My story illustrates the impact that birth trauma can have on women. On Tuesday, September 16, 1986, two weeks after his due date, my son Jeffrey was delivered by C-section, weighing 9 pounds. 13 ounces I started prenatal care at 22 weeks with a doctor recommended by a friend. The doctor indicated that he supported my birth plan for a natural delivery with minimal interventions. My doctor had privileges at two hospitals. During the third trimester, my partner and I toured both. I selected the hospital whose standard procedures were least invasive; no IVs or enemas and encouraged to walk during labor.

A little after midnight on September 16, my water broke. I had no contractions at this time, but I called my doctor. He said he had a patient in preterm labor at 26 weeks that required his attention and that I would have to go to the other hospital instead. After a quick shower we drove there, where my partner took care of paperwork while I underwent his standard procedures, including an enema and IV needle insertion.

At the time, she was having strong, regular contractions. Then they took me to a delivery room and put me on fetal monitoring and I couldn’t walk. Despite these interventions, I controlled the pain and walked naturally for nine hours. My doctor checked on my progress several times, but he focused mainly on his other patient. I progressed well and at 7:00 I was 9 cm.

At 9:15 when my doctor checked me again, I was still 9 cm and the baby had not descended. He said I could afford to work longer, but he wouldn’t change a thing; the baby was too big. After nine hours of intense contractions, a couple spending more time in the cafeteria or asleep and lying on their backs staring at the walls, that’s when I lost control and started crying. Within 15 minutes I was in the operating room and they were administering a spinal cord. At this point I was so exhausted that once I no longer had the pain from the contractions, I fell asleep.

I remember very little until that afternoon. My vague memories include Jeffrey’s first cry and my ex bringing me a picture of him in the recovery room. Because he had swallowed myconium, he had to be observed in the nursery and I was not able to hold him or attempt to nurse him until that night. I was unable to room in due to the c-section, and despite the sign on his bassinet telling the nurses that he should be breastfed on demand, he was given formula and not brought to me for hours.

At the time, I was very disappointed that I had a C-section and felt that I had somehow failed as a woman. I was also intensely angry with my doctor. I felt that despite a good relationship during my pregnancy, he had failed me when I needed him most. I was particularly annoyed at the tone he used with me in suggesting that a C-section was necessary. I felt that the tone of voice he used when he told me that I could afford to work more time, but that it would do no good, was intimidating. I remember later comparing that experience to emotional rape.

Because my son was in daycare most of the time and my partner was at work, I was alone in my hospital room most of the day. I cried often during my five day hospital stay. I was also angry that the nurses had more time with my new baby than I did. I was able to see him only part of the day. I never got to have him with me at night. Our breastfeeding experience got off to a rocky start because she was given bottles of formula against my wishes. It was as if the nurses felt they knew more about my baby than I did. I undermined my confidence as a new mother.

Even after we got out of the hospital, we still had a hard time. I had a minor infection in my incision. My son had a bacterial infection that caused blisters. It started on his scalp where the monitor had been inserted, but soon covered the area under his fat little arms. She also developed a severe case of thrush that turned breastfeeding into a complete nightmare. It was over two months before my sore and cracked nipples healed. I can clearly remember sitting on the couch with my son to nurse and crying in pain.

I eventually moved on emotionally or so I thought. I realized the truth when more than eighteen months later I discovered that I was pregnant once again. All my old fears and feelings resurfaced. I sat and cried for hours; Not because the pregnancy was unplanned or because of the added strain another child would put on our finances or our troubled relationship, but because I would have to endure another C-section. I started looking for alternatives and finally found a midwife who would consider a home birth. Our first prenatal visit lasted nearly three hours and was more about reporting the trauma of my first birth than my physical condition.

But even the successful VBAC home birth of my 7 lb. 14 ounces my daughter did not lessen my anger at what I thought was an unnecessary intervention. In fact, a casual comment from my midwife that my pelvis was more than adequate caused my anger to escalate. In a classic PTSD experience, that comment rekindled all the feelings I had experienced right after surgery. I tried to channel my anger constructively. I became a crusader through natural birth; taking a course in obstetrics for laymen. I tried to find a lawyer to sue my doctor, but the statute of limitations had expired.

