I'm a Military Blogger


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Overcoming Birth Trauma

I know I haven't blogged in a while (a VERY long while). I almost feel like my blog died when DH came home from Afghanistan.

Last I wrote, I was 12 weeks pregnant and bemoaning the homebirth that would never be. By now, I have a 4 week old daughter. This is the story of her birth. I'm writing it because I have to. I have to get the entire thing out in the open so I can begin to cope with what was, basically, the single most traumatizing experience of my life.

This is not going to be an uplifting or happy post. If you're sensitive to swearing or graphic details, then this is not the post for you.

May 2, 2012 began like any other day. I sat my 36-week pregnant self down at the kitchen table around midnight and wrote out a list of everything that needed to be done before I went into labor. I was experiencing a weird sense of urgency, determined not to be one of those women who "weren't ready" for their labor. No, I was going to be ready. The house would be clean, meals cooked in advance. I was planning on spending the last 4-6 weeks of my pregnancy relaxing and doing nothing.

Feeling the draw of tiredness, I decided that before going to bed I would get at least one thing done on my list: cleaning the bathroom. On my hands and knees I scrubbed the bathtub, the floor, cleaned the toilet, emptied the trash, and wiped all the mirrors. I dropped a few drops of peppermint essential oil into the sink, which wafted through the house. Everything was lovely. I gave myself a perineal massage ("to prevent tearing" my friend told me). Then I curled up on the couch and lulled myself to sleep to the tune of Alton Brown narratoing "Iron Chef America". The theme food was pineapple, and I remember thinking that a pineapple sounded nice.

At 5:00 AM I awoke suddenly the the dreadful feeling of myself....peeing my pants? Seriously? 36 weeks pregnant and I've already lost all bladder control! I jumped off the couch, throwing out a swear word into the air because now I was going to have to clean the couch again. I skipped off to the bathroom, where DH had just jumped into the shower to get ready for work. I stripped my underwear off and sat on the toilet.

That was when I caught a glimpse of my undies. They were tinged pink. Did I pee blood? I picked them up and smelled them. Definitely NOT urine. Oh shit oh shit oh shit. I didn't have any pads, so I rolled up a wad of toilet paper and shoved it in the crotch of some clean underwear. I wasn't contracting, so I got on my phone and called my mom, who told me to call the hospital where I was supposed to deliver and ask them when to come in. *cue first contraction*.

The first contraction wasn't so bad. It felt more like gas pain. I got on the phone with the maternity ward at the hospital and explained the situation to them. We lived about an hour from the hospital, so figuring out how soon to come in was something that had been bothering me for a few weeks. The nurse put me on hold for a minute and as I listened to the hold music I buzzed around the house throwing clothes haphazardly into an open suitcase, left over from when I went home for my baby shower 2 weeks prior.

I had a few more contractions, slightly more painful than the other ones. And they seemed suspiciously close together, but surely that was just coincidence. I had only just starting contracting, and women simply didn't deliver babies that fast. The nurse came back onto the line then.

"We don't want you to come here," she said. "We need you to go to the nearest hospital. That would be Tri-city in Vista."

"Tri-city in Vista? But that's just as far away as you guys are! Why do I have to go there?!" I was angry. What do you mean don't come to your hospital?

That's when she uttered the few words that would set the tone for the whole rest of the labor and delivery.

"We aren't equipped for premature infants."

I hung up the phone. Premature? I was 36 weeks. Babies were born at 36 weeks all the time. As DH loaded my hastily thrown together hospital bag into the van I stood over the couch and scrubbed my own amniotic fluid off the couch cushions. There was no way in hell I was going to deliver a baby with a dirty couch lingering in the back of my mind. I'd stop every few minutes and brace myself up against the wall to ride out a contraction. I knew I was supposed to be timing them, but frankly I didn't know how. I relied simply on my own guestimating skills (which I have since learned are TERRIBLE).

At 5:45 I climbed into the van and we began the drive to the unfamiliar Tri-city hospital. I called my doula. No answer. I texted her that I was in labor. Then I remembere she had delivered her first child at a hospital only 20 minutes from us. She said it was a wonderful experience. Lets go there!

I directed DH onto the freeway. We got off at the exit that said "hospital". By now my contractions were closer and closer together. I knew they were way closer than the recommended 4 minutes, but I still didn't think anything of it. Women simply didn't deliver babies that fast. I would be in labor for several hours, I knew it. I even had the forethought to throw in a copy of my birth plan, just in case the L&D nurses were mean.

