I have gone back and forth over whether to share my experience of the birth of my son. While I don’t want to be one of those moms – always oversharing every little detail of their births – I really appreciated being able to read other women’s honest and unadulterated birth stories while I was mentally preparing to write my own; and if putting this in writing can give just one mom some peace of mind, it’ll be well worth it.
Many of the decisions I made regarding the care of my son and myself were influenced by the quality of care I received when I had an ectopic pregnancy the year prior to my first live birth. I have a longer post on that specifically which you can read here but for this purpose a quick summary will suffice: when I became pregnant with our first child in February of 2019, within just a few weeks I felt like something was wrong – with what exactly I wasn’t sure, so I called the provider that I had chosen for this pregnancy to talk about my symptoms. I had been severely bloated, having cramps and some spotting, and just had a general feeling of being off. After being brushed off by that office and as well as another provider, I finally found an OB that would see me, although after my first appointment they too effectively turned me away, saying I was being overly sensitive because it was my first pregnancy. Two days later, just shy of seven weeks pregnant, I was rushed in for emergency surgery, suffering the loss of my unborn child and the entirety of my right fallopian tube.
While I understand that it was impossible to save the baby, the tube might have been salvageable had someone caught my condition earlier. By the time I was admitted for surgery it had burst in two places and there was almost 200ml (8oz) of blood pooling in my abdomen. I was told I got there just in time because I could have hemorrhaged at any point once that degree of internal damage occurred. That’s why ectopic pregnancies can be fatal: the reproductive organs are very hard to stop bleeding after they start.
Given the serious nature of my condition the surgery went very well. After a quick recovery we were cleared to try again for a second pregnancy on the condition that I contact my OB immediately after I find out I’m pregnant again because of two reasons: women who have an ectopic pregnancy are 30% more likely to have another one, and the earlier you catch them, the better your odds are of terminating the pregnancy chemically and preserving your remaining reproductive organs. However, when I did fall pregnant a few months later, they refused to schedule me for an appointment prior to the typical 8 week checkup. Based on my health history and the recommendation of this very same OB I was trying to see, time was of the essence to do preliminary testing to rule out or confirm another tubal pregnancy. I was nearly in tears after speaking with the receptionist when she told me the doctor wouldn’t be seeing me until I was at least 8 weeks along.
Feeling betrayed by the hospital system and wary of seeking out another OB, I started researching midwives in private practice in search of a more holistic, personalized approach to prenatal care and birth. Upon calling the midwife I had settled on and giving a brief explanation of my health history they asked me, without prompting, to come in for preliminary testing to rule out another tubal pregnancy. This was the beginning of the quality prenatal care I received that I genuinely felt was a step above anything I had heard of or read about.
I very much enjoyed the “happy medium” of my midwife: I had a personalized, family-oriented type of care but had all the modern conveniences of routine testing and procedures available to me; they were very welcoming and patient with my husband, who attended more appointments (and had way more questions) than is typical for a spouse and first-time father; and I loved the homey feel of the birthing center, complete with birthing tub and located just a five minute drive from the hospital should any complications arise. I really felt like I had found where I was meant to be for my birth.
As we swiftly approached our due date questions about the birth became more and more frequent. We discussed my family history of very swift and uncomplicated births, and I was stopped in my tracks by the elder midwife who counseled me not to be so expectant of an easy labor, especially being my first time. This set the tone for what was the most frightening experience of my entire life and one that will forever be one of my biggest regrets.
When I did start early labor, it was late on Friday night and my contractions were intermittent; they were hard enough not to sleep through, so throughout the second day I was going on about 3 hours of sleep. By Saturday night I was in active labor but wasn’t making any progress – I was only dilated to 2cm and the baby had shifted back out of my pelvis, so I was sent home with orders to take a sleep aid and get some rest before the “hard work” began. Not two hours later, after more contractions and not a wink of sleep even after taking the sleeping pill, I was in full blown hard labor and we left for the birthing center.
We arrived to the unabashed annoyance of the same elder midwife who had frowned upon my hope for a quick labor and delivery. She made sure we knew she felt inconvenienced by coming in when I was only in the early stages of active labor, and upon locking the door behind us immediately retreated to the downstairs bedroom to rest while I endured the longest part of active labor completely unassisted. After three more hours I was in excruciating pain and my mom went downstairs to roust the midwife from her bed and ask if we could run the bath so I could get into the birthing tub. This helped relieve a lot of the pain but I still felt like I was doing very hard work in a short amount of time. Then I asked to have another cervical check performed, and what do you know – I had transitioned from 3cm to 9cm in just an hour and a half! My husband said later that he wished I could have seen the look on the midwife’s face when she checked me – what he described was a sheepish look when she discovered I had been right about my labor all along.
Another half hour passed and I felt like pushing, so she gave me the go ahead from behind her computer. She sat and typed away on her Macbook for what seemed like an eternity while I was finishing transition and for the first part of the birth. After two hours of hard pushing, which seemed like it took much longer than it should have, it became clear why I was having such a painful and difficult time delivering: my baby had flipped around and was full frank breech, coming out butt-first, legs folded. I was oblivious to this at the time but when I delivered enough of him to be recognizable, my mother knew what was going on. Things went very quickly from that point: I was removed from the birthing tub to deliver the rest of the baby, who got stuck by his head for about ten minutes before I could manually push him out. Breech births are inherently dangerous for this reason, among many others: the body of the infant typically doesn’t stretch the cervix sufficiently to allow for expedient birth of the head, which is important because the baby will try to breathe while still in the birth canal – which he did. Upon birth he was completely purple and had to be resuscitated before breathing on his own. I was in quite a state at this point, and with my mother blocking our line of sight so that we didn’t have to watch the two women try to resuscitate our lifeless child, the elder midwife shrieked that they “needed support for this family.”
