There is a line from the movie "Gone With The Wind" where Prissy says, "Honest Miss Charlotte, I don't know nothing about birthing babies!” As the little gal frantically blurts out this statement, there is a baby about to be born. She was supposed to help, but then the truth comes out. She knows nothing. This describes my experience when I first started having children. I was unaware of my choices regarding birth. My first child was born nineteen months after I was married. I was twenty-two and naivety regarding birth was an understatement.
My doctor was a family friend and physician. My pre-natal visits were typical:
- weight – check
- blood pressure – check
- fundus height - check
- baby’s heart tones – check
- good bye, see you next time - check
The following were never talked about; nutrition, alternative support, lifestyle. The only model was a medicalized one. I was disempowered, uninformed and became a victim of my own ignorance. My diet was the typical SAD diet and as pounds came on, the blood pressure went up.
I was put on bed rest and drugs for five weeks for pre-eclampsia. Week six I was hospitalized for toxemia and put on a magnesium sulfate drip to lower the blood pressure. By this time I was 37 weeks pregnant and an amniocentesis was done to see if the three week premature baby was ready for induction. It was a go and the pitocin began. Drip, drip, drip went the liquid. I was a lamb being lead to slaughter and did not even know it. As the drug pulsed through my veins my body tried to decipher the mixed messages. It had been suppressed for weeks with drugs and now it was being told to labor with drugs. I was told the baby was showing signs of distress after twelve hours of labor and emergency cesarean was performed.
The "saddle block" did not work thoroughly so I felt the surgery. My cries of agony were meet with, “We have to keep going” and that it was just in my head. My doctor was a “hero”, he "saved" my baby's life, which was born with a 9 apgar score, and I was set up to have my choices limited for future pregnancies and deliveries.
My next baby came 22 months later. No trial of labor was offered. Even when my water broke three weeks early and I asked if I could labor, I was told no, it was against hospital policy. Cesarean number two was performed. My incision got infected so it had be opened up and cleaned to promote healing. Cesarean number three was executed twenty four and half months later. No other choice was given except to have my “tubes tied” and I said no.
I wanted more children and began to get very determined about having a vaginal birth after a cesarean – (VBAC). I read and researched about VBAC and became confident that this was the choice I wanted to make. I found a doctor that would “give me” a trial of labor.
As I reflect on the word “give”, I now realized how disempowering it was to be “given” something that should have been rightfully mine. However, I am thankful he was willing. I had a successful hospital VBAC after three cesareans, which had never been done before in the hospital where I birthed. It was not a perfect experience as I feel like I was violated. After twelve hours of labor and four hours of pushing, I asked for help. What I got was not what I meant by help. The scissors were pulled out and without permission, I was given an episiotomy. I snuggled my baby as I was stitched up. Two days later the hospital
gave my husband and I a candle lit dinner. I felt like a
bomb at been detonated between my legs, but the steak was good.
I will just let you know in case you are starting to wonder. I am not Catholic or Mormon. No offense intended. It is just that I was asked that a lot when baby number five was in the hopper, so I thought I would go ahead and answer it. A few more answers for you. Yes, we knew what was causing it. Yes, we were aiming for a baseball team. Yes, they were planned and yes they are all from the same father.
I have to take a little side trip here. A few years back the census called. The integration included listing offspring. I named them off; she asked me if they were all from the same father. I answered her, "Oh no, one was the milk man, then the mail man, UPS man, Fed ex......etc." The phone was silent. Ok, my humor can be warped, but we had a good laugh and I did tell her the truth, eventually.
Now, back to the birth stories. By my fifth pregnancy, I was a Birkenstock, wool sock wearing momma and being "el-naturele" was part of my lifestyle. I had been exposed to the idea of a home birth with a midwife. Obviously, with my history, I was not the ideal candidate, but I was determined. I read materials to educate myself. I began to feel empowered and believed it my right and my choice to deliver at home with a midwife. It is a choice I had to fight for.
The doctor who had helped with the VBAC in the hospital, wrote a letter threatening the midwife I had found to assist me with my birth at home. I wrote him a letter to let him know it was my choice and if he had a problem, he should be talking with me. We never heard from him again. I had a wonderful home birth after 6 hours of labor. My friends and children were present and my husband was there to catch our little girl. The tally was now three boys and two girls. Would the next one bring it to a tie?
