The Mother Doesn’t Count
I think part of me died that day.
I spent such a long time after the birth of my first child not even feeling alive anymore. I was like a ghost in some movie who was screaming at everyone she encountered, asking if they could hear her. They could not. She was invisible to them like I was to the people around me after I gave birth. The baby was the only person they saw. My broken body and shattered spirit mattered to no one. It eventually stopped mattering to me.
I was not diagnosed with PTSD after I gave birth because I had no mental health care. There was no doubt that I was suffering from it for months after I gave birth. I tried talking to my obstetrician — the same one who left when his shift ended at 7 AM when I went into labor — at my 6-week check-up. He shrugged and said nothing. He seemed to have no interest in the symptoms I had for the 6 weeks after the delivery. The dizzy spells, the high blood pressure, the severely heavy bleeding, the flashbacks, the insomnia, the nightmares.
When you go to the hospital to have your baby, you do not expect to be ripped apart with no anesthetic by a monster who claims to be a doctor. You expect that you will be safe.
You do not expect to feel raped after giving birth.
Twenty-six years later, I still cannot think about any of this without sobbing. Every year when my daughter’s birthday arrives (as it did a few days ago), I have to bury it to celebrate her life. I can talk about the birth of my other two children each year on their birthdays, but my oldest learned at an early age to never ask. She knows that she did nothing wrong, and that I do not blame her, but it’s still severely difficult. This is the first time that I have written down the full story.
I went into labor at 39 weeks and 4 days. I’d had a raging urinary tract infection that had given me no symptoms, but it likely caused the spontaneous rupture of membranes. I was dilated to 4 centimeters when I arrived at the hospital at a little after 3 AM. Apparently my labor wasn’t moving fast enough for them after just a couple of hours, so they added Pitocin to my IV. That certainly worked, and it worked fast. I progressed fairly well, even lying on my side in the bed. The issue of the UTI was something I only found out after requesting my records. It turned out that I’d had it since week 24, and I was never treated for it.
My regular doctor that left at 7AM was replaced by the same doctor who delivered my husband 22 years before. Everyone was so excited about this but me, but I was in no position to argue, and I certainly didn’t know how to advocate for myself back then. I had never even met this person. By the time he came into the room, I was starting to push. That was 5 hours later! I couldn’t have even picked him out of a line-up. That’s how little I saw of him before he was all garbed up and about to do me in.
My baby was in no danger. There was no distress. She was in what they call an OP presentation. Instead of facing down during her descent, she was facing up. Ok. Not the end of the world. I had no epidural. I had not needed one. I was managing pretty well with the IV pain meds and wanted to wait until I couldn’t bear it anymore before getting an epidural. My active labor had lasted less than 6 hours, and the time from full dilation to crowning was less than 20 minutes. I only pushed for 20 minutes. Dr. Monster only let me push for 20 minutes after that. There were no decelerations. There was no distress.
During my labor, my nurse had kept coming in and asking “when do you want your epidural, honey?” I kept saying I was fine. She seemed disappointed. I never wanted to be any trouble to anyone, and giving birth was no different. I only had 3 injections of medications, one dose each hour for 3 hours. The pain was never anything I couldn’t handle.
When I looked at my records a few months later, my nurse had written something different. She had added an additional 3 doses. My husband and my mother confirmed what I had thought. They agreed that I’d only had the three doses. Was she stealing the medicine, or was she simply incompetent? I’ll never know.
When it came time for the doctor to come in, I kept asking to get off my back. I had terrible back labor, but they would not let me move. No one told me about the baby’s position. I only found out later when I read my hospital records. I tried putting my bed up, and I told them my back was hurting really bad. They did nothing but put my bed back down in a flat position and strapped my legs into stirrups.
The doctor first used the vacuum extractor to get her out. That apparently didn’t work. He then proceeded to do an episiotomy. The local injections for that hurt like hell. Then he pulled out the forceps. I only discovered later that he used mid forceps. There is a protocol for any forceps delivery, and even as late as 1994, most doctors did not use mid-forceps because of the huge risk of damage to the mother and especially to the baby. Not only did he use mid forceps, he didn’t make sure I was properly anesthetized.
He turned her a complete 180 degrees.
I had no warning and no anesthetic for that. I don’t know how he didn’t tear her head off. I was torn all the way through and had a 4th degree laceration. More things I learned by requesting my records and reading them.
You would think that when you scream and tell them that you’re dying that they would do something. You would think that they would actually care. They didn’t. I was given no medication. I was not put under. I was wide awake for what ended up being the most horrible thing I had gone through in my life. My husband was there, and he told me later that I went completely white when the monster put those things into my body and turned her. He told me later that he thought I was dead until I started screaming.
Giving birth is not supposed to feel like dying. Giving birth is not supposed to feel like rape.
I was not fortunate enough to have a supportive family during or after this experience. I had no one to stick up for me. I had no advocate to stop the doctor from assaulting me. I had no one to explain anything to me before it happened, during it, or even after. I knew something was wrong. Unfortunately because my baby was healthy, I had no legal recourse. I talked to an attorney. He told me there was nothing I could do because my baby was not damaged.
But I was not healthy. I was in pain for months after, which my leaving-at-7 doctor again shrugged off.
The only one who matters to everyone else is the baby.
In the days before wide use of the internet, there was no one to talk to about a horrible birth experience, and definitely no one to talk to about obstetric assault. The only thing that matters with a childbirth is that the child is healthy, and the mother isn’t dead. No one cares about what happens to her, how she is destroyed by maltreatment, and then she has to care for a baby while suffering from flashbacks and insomnia so bad that she forgets how to spell her own name?
That was my story in 1994. How much has changed since then? Because I had a healthy baby, and I didn’t die, does it mean that my experience doesn’t matter? At the time it happened, it certainly seemed that way. I hope things are different for other women now. I still feel dead inside when I think about that day.
I’m alive, but 26 years later, I’m still not ok.