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When my husband and I found out we were pregnant, we embarked, without a heap of conviction, on a journey to have our daughter in our Jacuzzi tub.
My admittedly shallow reason: I was not trying to pay on a hospital bill. Yeah, deep.
After months of searching, I was referred to a home-birth-friendly midwife who had a doctor as her backup. On my first visit, she briskly asked me, “So you’re going to do a home birth?”
“All right, then. And that’s the last time we’re going to mention that.” She was hired!
Once the midwife problem was solved, I began to settle into my decision to give birth at home. Prenatal visits with my midwife were amazing. We sat on her couch, which smelled faintly of incense, surrounded by ambient music and two soft-spoken doulas, and sipped agave-sweetened hot tea.
She lent us books and videos on birthing, labor, parenthood, breastfeeding, and prenatal yoga, and expected us to grow just as our Little Bean was.
By mid-pregnancy, I knew I wanted to experience birth without any pain meds, surrounded by my family, in an environment where I was free to walk around, watch some Netflix while rolling on a birthing ball, eat fruit, Cheez-Its and crackers, take a hot bath and possibly even reach down to pull my daughter into the world myself.
I started experiencing contractions around Saturday, March 3. My mom drove up from Florida to see her first grandbaby. But, no baby that night. More contractions, stronger, still off and on, hardened my belly on Sunday, March 4. I walked all over Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, malls, my neighborhood street, rocked on my birthing ball while I watched "Being Elmo" on Netflix, did prenatal yoga stretches -- but no baby that night, either.
Worse, I came down with PUPPP, which is medical shorthand for itchy pregnancy rash from hell. My body looked and felt as if I had curled up in a red fire ant bed at dinnertime. My belly, feet, legs, thighs, back, hands, and arms broke out in angry red bumps that itched incessantly. I would wake up at 4:27am, sit on the edge of the bed and scratch my skin open.
So by the time Monday, March 5, rolled into view, I was sleep-deprived, itchy, babyless, and plagued with contractions I couldn’t time to save my life.
But I was still wholly unprepared for what came that night, after more fruitless walking, rocking, and contracting. My midwife and mother stood by my bed, doulas hovering nearby for support, and told me in similar soft voices that I could not continue to labor at home: we would need to go the hospital.
And if anyone had told me that a birth plan is a dream like "I want to be a firefighter" or "I want to save the whales," a haloed, hallowed dream with fuzzy edges that you practice telling your unborn children when they are old enough to ask; a dream that you grow over nine months and cradle inside your heart; a dream that you wrap yourself with gingerly at 4:27am during itch fits, or when sharing your lunch with office toilet bowls; a dream that is the bridge from pregnancy to motherhood, which women must build, plank by plank, to stay sane -- if anyone had told me that a birth plan is that type of dream, I wouldn’t have believed them -- until I cried at the loss of mine.
On Tuesday, March 6, we headed to the hospital. On Wednesday, March 7, they started me on Pitocin, which ratcheted up my contractions.
I was encouraged by my midwife to get the epidural to loosen my hips, so I quietly told the nurse, after hedging for hours, that I wanted an epidural. Biggest. Lie. Ever. When the anesthesiologist rolled his cart into the room, my hands started trembling. The anesthesiologist told me to be still; I shook. I cried.
The doctor cheerfully proclaimed it to be “all over!” and they slowly eased me onto my back, while numbness took hold of my toes, legs, hips, heart. I felt jailed, harassed by an alarm-beeping IV line, strapped down with itch-inducing belly monitors and blood pressure cuffs, catheterized with tubes invading my vagina, and taped on the back with the frightening epidural line.
Through the early morning of Thursday, March 8, my baby’s heart rate shot up into the alarming 190s and 200s, causing nurses to dash into the room, just like on television. I turned over on my side, waiting, knowing that at any minute, someone -- be it midwife, mother, husband, nurse or doctor -- would get in my face speaking in over-soft Hospital Voice, and tell me that I needed a Caesarean.
They did not disappoint. I sounded dreadful to my own ears; I never cried so much throughout my entire pregnancy.
The surgeon came in, a brusquely efficient woman named Dr. Rogers, who was ready to get this thing going, chattering about how she didn’t care if the nurses switched shifts. Then I met Dr. Anesthesiologist #2. Her actual name was Dr. Dong, which fits, because she was an absolute dick to me. She crouched five millimeters away from my nose as if I were five.
“You care about your baby, right? This is about your baby now.”
Right, because I really didn't care about my baby before. I don’t know why I didn’t slap her. I clenched my fists and just nodded. Whatever. Hook up the IV to the anesthesia and go away. More numbness.
The bustling increased with more faceless nurses unplugging IVs, monitors, bed cords, and wheeling me out of the room. I wasn’t talking anymore; my eyes worked overtime as they slammed my bed through the OR doors. When they transferred me from the bed to the operating table, they tied my arms down with Velcro straps on either side of me.
One of the nurses addressed me as “Crybaby” while I was lying there. My ears only heard red afterward.
Then Dr. Dong/Dick went in again. She perched on a stool next to my head and told me, “You know what your problem is? You’re not in control; God is in control.”
Which, under normal circumstances, would have me all Amen and Hallelujah. But you do not tell a pregnant someone who is about to be cut open that they don’t have any control. I wanted to punch her again.
And again, when, a few minutes later, she sprang over to me and proclaimed, “This is a celebration! You should be crying tears of joy! You have a baby coming!”
I don’t think I smiled from Tuesday to Thursday, until they introduced me to a squinty-eyed infant bundled in a white cap and blanket. She was beautiful.
They sewed up my incision tightly and bound it with skin glue, but I still bled in areas they did not slice with a scalpel, but with their bullying and lack of compassion.
I did not realize that I was depressed until my mother caught me sobbing in the bathroom weeks later, healthy baby and all.
Four months after my daughter’s arrival, they shut down the maternity ward for that hospital. And I cannot help but wonder if another mother, one braver than I, spoke up and admitted that she felt bullied while birthing. I never told any hospital officials about my experience, feeling that I did not have the right to dwell on how traumatized I felt, because Samira arrived and she was healthy. For this, alone, I am thankful.