For five years after my C-section, I often wondered what if. What would have happened if I had gone ahead with my plan to deliver at the other hospital with their less intrusive procedures? What if I had walked or worked standing up? What if I was not continuously monitored? Every time I got caught up in those “what ifs”, I got more angry or depressed. Few people have the true benefit of hindsight, but I was blessed with the opportunity to settle these questions once and for all.

Those questions were answered once and for all with my second home birth. This son was considerably larger than my daughter and weighed 8 pounds. 15 oz, but still smaller than its big brother. I had a very short and intense labor of less than two hours. I had what many would consider an ideal natural birth. I plowed upright and walked during early labor. I pushed into a comfortable position for me. I had a wonderful support person in my midwife and her assistant. I was comfortable at home, but my son got stuck in the birth canal. My experienced midwife said her shoulder dystocia was one of the worst she had faced in her decades of practice. She felt that prayer was the only thing that saved my son. After birth, her breathing was depressed and her one-minute APGAR was only a 4. All the questions that had haunted me for five years were gone. Sad to say, but it was that experience that allowed me to release the anger towards my doctor that I had been carrying for almost five years.

It was this experience that first made me realize that cephalopelvic disproportion was not some made-up condition used by doctors to pressure their patients into unnecessary C-sections. I guess the permanent bulge on top of Jeffrey’s head, where it was wedged against my pelvic arch, should have indicated that earlier, but it’s often easier to blame others than accept our own responsibility. I began to accept that my c-section had been the result of overeating during pregnancy, resulting in a baby too large for my pelvis.

My emotional healing was completed more than a decade later with the birth of my youngest son. She had planned a midwife-assisted hospital birth. He was sure he would have no difficulty with another VBAC. I stayed home during early labor and went to the hospital only once labor was well established, the contractions were close together and so intense that I had difficulty controlling them. Based on my previous jobs, I was sure the baby was due, but when they checked me out, I was only 2 cm dilated.

The baby was in a posterior position and my intense back work was not effectively dilating my cervix. I tried to plow upright in the shower. I tried to walk. I tried to lie on my side. Nothing worked. The pain was more intense than any of my previous jobs. I knew that if I chose to have an epidural it would significantly increase my chances of having another C-section, but the pain was so intense that I made the decision to have it anyway. Several hours and several surgeries later, I did indeed have another C-section. This time, however, instead of anger and resentment, I took ownership of my decision. I was sure that he had done the best he could for me and my baby.

The other part that was healing for me was that in the fifteen years since my first C-section so much had changed that a lot of the things I hated most about the experience just didn’t apply. When my son was born, he was brought to me to touch before being placed in the warm bed. My partner, his mother, and Jeffrey were able to touch and talk to the baby while the surgeons stitched me up. Then they took me to the recovery center and I was reunited with my son; less than an hour after birth. The nurses helped me take care of him right away. Best of all, the hospital encouraged rooming-in for all the babies. My partner stayed with us even overnight and the only time my baby was separated from us was for about 15 minutes each day to weigh him.

It was as if he had come full circle. Even though the procedures were the same, I was a different person. had matured. I had learned my rights and responsibilities. When faced with an unknown situation, I knew the benefits and risks of all my choices and readily accepted the consequences of those choices. I was empowered by the same procedure that had once left me so emotionally scarred that I suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Part of it was because he had changed and part of it was the result of changes within the medical system.

As a mother who has had three cesarean deliveries, I sometimes get very frustrated with the movement of natural childbirth. Yes, the natural birth of my daughter and, despite its difficulties, even my second child was wonderful. Somehow they healed my inner woman after the first traumatic C-section, but neither of them were perfect either. I carefully wrote and discussed elaborate birth plans with my midwives and none of the births followed the plans.

Births almost never follow plans. I spent five years angry and depressed for no reason. How many other women have experienced this pain that inflicts a scar far deeper than a cesarean delivery? Many times I have wondered what would have happened if that shoulder dystocia had not occurred. Would I have stayed angry with my doctor and depressed? Would my PTSD ever be completely cured? Of course, I will never know the answers to those questions. And I am deeply sorry for the tens of thousands of women who never have the clear answers that fate provided me.

But my experience has led me to start childbirth education classes and doula services specifically for these special women and babies for whom cesarean delivery is chosen. I believe that with compassionate care and support, breastfeeding rates among these families can increase dramatically, and more importantly, we can help them heal faster both physically and emotionally. This is my unique vision and mission; my long journey back from the trauma of birth.

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