When we arrived at the hospital my heart sank. This was....not a hospital. It was a free-standing emergency clinic. By then, contractions had taken over and I really didn't even care where we were. I waddled into the waiting room and the receptionist took one look at me and I was whisked into a triage room. The room was tiny and there wasn't a door, only a canvas curtain. They laid me down on a hospital gurny. By now my contractions were right on top of each other.

"Tell me when your next contraction starts," a nurse told me.

"Ok, it's starting."

"Now tell me when it ends."

The contraction never actually ended.

Another nurse came over to start an IV. I objected to the IV. It wasn't in my birth plan and frankly, I hate needles.

"Do I have to have an IV?" I asked.

The nurse smirked at me. "Yup."

As I turned my head away and contorted my body with the pain she put in a central IV line. Once that central line was in, I had no control anymore. People came and went, hung up various different bags of liquids. No one told me what they were pumping into me. I think someone drew blood, but I don't know.

Another nurse came over and took my underwear off for me. Someone had their hand inside me, checking my dilation. Someone else had their hand inside me, double checking me. A blizzard of nurses swarmed in and out, and around the hall outside. The privacy curtain was flying left and right. Open, closed, open, closed, as people bustled in and out of my triage room. I heard the words "NICU" and "premature" thrown around out in the hallway. Someone shouted at someone to get the obstetrician on the phone. Another person called for an ambulance transport.

Someones hands were in my vagina again. The bag of fluids was being changed out. Oxygen tubes were shoved up my nose. They talked to each other, over me, around me, to DH. No one spoke TO me. No one said "this is what is going on. This is what's in your IV. Here is some oxygen, now let me check to see how dilated you are." For all anyone cared, I may as well have been unconscious.

People threw paperwork at DH to sign, authorizing permission for various things (because, obviously, I was unconscious and couldn't sign, right?) He would tell me later that as the baby was crowning, he was being practically force-fed paperwork.

Finally, the room cleared. I sat there on the gurny, tears in my eyes, clenching DH's hand. I tried to rip the oxygen tubes from out of my nostrils. Pure oxygen has a way of drifting into the back of your throat so you can taste it. It tastes like rust. Unable to get the plastic tubing untangled from my face, I just let it hang around my neck.

The head nurse came back in. There was a man standing behind her wearing a paramedics shirt and hat. He was smiling as he wheeled a transport gurny right up beside me. I rolled over on my side and the contraction stopped. For the first time since we arrived, I wasn't in any pain. I tried to embrace the feeling, knowing that in a few minutes another contraction would start. At that point I still honestly believed that I would be in labor for several more hours. I tried to psyche myself up, prepare myself to endure more pain, talk myself out of getting the epidural that I suddenly found myself desiring.

The head nurse approached.

"We're going to transport you to Saddleback hospital. Your only job is to keep your legs closed, and whatever happens, don't push."


Someone drove a mack truck into me. Not really, but that's what it felt like. Without any notice at all, all the air left my lungs. Pain ripped through the my nether regions and my body started writhing on the bed. I gasped, trying to breathe. I gasped again and again. A nurse rolled me over on my back. I had no control over my body anymore. I bucked on the gurny, screaming and sobbing. My back arched itself. My body was pushing something out on it's own, with absolutely no assistance from me at all. I couldn't stop it or control it. My body bucked and arched repeatedly. I was clutching DH's hand and sobbing in agony.

Someone grabbed my legs and dragged me down to the edge of the bed. People ran in and out. DH walked out into the hall and a nurse took his place, holding my hand.

Someone told me to push, so I did. Or at least, I tried to. I don't think I was actually doing anything of consequence, as my body at that point had taken over with almost perfect efficiency. I felt something come out so I stopped pushing. The room went really quiet.

"Keep pushing?" I asked.

Someone said yes, so I pushed once more. I felt her little body fall out of me. All the pain and agony was gone.

I was no longer pregnant. It was 6:18 AM. I was pregnant a minute ago, now I wasn't. There was a baby crying. It was mine. Where was she?

Right after I delivered, I knew the baby was healthy and fine. Don't ask me how I knew that, I just did. I tried to reach down, to sit up to see her. I could hear her crying. The head nurse who delivered her picked her up, clamped and cut the cord, wrapped her in a blanket, and they carried her over to the corner of the room and placed her under heat lamps. I tried to sit up to see, but there was a crowd of nurses. The crying stopped.

I could hear them performing the APGAR. They weighed and measured her. They performed another APGAR. They tested her blood sugar. DH came back into the room. He went over to the corner and looked at her.

