About seven years ago, I was sitting in my obstetrician’s office when he told me that my vaginal canal was far too small for me to give birth vaginally. I would need a cesarean section. I was fine with that, not because it’s the easy way out (there is no “easy way out” when it comes to giving birth), but because I wanted to do what the doctor considered best for my son and his heath.
A few months later, the night before my scheduled C-section, I had my “final” meal before I had to fast; it was an eggplant parmesan sandwich. After a few bites, something felt weird. I had false labor pains weeks prior, but this was different. This felt real…and it was.
I ran to the bathroom and realized I was bleeding. My husband called my doctor as I writhed on the bed in excruciating pain, and then drove us to the hospital as fast as he could. I was brought to the maternity ward, where we waited for an hour just to sign in.
After a checkup, I was 3-4 centimeters dilated, but the hospital was busy and gave me medication to stop my contractions — even though they knew I was four days past my due date and in active labor. They just didn’t have time or space for me.
The attending doctor reluctantly admitted me and I was given an epidural. I explained that I was due for a C-section the following day, but she told me to “give it a shot.” “It” being vaginal birth. I was confused, uncomfortable, and scared. The doctor who was supposed to do my C-section was nowhere to be found, so his partner was going to be the one to deliver this baby.
She examined me and decided that, with an epidural, a vaginal birth would be fine — despite her own partner disagreeing with her.
As a first-time mother, what the heck was I supposed to do? Doctors were coming in giving me and my husband different strategies. And honestly, I didn’t want to piss off any doctor who would be handling my newborn.
Hours later, I felt a pop. My water had broken. I buzzed the nurses to let them know.
But it had. And they waited to check on me as they gossiped outside about something: An annoying patient? The current Casey Anthony trial? Who knows, but with each minute that passed, I knew something was wrong.
Finally, the doctor came in to see me.
It turned out that not only had my water broken, but that my baby had swallowed meconium. Meconium is the baby’s first poop, and swallowing it can block their airways.
The doctor, as well as the head of obstetrics at the hospital who came in to visit me, didn’t seem concerned at all. Actually, they were very lax about the entire situation. I’m not naive to think that birth is some beautiful experience with roses and unicorns; I didn’t expect to be treated like Princess Kate. But I should be treated with respect, and that’s not what happened.
When I was dilated to 10 centimeters, they wheeled me into an operating room…just in case. The hospital staff forced me to lie down even though I was choking on my own vomit. I begged them to hold my back up so that I could sit for a moment to catch my breath. I was only met with cries to stop complaining and “just get on with it.”
Every time I had the urge to push, I’d scream and cry from the pain.
I was scared and angry.
At one point, the head of obstetrics popped in and told me I was pushing wrong. So — in my classic fashion — I told him that he should fucking push then. I was receiving no help or guidance whatsoever.
When my baby finally arrived via a vacuum (which wasn’t even explained to me until days after his birth), his cries were weak.
The pediatric nurses had to suction the meconium from his throat. Both he and I had fevers of 104 degrees. He was taken straight to NICU after I held him for 30 seconds. After that, I wasn’t allowed to see him for 24 hours.
I’ve been told that I expected better treatment because I’m of a generation that expects handouts. But anyone who believes a pregnant woman should be treated this way needs to reassess themselves. Thankfully, both my son and I made it out okay.
My son is now almost seven years old. He is also autistic. I’m not an anti-vaxxer or a conspiracy theorist, but I’ve thought about the way my delivery played out, how my son was subsequently treated at the hospital. I do believe that his lack of oxygen resulting from the meconium he swallowed may be partially to blame for his diagnosis. According to Safe Birth Project and medical researchers, severe cases of meconium aspiration syndrome can deprive the baby’s brain of oxygen for long enough to cause brain damage and developmental disabilities.
I love my son and I wouldn’t change a single thing about him, but I still don’t understand how our birth experience can be acceptable.
Why is it considered normal for distressed pregnant women to be dehumanized by doctors and treated like they are packages at an Amazon factory?
Each pregnancy and birth is different, and each doctor should have the compassion and knowledge to treat each one as needed. I feel lucky that my son is with me, because I know there are other moms whose experiences were so much worse.
We, as mothers, need to be advocates for ourselves and our babies. Because when it comes right down do it, many doctors just see us as another chart in the filing cabinet.