On Monday morning I rocked my daughter to sleep for her late morning nap and as I watched her slowly blink her eyes shut I fought back tears. This past Sunday (April 26th, 2020) Macy was 20 weeks old. I scoured through Facebook posts to find a photo of 20 week pregnant me so I could put together the classic side-by-side #20weeksin20weeksout.
What I thought would happen on this day is I would feel so overwhelmed with joy at how far Macy and I have come. I would probably relish in the marvelous baby we have and celebrate all of her milestones she’s hit and then some.
I did do those things, but I was also a little consumed with the trauma from my pregnancy, impossible labour and, ultimately, a violent birth experience.
Honestly, I never did think I was handling this well, but I definitely thought I was handling it better than I am. In fact, it feels just about as gut wrenching now as it did when it was all happening. That’s how I know it’s time to start getting if off my chest, and I also know it will be important to go for the therapy I will need to help work through what happened to me.
I will be grateful to sit in a small office in front of a trauma counsellor as soon as this pandemic is over.
** If you are triggered by traumatic birth stories or discussions about cesarean or negligence then please stop reading here and save your heart. Otherwise, please keep an open mind as I tell you part of my birth story screeching in just at the end of #cesareanawarenessmonth.
Our daughter was born on the exact day we thought, December 8th, 2019. We had originally suspected she would be when we found out our due date was December 2nd! It was just too close to the 8th not to happen, right?
(If you haven’t read my blog about the number 8, give that a read here.)
However, when labour began on November 22nd we certainly no longer thought that was an option. Our daughter would come early! We thought it was probably a better chance she’d be born during the Macy’s Day Parade – and how cool would that be?! But Macy’s day and American Thanksgiving came and went.
Alas, no baby!
Macy’s day, instead, began at 5:34pm on December 8th, 2019. She was not born how we thought or hoped and she also was not born healthy. Either that or likely someone in the OR was also sick or negligent because she would contract pneumonia and become gravely sick.
That story will be saved for another time, though, because today I want to talk about my experience as a C-Section mama. Do I desperately long for the birth I had originally planned for? No, surprisingly. I don’t think it matters how you birth your child, there is no easier, more painless or better recovery route. Do I mourn the birth I did have? Absolutely I do. Those two things can be separate and for me, they are.
On December 8th I had already been in labour for 15 days. Fifteen, yes, you indeed read that correctly. I was exhausted.
I knew on day 12 that Macy would not be born at home. I knew on day 12 that Macy would not be born vaginally. I looked my midwife and the OB in the face and said, “I would like to skip all of this and go straight to having a C-Section please, this is not happening. We are both done.”
A cervix that won’t open can not be forced open. If 15 days of labour wasn’t going to do the trick then all an induction was going to do was hurt my baby. Fundamentally, I KNEW that. How was I forced into an induction after labouring for 15 days? How?
While I believe the medical community at my local hospital acted negligently dozens of times before, during and after Macy’s birth, I have to say this was one of the times I was most let down because of the ripple effect it caused. Macy and I were required to have a “failed induction” before being allowed to go for surgery. My daughter had already been through 15 days straight of labour before it was mandatory to hook us up to Pitocin for hours, smashing Macy up against a cervix that had zero intention of opening and letting her through.
If I was going to have this child naturally, wouldn’t it have happened by now?!
My threshold for pain was at an all-time low and so I requested an epidural before allowing them to administer anything. My body immediately started convulsing – which no one explains will be a side effect of pumping you full of synthetic drugs. Colin and I are both exhausted and somehow after a latte, a broken heart and half a sandwich, we both fell asleep.
Even with the chemical induction ramped as high as they would allow there was no change to my cervix. I slowly came to and overhear “we’ll give her another half an hour and see if the baby’s heart rate settles” to which I finally speak my peace and force their hand. I have, now more than ever, had enough.
“We are not waiting a half an hour, we are done. Book the OR, we are going for a cesarean right now”.
My midwife, the nurse and the OB spin around and all with shock on their faces. Hadn’t I said that was what I wanted hours earlier before all of this?? And now my baby’s resting heart rate is 25bmp faster than usual? Of course it is, she’s in distress and anyone would be after our very challenging and unlikely circumstance.
