The Third Degree
This is the story of my natural birth in a hospital setting that turned into a medical birth. My goal is to educate and encourage women to birth on their terms. Please consider your provider and the location of your birth!
A note from Richmond Doulas...such a huge thank you to Cori for sharing both of her birth stories and the inspirations and wisdom she drew from both her births. It's our dream that women could enter any hospital, be treated by any care provider and receive compassionate care, but until birth culture changes in the U.S., choosing your care provider, as Cori puts it, is time well spent. Here is some more information about choosing a care provider.
I woke up with contractions around 7 a.m. They did not subside after an hour like they had the few days before. I kept busy all day to distract myself but knew it would be the day to meet our baby!
I felt a gushing sensation around 2:30 p.m. - My water broke! I called my OB and let Donna Westcott, my doula know. I wanted to labor at home as long as possible to make sure I received as few interventions at the hospital as possible.
Finally at 4:45 we decided to drive to the hospital. Contractions were much more intense and getting closer. I continued to breathe through each contraction visualizing the pain going through my body and out my toes.
Contractions were painful but purposeful. And things seemed to be happening so much quicker than I thought they would.
At the Hospital:
My first nurse was a bitch… She wanted to hook me to the monitor immediately; she did not want to undo it so I could go pee. She did not care that I felt nauseous, and she said it was still hospital policy to check me to see if my water actually broke because so many people mistaken it for pee leaking!
Finally, the hospital OB came in but seemed annoyed. He looked over the birth plan and scoffed at a few things: He said we would only delay cord clamping about a minute and reassured me there would be no episiotomy. His biggest concern was the possibility that my baby was close to 9 pounds.
He left the room for a while and when he returned he was determined to check my cervix. He was impressed with how far along I had gotten. Again he made me feel unimportant and even though I was determined to birth naturally he seemed like he would rather do C-section to get it over with. He did not offer pain medication, which I appreciated. But he did insist on checking me more often than I felt necessary. The last time he checked me, I peed on him. (he deserved it.) They also would not let me out of the bed to walk around or unhook me from the monitor.
I remember transition…It was painful. I also remember that being the only point at which I said: "I can't do this." Donna, said you can and you are! Donna’s soothing and calm encouragement was so nice to have throughout the birth!
Before I knew it was time to push… My biggest regret is not waiting for my body to tell me when to push.
This is the point it became a medical birth and my nurse and doctor were screaming at me to push for ten seconds! The nurse held my leg and I was lying on my back… They did not know when my body was contracting. I was pushing when they told me to.
I remember a sense of relief during stage two; like my body was doing all the work, there didn’t have to be any actual pushing.
Where it all went wrong:
I should not have been on my back and I should not have pushed for a count of ten, my body was not ready for that! I should have used the positions I practiced. I should have spoken up and birth the way I had planned. I should have breathed my baby out.
In a medical birth, the doctor does not listen to the woman… (*A woman’s body is amazing and knows what to do. Let your body do its job!)
Time really escapes you in labor. Pushing didn’t seem to last long. I remember a burning sensation when the baby was crowning, Donna told me that was normal. The doctor did not talk me through the birth. I am so grateful for Donna being there and coaching me through. The OB was more into making sure I pushed hard enough.
After an additional push baby slid out onto the table. (A baby girl was here!)
The doctor was not seated, did not catch my baby, and did not have adequate towels underneath me.
I was numb from that point on. I suffered a third-degree laceration and had postpartum hemorrhaging (maybe my body was being nice and didn’t want me to remember the pain and it was my body’s adrenaline reaction to go numb.)
But this is where I question if counter pressure on my vagina and perineum and assisting the head and shoulders through would have helped. I really should have been more determined to ask for different positions during pushing.
The OB tried to partially repair me in the delivery room with no success. I had a hard time staying still and he continually yelled at me to stop moving. I only held my baby girl for a couple minutes on my chest before the doctor had packed me with gauze and took me out of the room on the way to the OR.
The doctor did not explain what had happened. He did not use the word tear or hemorrhage. He just said I had no choice but to get a spinal block and come to the OR.
My husband was left in the room with Donna and a baby who was a few minutes old. No information was shared with them except that I had to be taken out of the room and they could not be in the OR with me.
In the OR:
The anesthesiologist was pretentious. He actually said “see this isn’t so bad” when putting in the spinal tap, “you could have done this in the first place.”
In the OR, there was still no explanation of what happened. Dr. G, the OB I had been seeing in the office for prenatal visits, arrived to help repair me. She did not acknowledge me. I was awake and aware during the repair and continued to ask them questions: How is it, is it bad, what does it look like, what are you doing? They ignored me and did not speak to me directly.
A nurse assistant held my hand and talked with me the whole time (she was so sweet). Another nurse brought me a phone so I could tell my husband I was still alive and that everything would be okay.
After what felt like an eternity, I finally made it back to the room, with a catheter and no feeling in my legs. The OB informed me he ‘lost’ a sponge (gauze) that he packed me with when I was hemorrhaging and to make sure it wasn’t still inside me he ordered an x-ray.
After the x-ray, I finally got to hold my baby and try to nurse her! She did not have a good latch. It had been three hours since she was born and hunger had set in.
Breastfeeding was uncomfortable and I could not feel my legs. I also still did not really know what had happened… I was disappointed Dr. G. never came in to check on me after I made it back to the room. (So much for being her patient.)
