Today my beautiful Lily turns seven, and so, as per tradition, I’m sharing her (don’t worry, non-graphic) birth story. It’s not a happy story, apart from the ending, so I thought about not sharing it at all. But the stories we don’t tell are the ones that control us, and Lily deserves to hear this story. I also doubt that I’m the only person who has experienced this type of emotional delivery room trauma; hopefully telling this one story can make a small difference.
Lily’s Birth Story (Seven Years Later)
We got to the hospital around 6:30pm August 2nd. I had been in solid labor since 4 or 5am the previous morning, but after getting sent home twice with Johnny I didn’t want to head in any earlier than was absolutely necessary. The midwife on call was delighted that I was already 7cm at check-in. Like every midwife I ever worked with, she focused on Emma’s fast birth and ignored Johnny’s much more drawn-out birth. After Johnny, I was worried about being stuck at 7cm forever, but by 10pm the midwife declared that it was time to push.
Exciting, right? The midwife was thrilled. I was the only woman in labor on the floor, and I’m sure she envisioned a restful night.
Pushing accomplished nothing. The baby was right there, maybe 1cm from crowning. Nothing happened. Frustrated, the midwife declared, “You just aren’t trying hard enough!” The midwife complained that she was all suited up for delivery, and nothing was happening. She was hot and uncomfortable.
A couple of hours in, the attending nurse suggested trying to use a sheet as an improvised pull bar. The midwife said that was ridiculous. I didn’t argue.
But none of the midwife-approved suggestions were working. Actually, things were un-happening. My cervix was un-dilating, and then swelling up from the pushing. The midwife was irate. I had to try harder! This was taking too long.
Three hours later, I asked for an epidural. The pain was manageable, but after 5 hours of pushing I was exhausted. An epidural would give me a chance to sleep, at least. Lily, being stuck where she was, should have been in distress. But, bizarrely, she seemed just fine.
And so I become one of the few women in the world to get an epidural, at 10cm, and after 5 hours of pushing. I slept for an hour. My cervix relaxed, and re-effaced.
When I woke up and we gave pushing another go. Still nothing happened. The nurse made the same improvised pull bar suggestion. The midwife still thought it was ridiculous, but I had enough energy this time to argue her into letting us try. Lily was born a few minutes later. She was posterior, and her cord was so short that they had to cut it to finish delivering her. My guess is that the combination of Lily being in the wrong position combined with the cord being so short had made it nearly impossible for her to make all the maneuverings babies usually make to be born. I had suspected her position was wrong and had told the midwife as much during labor, but she didn’t believe me until Lily was born.
I wanted to keep Lily with me until she had fed, but the midwife snatched her away mid-feed “just to weigh her”. Then she weighed her and wouldn’t give her back until she had also done the heel prick, eye drops, and reflex tests. She still complained about how long everything was taking. It was 4:30am. I remember listening to her talk, and thinking it would have been worth delaying the birth an additional 2.5 hours just to have someone reasonably kind deliver her.
It took weeks to get Lily to feed properly. A lactation consultant told me when Anna was born that the worst thing you can do to a newborn baby in terms of helping them learn to nurse is to snatch them away minutes into their first feed. It is better to delay the feeding than to interrupt it that way. If the interruption had been medically justified, I would understand. But the midwife just wanted to finish her job and be done. I was still her only patient. Maybe she wanted to sleep in the break room? It is exhausting working nights, but it is part of being a midwife.
There is a popular idea that women forget everything about childbirth once babies are born. That has not been my experience; nor is it what I hear from other women. Sometimes I worry that it justifies professionals behaving the way my midwife did at Lily’s birth. Johnny’s much more physically traumatic delivery was easier to recover from than the emotional trauma of Lily’s birth, because for his delivery I was consistently treated well.
Besides the exhaustion and complete lack of progress, Lily’s birth was not physically terrible for me. I wound up with a 2nd degree tear that healed just fine. But the emotional pain of having someone angrily frustrated and telling me I was “not trying hard enough” for hours on end during a vulnerable moment combined with my very real concern that Lily’s being stuck 1cm from crowning for hours on end would cause some sort of brain damage would wake me up at night for months. I went to my GP instead of the midwife office for my postnatal visits because I was too emotionally exhausted to deal with how I felt about what happened in the delivery room.
Miraculously, Lily is fine and shows no signs of any harm beyond the bruising she had at birth. I watch the way she calmly pursues goals with quiet tenacity and wonder if that personality trait saved her in the delivery room.
In Search of Kindness
I changed insurance after Lily was born, so that we could have any subsequent children in a different hospital, with a different practice. I thought about writing a letter about my experience, but I was exhausted. Johnny and Emma came down with some sort of stomach bug, throwing up all night the night Lily was born. Their stomach bug morphed into a respiratory infection. They were sick for months. Mike was traveling like mad for work – he was gone more than he was home that year. By the time I found the energy to write, it felt too late. I like to think that the attending nurse would have said something – she didn’t approve of what was going on. But, given the power hierarchy in hospitals and the healthy baby in the end, I’m guessing she didn’t. The midwife who delivered Lily still works in that practice.
From a medical point of view, Lily is healthy so everything is good. But I still wish that midwife hadn’t taken her bad day – or whatever that was – out on me.
Liily was an unbelievably happy baby, always cheerful, nearly always healthy, and a great sleeper. Interestingly, she is fascinated by childbirth and I could even see her becoming an obstetrician or midwife someday. Maybe someday she will teach kindness in delivery rooms.
My Other Children’s Birth Stories:
Did you ever experience this type of delivery room trauma? Do you remember your children’s births, or is it all a blur once you hold the baby in your arms?
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