Friday, March 12, 2010

First Birth

My First Birth - from J-WHO's event "What you need to know about birth before you are pregnant".

Shortly after my wedding we were pleased to discover that I was pregnant. I knew that we weren't supposed to talk about pregnancies until the fifth month (more on this another time), so I didn't tell anyone. Not my mother, mother-in-law or best friend. Where to find an ob/gyn? I checked my birth certificate and found the name of the doctor that my mother used, when she was pregnant with me. Looked them up in the phone book and voila, I had a care provider. (Note to world: not the best way to choose.)

My husband snuck some pregnancy and birth books out of his sister's house and from those we educated ourselves about what was happening to my body and our baby. We thought we knew everything. Towards the end of the pregnancy my friend's mother asked what I had done about childbirth education classes and labor support. I looked at her blankly. I had no idea what she was talking about. She told me I needed classes, so I signed up. She told me to hire a labor coach, so I did.

The classes were a huge eye-opener. The teacher spoke of common interventions and manipulations. She encouraged us to hold and nurse the baby right after birth and to postpone the standard newborn procedures. At my next doctor visit, armed with a list of questions, I asked the OB how she felt about avoiding interventions. I told her I didn't want to be strapped to a bed, on IV. I didn't want my labor induced or augmented with drugs. I didn't want pain medication. I did want to deliver my baby in a squat or on my hands and knees, etc. etc. She said yes to everything and I felt perfectly safe.

Mild contractions began some 2 1/2 weeks after my due date. They started at 3 a.m. How do I know the time? I was still awake, wondering what to do about the impending induction scheduled because my baby was not coming out. As soon as I realized I was in labor, we packed up the car and drove to the hospital. The doctor there listened to the baby's heartbeat and did an internal exam. She pronounced my cervix to be 1 centimeter dilated and told me to take a walk and come back in an hour. We walked the halls and came back in an hour. Doctor checked again, and said it was 2-3 centimeters dilated. She assured me that I really was in labor, and suggested that I go through the admissions process so I can get a room and settle down. My mind raced back to the childbirth ed. class and I clearly remembered the teacher saying to hold off on being admitted as long as we could handle it, because once admitted, the hospital staff like their laboring women flat on their backs and hooked up to the monitors. I told the doctor that I was not ready to be admitted. She told to walk some more and come back when I was chalishing (yiddish for fainting). Chalishing? I didn't realize that was supposed to happen.

So we walked and walked and walked and walked and a couple of hours later a nurse came to find me to bring me back to the doctor. The doctor told me she thought I had delivered in the lobby. Delivered in the lobby?!?!?! I was having manageable contractions at regular intervals. I had no idea what she was talking about. She checked me again and said that my cervix had dilated to 5 centimeters. "Let’s get you admitted and break your water, your baby will be out in an hour" said my doctor. "No thank you" said I. So we walked some more. An hour later I was at 7 cm, an hour after that, 8.

Then I got tired and hungry and crabby and miserable. What I needed was something to eat and a good nap. What I got was more walking and walking and walking and walking. An hour later I was still at 8 and an hour after that, still 8. Another doctor from the practice was now on-call and told me that I should be admitted, they would break my water and the baby would be out in an hour. I must admit that I was rather tempted, but I remained firm with my resolve for a birth free of interventions. The doctor became aggressive. He said I HAD to be admitted and they HAD to break my water. I was very upset. My husband pulled the doctor aside and said "doc, my wife doesn't want to break the water. What's the big deal? What's the worst case scenario"?

The doctor looked him in the eye and said, "worst case scenario? The baby could die."

THE BABY COULD DIE? Break my water, cut me open, don't let my baby die!!!

