Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Birth Stories Part 1 - Gus 2008

People often ask me about why in the world I wanted a natural birth for my second and third children. I can't count the number of "ick" looks I have received at mentioning that I will not be getting an epidural. This is the story of my first birth. This is why I am so passionate about mother's rights and full disclosure of information during pregnancy and childbirth. This is why I recommend natural birth to any woman who asks my opinion.

Preparation for birth
During the pregnancy of my first child, most of my knowledge about childbirth came from the TLC TV show, A Birth Story and the book, What to Expect When You're Expecting. I also heard numerous birth stories from friends and family, all typical hospital births. These sources taught me the normalcy of birth as it is in our culture. I had an understanding that you spend labor lying in bed watching TV and an ob/gyn and nursing staff take care of you and your baby.

But the crazy hippie lady inside of me thought that a home birth or birth center sounded more up my alley. But "what if something goes wrong?" nagged at me, I mean after reading What to Expect When You're Expecting, I was pretty certain something was going to go wrong. Plus I knew of no local birth centers or home birth midwives. I ended up deciding on a ob/gyn picked at random when I called to set up my first prenatal appointment. I still remember that first phone call and the lady at the appointment desk scolding me for not calling sooner. "We really prefer to see patients before X number of weeks, this could be tricky to schedule your appointments now." I remember thinking, what possible difference could it make when I start my prenatal appointments? It's not like I waited until the last month to call and I had already had an initial appointment with my nurse practitioner and was in great health. Little did I know what I was getting myself into, a series of regimented prenatal visits, tests and screenings all on a well managed preset schedule.

At my first visit, I told my ob that I wanted a natural birth, no induction, no drugs. She said that was fine and suggested I hire a doula, of course she didn't have any resources for me to find one and because I had never heard of such a thing and didn't know of anyone who used one, I never pursued it. I trusted that my doc was fine with a natural birth and therefore would support me in one. Why else would she say it?

All of my prenatal visits were at the hospital. Some appointments I waited for over an hour to see my doctor. Towards the end I started to feel uneasy about always coming to the hospital, when I was in such great health. In the elevator that I used at every visit, there was a directory to help people find where they are going, Floor one, lobby, gift shop, lab, Floor two, oncology, Floor three, ob/gyn and labor and delivery. That word always got to me, oncology. I would stare at it over and over. Cancer. This is a place where people with cancer come, people who are sick, very sick. People who need medicine to make them better. I started to think, Why the hell am I here?

The Birth
When I came in for an appointment on my due date, she pushed for an induction, implying that if I didn't I would be putting my baby in danger. She seemed annoyed that I said, "but I didn't want an induction" and told me "that is fine, but you will need to come in every other day for ultrasounds to make sure baby is doing okay." (I found out later that actually you are not even supposed to be considered overdue until 42 weeks and that the gestation for first time moms tends to go past due, typically 41 weeks or longer) 

So I scheduled an induction 5 days past my due date even though I showed no signs of impeding labor. Apparently when you schedule and induction, you need to be at the hospital at the crack of dawn. I was not a fan of this, I asked, "Can't I come in around 8 or something? I'm not much of a morning person." No, you don't get to choose when you come in. I realized that the reason for this is, your doctor gets to come in after 8 and you need to be "ready to go" when she gets there. Great, thanks.

Because we had to be there so early and I am late for just about everything, I did not have time to eat breakfast before going to the hospital. No big deal, I thought, I will just get something once I'm there. I mean, I know they say no food or drink during labor, but they can't mean, like at the beginning, right? No food or drink period is what they mean. I went in around 5am and did not eat until after the birth at 8:55pm. At which time the cafeteria was closed and I was only offered a small pre-made sandwich. Oh wait, they did let me have a small jello cup. Yeah that should hold me over for 15 hours.

The doctor inserted a pill in my vagina to induce labor. (Later, I came across something about Cytotec and how dangerous it is. I dug through my discharge papers from the hospital (I'm a total pack rat) and there it was, a consent form that I had signed for being induced with Cytotec. No where on that form did it say anything about it being a drug to treat ulcers and that it is not FDA approved for use on pregnant women or that many women have died from uterine ruptures or amniotic fluid embolism after Cytotec inductions)

The pain involved with the (induced) contractions was horrible. With natural labor the pain starts out manageable and gets progressively worse, much easier to handle. The nurses and my doc quickly jumped in to "help." 

"Why don't you get the epidural?" 

And so I did and there I lay, strapped to the bed by fetal heart monitors and a catheter. I was comfortable and numb and watching TV. When things progressed I had no idea what was going on inside my body. I was pushing but couldn't feel anything. My doctor and the nurses treated me like a they were mechanics and I was a car up on lift. I felt like an infant rather than a new mother about to have an infant. 

