My first birth experience was fucked up. Harsh statement, I know. But true.
I expected that my OB and the hospital would look out for me and take care of me. Isn’t that what hospitals are for — to take care of people? What I learned from my one and only hospital birth experience was that, when it comes to birthing, the answer to that question is very often no.
The story starts with a very swollen and heavy me arriving at my OB’s office a day before my due date on June 20, 2005. After checking my blood pressure and finding it slightly elevated (newsflash — yours would be too if you walked 20 blocks in 90 degree heat while carrying an additional 68 pounds), my OB looked at me and said “do you want this baby out of you?” Uh, yes. My ankles were the size of Texas. I could hardly breathe from the discomfort of the additional weight I was carrying. I was — like any expecting mother in her 39th week of pregnancy – so eager to meet this person who had been growing and living inside of me. Yes, I wanted this baby out. After quickly conferring with a friend of a friend who assured me that her inductions went fine, the next thing I knew, we were scheduled to arrive at the hospital at 9 PM to get ready for the birth I had been waiting for …my whole life, really.
After checking in and getting settled in my hospital room, a nurse walked in and told me that she would be inserting some drug in me, and that I would then experience “mild menstrual cramps” during the night, and then be given pitocin in the morning. I distinctly recall that the nurse also told me that I might have a hard time sleeping “because there would be sounds coming through over the loudspeaker that could disturb my sleep.” That was all that I was told about the drug that she was putting inside of me.
It therefore came as a great surprise to both my husband and I when, shortly after two pills had been vaginally inserted, I was huddled in pain on the floor, screaming in agony. These were not mild menstrual cramps. This was serious pain. And because the contractions were precipitated by the drugs, there was no gradual progression (as there would have been in a normal labor). I went from zero to sixty in minutes, and this pain was unbearable.
Initially, when they offered me an epidural, I hesitated. It was so early in the labor process after all. But that hesitation swiftly went away as the painful contractions persisted. After the epidural was administered, a few hours of zero pain followed, as I watched my son’s heartbeat on the monitor, and knew that I was having a contraction only by looking at the screen and seeing the line go up and down. I felt nothing.
A few times in the night, a nurse would bolt in, pronouncing that my baby’s heart rate was too low, suggesting that a c-section might become necessary. Each time — with the IV and other wires confining me from moving out of bed — I would gently shift to lie on my right side, and his heart rate would immediately return to normal.
At one point, an entire team of medical people suddenly surrounded my bed, rousing me from my half-sleep state, yelling about a “concerning heart rate,” and a “necessary c-section.” As this group of strangers hurried to wheel me out of the room, I asked that they first allow me to move to my right side to see if the baby’s heart rate responded. They did. I shifted. His heart rate immediately returned to normal. Somehow, I was able to avoid that knife that they obviously were so damn eager to use.
Next thing I remember my OB arrived at the hospital at around 7 am, checked me and with a big grin on her face, happily proclaimed that I was 9 cm dilated. I was close, and would be pushing within just a couple of hours. Hooray! At this point, the epidural was still working its magic and I don’t remember feeling pain. I do remember that my OB had about 7 other moms to visit in that labor and delivery corridor, many of whom I later learned were also scheduled inductions. How curiously convenient for the doctor that 8 of us were scheduled to deliver that same Tuesday afternoon.
Partly because of the plethora of scheduled inductions, the labor and delivery rooms were all occupied. So, when the time came to push, I was in an operating room – a room with no air conditioning — on that 90+ degree day in late June.
At some point before the pushing began, the drugs that had been pumped by the press of a button into my body via the epidural suddenly stopped working. Either they wore off, or someone who knew that the pushing was imminent purposefully stopped the drugs — with no one ever saying a word about it to me. Once again, it was no pain to horrendous pain — zero to sixty — pain like I had never before felt as I pushed and pushed and tried to get this baby out.
After hours of pushing — where apparently my son’s head kept starting to come out but then would retreat back – my OB looked at me and said “Chana, I have tried to avoid this, but if we don’t cut you open right now, this baby may never come out.” Honestly, if she had said “Chana, if we don’t cut your legs off right now, this baby may never come out,” I would have just as easily said “do it” because that pain was the kind that no one should ever experience and I needed it to stop.
Snip snip into my vagina and boom, minutes later, my baby born was born. After the stressful labor, Ben was born with a maconium, and was swiftly whisked away to a separate part of the room. All this time, I continued to scream in pain, only able to look over at my son when my husband and mother directed me to look at him. This was not the moment I had been waiting for my whole life.
Next came my experience I like to call my “time in Somalia.” Without a local anasthetic, the doctor started to stitch me up. What? No anasthetic? Correct! Genital mutilation in a highly regarded NYC hospital. On top of everything, I developed a fever so that I left that horrible, non-air-conditioned room with a cut up/sewn up vagina, a torn asshole…oh, and a baby.