I was laboring at home with baby number six when I started to experience a bulge on my right side above by cesarean scar. I will not share all the details, but I heard a “pop” in my head and began to bleed heavily. We loaded up in my car and headed to the hospital. As I was wheeled in, I said to the nurse, “I think my uterus ruptured”.
The doctor that was on call was the doctor who had threatened my midwife with baby number five. I refused to let him touch me and demanded another doctor. In my heart, I knew he would not honor me and my body and honestly I was afraid of being reprimanded. A woman doctor was called in. I begged her to save my uterus as I did not want to deal with the possible long term effects of a hysterectomy. She asked me to sign for removal of my womb, as she felt it may be the only way to save my life. I was wheeled into surgery and put under general anesthesia. Before I was finally put under, the pain was so intense, that insanity seemed close. I remember thinking that if I died it would be a relief from the hell I was experiencing and I was not afraid.
I woke up to be told it was a miracle I was alive and that my baby had lived. When my abdomen was surgically opened, the bag of waters, which we had decided not to break when I was stalled at 8 cm, was bulging into the peritoneum, acting as divine protection to our little girl. The doctor told me my uterus was spared, but closing of all the layers was an impossibility. The uterus had shredded so it had to be “knitted” back together. I was told I could not have any more children. I have theories as to why my uterus rupture, but that is another dissertation.
The next part of this story may seem like the choice a lunatic would make, but it is my story, so withhold judgment and read on. My husband and I decided we would have another baby. I went back to the same doctor who performed the emergency cesarean for the ruptured uterus. When I walked in for my first pre-natal visit with her, she was in shock, but she honored me and my choice. Her only request was that we schedule a c-section and said, “whatever we do, you cannot go into labor. Your uterus can not handle it, if we make it that far.”
The c-section was scheduled ten days early, on a Wednesday. The Monday before, my third child died. It was unexpected even though he had many health challenges in his ten short years of life. The surgery had to be postponed until after the memorial service on Friday. I woke with contractions on Monday at 4:30 A.M., I went to the hospital and my baby was delivered by cesarean, one week after my son died.
I have a pretty simple faith. I believe in God, I am not God. I trust, surrender and have a profound belief in the synchronicity of circumstances. Somehow, someway, things work out for a higher good. Saying yes to our seventh child was the goodness mingled with tragedy. She was a healing balm to our grief stricken souls.
I went on to have baby number eight by cesarean with the same doctor about twenty-seven months later. If you have lost track, that is six cesareans and two vaginal births. The tally now; five girls/three boys. "If I had another baby, would I have to submit to another surgery?", began to infiltrate my thought process.
About three years later I was pregnant with baby number nine. I began to think about the possibility of another VBAC. I had done extensive healing using natural means post rupture. My two surgeries following the rupture were uneventful. In fact the doctor mentioned how well I had healed and she could not even believe it was the same body.
My search began for someone who would support me in my choice to have a VBAC. I contacted many midwives. For fear of persecution and prosecution, they could not assist me. I found a doctor who was an OB/GYN. It was one of those synchronistic events I believe in. He offered to support me in a trial of labor before I could even ask; note the word, support, not give.
Support me he did. He was threatened and belittled, as was I, by hospital staff, but my choice was honored. My baby girl was born when I was forty three years of age, was born vaginally. I had VBAC after a complete uterine rupture. I was humbled and thankful, but not surprised. The body is an amazing healer and determination is a powerful fuel. Supportive practitioners help a woman to feel empowered when they come along side and not seek to control her birthing process.
Women are coerced with fear and dis-empowered with medical gibberish and are soon convinced that their bodies cannot do what they were designed to do. Even with all my unusual nuances, I sought to get back to this fact.
I want to exhort you to be aware, be encouraged, and be empowered. Be informed of your choices relating to birth. Believe in your ability to bring forth life and that natural physiological birth works for the majority of women. Do not let fear and coercion be the deciding factors. Seek those who will support you. Birth is trans-formative.
Sharon Hockenbury is the Development Coordinator for W.A.R.M. - Washington Alliance For Responsible Midwifery. Visit the website today to learn about WARM and see how you can be a part of a grassroots movement that supports a woman's right to choose where she will birth and who will attend her.