This being more than 20 minutes after discovering my son was presenting breech, the assisting midwife called 9-1-1 and in just a few minutes EMTs arrived to monitor his vitals. He originally scored a meager 2 on his APGAR test, but was up to a 9 by the time they handed him to me about almost an hour after his birth. I remember feeling such an immense sense of relief wash over me when they finally laid him on my chest. I had been lying spread eagle, umbilical cord clamped and still hanging out of me, my husband clinging to me and my mother watching this all unfold, for nearly thirty minutes before I even laid eyes on my son. It took nearly 45 minutes before the head midwife returned to attend to the afterbirth, which again we had to do manually because I had ceased having contractions after being removed from the birthing tub – a result of shock, no doubt. After tucking us into bed and bundling the baby up in a bassinet beside me, the midwives left us to our devices to “get some rest.” After peering at my brand new, precious baby all cozy in his bassinet I fell into my husband’s arms and burst into tears for the first time since I went into labor. I got not one minute of sleep while we were at the birthing center, even after being awake for nearly 36 hours, taking a sleeping pill, and enduring a very traumatic birth.
Within about thirty minutes of lying down my son began to cry and didn’t stop for hours. We didn’t successfully breastfeed for over 24 hours after he was born. When we went home later that morning I left with a hollow, startled feeling after the birth that felt a lot like PTSD. What happened to my personalized, family-oriented experience? How did we not know that he was breech, and what would have happened if I hadn’t been able to deliver his head?
The answer is simple. My perfect, precious, healthy baby boy would have never left that building alive. This is why I have decided that when we do have more children (after I have recovered physically and psychologically from this experience) I will be giving birth in a hospital. Here are my two main reasons why:
First, I truly believe that the fact that my son had been breech would not have been missed by an OB. When he actually turned around I have no idea, because I had just had an ultrasound two weeks prior to starting labor and he was head down; I have a feeling it was close to the time of my first cervical check when the midwife said he had backed out of my pelvis. But in a hospital setting even if we had started the birthing process and he had been breech (which is unlikely), if I hadn’t been able to deliver his head, we would have had all the medical assistance we needed.
Secondly, and most importantly, if I hadn’t been able to deliver his head at the birthing center I shudder to think what could have resulted. I had walked into that place with the notion that everything was as it should be, and after 10 months of stellar prenatal health and normal sonograms it was perfectly reasonable to be under such an impression. Statistically, only by freak accident would I need any kind of advanced medical assistance.
I don’t even know what the chances are of this happening; from what I felt physically and psychologically, I believe he turned backwards during labor. When we went for our first postnatal appointment my midwife reassured me that late turning does happen, and not infrequently – a statement that has been scoffed at by multiple pediatricians and doctors I’ve consulted with since. I can’t find any studies or even personal blogs documenting babies turning breech after being head-down for 38 weeks. This was only the beginning of the degradation of my relationship and opinion of the midwifery.
Following the bizarre circumstances of the birth I was made to feel incredibly stupid by the elder midwife. At the first couple of follow-up appointments I had asked for more specific details of what had happened, why we hadn’t known he was breech, et cetera, and was met with sneering justifications and quickly redirected to admire the condition of my lovely, perfect little boy. Her recounting of events seemed drastically different from mine, which lead to months of self-doubt and contradicting the horrible gut feeling I had.
After discovering during that first week that my son had jaundice (not an uncommon condition for a newborn) we were sent home with a blue light bed and strict instructions for treatment and confidentiality – they weren’t supposed to be in possession of the equipment at all, she said. After a day and a half his condition hadn’t improved and his color had worsened, so I made the decision to take him to a pediatrician for testing. As it turns out, his bilirubin levels were only one point away from requiring hospitalization. Over the next few days we continued the blue light treatments and had his blood tested every 24 hours to ensure his levels didn’t continue to rise. When the midwife called a few days later (much after the point that he would have sustained permanent injury had his levels kept rising) and I reported these facts to her, she was enraged by my actions. Her goal was to keep families out of hospital, and I had undermined her authority in seeking outside medical care. She stated to me very plainly that the hospitals are “out to get her,” and the local doctors weren’t friendly with her by any means. After talking her off the ledge and reassuring her that I hadn’t disclosed that we were in possession of her blue light bed, I terminated the call and never returned to her for follow-up care.
And despite the outstanding care I received leading up to the birth, being out of hospital wouldn’t have been worth the loss of my son’s life had something tragic, and entirely preventable, happened.
I also believe that the ordeal of his birth directly caused what was described to me by my specialist pediatrician as birth trauma, and failure to thrive. The first six months of my son’s life were indescribably hard: he was severely jaundiced, which the midwife (illegally) tried to treat at home; he had an undiagnosed tongue and lip tie that severely hindered my ability to breastfeed, which in turn affected our ability to bring him up to proper weight gain; he was colicky for months which has in turn set us up for failure during sleep training; among so many other things I can’t even recount them all.
I still, a year after Leroy’s birth, cannot read this without holding back tears. I try to keep focus on the fact that he is happy and healthy. While the outcome could have been much worse, it wasn’t, so sometimes I feel like, what do I have to complain about?
But the severity of birth trauma to a mother isn’t to be underestimated, nor is it to be discounted. And if sharing my experience will help just one mom make such a monumental decision, it will have been worth the incredible pain and emotional turmoil I have endured this past year. Hopefully putting it out there will give me closure as well.