This is bound to be long…if you get through the whole thing, I commend you, but I cannot hold the story inside anymore. I also know it could offer a crucial piece of information to someone that may prevent the same from happening to them. I am not looking for sympathy or anything to be reassured or smoothed over…that is actually more hurtful. I want to be heard and to express the way I see what happened.
About 39-40 weeks pregnant.
I want to start by saying I have no wish to defame any people involved in my pregnancies or birth, therefore I will leave out names and many details that only a privileged few know. Despite the fact that some professionals did act in ways I found uncharacteristic, fearful, uninformed, betraying or manipulative…I can understand what may have driven that behavior and can even empathize with it somewhat. In some ways their behavior helps me because I can more easily see that our birth story is just that –ours. Was there interference –yes I feel so- but, ultimately we were responsible to navigate the hand we were dealt. In fact, I think many women are suffering from an illusion of hero worship of their doctor/doula/midwife especially because they either had a very joyous experience or because it was traumatic and they believe themselves/their baby to have been “saved” by these individuals (even when these very individuals may have interfered and often caused the initial problem, or there was no problem, it was just framed that way to speed things up or for other dubious reasons).
In my doula training I remember coming across the idea that it was a bad sign to hear “We couldn’t have done it without you.” Much as it gives a doula an ego boost; it shows the parent was not feeling empowered and gave credit for their birth outcome to someone external. Support people are very important, as well as primary care providers, and they do greatly influence outcomes (positively and negatively), however the more empowered and responsible a woman/couple are for their own pregnancy and birth, the less these support people/caregivers should be shouldering responsibility and the more they move into the role of a consultant.
The story begins:
About three weeks before Sapphire was born pressures mounted. We already had to deal with turning her from Breech (yay for hypnobabies) between 34 and 36 weeks, now 2/3 of my midwives were going on a trip on my due date, and there was an obstetrician shortage going on meaning if I went into labour half the days of the week, I’d need to travel 1.5 hours north to the hospital in order that my midwives could attend me with appropriate back up. Midwives were new in our conservative community after years without them, the previous ones seeming to have burned out for both personal and political reasons.
Before I even hit my due date (which was actually one week before the software I used to chart my cycle for two years stated it should be) the hospital and midwives’ clinic (this was partly a mix up I think due to new staff) were calling me repeatedly to schedule my biophysical profiling (ultrasound and basically monitoring baby’s heartbeat over time). In one day the hospital called me 12 times and got very annoyed, even though I hadn’t even been home to answer the phone. Relatives also called frequently “Oh just to see how you are” (FYI this is incredibly obnoxious). I felt like a watched pot…and I knew from my own reading that first time moms tend to be overdue, and no one really knew what happened if I reached that magic 42 week mark… “Obstetrician consult” was all I really knew, which pretty much meant my fate was sealed. I was strongly encouraged to do “stretch and sweeps” (internal separation of membranes to try to encourage cervical ripening?) and decided to do them because I was terrified.
As I neared the one week overdue mark…I began to do other things…
-acupuncture for induction (twice)
-reflexology for induction
-stretch and sweeps
-verbena oil “cocktail”
It’s not that these methods are inherently unsafe. But neither is it true that “natural” is equal to “harmless.” I was told by many well-meaning practitioners over and over again that “If your body isn’t ready, these methods won’t work/do anything significant.” That was not my experience, and many women have told me their own stories of using only one of these methods to “help things along” and having longer more dysfunctional labours. Basically, “why push the river, it flows by itself.”? There is a time for these measures, along with medical induction, but it is far less often than we think.
After my first acupuncture treatment for induction, my stomach was rock-hard for 20 hours straight. That should have been a hint. But no one confirmed my jittery first-time mom instincts to STOP and WAIT. No one said “It’s ok to wait, you can trust your baby/body, there is nothing wrong, there is no reason to panic.” So I continued. And in the end had 4 days of prodromal labour where I was nearly in active labour 3 separate times, but it petered out into every 15 minutes to ½ hour contractions. This type of labour effectively prevented sleep. Even the glass of wine and gravol I was recommended to help me rest did little.
40-41 weeks pregnant
I stayed on this precipice of labour (which kicked up a notch after each “natural” intervention) for days, until I was urged to have a biophysical profile (cancelled twice as I thought I was in labour) so “we can help you better.” Be very aware mamas, do your research on this method before you say yes, there are alternatives such as checking baby’s heart rate frequently and doing kick counts… the true risk of baby dying doesn’t really go up much until past 43 weeks. Be aware as well that it is very difficult for technicians to accurately guess fluid levels around a full-term baby. There can be pockets behind baby etc. that are impossible to see. I was kept on the electronic fetal monitor for hours upon hours, flat on my back (I believe an hour is more average), and the ultrasound technician said he had never done a scan on a woman past 38 weeks. (in large part because of the high early induction rate in my community) Not surprisingly, there were a few “slight decelerations” in Sapphire’s heart rate…very slight, and possibly from me being flat on my back so long. And I was found to have “low fluid” which I believe was actually untrue when I was later opened up for a C-section. Even if you truly have low fluid, often drinking a great deal before the test will change the result.
belly casting around 38 weeks
There was a great deal of fear permeating all the staff I interacted with and my caregiver –now in a hospital setting which was hostile towards her- recommended I stay and be induced. Every instinct in me screamed “NO!” I knew my baby was ok, there was little true evidence to the contrary, and I was still having many strong contractions (nurses were surprised and commented on this to me given that I was not in active labour). I did the one thing I am most proud of in this story of my daughter’s birth and said no. I earned the rebel code of “AMA” (against medical advice) on my chart and declared I was going home then and there for four hours and I would be going into active labour and either way would call my care provider in that time and reevaluate.
By the time I crossed the threshold of my apartment less than 15 minutes later the contractions were already coming much stronger and closer together. My doula was called, birth pool was filled. They were very intense for me, despite the fact that I was only dilating to about 3 cm’s. I think my exhaustion contributed to the feeling of intensity. I also think I went into labour in large part because I decided to. I stopped waiting for someone to make me feel safe, and, faced with an induction I made a choice to cross the threshold. I also called in the support of a friend and her husband, an African drummer, to bring some drums and beat out the rhythm they swore had put other women into labour before me. My caregivers were astonished and mystified that I went into labour after so long from drumming, but it worked.
To be continued…