And here is where, for me, my trauma begins. Fast forward to being prepped in the OR. Colin has to wait outside, which is strange to me since he’s allowed in for the actual surgery itself?
And then suddenly I’m so aware of my surroundings. The room is massive, stark, cold.
Does no one else realize I can see my reflection in the lights above me?
I ask this out loud and I am ignored. I notice I’m completely naked and basically spread eagle on the table and there are men and women walking around me everywhere. Somehow I count 15 people. At least that’s the number I remember thinking.
EXCUSE ME! Why am I naked?! Does nobody see that I can see myself in the reflection of the lights above me?
I ask about a dozen times to have the lights moved. They are moved and then someone moves them back again. I ask multiple times why I am naked since they’re cutting my belly open. Why are my legs spread apart?! No one answers me. No one.
Suddenly I watch the OB step up onto something and I hear her say to me, “you’re going to feel a lot of pressure” and before I can tell her to move the lights a very long surgical tong comes into focus and at the top is what looks like a sponge soaked in iodine. I gasp as I feel AND WATCH her shove this tong up inside of me and I am so shocked and so disgusted I can’t speak. My mouth is open and no sound is coming out. I can only watch in horror. After violently jamming this tong around my vaginal cavity she removes it – I can see absolutely everything – grabs a new sponge and repeats the same violent act all over again. I can’t move. I can’t breathe. I have no fucking idea what the fuck is going on. Why are they cleaning my vagina? Why is she violating me? How can a woman treat another woman this way? Why can’t anyone hear me fucking screaming?!
Who would remember their daughter being born after that?
Who would ever be able to recover from being violated in this way by another woman?
Why couldn’t I scream?!
The rest is a blur. Colin is suddenly beside me, Macy is suddenly born, my body heaves as I gasp for air knowing this was the moment my baby was pulled from my body. Colin recalls this happening and admits to me a few days later in the NICU he thought I was dying right in front of his eyes in that moment.
I remember Macy didn’t cry. The doctors and nurses all were commenting on how alert she was and someone said they’d never seen a more alert baby before. She explained that Macy was just looking around from face to face. Then silence. I shooed Colin away and told him to go be with our daughter but he didn’t want to leave me. I told him I was fine and being looked after but our daughter needed her parent.
I asked to know what time she was born.
I kept repeating to myself, 1734 1734 1734 1734.
And then we were in recovery. It’s basically a hallway right outside of the operating doors. I can feel my incision and I’m in a shocking amount of pain. And do I want to do skin to skin with my baby? No I do not. Who is asking me this?
I tell the person closest to me that I can feel my incision and the pain is only getting worse and I can’t handle it. Why are they asking me to hold my daughter?
I ask Colin if he can. He takes his shirt off, he sits down next to me in a chair. Macy is placed in his arms and I am so thankful. I don’t want anyone else to touch my baby anymore.
I am given pain meds and they don’t work. A nurse tests my body with an ice cube and she seems shocked to find that I can feel the coolness of the ice cube everywhere she touches. They give me even more medication but I can feel everywhere that I have been sliced open and now I am panicking. I lose count of how many times they give me a new medication to try and ease the pain and then suddenly I am being told that they’re going to flip me on my side to remove all of the tape on my back from the epidural.
Have I not just 20 minutes ago been completed gutted like a fish?!
And they do, two nurses flip me on my side as I scream out in shock before the tape is pulled from my back. The next thing I remember is being back in my regular hospital room expected to move to my own bed myself.
Do I not get assistance with nurses and a gurney?! Am I dreaming?
A nurse I have never seen before says she’ll move my legs for me if I move the rest of my body over and before I realize what is happening I hiss at her. “I’ll move myself, do NOT touch me. Do. Not. Touch. Me. My sensory system can not handle anymore.”
And I do. I do it by myself. I am half an hour out of the most extensive surgery of my life and I moved from one bed to another, not with a gurney as I had expected would be done, but by myself.
I don’t feel proud in that moment, but my husband does. He stands at the foot of the bed and later tells me he is in such awe of how capable I was, the strength I mustered after such a huge surgery.