I was wheeled off to a postpartum room, and was hysterically crying when they placed me in a room with a very loud and obnoxious neighbor. With my fever and after that birth experience, I needed quiet. Thank goodness, my get-it-done/take-no-crap mother made some noise and had me moved to a different room. No privates were available.
Overnight, things got no better. With my mutilated, sore and tired body, I was physically unable to get out of bed on my own to walk to the bathroom. When I paged the overnight nurse to come to assist me, I was either ignored or, when she did come, she would mock me as she held me up, yelling “oh, just stand up already” or “come on, you can stand.” My neighbor in the next bed seemed to have it even harder than me. She also was ignored by the overnight nurses, and began sobbing for help. All I remember is crawling on the floor to her side of the room to help her get out of bed. These are my memories from the first night of motherhood. Not nursing my baby. Not staring at him sleeping next to me in his bassinet. Though I am certain that I did these things, those are not the memories that come to mind. The next night, my mother paid for a private overnight nurse to be in my room to walk me to the bathroom without ridiculing me.
The next 6 weeks that followed were a blur of sleep deprivation, cracked, bleeding nipples and laughing at 3 am with my husband as our baby peed in my face, and I peed my pants. In addition to dealing with all the typical new mom stresses – the hormone surge, the lack of sleep, the painful boobs — I also had to deal with recovering from the birth. I iced and sprayed and sitzed for weeks, in an attempt to make my bottom area heal. I was so cut up down there that I could not take a shit without pain for 6 months after my son was born. Once sex was ok’d by the doctor, and once I was ready, it felt like a knife cutting my insides, and that feeling took many months to subside.
When I finally rose from the postpartum slumber, I started to read and learn about birth and the birthing industry. I learned that I was one statistic of many, and that women throughout the US were having very similar births to mine. I came to suspect that my labor had been induced under false pretenses and that my doctor was most likely motivated more so by her schedule than by my health and well-being. I learned that overnight maternity ward nurses are paid the least of any hospital personnel. I learned that the drug that they had used to induce me (remember, the one that was supposed to bring on those “mild menstrual cramps”) was misoprostol, otherwise known as cytotec, a drug that is now typically banned from being used in inductions because of its connection to “ruptured uteruses, birth defects and deaths of both mothers and babies” and that said drug costs significantly less money than cervadil, the more commonly used induction medication. I learned that while my doctor had told me that episiotomies are “better than tears” because they are “controlled,” that in fact, episiotomies cut through muscle, and tears do not, and are therefore much harder to recover from.
Of course, all of these revelations infuriated me and my husband, and made us come to realize how much we had been duped, and how very little accurate information we were given throughout the entire birth process. We considered a lawsuit, but we knew that in order to find any liability, there had to be damages, and my mutilated anus wouldn’t cut it. No pun intended. Apparently, damages needed to be in the form of a dead baby or dead mother. In other words, they could drug me without informed consent, cause my baby’s heart rate to slow down and then try to push me into an unwarranted c-section, cut through my vaginal wall because they had inhibited me from being able to use my body’s natural abilities to push that baby out. They could rob me of my dignity, mutilate my genitalia, have me crawl on a hospital floor to get to a bathroom…but as long as my baby was alive, they were free from any liability.
Anyway, who had time for a lawsuit. I was a brand new mother who had just returned to work at a big law firm, where I was expected to bill a ton of hours and where I was supposed to prove that I was 100% committed to my job (despite the existence of a 15 pound person waiting for me every day at home). I was a brand new mother who needed to find time to work out and lose the 10 pounds I was still carrying around. I was a brand new mother with a house that needed cleaning, bottles that needed to be washed, laundry and shopping that needed to get done, and a dog who needed walking. I was a brand new mother with very little free time, let alone the time it would have taken to bring a lawsuit!
And so, life went on, and while we continued to be angered and frustrated (we still are), other than a short letter of apology from the hospital (precipitated by my mother’s very angry letter to the hospital), there was never any acknowledgement that any wrong had been done, and I suspect that births just like the one I experienced have taken place time and time again at hospitals all over this country.
The one thing I did know after Ben’s birth was that my next birth would be nothing like the first…
Stay tuned for Part 2 — my next blog post — and please share this post and share your your comments below.
 If you google “cytotec” or “misoprostol” you will find warnings like this one:
CYTOTEC (MISOPROSTOL) ADMINISTRATION TO WOMEN WHO ARE PREGNANT CAN CAUSE ABORTION, PREMATURE BIRTH, OR BIRTH DEFECTS. UTERINE RUPTURE HAS BEEN REPORTED WHEN CYTOTEC (misoprostol) WAS ADMINISTERED IN PREGNANT WOMEN TO INDUCE LABOR OR TO INDUCE ABORTION BEYOND THE EIGHTH WEEK OF PREGNANCY.