For Thordora's contest - and my own personal therapy.
“I think she’s breech, but I can’t tell because of all your padding!” The nurse-midwife said, in a good-natured teasing manner. We had a good relationship, and she knew how best to get through to me. “Let’s send you for an ultrasound to make sure, if she is, there are some exercises you’ll want to do before she gets too big to flip easily.”
The husband and I nodded; another look at our growing baby was okay by us. Little did I know that agreeing to that ultrasound would start a steep, slippery slope of myriad interventions that would end in what I truly believe, for me, was birth trauma. I’ve learned a lot about labor and birth in training to become a doula – and yes, it was my birth experience that pushed me in that direction – enough to know that what happened to me just shouldn’t have happened at all.
32 Weeks, 5 Days
Checking my voicemail on the way home from work, I found a message from the scheduler at the clinic. “Heather, this is Josi, from the midwives office. I need you to call me back as soon as possible!” Driving down the highway, I dialed the number, my hands shaking and my heart in my chest. I could feel Freyja moving around inside of me, but it didn’t reassure me.
“Your ultrasound showed Freyja as too small for dates. She’s not growing properly, and we need you to come in for a non-stress test as soon as you can.”
I drove straight there, after calling Kerwin at work to have him meet me at the clinic. I got hooked up to the machines and the sound of Freyja’s heartbeat filled the tiny monitoring room. The midwife came in, not MY midwife but one of her partners. “I’m afraid we have to diagnose the baby with IUGR. That means –“
I cut her off. “Intrauterine growth restriction. I know what it means.”
I had twice weekly NST’s leading up to my due date. Every one was fine. I had weekly Doppler ultrasounds to measure the blood flow from my placenta to the baby and how the blood moved through the umbilical cord. Every single one was normal, even the one on my estimated due date as I napped on the table while the tech phoned the results into my midwife. I was terrified at each ultrasound, most of which were scheduled while my husband worked, terrified that they would say “She’s not growing, she hasn’t grown. The blood flow is bad. We have to induce you now. We have to get her out now.”
40 weeks, 3 days.
I wanted to be done. I walked and walked. Miles, it seemed. The baby was still floating, her head not engaged in my pelvis. The midwife checked my cervix. A fingertip dilated. She wanted to sweep my membranes, but I hadn’t dilated enough.
“You know we can’t let IUGR moms go more than a week overdue.”
“Let’s schedule an induction for Friday morning. That’s my call day.”
Small comfort. I went home and read. I wondered if I was favorable for induction. They wouldn’t induce me otherwise, right?
How naïve I was. How foolish and naïve, and impatient and excited to meet my baby.
We arrived at the hospital at 7:30 am, having high hopes that we would be parents by the afternoon.
We got checked into our room, and they came to give me my IV. They couldn’t find a vein in my hand, and it went on the side of my arm. I should have realized that this was a sign of things to come. We were excited, happy. Our labor nurse was wonderful. She was kind, attentive, and funny. I really wanted to have the baby while she was there to help us.
The pitocin was turned up every hour, until I was having contractions every two minutes that kept increasing in intensity. I wanted to hold out. No drugs. My husband was no help. He sat and read, or listened to music on the CD player that was supposed to be for me, to help me cope with labor. He held my hand in an unattached fashion until I told him to put the book away and pay attention, then he was better. I had friends there, and they helped. They distracted me and kept my spirits up. I finally asked for a narcotic at 2 PM, after 7 hours and only dilated to three centimeters. They broke my water so they could install internal monitors, and then gave me the shot of Stadol. I drifted in and out of sleep, coloring in a My Little Pony coloring book that my best friend’s daughter had donated to the cause. I could feel the contractions, but they no longer hurt as badly as before. I could cope, even if I was singing "Tainted Love" along with the beeps of the equipment.
My dad and grandma showed up around 5 pm as the narcotic was wearing off. My husband went to call some friends and family. My friends left to get dinner. My dad went to go to the bathroom, leaving me alone with my grandmother as the contractions came back with such a vengeance. I wanted to sit up, straddle the bed. The nurses kept scolding me, that they couldn’t get the baby’s heartbeat. I knew she was OK. I wanted to sit up, sitting up helped. My grandmother, bless her heart, patted my back and sat with me as I struggled through the contractions on my own.
