My life as a candy wrapper
My life as a candy wrapper
My second child’s birth story and my experience with birth trauma
This week my youngest child has turned ten months old, but my cesarean remains open. My wound has now been open longer than I was pregnant. But to explain how we got here, we should start from the beginning. My first child was born in 2016. We had a normal pregnancy but developed a rare condition at the end of the pregnancy called Obstetric Cholestasis. Cholestasis after 37 weeks of pregnancy is associated with high rates of still birth, so with all our cards on the table, we came to the decision to have a c section with our current doctor. I had spent most of my first pregnancy preparing for a natural birth, I had images of birthing my child with a clear mind, holding him for his first moments with a golden glow between us. This is not what happened. However, we had 24 hours’ notice and could plan for our birth. My husband was able to hold our son for his first hours of life while the doctors made sure his lungs were working. Although scary, my c section went off well. Recovery was a slower process then we had bargained for, but we worked as a team to make sure both baby and I were safe. And even though my c section wasn’t the magical, bathtub birth I had pictured, it was still a transformative experience for me. I felt my body was powerful, amazing, and I was in awe of the life it had made.
We decided to expand our family when our oldest turned one. We got pregnant right away and found out in the fall. We were trilled. I thought about a VBAC (Vaginal birth after caesarean) but decided to plan on a c section so we could be prepared. We talked with doctors and midwives, had them review our plans. Everyone assured us we would be fine with what we had decided. Patients rarely advocate for themselves in the birth, let alone in surgery. Our list was small, if the child needed to spend time in the NICU, the father goes with him, breastfeeding right away, basic things that most people would request. The biggest request I had, and one we discussed even in the surgical suite, was that we wanted to use the previous scar or go above, but not below that. My first scar was low, and I felt it got rubbed and irritated easily, we were assured this was fine.
A month before our due date, a blood pressure test came back high. We were concerned but came in for further tests at the hospital. A new doctor came in, each asking me if I felt a head ache, even a faint one she kept insisting I had had preeclampsia before, but I hadn’t. At one point she argued with me about it, as if I would have forgotten. Finally, she conceded that if I didn’t have it then, I certainly had it now. I hadn’t eaten or drank anything in hours, I felt scared and like we were being steamrolled into something. By midnight we caved and agreed that if they were absolutely sure it was the right thing, that if the baby was strong enough to come this early, we could have him today. We were assured they felt it was the right thing. I felt I had failed my child, as if my body was failing to do the one thing its designed to do.
We went in at 5pm, and at 4am our second child was being born. When the surgery prep was happening, the epidural had to be done five separate times, the doctor got impatient with me and was snapping at me “you keep sitting wrong!”, my spine wouldn’t curve the way he wanted it to. My nurse, bless her, held my hand while I cried. The blood pressure monitor started to drop. I felt sick. I saw nurses running and doctors frantically tossing steel implements near the table I was strapped to. “get the husband!’ someone yelled. I vomited all over the floor, a reaction to the medicine. I could hear the fetal Doppler continue to drop. The doctor peeked over the drape “I am sorry, but we have to start now”, they started, and I felt another wave of pain and nausea. My husband ran in, his hands shaking. I thought to myself “am I dying? Is the baby ok?” people spoke in hushed tones and barked commands I didn’t understand. I felt tugs, and after 4 minutes, I heard a cry. My child had made it. The sense of relief in that second was palpable. But his lungs weren’t functioning like they should. My husband was whisked away with the baby, who I only was able to see over the surgical curtain.
The next time I saw my baby he was hooked up to a breathing machine. Tiny IVs covered him. I wept. All I wanted to do was to hold him. The nurses wouldn’t tell me how long he might be in the NICU, 3 hours, 24 hours, 2 weeks, they just didn’t know. As the pain medication wore off, a heavy pain on my left side developed. My arm had welts from them using a blood pressure cuff too small. I felt small, and ignored, and like I had failed. Why didn’t I advocate for myself more? Should I have stuck to my guns and waited to give birth?
I kept asking when the baby would come to my room. It had been eight hours. They gave me an IV treatment for after surgery that made me a fall risk, so I could not visit the NICU. A side effect of that same treatment is insomnia. My eyes burned, I was exhausted, but I could not sleep. Finally, after 12 hours a nurse took pity on me and wheeled me down to see my baby. I could barely hold him, both of us tangled in cords. But that 15-minute visit with him was heaven. Finally, after 24 hours, my husband and my child could come up with me. I was elated and could sleep. Our nurse who was with us came to visit us and cried when she was river was ok “I thought we were going to lose both of you, but I’m so happy you made it” she said. It finally hit me, we really did almost die.
The pain was much greater than with my first birth. I could tell things were different with this birth but when I asked questions in the hospital, they were dodged. At one point, a man came in and told me he worked in surgery, and he could answer any questions I had. I asked him what happened, did we both really almost die? Why does it hurt more? He told me he wasn’t sure about my case, he actually hadn’t looked at it, and he would be back. I never saw that man again. After a long week at the hospital, we were released on a Saturday afternoon. I couldn’t wait to get home, I felt like we were taken captive every time they denied us leaving. When we got home, we realized they had sent us home with no medication. When I called, the operator told me “take ibuprofen and wait till Monday”. I wept in the bathroom while my husband called back. After we got a doctor to realize the mistake, the closest 24-hour pharmacy was an hour away. On our first night home, a time we should have spent soaking in our new life as a family of 4 we were forced to send my husband away to get medicine so I could recover.
A week out of the hospital I realized my C-section had reopened in 3 places. The doctors at the hospital pushed and prodded till I cried, they said to wait, and it would be fine. After four months, it was still open. I wasn’t supposed to work out or lift heavy objects during this time. My toddler grew resentful that I couldn’t hold him. I spent my summer tied to the house, because we had to pack, blow dry, and clean my wound every five or so hours. No pools, no lakes, I sat on the side lines and watched my loved ones enjoy the spoils of summer. By thanksgiving the doctor decided to aggressively treat my wound. I went in for burnings, where they took colloidal silver and burned my wound in an attempt to get it to close. This went on through the new year. If my wound wouldn’t close, they would have to perform another surgery. They didn’t know why it wouldn’t close, no one had answers, I felt forgotten.
One thing that stuck out to me is how much people would say “well, at least you have a healthy baby”. But I felt I was denied the ability to experience my trauma, I felt like society wanted me to put on the mask of “happy mother.” When I discussed my experience with others, I heard myself take on the blame of what happened and apologize for complaining about something that was devastating to me.
Alison Stuebe, a professor in Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine has said “The baby is the candy; the mom is the wrapper, and once the candy is out of the wrapper, the wrapper is cast aside”. Patient advocacy must change if we want healthy mothers. I was lucky, I didn’t lose my life or my child’s, but the united states have a huge problem with maternal mortality rates, around 20 for every 10,000 born, and the highest morality rate when compared to other developed countries. My story should be rare, but it isn’t. Doctors and patients need to learn how to communicate, and it’s on hospitals to have policies in place to make patient advocacy a priority. Our pediatrician’s office has helped set up a post-partum screener for women, because the follow up appointment for most women is 6 to 8 weeks, regardless of how they gave birth. It’s time for the treatment of women in birthing situations to be discussed, safely, openly, and truthfully. We must listen to women and start to value their health.
I wanted so desperately in each of my pregnancies to have a safe space to turn to, a space to go where I could get doctor, midwife, or doula recommendations for me and my situations. Everything is word of mouth, and different professionals work for different people. I have started birthsafe as a resource for women to help guide them to the right professionals for them. I hope it can help a few women to never experience what I have.