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A note from Annie: I often write a response following the posts that women have so generously shared here, but would like to offer a preamble instead to Stacey’s important but tragic story. To the extent that birth stories flow freely, talk of loss in birth is often buried – hard to speak of and hard to hear. Birth, noted writer Roxanna Robinson “is very close to death. The two things move terrifyingly near to each other, like two huge planets. Their conjunction unthinkable.” If you’ve read my book you may know that I think there is much to be learned from the silence that surrounds the topic – that it shapes and in profound ways the way we behave around, conceive of and value all births, and is part of why the birth wars have been so divisive and intractable.
And so I am grateful to Stacey for sharing with such raw honesty her story. It’s not easy to read, or think about – and to me, unimaginable to live with. But it’s incredibly important to have in our midst. Some birth advocates have offered that we must approach birth “without fear.” But silence is no antidote to fear. And I’d counter, anyway, that it is courage rather than the absence of fear that a good birth requires.
In an essay she read for NPR, Karla Holloway put forth for our consideration one manifestation of this silence – the fact that we have no name in the English language for a woman who has lost a child. Children who have lost parents are orphans; an adult who has lost a spouse is a widow, or widower. “But one of my children has died, and we are, I am, what?” Stacey answers the question, “I’m still a mother.” Indeed, Stacey, you are. And in the spirit of A Good Birth, you are "wise woman" too.
From Stacey: I had a beautiful, low-risk pregnancy but a tragic birth. These are the stories that no one wants to hear, but I have learned that there are many of these stories out there. My labor and delivery were handled poorly, and my son was born with fatal birth asphyxia. After 41.5 weeks of a textbook pregnancy, I was admitted to [the hospital] for an induction. I had just turned 39, was very healthy, and this was my first pregnancy. My cervix was not ripe, so it took several days to ripen it enough for my midwife to break my water, which triggered active labor. I labored for 25 hours....the first 5 hours were without medication. Then, I asked for the epidural so I could try to sleep through the night. By the next morning, I was ready to push. I pushed for a couple of hours, and my son's heart rate looked good on the monitor. At this point, my midwife consulted the OB on call just in case a c-section was going to be needed. The OB said I was fine to keep pushing. I continued to push with all my might another 1.5 hours. The OB came back in and said I had pushed the baby far enough down for them to attempt to use foreceps. Well, they could not correctly place the foreceps because of the way my son was positioned. So, they tried the vaccum. That didn't work, so they took me to the OR for a c-section. It took about 35 minutes to do the c-section. When Tyler was delivered, he was not breathing. They attempted to resusciatate him. After 10 minutes of not getting a heart beat, they came over to me and my husband to ask us if we wanted them to keep trying to work on him. We said yes. At 12 minutes after delivery, they were able to get a faint heart beat. They took him to the NICU for "cooling", which is a treatment for birth asphyxia. Shortly thereafter, the neonatologist delivered the news, which was not good. Our son had been without oxygen for too long and wasn't going to make it. No parent should leave the hospital after a healthy, full-term pregnancy with an empty car seat and come home to a nursery that will never be used. After an induction, foreceps, vacuum, and c-section, the providers still did not save my baby. Every intervention was used with me but were used inappropriately. The induction went on for four days....way too long. My labor was allowed to go on for 25 hours, which is too much stress on me and the baby. The providers told us later, that they were tracking my heart beat in the OR, but they thought it was my baby's. It was an incorrect use of the technology. If they had realized he was in distress in the OR, a c-section would have been done faster. If a c-section had been done 30 minutes, an hour, a day earlier, Tyler would be here and be a thriving 8-month old. Providers need to remember that birth is risky and the trip down the birth canal is dangerous. Death at birth is devastating. I did everything I could for my child, but my health care team let me down. But I'm still a mother.
