her mum. He was the ONLY one I trusted in that room. He was also the only one who didn't have any authority.
I held his eyes with my own, filled with absolute terror. By the sounds of things, it wasn't going well. The baby we had tried for so long to hold, was going to leave us before she reached our arms. I was wracked with sobs and my husband’s red eyes blinked silent tears into his mask. At this point, he doctor stood ON the operating table and began swearing as she pulled my baby’s tiny body so forcefully that my own body was lifted from the table. "Help me here!" she yelled at a nurse, who then, without consent (or even informing me), shoved her entire hand into my undialated vagina. No lube. No thought that perhaps this part of my body was important to me. She attempted to push the baby’s head out of my birth canal as the doctor yanked on her from above.
You see, the problem was that they'd filled me SO FULL of pitocin that they couldn't stop my uterus from contracting. They were injecting drugs right into the muscles and they continued to pulse and grip. I started to feel VERY lightheaded. The doctor was full-on swearing. "Come on! Fuck! We need to get this fucking baby out NOW!" As a nurse called the minutes passing, I knew that we were coming up on the crucial six minute mark (the length of time between the first scalpel cut and the baby exiting the womb, for acceptable maternal and infant mortality rates).
She decided that she needed to get my overworking uterus out of the way and made another cut, this time internally from my bikini line to past my belly button. Through this hole, she pulled my floppy blue baby out by her feet. They brought her straight to the warming table. A midwife appeared, dressed identical to the hospital staff, and told us they were just working on her a little, and then rambled on in reassuring tones while I listened to the nurses and paediatrician bagging my baby to get her breathing.
The seconds that ticked by without hearing her cry broke something inside of me. I knew then that I was never supposed to have a third child. This was karma/God/the universe telling me to STOP FUCKING TRYING! And then she mewled. Like a newborn kitten. A tiny noise that meant my baby was alive. My husband and I collapsed into each other in relief. Sobbing. I saw her, then everything went black.
When I woke up, I was in recovery. I immediately panicked, asking about my baby. While she was alive and in the NICU under dad and gran’s watchful eyes, every time I passed back out before I could hear the response. This scene played out over and over for hours. I’d lost a lot of blood in the surgery. Finally I could stay conscious for more than a few seconds. I then discovered that I was still completely numb from the waist down. The nurse seemed very surprised by this. As I drifted in and out, adjustments were made to IV’s and the next time I awoke, two nurses were there, rubbing my legs. They asked me if I could move. I could not. Eventually, I managed to make my big toe twitch once. “That’s enough for me!” the nurse declared and called a porter to bring me to the baby that I had been obsessively asking about for hours.
When I was wheeled onto the maternity floor and saw my mum, all of the terror, the pain, the grief just came rushing back. She looked so tired. So spent. Her face told me that she hadn’t slept at all since they whisked me from the labour room. She was left after the flurry of activity in an empty room. No idea where I was, what had happened, if I was alive, if the baby was alive. I can not imagine being in her shoes. We embraced and I managed to choke out "The baby?" That fierce sleep-deprived mama bear demanded that the nurses bring me my baby NOW!! They must have noticed the pulsing vein and twitching eyelid because they changed their tune and went to retrieve my baby immediately.
The rest of the stay was a crazy mix of jaundice, UV lights, infections, fevers, heavy drugs, intense pain. Oh, the pain. The nurses weren’t told that I was cut vertically and horizontally, so they rolled their eyes when I tried to move and cried out in pain. When my night nurse decided to palpate my uterus (medical speak for “apply intense pressure on a very tender area just after surgery”), I thought I would explode from the searing pain. She apologized offhandedly as she pushed firmly on my vertical incision. The second incision was in the records when I received them, so I’m not sure why the nurses were in the dark.
I think we left the hospital when baby was 10 days old. That was ten days too long. I knew something was wrong with me right after the birth. My vagina ached and stung even though I hadn’t even been close to pushing. (I’d later find out this was due to the nurse fisting me. A great discovery for someone who is an assault survivor.) I couldn’t stop crying. I cringed when any of the staff came to check on me. I was twitchy to escape. I poured my heart out to my primary midwife (who had been away on vacation the weekend that I gave birth). She noted that she thought I had a Post Partum Mood Disorder. I did not let the hospital staff see this. The last thing I wanted was an extended stay for mental health reasons. As far as I was concerned, the hospital staff were the enemy and I was behind the lines.
I have spent the last six years trying to recover. My official diagnosis is a long line of acronyms (PPP, PPMD, C-PTSD, OCD, ADD, HBI, LMNOP). I’ve run the gamut of specialists, therapies, medications, alternate medications, spiritual paths…
I am a sexual assault survivor (documented in file) and suffered several miscarriages trying to conceive this child.
I’m not the completely shattered person I once was. My brain is slowly knitting together in new ways. I’m working around my disability slowly but surely. I have an amazingly supportive partner and a fantastic support network. I’m still terrified and completely untrusting of the medical field.
I participated in a voluntary call for experiences at CMH. The representative who received my story was compassionate and apologetic about my experience.
Submitted by LM