I sat there on the gurny. I could feel blood and fluid leaking out of me. Every once in a while I'd get a gush and it would shoot up my back. My shirt was soaked, the bed was soaked. No one paid me any attention anymore. At one point a nurse switched out my IV fluids for pitocin (the first time someone actually TOLD me what they were doing) to get my uterus contracting again.

Finally one of the nurses turned around.

"Oh, would you like to see her?" She turned to DH. "Why don't you take a picture."

Take a picture? That's my fucking child and you want me to just look at a picture? Why is she not on my chest? Why is she over there? Why is she not at my breast as we practice nursing? What in the everloving fuck is going on!

I didn't say any of that, though. Instead I turned over and faced the wall, as an empty feeling crept over me. I tried to rationalize it to myself. She's my child, so I'll have plenty of time later to see her. Whatever they're doing must be necessary. It must be because I can't cope with the fact that she was separated UNnecessarily. Therefore, it must be necessary. But I knew it wasn't. You can't deceive your own maternal instincts and I knew from the get-go that all the tests they were running on her were not only frivolous, but potentially detrimental.

DH showed me the picture. She was beautiful. Perfect. But she wasn't mine. If she was mine, she'd be in my arms. In fact, if she was mine, she would still be inside be. I was 36 weeks pregnant. I wasn't supposed to give birth for another 4 weeks, maybe even longer. I was supposed to have a doula-assisted, natural birth at the hospital where my OB worked. I was not supposed to have a 1-hour labor at 36 weeks and birth by myself in an ER triage room.

A lot of women say they would kill for a 1-hour labor. It must be SOOO easy compared to 4, 7, or even 12+ hour labors. But I know better. I know now that there is a reason that the female body labors for prolonged periods of time. It's because your mind has to catch up to your body. You need time to process what is happening to you, that you're about to become a mother. Not to mention you need time (yes, even several hours worth of time) to experience childbirth. Birth is one of the few experiences that imprints itself quite heavily on a woman. It's a heavy emotional and physical experience, and I can't comprehend why a woman would want to give up having that experience just to get it over with quickly.

Perhaps I would feel differently if I was in labor for 12 hours. But I wasn't. I was in labor for 1 hour. And it was 1 hour of intense and gripping agony, contractions stacked on top of each other, my body basically taking over. I can only describe the experience as being similar to what it might feel like to be possessed, with your body doing something that your mind can't comprehend. And women who give birth that quickly have a higher chance of hemmorhaging and being ripped from crotch to bum.

I only vaguely remember what happened after the birth. The empty feeling that was creeping up on me when they took her way had completely taken over. I remember holding her for a few minutes as a nurse tried to show me how to breastfeed. But I was doing it wrong. My boobs were too big, I was suffocating her. The obstetrician arrived.

They told me to put the baby down so I could deliver the placenta. They told me I couldn't hold her yet because I needed to be stitched up. I handed her back to DH.

Then a nurse came up to me.

"Her blood sugar dropped. We have to give her formula."

I said no. She didn't need formula. She needed to nurse and be close to me. Studies ALWAYS show that babies who are kept with their moms and allowed to practice breastfeeding have higher blood sugar levels.

"We have to. Her blood sugar is down to 43."

I said no. The nurse persisted. I said fine. Then I said no. I cried. I told DH not to let them give her formula.

"If you don't give her formula, her blood sugar could go lower and she will have seizures. Do you want your child to have a seizure?"

I said fine and withdrew back into myself. I didn't find out until later that newborn blood sugar can be as low as 30 and still be considered normal. In fact, it's NORMAL for their blood sugar to drop within the first hour of birth. But I didn't know that at the time. Overall they tested her blood sugar 7 times in the first 2 hours and then several more times over the next 3 days. When we left the hospital she had 15 heelpricks.

People then crowded around my bed and began pushing on my abdomen, trying to get my uterus to begin contracting. The OB took her first look at what had once been my vagina. It was a mess. They doused me in water and iodine, trying to clean the area. She dug around with her hands while some nurses pushed on my abdomen some more. It was almost as painful as the birth had been. It took her almost 45 minutes to clean and stitch me.

By that point, the NICU transport team had arrived to take the baby to the hospital. I asked if I could be transported with her. They said no. DH went instead. I waited another 20 minutes before my own transport team loaded me into the ambulance and took me to the actual hospital. The driver was very nice, even put on the lights and sirens so that we could get there faster and I could see my baby.

