I meet Sarah through the breastfeeding group I help admin on facebook. Such a warm, bubbly and down to Earth women! I knew Sarah had a less then ideal birth story (understatement of the year) and was thrilled when she offered to share her story. Unfortunately Sarah's story ended like many unplanned cesarean other mother's where they were left feeling abandoned and unheard by their care provider. Here is Sarah's experience, told by her in her words.
When I first found out I was pregnant, I was completely terrified, even though we had been not exactly preventing, not exactly trying. I was worried about the dream job I had just started months prior, the career I was just finally starting in that job, not having finished my Masters degree, and what if I'm not a good mom? But within 24 hours, I was over being terrified, and felt nothing but pure joy (well, okay, maybe still a little fear but that's normal!).
I had a fairly easy pregnancy, with minimal nausea, no actual sickness at all, a fairly average weight gain, and only got a bit swollen the last few days before I went into labor. At most, I was really exhausted in the first trimester, but otherwise I had a really lovely experience. My hair, skin and nails were fabulous, and I felt really good about my body, myself, and the changes I was experiencing.
On the day of Aiden's birth, I woke up for the umpteenth time to pee in the wee hours of the morning, around 3 am, and when I was just about to drift back to sleep I felt Aiden get the hiccups in my belly. He got them frequently, so I was fairly used to it, and as per usual after about a minute he would get irritated and start to kick and flail around in between hiccups, so I continued laying in bed next to my husband to try to get more sleep. This time, however, I felt a strong, painful kick and heard/felt a popping sound/sensation followed by a big gush of water. I very calmly, and quietly, said out loud to myself "I think my water just broke!" Within less than a fraction of a second my husband was up running around like a maniac looking for the light switch and generally freaking out.
My labor progressed very, very slowly. My water broke around 3:30-4 am, and by 7 am we were at the hospital. They wanted us to come in because he was 10 days early, and we live an hour south of the hospital we planned to deliver at. I wasn't feeling any contractions at all, just the slightest pressure. When they checked us in, they said that I was not progressing so they gave me Cervidil. At the most, I began to feel cramping that felt like period cramps, and after a few hours of that they decided that I wasn't in enough pain so they gave me another dose, which quickly did the trick. I had hoped for minimal medical intervention, maybe an epidural at most, so I wasn't too happy to have to get anything to induce the labor, or help it progress. They told me that because my water broke and I was not progressing, they needed to move things along. After the second dose of Cervidil, I began to feel the truly excruciating painful contractions, but was still progressing slowly. They kept telling me that I wasn't far enough along in labor to receive an epidural, and pushed Cytotec, which I refused because I did not want to get anything that would make me, or the baby, loopy. After a small amount of progression, and a really amazing nurse who was advocating for me, I was able to get an epidural. It still took too long, and I was progressing too slowly, and after some time we were at the limit for my water having broken with a risk for infection, so they started antibiotics on me to be safe. Aiden's heart rate was all over the place, from low 90s to over 200s, and I began to spike a fever towards the end. They ended up giving me a small dose of Pitocen to force me through the last few inches of dilation, which made it much more painful. I was able to get to 10 cm, and push for about an hour and a half, and despite him crowning, he would slip back up through my pelvis after every attempt to push. Finally, my fever spiked too high and they decided I not only had to have a c-section, but he had to stay in NICU for antibiotics and observation for 48 hours :( After that, it went very quickly, though it felt like an eternity before they were able to give me additional drugs to help me stop feeling the contractions and the intense urge to push. From the time I went into the OR, he was born quickly (within 15 minutes, I would say).
When birth began, at first my husband , Billy was a basket case of nerves. He was running around like a chicken with its head cut off, scrambling to figure out what to do. Once we were at the hospital, he was on point. He acted as my bouncer, keeping unwanted visitors out of the labor room. He was my entertainment, stretching rubber gloves and wearing them on his head to get me to laugh and forget the pain and fear for even a moment. He was my champion, demanding answers and help from the nurses if they weren't giving us enough support. And at the end, he was perfection. He did what I asked, and followed our son up into the NICU so that I knew he wasn't alone, and did his best to take photographs and videos, record when he asked the nurses in NICU questions, so that I felt like I could see and be there with them. Poor guy did not rest until the three of us were together safely the day after.
