As I sit here writing my birth story, almost three years later, I’m amazed at what my body has gone through, and still continues to go through.
My daughter was born hours before a snow storm hit Philadelphia in 2016. I remember driving to the hospital with my partner. Excited and nervous. Telling myself not to think about it too much. To just go with the flow. That, no matter how, my daughter would be born soon, and the lower back pain and awful reflux I’d experienced my entire third trimester would soon be over.
We arrived at the hospital around 1am. The front doors were locked, and we had to use an intercom to get a security guard to let us in. I waddled to the labor and delivery unit with clear fluid dripping from my body. A woman checked us in and told us where our delivery room was.
The delivery room was large. My bed was uncomfortable. Someone who I cannot remember now hooked my baby up to the monitor. Eventually, a man, who I assume was a resident, did a cervical check. My cervix was still closed, but he’d tested the leaking fluid. It was amniotic fluid, and, for that reason, I had to stay. The medical team decided to induce me by inserting misoprostol into my cervix. I was checked four hours later, and still not dilated. I recall the second cervical check being one of the most painful things I’d ever experienced. My examiner was an older white woman – a doctor or a nurse practitioner – I don’t recall. I just remember her forceful shoving her hand into my vagina and not stopping when I screamed out in pain. She had no remorse for my obvious discomfort, told me my cervix was still closed and that she wanted to try another dose of misoprostol, this time in my check, and she left. I wept into my pillow. Not even being a nurse had prepared me for being treated like a diagnosis and list of symptoms, and I wanted to go home.
After the second dose of misoprostol, I started to feel intense discomfort in my lower back. My primary nurse had gone to lunch, and I rang the call bell for the nurse covering her. Another older white woman walked into my room, and I asked her if I could get an epidural. She asked me to rate my contractions on a scale of 1-10. I told her nine. She looked at the screen which was monitoring my daughter’s heart rate and my contraction pattern, and scoffed, “Oh, you’re not a nine!” I didn’t know what to say. At this time, I was a pretty new Registered Nurse myself, with less than one year of experience working with adults with acute and chronic illness. I did not work in the OB setting, so I told myself, “listen to them. They know what they’re talking about.” Still, I felt vulnerable. I felt like a patient who wasn’t being listened to, and even though I spend 36 hours each week advocating for complete strangers, I was completely unable to advocate for myself in that moment. It wasn’t until after my daughter was born that I’d learn about a study that was done which confirms white practitioners perceive black people as being able to experience more pain than white people.
The nurse told me to wait a little longer before requesting an epidural, so I did. Awhile later, a black woman walked into my room and introduced herself as the nurse practitioner. She asked what my plans for pain management were. I reiterated to her that I wanted an epidural, but I was waiting, at the advice of the nurse. The nurse practitioner looked me straight in the eye and said, “I don’t see why you have to wait. If you want an epidural, I will call anesthesia right now.” Possibly ten minutes later, I was in position to receive an epidural.
I was afraid to get the epidural. Stories I’d heard about possible paralyzation from the needle going into my back played in my head. But after a few minutes and hardly any pain, the epidural was in and I was fine. Or so I’d thought.
Shortly after the epidural placement, several staff members came running into my room. They put oxygen on my face and made me get on all fours and rock my hips from side to side. A young white women pushed something in my IV, which I can now speculate was ephedrine. No one told me what was going on. No one said anything to my partner who was standing near my bed watching all of this happen. Again, I did not ask questions. I just did what they said. In retrospect, I can assume my daughter’s heart decelerated and my blood pressure dropped as a result of me receiving the epidural.
Once we were stabilized, my attending OB finally came to see me. She explained that I wasn’t making cervical change with the misoprostol, and she didn’t think my baby would tolerate pitocin. She recommended a cesarean section. I started bawling. I was a young health woman. I’d never had surgery before, and the thought of being cut was terrifying. My OB tried to empathize with me, “If you wanted a c-section, I’d think you were crazy.” I looked over at my mom who had snuck in somewhere during the madness, and my partner, and asked them what I should do.
I ultimately decided to get the c-section because it felt like my only option. When your doctor says your unborn child may not tolerate labor, your hands feel tied. I knew I had to birth my baby as safely as possible, and somehow that meant via c-section.
I left my mom and my partner in the delivery room, and as the nurse and anesthesiologist wheeled me back to the operating room, so many terrifying thoughts swirled around my head. Would I feel the incision? Would I die? Would my baby be ok? I began to have a panic attack. This was absolutely not how I’d envisioned my birth story unfolding.
In the OR, I remember Justin Bieber playing on the radio. They started the surgery, and I laid there trying to hold it together. The only person who acknowledged my fear was the nurse anesthetist standing at the head of the OR table. Her offer was, “I’ll give you something for anxiety once they baby is out.”
Suddenly, I felt intense pressure. I started shouting, “I can feel that! I can feel that!” My doctor didn’t explain to me the tremendous amount of pressure I would feel as she and her resident stretched my skin to make room for the baby to come out. I thought something was going terribly wrong, and I panicked even more.
At 8:43pm my daughter was born. She was 6 lbs 14 oz. A nurse took her over to a radiant warmer before I got a chance to see her. I could hear the nurse’s saying how wide awake my baby was, and that she was rooting. I didn’t hear her crying. I felt numb, physically and emotionally, as they sutured me back together. My partner was called over to the warmer to cut the remaining part of the umbilical cord and to take pictures with our baby. I laid on the OR table with the blue drape blocking my view of the doctors and my family.
Finally, a woman brought my daughter over for me to see. She was wrapped up and had a little pink hat on. Months later, I’d remembered that I wanted to do skin to skin and delayed cord clamping. We weren’t offered those options. They took my partner and our daughter back to the delivery room, where my mom was waiting. I stayed in the OR. No one offered to let me keep my baby next to me and transfer back to the delivery room together with her. Days later, I would see pictures of my mom holding her first grandchild in the delivery room during the time that I was still in the OR. During this crucial first hour of her life where skin to skin and early breastfeeding would’ve helped her transition to life outside of my womb.
I still weep at all of the missed opportunities to advocate for myself or my daughter. If I could do it again, I would have had a doula with me for support.