Before I had my daughter, I didn’t have a vision of how the birth would go. I didn’t know how much pain to expect or how long it would take until it was time to push, but there was one thing I was pretty sure of — that how I chose to labor would be left up to me. Birthing a child is the most primal thing on the planet and barring any complications, I would do it with as little intervention as possible. That’s how nature intended and I didn’t feel the need to be comfortably numb during something so earth-shattering. Then, I stepped through the hospital doors on a cold January night and found out that these days, they do it a little differently than I imagined.
On the night before my baby’s birth, we arrived at a popular Baltimore hospital around 10:30. Since my water had broken at home, I was instructed by the on-call doctor to come right into the hospital. I wasn’t in any pain and though I was told I was having contractions, I couldn’t feel them yet. At that moment, I was actually excited for them to begin. I could handle it. I was ready.
Suddenly, everything changed. I stood up to go to the bathroom and the nurse asked what I was doing. I have to pee, I told her. The nurse politely asked me, no, told me, that I needed to get in the bed and if I had to pee, it would be in the bedpan.
“Even number two?” I joked.
“Bedpan.” Whoa, slow down. We just met.
I was confused. Though my gynecologist had chuckled a bit when I asked about making a birth plan (oh, silly me for wanting to have some choice in the matter), she failed to mention that I would be bound to the bed after my water broke, or that I would only be allowed to um, poop, in a bedpan.
I was stunned. Laying back down, I knew this was not the best position for pain management and often slows labor down immensely. So why was I being told to do this, after everything I’d read warning against staying put? The only answer I received was that it was “hospital policy.” It seemed a rather important hospital policy to neglect mentioning through eight months of prenatal visits and in-depth discussions with one’s doctor, but even more confusing was that no one could tell me why.
Up until then, I hadn’t worried about the pain, but now I was worried. About an hour after I was forced to get into the bed, the contractions were kicking in. They weren’t the kind of contractions that you hear about or see in movies where it hurts for a while then you get a break. It was constant. It was the kind of pain where you don’t even know where the pain is coming from. It was everywhere. It was my whole body and it didn’t stop, hour upon hour.
By four in the morning, every position was agony. My strength was gone and I was shaking hard, but all I wanted to do was get out of bed and walk. I desperately wanted the freedom to manage my pain in the way I knew was best, but it wasn’t an option. Everything in my body was screaming for something to shift but after several pleas to get up were met with the same answer, I did what any scared, inexperienced, 24-year old, almost-mother does. I shut up. Of course, I regret this decision. I should have stomped my feet, protested, said I’ll go to the next hospital or give birth in the parking lot. But I didn’t. I felt it was a battle I wouldn’t win, at least not in this state, and I had a bigger battle ahead of me.
As my arms kept getting tangled in cords that went to God-knows-what and my constant rolling was setting off monitors every few minutes, I just kept thinking, “there is nothing natural about this.” I moaned quietly as the nurses were in the corner whispering, “She’s not asking for it.” I knew what they were talking about: an epidural. I still didn’t want it, but I began feeling like it was my only option. How would I even have the strength to push the baby out at this rate? I felt like they were waiting for me to cave and with the next check of my cervix with five centimeters to go, I finally did.
I didn’t have much time to be disappointed because from that point on things progressed rapidly. Numb beyond belief, physically and emotionally, my body relaxed. Around six a.m., only about a half hour after receiving the epidural, it was time to push. The doctor was called, said a quick hello and got right down to business. I saw him pick up the scissors and before I could protest, snip, an episiotomy. More disappointment surged through me. It was something else I’d spent time researching how to prevent, knew often took longer to heal and simply wasn’t necessary. But moments later my daughter emerged, literally the light at the end of the tunnel.
After the birth, I spent about a year walking around with a pain in my back from where the epidural went in. My episiotomy hurt so badly for months that I could barely sit down except on my daughter’s boppy, causing me to return to my doctor not once, but twice to make sure it was healing properly. When I think about these unnecessary interventions, how they happened against my will and changed the experience for me drastically, like a lot of women today, I’m angry. If in 2006, a provision against unnecessary episiotomies was handed out, why in 2010 did I receive one when there wasn’t a complication in sight? Why, against all recommendations, was I made to lie in a hospital bed when I made it clear both to my doctor and the nurses on staff that I wanted to manage my pain naturally for as long as I could? These are questions I’ve yet to receive answers to and I doubt I ever will.
Unfortunately, what happened in my birth story is not uncommon. Though everywhere I look, I see advisories against unnecessary interventions; they seem to be happening at an extraordinary rate. It seems everyone I know gets induced before their due date, picking their child’s own birth date or scheduling it around their doctor’s busy schedule. Even though early epidurals, before even a glimmer of pain is present are advised against, some hospitals are more than happy to make a woman “comfortable” or not feel a thing at all upon request. Episiotomies are still as common as ever and though doctors these days preach safety and precaution, there seems to be nothing safe or cautious about performing these unnecessary procedures. In fact, it seems ethically and morally wrong to me to do so. Not to mention, a procedure you didn’t want, need or ask for, or even know happened. In some cases, an episiotomy does in fact, just show up on your bill. A lovely reminder of what the nameless, faceless doctor did to deliver your child maybe a few minutes more quickly.
I wanted to give birth in a hospital because I feared the other option, but if I had to do it again, well, I wouldn’t. The truth is, I’d give birth on my kitchen floor before having the freedom to labor on my own taken away from me again. Our mothers and grandmothers mock the way we do it these days and they have good reason. They believe women are stronger than this and most of us know, too, though we are led to believe otherwise. But now I know there are better options. For reasons I won’t pretend to understand, we are going backwards. And more than ever, women need to stand up, like I should have, and be their own advocates to have the births they want whenever possible.