last month I celebrated the birth of my daughter, Cora Marie. It was three years ago that my life changed in such unexpected, beautiful, and very humbling ways. Motherhood is the great equalizer. Whether you're a teen or a nearing forty, parenthood is an experience that can bring you to your knees- in exhaustion and exultation. It's miraculous and monotonous and every emotion that can be described. I can now admit, that I was a much better parent before I had children. I knew exactly what needed to be done to birth and raise a healthy, well adjusted, brilliant and well mannered child. I was a Doula. and studying to become a Lamaze Educator. I attended Birthing from Within and Hypnobabies classes. I was planning a homebirth where I would bring my baby into this world in a warm tub by the light of the fireplace. It was going to be perfect. Perfect is not a word that should be used to describe pregnancy and parenting plans. Nothing and noone is perfect. The closest thing to perfection during my birthing time was my team. I had amazing Midwives, Doulas and husband who supported me with love and compassion that still makes me fall deeper in love with him at the thought. These women and my Partner, coupled with my education, is what made a very imperfect event empowering. I developed preeclampsia at nearly 37 weeks and I was required to be hospitalized. I was fortunate in that I had attended many births and knew that flexibility is what can make or break a Mother psychologically. I viewed the hospital health care team as allies and I collaborated on my care plan. I felt empowered because I was informed. I was empowered because I was supported. I made the hospital my home for the days that I labored. I had expected an induction to be binding, painful and terrifying, but the love around me created a safe environment where I never paid mind to the IVs and monitors. Later, upon viewing photos of myself in labor, I was surprised to see that for all intents and purposes I looked like a cascade of interventions, but it was so far from what I felt at the time. My birth was beautiful and fierce. Though it wasn't what I had planned, it was healthy and holistic. I was tended to mind, body and soul. I advocated for myself, and when I exhausted, my husband stood in and protected my space and wishes. My Doula stood by me for the days I labored, my midwives spoke gently to me, and my girlfriends honored the sacred space and made me feel like a goddess. Every woman deserves to feel mighty in their birth- it more easily ushers the ferocity required of Motherhood. I am passionate about childbirth guidance because I feel as though I'm an example of having a good birth in less than ideal circumstances. I didn't just go along for the ride because my path changed- I still steered the wheel with the help of my team. Knowing what one's choices are and how to advocate is essential in our birthing culture. Empowering the Partner to support the Mother is crucial.From my own experiences and the births I have witnessed, I have learned a few things including:
- Find providers you trust. Know their back up providers and be sure that they align with your philosophy.
- Get educated about the entire perinatal period. This includes childbirth and breastfeeding classes.La Leche is an excellent way to immerse yourself in Motherhood while pregnant.
- Prepare for Parenthood. Birth is kinda like a wedding- many of us get wrapped up in the day only to be surprised that we should have had an understanding of the relationship... which will continue for a lifetime.
- Get a Doula. They do not take the place of a Partner, only enhance the experience. To find a Doula,click here.
- Find your Tribe. There is nothing more special than finding other New Mamas to laugh and cry with.
- Own Your Birth. If it causes pain or happiness postpartum, share it, process it and whatever feelings you have, know that it's okay and normal to have your opinions because it was your experience. Click here for resources
Thank you Karissa for this incredibly wise and empowering post!! Indeed, we all deserve to feel mighty, and with insights like yours we can get there. Cheers to you, Annie
My first birth was ok but I'd never call it great. Some parts were ok, some not so much. I didn't feel involved, I didn't feel respected, and once I had pain medication I felt almost like I no longer mattered. I got a healthy baby in the end so I'd count it as ok. My second was fantastic. It was a great birth. I went in looking for a medication free vaginal birth. My midwife, doula, and husband were all very supportive of this. My nurse was great and so supportive of my plans too. She'd just pop in to tell me I was doing great and head back out leaving us to do the work. It's exactly what I wanted. About 38 hours into labor I was exhausted and asked to talk about pain medication so I could rest. The nurse came in and respectfully gave me my options and fully discussed them with me. I chose an epidural. It wasn't the plan but it's what I wanted at the time. Breaking my water and pitocin to speed things up were both offered and I declined. My wishes were respected without question or threats, something I've seen done many times as a doula. My midwife caught my daughter and placed her skin to skin, again exactly what I wanted. I was treated like an educated person that was capable of making decisions for myself, that's all I was asking for and I got it. That's what makes a good birth.
I'm so glad you found your good birth the second time around, Melissa. It can take time, and sometimes a birth or two. I am sure in your work as a doula you help other women find their own good births, too. Take care, and thank you for sharing, Annie