by Krista Haggerty
My first birth was a cesarean after a long labor. It was hugely disappointing, and I struggled with feelings of failure. When I became pregnant again, I knew I wanted to have a vaginal birth with no interventions. I switched providers two times and met the OB who delivered my son at my 37 week appointment. I went into labor 5 days later.
My water broke early in the morning with a slow leak without contractions. At my morning appointment my OB told me to go right away to the hospital even though I wasn’t ready to go. He also told me he didn’t think I could have a VBAC because I was so small (I am 4’11”) but he would let me try anyway. I was furious! I spent so much time researching VBACs this pregnancy, and knew that his reasons were not evidence based.
I didn’t want to be put on a clock, so we went home from the appointment. My husband and I packed a bag and tidied up the house. We went to a late lunch and voted in the presidential election. Finally, around 5pm, the OB called my husband and told him to bring me in. By this time my contractions had started in earnest so even though I still felt hesitant because of the OB’s attitude, I knew it was time.
We arrived at triage where a midwife from the hospital met us. She told me she would have to take a sample of the fluids to make sure it was my waters and that she would check me. I told her I didn’t want to be checked until I was ready to push, but she insisted it was hospital policy. A moment later I had a contraction, and she checked me. I told her “No, get out!” but she ignored me, and just said “You’re 7 cm”. She left and about 15 minutes later I told my husband I felt like pushing. He ran out to find someone and there was a whirl of activity as nurses came in, put me onto a bed, and wheeled me upstairs to the maternity floor. My headphones were removed from my ears without anyone asking, and during the trip up I was checked another two or three while I yelled “No! Stop, Get out!” Not once was I asked or even warned that someone was checking. I felt violated, like all they saw of me was my uterus, and not me as a person.
Once we were in the room, the OB checked me (without asking or acknowledging me at all), declared I was at 10 cm but had a lip, and left the room. The nurses told me to stop pushing, which was what happened with my first baby. I couldn’t stop, it felt impossible to fight the urge. I began to panic; my doula wasn’t there yet (we had just called her) and no one would tell me what a lip meant or what I could expect. I told the nurse that if they wanted me to stop pushing they would have to give me an epidural. My husband asked—mid contraction—if I wanted to just have a C-section. I managed not to punch him.
While I was waiting, a tech came in and told me she was going to draw blood for my STD test. I had already been tested early on in pregnancy and it was negative, so I declined. She left for a moment, and when she came back she said if I didn’t allow her to take blood now, my baby would be taken and tested as soon as he came out. I was shocked; I felt threatened and angry, but I also didn’t want to be separated from my newborn for an unnecessary blood test, so I reluctantly agreed.
Soon the anesthesiologist came in and prepped me for the epidural. He had me sit up, and as I sat I felt the baby move down into my pelvis. I almost said something to the nurse, but at that point I felt so out of control of the situation I just rode it out. After the epidural was in, they had me lie on my back, which was extremely uncomfortable. I started to shake badly and was freezing. As the anesthesiologist walked out, my doula walked in. She saw what was going on and asked if anyone had checked me for the lip before the epidural was put in. I almost started to cry when I realized they hadn’t. She went to work soothing me and making me comfortable. She sat with my husband and helped calm him a bit, and things got quiet.
A little while passed, and I was checked again. I was ready to push! They sat me up in the bed and the nurse had me practice pushing before the OB came in. I took a moment to talk to my baby, telling him we were going to do this together and that I couldn’t wait to meet him. I pushed once and was immediately told to stop; he was right there and ready to come out! The OB came in and I pushed twice more, and my son was born. He was placed on my chest but there were too many other sheets to really hold him, with all the fussing from the nurses. They took him aside because he wasn’t breathing well, but after I insisted I hold him, he perked up. He was perfect, and the whole labor lasted about 4 hours.
In many ways I felt like a warrior; it felt like a battle to birth the way I wanted, and though I felt wounded by the care I received, it could not diminish the triumph of what I accomplished once I held my son for the first time. I felt invincible! Despite the struggle to have my voice heard and to be treated respectfully, I was able to do what no-one in the room (except my doula) thought I could. As I held my son for the first time, all I could think was “WE DID IT!”