During my birth I remember feeling like I was losing control of my emotions when the doctors refused to give me an epidural, and kept pushing the alternative drugs I didn't want on me. The pain was overwhelming, and I began to throw up violently until one of my nurses was able to get me to re-focus and back to being as calm as possible. I remember feeling frustrated that the doctor I ended up with insisted that I lay on my back, when I had been promised that epidural or not, I would be allowed to squat and use the squat bar to help with my labor. I remember feeling incredible and powerful when I was allowed to push, especially when the nurses and my mother were encouraging me, saying they could see his head, and then immediately desperate when they told me that his heart rate was not stable. When they told me I may have to go for a c-section because he wasn't dropping, and seemed to be unable to get through my pelvis, I felt absolutely sick and heartbroken. I so wanted to do this my way, to get that skin to skin time with my baby, to latch him to my breast immediately after he was born. I had been dreaming of that time, when it was just us three (my husband, my baby, and me), and it felt like it was being ripped away from me. When they told me that my fever was too high, and I would have to go for an emergency c-section and my baby would have to go to the NICU for 48 hours, I was completely devastated. I remember looking at my mom, and the look in her eyes said everything. She told me later that she could see it in my face, like I was begging her "please, mom, don't let them do this" but there was nothing we could do, it was too critical a situation at that point. I was furious and sad, and to make it worse, I still felt the strong contractions, and the intense urge to push. Every fiber of my being was screaming at me to push, and the doctors and nurses were holding me down, telling me NOT to push no matter what I felt. I remember saying "you need to make the contractions stop, then, because I can't NOT push." Waiting for the additional drugs to relieve that sensation was awful, and I felt like I was being tortured. They rushed me into the OR (literally, running alongside my stretcher), which was even more terrifying. I started to have a strong reaction to the anesthesia, causing my body to tremble very badly, which was also really scary. I remember laying on the operating table, holding onto my husband's hand for dear life, and just praying to hear my baby's cry when they got him out safely. I felt totally powerless, absolutely terrified, and completely and totally exhausted.
During my birth,I had one or two amazing nurses during labor - the first one being the best. She was the one who grabbed me by the shoulders and told me I had to keep it together, to not lose control, and that she would do whatever she could to help me stay focused. She helped me through getting the epidural, helped me regain control when I lost it, and came back to check in on us after he was born. Unfortunately, her shift ended early in my labor, so she left not long after I got the epidural, and it was many hours later that I actually ended up having him. My recovery nurses were all absolutely wonderful too- made sure I rested, did whatever they could to help me feel comfortable, and to get me up to see my baby as soon as possible.
My cesarean was not planned & I felt robbed, betrayed, by the doctors and by my own body. They never once told me that my baby was sunny side up, and that could make it difficult to deliver. I felt completely out of control, and completely robbed of the experience that I had been looking forward to all throughout my pregnancy. I especially felt like that quality skin to skin time was ripped away from me. I felt lonely, desperate, and helpless. I never in a million years thought I would have a c-section, so I did zero research on it and had no idea what to expect. I still get incredibly emotional when I talk about it, when I see videos or photos of normal vaginal deliveries, or mothers holding their babies within seconds of them being born. I feel like I was robbed, and ultimately like my body betrayed me. I'm beyond grateful that the doctors did what was needed and got my son out safely, and that we are both happy and healthy today, but I don't know if I will ever truly get over the experience.
From the moment Aiden was born, all I wanted to do was hold him, and I wasn't able to until over 9 hours later because of having a c-section and him going up to NICU. I was so desperate to lay my eyes on his sweet face, to hold him in my arms, to get that skin to skin time, and to try to latch him. Having missed that opportunity, I felt like a horrible mom, even if it wasn't my fault. I kept thinking of my poor baby, without me. They had called down to my room to get permission to give him a little bit of formula to tide him over until I could be there, and even though they said I didn't have to say yes, I did, and I felt like a failure right away. I had promised myself that I would do whatever it took to exclusively breastfeed, and here we were, not even a few hours in and my baby was receiving formula. My recovery nurse was amazing, helped clean me up and get me up to go see him a little sooner than I was supposed to. I remember being wheeled up to the NICU, and they had set up the area around his little tub (or whatever you call the little things they go in after birth- not an incubator, as he was healthy otherwise, just needed antibiotics and monitoring). The NICU nurses had sectioned off the area he was in with screens for privacy, and made sure that the moment I was near, he was in my arms, against my skin. I felt the most overwhelming sense of relief, like I had been waiting my whole life for that moment. Feeling the weight of him on my chest was like lifting the burden of ten thousand pounds off my shoulders, and I felt more complete than ever. The lactation consultant met us there, and came over to help after giving me a moment to really just hold him. We had difficulty latching, due to flat nipples, and he had a slightly recessed chin, so we had to use a nipple shield. It was like a reminder that my body wasn't able to do what it was supposed to, but he did latch with the shield, and we made it work. I remember feeling so sad that he was connected with tubes and wires, and that my tubes and wires kept tangling with his. He had bruises from the IV for some time after that, and every time I saw them, I felt horrible. I went up to see him in the NICU as much as they would let me until they finally released him into my hospital room. Once we were together, I finally felt some peace. I was in pain, and exhausted, but I kept that baby on my chest as much as humanly possible, and felt total bliss.