I went through admissions and was shown to a room. The doctor brought the amnio-hook (resembles knitting needles) and popped the balloon of waters that was cushioning mom & baby. The contractions became very strong. The monitor that was strapped to me was not picking up the contractions. An hour later I was still at 8 centimeters. The doctor told me how my body was not working anymore and they would need to give me pitocin to augment the labor. I desperately did not want pitocin. He said "you wouldn't want anything to happen to the baby" and I meekly surrendered. He told me I would need an epidural to manage the pitocin induced contractions. I refused. They started the pitocin and the contractions were even stronger. Grinding. Unbearable. I was fighting them all. I fantasized about having a cesarean. I was miserable, worn out and totally dysfunctional.

An hour later, still at 8 centimeters, the doctor told me how my body was REALLY not working anymore and that they would need to up the dosage of pitocin. I was not coping at all. The labor coach told me that I really needed the epidural and I took it. They administered more pitocin. The anesthesia kicked in rapidly and within 10 minutes I was blissfully asleep. A half hour later, I was awakened to an entire arm in my vagina and yet another doctor from the practice screaming PUSH. Push? Push what? Push where? Oh, hospital, baby, I'm fully dilated? I can't feel a thing.

I was transferred to the delivery room where the doctor became a jumping, shrieking cheerleader. "PUSH, PUSH, PUSH" loud enough for the entire Boro Park to hear. I was pushing as hard as I could, eyes bulging, veins popping, when I noticed a janitor nonchalantly emptying trash cans and sweeping the floor. "What's he doing here?" I asked my doctor. She told me not to worry about it because "he sees this all the time".  THIS? This is me. I was mortified. Back to pushing: I'm pushing, she's screaming and we continue this pushing screaming match until some 20 minutes later she says, "I can see the head. Nurse, pass the soap and the local." The only thing she could possibly be referring to was an episiotomy and I begged her not to cut me. "Only if I need to" said the doctor as she picked up her scissors. The soap stung, I did not feel the pinch of the 'local' and the cut was much louder than I would have imagined. Baby's head was out on the next push and on the one after, out came his body. The cord was cut, someone called out "boy" and he was waved over my face as they carried him away to be weighed, measured, washed and all the other things that just could not wait.

I was totally numb - physically and emotionally. I did not believe that I had a child. I did not feel any differently. What made me a mother? I was stitched and covered and they handed me my baby. I stared at him and wondered why I didn’t feel anything. If he was really mine. I held him for a minute before the nurse took him and said he needed to go to the nursery. My husband was not allowed in and I was left alone in the delivery room. Alone with my thoughts. Alone in shock. Alone in pain. I felt as though something was violently torn away from me. It wasn't something. It was someone. My body desperately missed my baby.

It was hours before I was settled in a room and they agreed to bring my baby to me. Hours until I got to hold him and nurse him and finally to love him….
My son is incredible. I am grateful that he is a strong, well-balanced individual who uses his talents to help people. He loves with his entire being. I wouldn't change anything about him. Still I mourn the birth I would have liked to give him. I feel sadly that he was brought into this physical world in a process that was void of compassion, kindness and spirituality. I wanted so badly for him to be greeted with respect and dignity. I wish I could undo the trauma of the separation for both of us. He has no concious memory of his birth but I am sure that his life was affected by it. I think of this birth often and feel a tremendous void.
Medical interventions in pregnancy, labor and birth are well documented, as are the negative results thereof. What hurts me the most is the gross medical management of the third stage of labor – the time between the birth of the baby and the birth of the placenta. At the time when there could be awe, ecstasy and exhilaration, we have injections, examinations, eye ointment, and cord cutting.  Instead of body heat and skin to skin contact, we have separation and warmers. Where time should stand still for those moments of first contact, where mothers and babies fall in love over and over again, we hasten to process both mother and baby so the hospital personnel can move on to the next patient.
I leave you with a prayer that mothers and babies the world over are treated with love, kindness and compassion.
To beautiful births and beginnings,
For more on birth, check out my website:

1 comment:

  1. You write so beautifully Chani, but your story filled me with sadness. I feel so much compassion for you. You can be comforted by the fact that although you had a mis-functioned birth, whereas you would have loved a beautiful, calm birth, your suffering led you to become a much more compassionate mother to all your brood of children. AND led you on the path of educating others.

    Racquel Even-Sapir