Wednesday, February 1, 2017

My son's birth story and why you need an advocate in the birthing suite

Mom2MomEd Blog: My son's birth story and why you need an advocate in the birthing suite
The summer of 1998 was a hot one in Portland, Oregon and I was exhausted and having a lot of lower back pain as I walked through Portland's downtown Saturday Market with my son's father and two of his other kids. I was expecting to give birth in well over three weeks in mid-September, despite my being pretty sure my due date should have been in late August.


I was young and scared of life. 
I trusted my midwife even when my gut instinct said she was wrong.
I trusted my son's father even when my gut instinct screamed at me not to do so.

I made a lot of wrong moves in my early and mid-20s, but I wouldn't undo most of them because those choices eventually resulted in my son becoming a part of my life. 

Over the course of my pregnancy, I ran into several complications with my insurance plan and I was sick a ALL. THE. TIME. Because of the insurance issues, I had to switch from the OB/GYN clinic I had chosen to a midwifery clinic I knew nothing about, and worse, I couldn't get in for a few MONTHS. I couldn't get lab work done for several months either and I missed a lot of early appointments because the insurance plan kept giving me conflicting information.

Meanwhile, I was vomiting all day, every day and couldn't stand up without wanting to pass out (and I did pass out was almost a daily occurrence). I was LOSING weight instead of gaining and ultimately gained so little net weight that none of my neighbors realized I was pregnant until I came home from the hospital with a baby.  

I was NOT healthy.

I was too scared to go to Planned Parenthood, even though I did consider an abortion very early in my pregnancy--I already knew I was in a bad relationship and I was terrified to add a child to the mix and subject a child to the anger and psychological terror of my partner. 

And, I was too scared to leave the relationship.

I was a mess.

Eventually, in the SEVENTH MONTH of my pregnancy, I was able to get lab work that showed that I had virtually no measurable iron in my system. As soon as I started taking iron supplements, my symptoms improved and I stopped passing out. I still felt awful, but I was so much better!

Throughout those months though, my midwife kept telling me I was experiencing normal morning sickness. 

I knew she was wrong. 
I'd known many pregnant women and none vomited as much as I did. None LOST weight instead of gaining. None passed out routinely. 

But, going back to that day in Portland, perusing stalls at the Saturday Market and holding my aching back, I was just wishing I could sit down in the shade with a cold, tall glass of lemonade for the rest of the day. My ex--I left my son's father when my son was four years old--scoffed each time I wanted to sit or rest and we plugged onwards. Sunday, we pretty much did the same thing, despite the fact that my back was aching even more now. Only a hot bath followed by a heating pad calmed the pain.

I still was buying into my midwife's assertion that my son wouldn't be born for a few more weeks despite that little voice in the back of my mind whispering that my son was due VERY. VERY. SOON.

I shouldn't have been surprised then when I woke up Monday morning with the worst cramping pain I've ever experienced. The pain came in regular waves and was across my entire abdomen, but especially in the lower belly and my pelvis. 

I was in labor.

My son's dad told me it was false labor and to go back to bed as he continued to get ready to go to work.
I called my midwife and she told me it was false labor and to "stop being hysterical" and to keep my scheduled appointment for later that day.
My belly and pelvis told me IT. IS. TIME. 

The contractions became faster and harder and I finally convinced my son's father to take the morning off of work and to drive me to the hospital.

The nurses checked me out and told me I was nowhere near ready to deliver and that I should go home. I wasn't having any of it and insisted that I stay. The nurses agreed to let me stay checked in and sent me to walk laps around the building. After two laps, the contractions were so strong I couldn't stand when they hit. The nurses checked me again and said I'd progressed, but not nearly enough. They still wanted to send me home and I still refused.

More lap walking at the hospital with occasional howling on my knees when the contractions were severe.

I made my way back to the maternity ward at about noon and was checked again and told, "Wow! I've never seen a first time mom progress this fast! You need your epidural NOW or it will be too late!"

Now, friends, this is where you NEED an advocate in your corner when giving birth! My son's dad new my wishes for my birth experience and my wishes for things like an epidural, thoughts about episiotomy, beliefs regarding skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth, and much more.

My midwife knew my wishes as well.

The hospital had been given a copy ahead of time in case my midwife was not on call when I went into labor.

Yet, the ONLY person to ever ask me about my goals and wishes when we arrived at the hospital or during labor was a student midwife, and she was told--right in front of me--by my midwife, "I never follow those things."

When the student pointed out that I seemed to be struggling and that the baby's heart rate was dropping and suggested that an episiotomy might help because I simply wasn't "stretching enough to accommodate the head", my midwife balked and said, "She just needs to push and stop crying."

I was horrified but in too much pain to speak up or advocate for myself.
My son's father was oblivious and ignored pretty much everything except for the noises I was making and was teasing me relentlessly over my groans of pain, telling me that I was "squealing like a pig."

NO ONE WAS ADVOCATING FOR ME EXCEPT FOR A STUDENT...and she and I were both powerless in that moment.

I ended up with extreme tearing and a lot of emotional trauma and my son was whisked away from me, not immediately breathing. I didn't even get to touch or see my son for his first 30 minutes of life. 

I was terrified and no one was talking to me.

I finally heard my son cry and was told he was fine. He was swaddled and held up so that I could see him and then he was taken away to the NICU for a few hours before finally being deemed healthy.

And, the whole time, I was still scared, angry, and exhausted. I was pissed at the midwife who ignored the student's concerns and who ignored my wishes and goals. I was pissed at my son's dad for teasing me instead of holding my hand and supporting me through the birthing process. And, I was pissed at my son's dad for NOT being my advocate. 

In the end, my son was healthy and well, but I was not. 
I was angry.

While I know now that many women don't have their birth plans followed very closely--or at all--I also know that many women DO have their plans and wishes attended to. Many women have births that veer away from their plans, but with support and encouragement from the medical staff involved. Many women have advocates--spouses, friends, significant others, family--who intervene when they see staff NOT attending to dropping heart rates or NOT attending to concerns of unnecessary tearing or NOT attending to other concerns that are readily addressed.

If you are pregnant and looking forward to your child's birth, or if you are considering giving birth in the future, be sure you have a friend, partner, or family member who can step in and advocate for you when you aren't able to do it for yourself. 

Had my ex not been a bully and had he paid attention, perhaps he could have supported the student midwife's concerns. Perhaps I wouldn't have had tearing so severe that it was problem for YEARS after my son's birth. Perhaps my son's heart rate wouldn't have been allowed to drop so low before he was actually born. Perhaps my son wouldn't have been born NOT BREATHING

Perhaps my discomfort could have been mitigated and my son could have been born breathing and crying and he could have been placed on my chest immediately after finding his way into the world.

Of course, I have no way of knowing if anything would have been different if I'd had an advocate on my side. Maybe nothing would have been different, but moms...

I want you to have the OPTION of a better birth by having someone on your side who understands your wishes and goals on an intimate level and who is ready to stand up and intervene to get you the attention and care you and your baby need when you actually need it.

Thankfully, my son has grown up to be a healthy, intelligent, mature young man and he has a bright future ahead of him because I have learned to be HIS advocate.

I'm 42 now and I have no plans to have another child, but I also haven't closed the door on the possibility if the right guy came into my life. If I were to have a child in the next few years, I'd be an older mom, but I'd also be much better able to advocate for myself or to enlist someone to advocate for me in the birthing suite.

What was your birth experience like? Was it mostly positive? Negative? In between? Let us know in the comments! Or, if you'd like to be featured in our REAL MOMS interview series, please use the comment form on the web-version of our site to drop us a note and we'll get in touch!
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