At one point towards the end of labor, I had to vomit. I asked the nurse to please bring me the garbage can because I had to puke. She came over with one of those kidney shaped hospital containers about the size of a small serving bowl. I had had a lot of morning sickness and was pretty used to a lot of vomit by now. "It's going to be a lot of puke! You need to bring me a bucket or something bigger than that!"

"Just use this" the nurse said. I pleaded with her again because I knew what was going to happen and I couldn't get up from the bed to puke on my own terms. "Just use this, it'll be fine" the nurse said. So up the upchuck came and it was not fine! It went everywhere, splashed my pillow, my hospital gown and got in my hair. All because the nurse apparently couldn't break hospital protocol and let me puke in a non approved puke container. It was so degrading.

The baby wasn't coming out easily (which looking back it's like duh, I had no idea when to push!) and my doc said she was going to use the vacuum. Shortly after getting out the vacuum, she looks over her shoulder and says to someone (there were like a million strangers in the room at this point) "prep the OR." Those three little words will probably stick with me for the rest of my life.

Then she looks at me and says "If baby doesn't come out with the next push we will do an emergency c-section." I was terrified! All I could think was, how did it get to this point, how had things gone so terribly wrong? 

I think there were like 2 more pushes and then he was out, Thank God! I saw a flash of a very chubby baby with a full head of dark hair as he was handed off and immediately taken away to the warming table, while the doc remained at my bottom. I asked her if I tore at all. She said no, I did an episiotomy. I remember thinking, uhh I did not want one of those, gee thanks. Not once do I remember her asking me about any of these things. She told me what was going to happen. I feel that she figured she knew best and it didn't really matter what I thought or felt.

When my baby boy was finally placed in my arms, he was tightly swaddled in 2 layers of blankets and wearing a hat. All I could see was his tiny, beautiful face. Every fiber of my being wanted to unbundle him and examine his entire body, those tiny toes, knees, elbows and fingers that had poked me from the inside all this while. But I held back, I remember thinking, "They" probably don't want me to unbundle him in case he gets cold. So I examined that little face, those eyes full of so much wonder. He looked at me like he was thinking, "What the hell just happened?"

I didn't feel any labor pain, but I couldn't sit without wincing for a couple of weeks. I didn't feel any labor pain, but I didn't regain any feeling in my legs again for several hours after birth. I got sore and winded just walking around the house. The recovery was awful and it was more than just psychical pain. I couldn't shake how close I came to having an emergency c-section. I had a nagging feeling that I was manipulated and if I would have had an emergency c-section, would it have been necessary? Was my induction necessary? 

I was healthy, my baby was healthy. That is the outcome we all hope for in childbirth, right? In the weeks that past, I was able to establish breastfeeding easily, had no postpartum complications and fell head over heels in love with my little man. Yet what I experienced was traumatic. At the time though, I couldn't express that trauma because I had a good outcome and I had never heard of someone complaining about a birth where the mom and baby are safe. I have heard of complaints about babies who need NICU stays or mom's who get hurt or worse, mothers and children who die. We had survived, how could I have a complaint?

In the middle of the night when I would get up to feed the baby, I would flip through the channels and watched a lot of Saved by the Bell and Judge Judy, which was amusing. But then I found on Discovery Health Channel a show called House of Babies. It took place in a birth center in Miami. It was very, very different from A Baby Story and very different from the birth that I had just experienced. I watched woman after woman walk around outside, lean on their partners for support and give birth standing up, in tubs, or birth pools. I felt totally cheated. 

Shortly after the birth, the bills started arriving. I had insurance through my husband's employer and at the time didn't really look twice at the bills, thinking, I guess insurance didn't go through yet. Then I got a phone call from the hospital, no, insurance already had gone through and I owed the balance, close to $10,000! How is this possible I asked! Well, apparently at the first of the year, my husband's employer switched insurance companies and the hospital I delivered at in February was "out of network." I was devastated. How is it that no one told me about this? I mean, yes I realize that it is my responsibility to verify this information, but I had looked up what hospitals and doctors were in network at the beginning of my pregnancy, I didn't think about rechecking at the end of it. Even when I gave the receptionist my new insurance card, she never batted an eye, much less told me you know we're not in your network anymore.

So now I was stuck with a $10,000 bill for a birth that left me feeling manipulated, degraded and cheated emotionally and financially. I was able to work out a lower fee by paying a lump sum up front, but the anesthesiologist had a separate bill that I worked out a monthly payment plan with. Every month for an entire year, I had to write a check to my anesthesiologist for administering an epidural that I had never wanted. It was salt in my open wound.

At my six week appointment, I thought about asking my doctor what the hell happened at my birth, why did things go so awry from the natural birth I had been seeking. I chickened out. I didn't know what questions to ask or how explain how disappointed I felt. On my way out, they asked if I wanted to schedule my next yearly visit.


"Okay, you probably need to check your calendar, just give us a call."

Walking back to my car, I thought to myself, I will never be coming back to this doctor as long as I live. There has got to be a better way.



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Thank you for sharing!

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