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My pregnancy had already been pretty awful. Being 4'10" and 95 pounds at the start, I ballooned all the way up to 179 pounds in the ten-and-a-half months that I was pregnant. It got to the point where I wasn't able to drive because my belly pressed into the steering wheel too close for comfort. I wasn't trusting Florida drivers to not rear-end me, that's for sure. My feet and ankles got so bad that it was hard to walk at all, and absolutely no shoes made for human feet would fit around my swollen cankles. My face erupted in an angry mass of acne after a lifetime of clear skin. I was a mess.
But all in all, I was happy to be carrying my very first baby girl. I couldn't wait to meet her.
At the start of my pregnancy, I knew I wanted to have my baby at home or in a birthing center. The idea of being in a cold hospital with strange hands guiding my baby into life was not one I wanted to entertain. I got information from friends, my insurance provider, and the birthing center I wanted to use. I was ready and empowered with my decisions.
Then, the 20-week ultrasounds were showing that the placenta was lying low, making the delivery more difficult and delicate than a traditional birth. Immediately, I knew what that translated to: hospital birth.
I was devastated, but I was determined to meet the situation with an open heart and mind. All birth plans can't go exactly as written, and I thought the most important thing to do would be to just go with it. I saw it as preparation for how important it is to stay flexible in parenting.
The rest of my pregnancy was spent trying to stay off of WebMD and everything else that would feed into my fear. I wasn't afraid of giving birth; I was afraid of everything that comes with being in a hospital: needles and injections and pressure to do things a specific way. I wanted to bring my baby girl into the world with the love and energy intended by my new family. I'd binge-watch The Office over and over, cringing at the episode where Cece is born and that awful nurse rolls her eyes at Pam for asking her to not bottle-feed her new baby to avoid nipple confusion. That kind of attitude was exactly what I didn't want at a time where I was already unsure and nervous, like any new mom is.
Week 40 arrived. That's not uncommon, my doctor assured me. Most babies don't come at their due date. But when week 41 came, she wanted me to go to the hospital for an induction. Something inside was screaming at me from the beginning to turn around, and when the nurse gave me the option to leave and not go through with the induction that day, I gladly took it and went home for a few more days. That was a Tuesday, and they told me to be back on Friday if I wasn't in labor already.
So, Friday morning, my boyfriend and I grabbed our birthing bag, our doctor's notes, and our plans, and we went to the hospital to meet our baby girl.
From the very beginning, I was uncomfortable, but tried to be cooperative and honest and open with all of the medical professionals with whom I came into contact. I let them know I was nervous and already had a fear of hospitals and a history of sexual trauma; I wanted them to know that I needed them to be open with me and let me know everything they were doing and what I should do to help things be as comfortable for me as possible. To be perfectly honest, it's hard enough letting my boyfriend be around me down there. To have a whole slew of people I don't know and have never seen before just lurking around by my vagina scares me to pieces.
The first woman I met that would be "caring" for me was a midwife named Susie*, a squat little woman with chubby fingers and a grimace on her face. Her apprentice was a soft-spoken, taller girl with a lip ring and long dreadlocks twisted into a top knot. The first thing Susie did was look me up and down, look at my chart, and say, "You know, you didn't need to gain so much weight."
I was shocked that a woman who chose to go into this profession would make such a condescending comment (especially when she really didn't have a leg to stand on in this department).
Her first touches were firm but not necessarily rough. She instructed as she went, telling the apprentice what she was doing as she placed the medicine behind my cervix to help along the process of induction. Susie told me not to move; she would be back to check on me in 12 hours. So I sat in bed for 12 hours, hooked up to more machines than I thought necessary for giving birth. How did we get by before modern medicine? How do people in places where these things don't exist continue to populate the area? These are the thoughts that kept running through my mind while I pined for something real to eat and watched the edited version of Mean Girls three times on the hospital television.
Twelve hours later, my anxiety was starting to get the better of me. The medicine had done nothing to further the labor. I was bloated with saline from IVs and hungry from not being allowed to really eat. Susie was clearly off her game, as she had forgotten to order the second round of medication and set back the process by another two hours. Frustrated and already exhausted, I laid back and prepared myself for the second round of medicine to be placed.