The first few hours after birth were awful! They were the loneliest hours of my life. My baby was up in the NICU, and my husband was with him, as I had asked. When I was wheeled into recovery after the c-section, my mother, ever persistent, forced her way in to see me despite their rules (since my husband had access to me, and only one person was allowed, they wouldn't let anyone see me while he was up in the NICU with our son). My mom said she had to see me to make sure I was okay after the way I looked at her when they told me I had to have the c-section and that my baby would be in NICU. I managed to fall asleep after that, but I felt so alone in the world. They brought me up to my room in the maternity ward, and I felt even more desperate and alone. I had carried that little wiggle worm in my belly all those months, and now he had been ripped from me, leaving a large and terrifying wound, and I felt so. damned. alone. I could hear other newborns crying in the rooms around me, and I just felt so sad. It was the hardest thing I've ever gone through, even now. I felt like I was missing a limb, like my soul had been removed. I remember the nurses come in to check on me, the lactation consultant came in and showed me how to use a breastpump (even though the nurse insisted there was no way I would remember because they had just given me some strong pain medication). My epidural line had been compromised after the surgery, and they hadn't realized right away until I mentioned that I was beginning to feel a great deal of pain, so they had to remove it and give me different pain medication. It was just over 9 hours before I was able to go see my baby. My family was reaching out to me by phone, trying to get into my room to see me, and I refused to see or speak with anyone until I was able to get to my baby, and refused to let anyone else see him until I had held him in my own arms. My husband went back and forth between NICU and my room, showing me pictures and videos of our son, and doing his best, but he even felt helpless when he saw how much I was beside myself. I was an absolute wreck until I was able to get to Aiden.
During and after my birth I felt so sad and lonely, so overwhelmed, and so railroaded. If given the chance again I would definitely have advocated more for myself, pushing back when they insisted I lay on my back, asked more questions, and been more involved in the process. I wish I had taken a more intensive labor class to help with breathing, instead of the silly one day at the hospital class where you talk about breathing for all of ten damned minutes! I decided to switch to a different doctor and practice after this experience. My OB was a good surgeon, but that's all. She wanted to induce me before she left for a trip, and I ended up not having her anyway. I want to try for a VBAC so that I can get that experience I wanted so badly for Aiden and I. I will definitely enlist the help of a doula or midwife, so that I know I have someone on my side to help advocate for me, and walk me through the process. I still don't understand how I wasn't told that Aiden was sunny side up, and I wonder even now if there was a way to have delivered him vaginally. It took months after having Aiden before I felt like I was able to make up for the time we lost in those first few hours. I felt like I had to hold on to him for months afterwards to make up for lost time. I'm lucky that I had a generally easy baby after all of that. I like to think that the universe felt bad for that birth experience, and figured it would throw me a bone with a happy baby that sleeps well.
I have to say, as traumatic as my birth story was, I feel like it was so important to know that any birth experience can be traumatic. I felt so overwhelmed by emotions after having Aiden - so much love and happiness, yet also so much sadness and frustration for how it all happened. I had no idea that it was normal to feel that way, even with a totally and completely uncomplicated birth. It wasn't until I went to the new moms support group when Aiden was 5 weeks old and met Katherine Whiteside (the postpartum doula), who gave me a big hug and listened to my story, and told me that what I was feeling was completely natural and OK. For those 5 weeks leading up to that, I had felt like a complete lunatic and was certain that I was losing my mind to postpartum depression and anxiety. I was also feeling like a huge failure for having to use a nipple shield for 3 months with Aiden, and it wasn't until I went to the local Linda's Ladies breastfeeding support group meeting that I realized how normal and OK it was, and got the support that I so desperately needed. I hope that any woman can find that kind of support. I would tell other mothers to be easy on yourself, trust your instincts, and soak up every single second you can with that baby.
I want to say a BIG THANK YOU for Sarah being brave and sharing her story. It is raw and filled with many emotions. But it's an important story to tell. Aftercare in these situations is so important. Sarah found a group is could lean on and go through the emotions. I you are going through something similar and need resources please reach out to me. Here are a few:
Hudson Valley Mom
NY Postpartum Support
Hire Danielle As A Postpartum Doula or Find Another Support Person Here
What other support groups and meetings would you suggest?
Hi I am Danielle. I am a doula, childbirth educator, placenta encapsulation specialist, mother, wife & passionate about birth in the Dutchess, Westchester, Rockland & Orange County, NY area.
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Danielle Bianco, (She/Her)
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Birth doula, postpartum doula, lactation support & sleep consulting
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