I have never forgiven my husband for what I see as abandoning me, and I don’t know if I ever will. I don't think that he realizes even now how I feel about this. I am terrified that he'll do the same thing should I attempt a VBAC - I wouldn't give birth again without a doula, no matter what it cost me - because of my fear of my otherwise very thoughtful, attentive, and loving husband leaving me to go yack on the phone.
My midwife came back to check my dilation at around 7:30pm. My cervix had swollen shut. 12 hours of pitocin induced labor, broken waters, antibiotics for Group B strep, all for nothing.
“The baby is fine, her heart rate is great. She's tolerating labor just fine, but we’re going to have to do a c-section because of the Group B Strep and your water being broken.”
I was so tired by that point that I just wanted her out. “Can we turn the pitocin off, then?” I asked.
We sat around for another two hours, waiting for the obstetrician who would do my c-section. I called my mom, who left work early. My dad and grandma stayed around, which was nice of them. My friends came back, but they wouldn't allow Angie in the operating room – she was my photographer. The anesthesiologist came in and explained the spinal procedure to me, and I signed away my right to sue if I became paralyzed. I had a catheter inserted. I met the OB, and I trusted him immediately. I can’t explain why, I just did. My midwife would assist with the surgery.
I walked to the operating room under my own power, and clambered up onto the operating table. They gave my spinal in that forward leaning position I had wanted to spend my entire labor in while the nurse held my hand. She was a good nurse, too. The OR was so cold, and I was so tired. I just wanted to meet my baby. Kerwin came in, wearing scrubs, a hair cap, and shoe covers, and was allowed to sit by my head.
I don’t remember a lot about the surgery. I wanted to watch, but they wouldn’t let me. I didn’t feel anything, tugging or pain. I heard the OB say, “Heather, your baby is a stinker; she has her head right where I need to cut!”
I knew the moment they had pulled her out, because she started to scream. She was indignant, angry. I could feel her emotions flooding over me. It was 10:50 pm on August 27th. Happy birthday, baby.
“It’s a girl, right?” I said. Nothing about fingers and toes, just needed to know if it was a girl.
“Yes, it’s a girl!” my midwife called. “Wow, she’s chubby.”
“Wow, she’s chubby.” What? Wasn’t she supposed to be SMALL? IUGR and all that? TINY? We were expecting a five or six pounder. They sewed me up after I sent Kerwin off to the nursery with Freyja. It’s all a blur, that part.
I didn’t see her until an hour and a half later, all cleaned up and smelling like baby wash. She was beautiful. She was eight pounds, one ounce. She had a 34 cm head! One faulty ultrasound measurement screwed up my birth experience. One faulty ultrasound measurement marked me as high-risk, still marks me as high-risk. Intervention after intervention followed, just to “see if she was breech”.
I could probably pay for years of therapy, and it wouldn’t help. I felt cheated, robbed. I still do. I was so consumed by feelings of guilt and anger that I had a hard time bonding with my newborn. I wanted to bond with her so, so badly, and I didn’t. I had to fall in love with her over time. It wasn’t immediate, and I still wonder if I’m a bad mother because of it. Breastfeeding was an utter failure, and I still don’t know why. Was it because of the excess amounts of fluid pumped into me during 12 hours of induction and 36 hours of recovery? Was it because the ill-educated nurse came into my room at four AM and convinced a morphine-doped post-surgery me that my baby was hungry and I needed to use formula to feed her until my milk came in? Will it happen with another baby?
The postpartum period was incredibly difficult. My husband went right back to work and a new semester of college classes. I had little help at home. I still don’t know how I coped, just that I did because I had to.
We’re thinking about a second baby. I have the “right” kind of incision, and I’m hoping for a home VBAC. Birth should be fulfilling. It’s such an incredible, life changing event. It shouldn’t be managed and medicalized. It should take place with those you love, in a secure and comfortable environment where one can surrender to it. At least, that’s what I believe.
(I do feel I have to mention that my husband now knows the error of his ways and has been a marvelous and excellent father since he first laid eyes on Freyja in that operating room. The picture below is from her second day of life.)