I held my baby all night. I continued to try and nurse her with little luck. Instead of sending in a lactation consultant or a nurse who could help me get a latch, one nurse gave me a nipple shield. (Hindsight is 20/20, the nipple shield may have saved my breastfeeding journey! But it led to many weeks of stress and anxiety that I could not feed my baby without it- Why couldn’t I be coached on getting a better latch instead of using an artificial nipple?)
In the morning, two nurses came in to help me out of bed and into the bathroom where I passed out and they had to use smelling salts to wake me! I returned to the bed weak, helpless, and groggy.
Eventually, I moved to a postpartum room. Those nurses barely came into check on us. One did come in to give the baby a bath but did not welcome my help with my child…
A well respected and favorite OB discharged me. She told me three things: 1 Here are your prescriptions for Oxycodone and ibuprofen, 2 you can sit in a bathtub or sitz bath a few times a day for swelling and pain relief, and 3 you need to make an appointment to see this specialist in a week. (At this point I still have not been told what actually happened, she had the perfect opportunity to show some sympathy and do her job, yet nothing, she didn’t want to be bothered either, I was not her patient….she lost my respect.)
I was so scared to leave the hospital! I cried, a lot. I did finally take a shower but still felt numb, weak, and terrified.
The First Days Home:
I don’t remember much except that I was helpless. (A feeling I do not do well with!) I did not take the oxy but did take ibuprofen for pain and swelling. I was uncomfortable and spent a lot of time in bed trying to nurse. I would cry every time she nursed. I would look down at this perfect little human and knew that I loved her but could not express that love with words. I continued feeding her and holding her. But all I really wanted to do was leave.
A week later I went to see Dr. S., an urogynecologist. She was wonderful! Smart, direct, and caring. Finally, someone explained what had happened, she even had an illustration.
She informed me I had an infection in the laceration and listed what we would try to do to fix it. Surgery was a last resort. My instructions were to sit in a sitz bath at least three times a day, take a whole concoction of antibiotics and drink Miralax to make sure all my stools were super soft! (gross, I know)
I had follow-up appointments weekly. The only time I left the house was to go to the doctor. I continued to be devastated and uncomfortable. I blamed myself for the tear and the infection. I continually thought about what I should have done differently. Not pushing the way I did, not laying on my back, also what did I do to get this infection? Did I deserve it somehow?
The Last Resort:
Finally, at five weeks, post-partum, Dr. S. said we needed to go in and surgically remove the infection and repair the tear. I lost it. I was so nervous. I was hoping to go my whole life without any major surgery…
I had two options for hospitals. I will not go back to the hospital I delivered my daughter in for as much as a hangnail. So I chose a different location. The surgery was scheduled for the next day.
I was not prepared to leave a five week old at home without me. I had no bottles or formula. No milk pumped. I barely had the hang of breastfeeding (I was still using the nipple shield).
I had total faith in Dr. S. to get me repaired and keep me safe. But major surgery is still frightening.
The surgery was successful and Dr. S. informed me it wasn’t as bad as she thought it was going to be, the infection also was localized and not systemic and she repaired the other trauma to my vagina.
My recovery nurses at this hospital were so sweet and compassionate. They helped me set up the breast pump and kept all my milk frozen for me.
I continued to see Dr. S every other week until I got the all clear to resume all normal activity two and a half months postpartum!
The New Normal:
It took me months to feel completely comfortable in my skin (squatting scared me, I felt like I would just rip into a million pieces). At about eight weeks postpartum, I had breastfeeding down! I nursed my baby lying down, standing up, one handed, with a pillow, without one!
I continued to have feelings of anger and grief. I still blamed myself but was mad at the hospital OB. I didn’t know who to blame.
I changed to a more positive outlook shortly after. I realized it could have been worse (I could have died; it could have been a 4th degree tear going through my rectum completely).
The whole experience made me stronger and I couldn’t love my daughter any more than I do!
I had a lot of anxiety after finding out we were pregnant with baby #2. I feared that I would tear again, get an infection, and not be able to take care of a two and a half year old and a newborn.
I told Donna we were expecting as soon as we found out because I knew I wanted her to be there. She was an amazing resource and coach the first time around! One of the first things we discussed was what provider I should use. It didn’t take much convincing to know I should switch to a practice with Midwives.
I broke down in tears at each Midwife appointment. I was so nervous to birth again. They comforted me and really encouraged me to be positive. (I read positive birth affirmations daily and those positive thoughts made me believe and trust my body going into my second birth)
The pregnancy was uneventful and healthy and I enjoyed spending quality time with my oldest while she was the only one.
I thought labor was fast the first time…
On the way to the hospital my water broke in the car. Upon entering the hospital we were met by Donna and my midwife. Both were so happy to see us. They were both encouraging and calm and no one was annoyed to be caring for us. It was a positive experience from the moment we got there!
I birthed my son about twenty minutes after getting to our room. I was coached and talked through the whole birth. The nurses were welcoming to both Donna and the midwife. Everyone respected each other’s position in the room.
I labored in positions that were comfortable to me and I was not yelled at to push harder.
My son’s entrance into the world was calm.
My vagina was in one piece.
I felt empowered because my body did what it was supposed to do. His birth was a completely different experience because of my caregivers and I am grateful for that.
My advice to any soon to be mom, veteran or not, is to choose your provider wisely, research birth positions and use them, but also be ready for anything!