What I felt confused that I wasn’t transferred the same way I had been going into surgery. And then my memory goes blank. Right after that moment. I only remember a moment around a photograph, otherwise nothing. The rest of the night and the whole next day is a blur. I don’t remember anything definitively until much later into the night after Macy was born.
Six days postpartum my incredible midwife met us in the NICU like she had every single day before. This would be different because she was here to remove the staples from my cesarean.
I laid down on the cot in Macy’s NICU room and we began. It didn’t hurt but all of a sudden I could feel all of the trauma boiling up to the surface and I asked her to stop just before bursting into tears. I looked at Colin and asked him to leave the room, which shocked even me. He was already traumatized from his own experience after watching my epidural be administered to waiting alone outside of the operating room, walking into the OR to see his wife strapped down and convulsing off the table to finally thinking he was watching me take my last breath.
I knew it was too much in that moment for him to hear about the trauma he’d missed.
It took me a few minutes to catch my breath and compose myself enough to stop from crying and in those moments my midwife climbed onto the cot beside me, held my hand and my arm and spoke so softly to me.
When I finally calmed I told her I needed to ask her some serious questions and I needed her to be completely honest with me so I would know I hadn’t made up these horrible stories in my mind. She straightened and agreed, never letting go of her grip of me. I asked her if the OB’s cleaning of my vagina was violent. She closed her eyes for a moment, opened them and then shook her head yes. I then asked her if this happened a second time like I had remembered. She shook her head yes.
Removing the staples from my low belly was so triggering. It felt like a volcano erupted from deep within me. I just couldn’t stop it from overflowing. Having this validation from a woman I felt and so safe with was the first step in being able to understand what I was really going through. When you’re experiencing so many traumas at once you almost don’t believe yourself. Living in a NICU for five days was enough to traumatize anyone – going into that situation already fragile, confused and scared quickly spun me into survival mode. I couldn’t make sense of anything anymore.
She also validated for me that I had asked for the lights to be moved at least ten times.
Why had all of this happened?
When was it going to boil over and be too much?
Even if we consider the reasons for everyone’s sub par behavior that day – no one in the world deserves to be treated the way I had been. The OB who performed my surgery was in emergency surgeries all the night before. She slept a few hours. She was hours late to my induction. And ultimately, my surgery was now very late in the day after a long night.
If this is your job then please listen to me when I say that this is a time when women give their entire body over to you in trust that you are doing your damndest to help protect her and keep her safe… and when you’re not, when you violate that trust – and worse, abuse that trust, you create damage that is not only against the oath you took as a doctor but against what it means to protect a FELLOW woman in the most sacred time of her life.
Birth stories are meant to be so beautiful sprinkled with trauma, for sure. Even the most beautiful births can be traumatic and I get that, too. I respect that and I also respect every woman who has birthed a child before and after me, no matter how their baby entered this world. You are a warrior to me, mothers.
When I think back to my story it’s really challenging to find the beauty in how Macy’s birth unfolded. There were beautiful moments in the 15 days leading up to her birth, that’s true. Colin and my midwife, Jael, were so strong, courageous and gentle. They knew exactly what to say, when to be with me and when to leave me be. I felt loved, safe, comforted, supported.
And once we had exhausted all else, when my body had failed to dilate after such a terribly long and valiant labour, the hospital staff, the nurses and the OB all let me down. I was made fun of – caught by my midwife – and I was physically abused.
And what if those lights hadn’t shown me the truth? Would I have known? My body would have experienced trauma and I wouldn’t have understood why. I struggle still, nearly five months postpartum to understand the motive for being so violent towards a helpless woman on your operating table about to birth a baby?
You’ve forgotten about those times already because that bad day or their shitty mood was just that – a selfish moment and a selfish decision.
But for a labouring woman, birthing her child, there is not one single moment of that time that she will ever forget.
It was the day my child was born. It was something I thought about and planned for my entire pregnancy. It was supposed to be sacred, safe and supported.
Today I am the mama to the most precious, hilarious, outspoken and brave little girl. Am I grateful? Oh yes! And as time passes I’ll be able to separate what led to Macy’s birth and feel nothing but joy in her day, but I will not ever forget.
If you are responsible for the support of a WOMAN while she is labouring or birthing her child, check yourself. It is your privilege to help deliver my child and it is MY right to be safe and protected.