Susie decided to let the apprentice give it a try this time, and I did my best to stay still and relaxed as she made three attempts to try to place the medicine behind my cervix. Susie finally told the apprentice to move and took the medicine from the apprentice to place herself instead.
Forcefully, Susie shoved her fingers inside me to her knuckles, and my body began to tense up from the discomfort. I don't know if the show of force was supposed to be a way of telling the apprentice that this wasn't a difficult task or if she was trying to tell me that I was to blame for the fumbles, but the shock and pain caused me to cry out.
At that moment, she forced her fingers as far inside me as she could fit and, gritting her teeth, grumbled, "Suck it up."
The world stopped. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't think. I can hardly remember anything that happened between that moment and her turning her back to me to remove the glove and wash her hands. I was in complete shock. I looked around me; I was in a room full of people. My sister, my boyfriend, a nurse, the apprentice — none of them would look me in the eye. My mouth hung open in horror at what just happened.
"That was absolutely inappropriate," I managed to say to Susie's back as she reached for napkins to dry her hands. I looked around wildly, hoping that someone would come to my aid, that someone would echo my disbelief at her unprofessional and insensitive behavior.
Susie turned to me in a rage, raising her voice about how I was being uncooperative from the start and was "clearly not trying to have this child today." I was shaking as she came closer to me, her face only a foot away from mine as she leaned over the bed. I reminded her that she was rude to me before I'd ever said a word to her — that the first thing she had mentioned was my weight.
She said she couldn't help that I was "too fat."
I bitterly spat back at her, "I'm pregnant. What's your excuse?"
I'm not proud of that weak moment, but I wanted her to hurt even a fraction of the amount she had inflicted on me in such a vulnerable moment.
I told Susie to leave immediately. I explicitly told her and the nurse and the apprentice that she was not going to touch me again, that she would not be in my room, that if she was the only midwife available that I would transfer to another hospital.
Susie left, but still no one told me that I was OK. No one told me that what she did was not right.
The rest of the induction is a blur. That interaction with Susie was early Saturday morning around 5 a.m. A combination of the shock and the pain medications put me into a state of delirium. I mostly slept. The next thing I knew, it was Sunday night. I had a fever and was now considered a high-risk pregnancy. It was around 11 p.m. that my new nurse checked to see how far I was dilated, and confirmed what was my worst fear through my whole pregnancy: we were having a C-section.
At 42 weeks exactly, we were wheeled into the operating room to meet my baby girl. I rested my forehead against my boyfriend's while I was strapped to a T-shaped table, and I sang to him "I've Just Seen a Face" by the Beatles to keep myself calm while I felt the dull sensation of the surgeon moving around my insides and removing the beautiful creature I had housed inside my body for the better part of a year. It was 12:45 a.m. on Monday morning, and finally, the moment that made everything worth it was here. She was here.
It was only an hour or so later, maybe, and the nurses were noticing that I was bleeding too much. The surgeon came back into my room, took one look at me, and I was immediately swept back into the operating room. It was like one of those scenes on television, with a flurry of nurses and doctors saying "stat" and the patient looking up at the white hospital lights, wondering if that is the last thing they're ever going to see.
I calmly asked the doctor at my side, "Am I going to be OK?"
The doctor looked me right in the eyes and said, "I don't know. You're hemorrhaging. We may have to give you a hysterectomy."
I just nodded back at him — or at least I thought I did — and tried my best to keep my heart rate as steady as possible. An angel appeared at my side in the form of an anesthesiologist, who stopped everyone from working on me before he could make me comfortable and sent me to a medically induced sleep.
When I was woke up in the same recovery room, I saw my boyfriend cross the room to meet me. He told me I lost a lot of blood from retained placenta in my uterus. I had been given four blood transfusions. We were all lucky I made it out of surgery alive, he said. I just nodded back at him, looking around for my new baby. She was all I wanted.
Even being in the hospital for two more days and all of the scares that came after my interaction with Susie, it is that moment that sticks out to me most. When I look back on my memories of bringing my daughter into the world, I won't have something triumphant and sweet to show my daughter; I won't have the breathtaking photos of the natural water birth we wanted. I won't have a beautiful birth story to share.