I sat in the back of the ambulance, still wearing my fluid-soaked t-shirt and sitting on a bed of towels soaked in my own blood.

"Are you ok?" the female paramedic asked me.

I nodded.

"Just in shock?"

I nodded again. The rest of the 20 minute ride was spent in silence as I just stared out the window in the back of the ambulance.

When I arrived at the hospital they wheeled me into a post partum room. I was surprised to see DH sitting in a chair. If he was here...where was the baby?

Where in the name of Christ was my child and why was he not with her? People buzzed in and out of the room, dropping off paperwork, picking up other paperwork. I asked when I would get to see my baby.


15 minutes later I asked again.

Soon. They're almost done with her.


15 minutes later I asked DH where she was and why they wouldn't bring her to me. He went out into the hallway and a few minutes later a nurse came in.

"Your husband said you were crying. We're bringing her in now."

Jesus fucking Christ, is that seriously what it takes to get your own damn child brought to you? Shitballs. Like you couldn't have brought her in the first 3 times I asked?

It took me several weeks to even process her birth. I asked DH over and over again to tell me what was in my IV, what they did to her in the nursery, how my own labor progressed. I went over the details repeatedly. For a while, I was just empty. Then I just got angry. Angry at SOOO many people.

I'm angry at the ER staff for treating me like an unconscious emergency victim. For forcing things on me that I didn't want, like IV's.

I'm angry at the head nurse for traumatizing me into letting them force feed my baby formula, when it was COMPLETELY unnecessary. I had a lot of issues breastfeeding and who knows if the formula was a factor in that.

I'm angry at my OB (who was not even there, or involved at all) for not having me come into his office sooner. Maybe he would have noticed something?

I'm angry at the nurse I spoke to on the phone who told me to go to a different hospital. Sure, there's a chance that I would have been giving birth in the car on the way, but at least MY OB would have been on the other end.

I'm angry at my husband for not being in the room when she was born. I'm angry at him for not staying with her in the nursery. I'm angry at him for all the beer drinking and video game playing and overall uselessness he's exibited in the weeks since.

I'm angry at myself for not leaving the house sooner. For not going to my hospital. For not trusting my instincts and demanding they place her with me. For not standing up for myself and my child when the nurse tried to bully me. I'm angry at myself for whatever I did to have a preterm labor. I'm also pretty sure I lost my mucus plug, but I didn't call my doctor. The whole thing could have been prevented had I paid closer attention and trusted my own instincts.

I'm aware that, compared to other women's stories, mine is nothing. In fact, some women ASK for those exact same procedures I tried to decline. And maybe there are some women who would love to have speedy labors, and have their babies all cleaned and checked over before being brought in. Not me.

I will never have those first moments back. They were stolen from me. I will never be able to see my gooey, just-born baby, only seconds old. I will never know what it's like to experience that immediate rush of love when your baby is placed on your chest. I listen to other women's birth stories, how they describe how they felt in the moments afterwards. I hate them for it. I hate complete and total strangers for what they got that I had stolen from me.

For a while I even hated my pregnant friends for still being pregnant. Contrary to how others felt, I LOVED being pregnant. I felt good, I was not uncomfortable either. Many women reach a point where they're just done being pregnant. I never got far enough to reach that point. Maybe I would have reached that point, had I been allowed to carry to term. But at 36 weeks I was feeling pretty good, and was looking forward to 4 more weeks of pregnancy. So in a way, I had my pregnancy stolen from me as well.


Gaile said...

So glad you posted this! I hope this begins the healing process for you - and maybe it will reach other women who need to come to terms with their traumatic birth experiences.

Amanda Cervantes said...

Laura I <3 you. I hope you can come to terms with this experience and get past it somehow. Healing is long and hard. I hope you find your solace. If it makes you feel any better, fb hospital denied me the right to see my baby and would only give her to my just because I went for a 5 minute walk (not even 5 minutes) with dr b and the nurses permission. I freaked the hell out too and I guess in that sense, I could see where it would ask be so messed up for you especially not being able to see or hold her after birth. That would definitely suck =( I'm still very happy you both are medically ok, I will wish the best for the mentally and emotionally part. It might take some time and acceptance for things you can never get back. =(

Sabrina Craig said...

I feel you, Laura. It’s hard not to get angry with everyone when you were about to go to labor too soon, and have no one around to help you. But since it was an unexpected event, I think the hospital you called just sent an ambulance to help you with the transfer. But they should have had provisions or personnel in that ambulance to handle immediate response, had it escalated on the way to the hospital.

Sabrina Craig @ Medical Attorney