**TRIGGER WARNING** traumatic birth, blood, medical abuse.
I was 16 years old when I became pregnant with my first child. I was young, but I was determined to make the best of things, and the best life I could for my kid. The only thing I knew about birth and babies were the family stories told time after time. They were often “edited” to make them child friendly; with a light, humorous tone to the tale, and none of the real life difficulties *cues laugh track*.
I was the type of kid that liked “knowing things” and so the first order of business was to read everything I could get my hands on. I read all the suggested books from the time, everything I could. Google was still an up and comer at this time, so no late night downward spirals, thankfully (you always end up on the weird side at 2 am).
When the big day finally came I thought I was prepared. I had all the boxes checked off for my hospital bag, I knew what an epidural was (and vaguely thought I didn’t want one), and I had done my hospital tour.
The first pangs woke me up at 5:30 am. It was a balmy June morning and the sun was almost up already. I knew what Braxton Hicks were because I Had Read All the Things, so I started to diligently time my contractions to make sure this was really it before waking my parents.
By 7:30 I knew this was it, and woke up my mom. She picked up the baby daddy and drove us to the hospital (my dad and sister joined us later). Its funny. but I don’t really remember getting to the hospital or being admitted to my labour room. The hours that passed are just snippets of stress and pain. It was very bright in the room. I remember finally determining the two options for names with the father of my baby, in between contractions that took my breath away. I remember kind nurses coming in, seeing the pity in their eyes, thinking my life was over now, a baby with a baby. I remember being so hungry and not allowed more than ice chips and jello. I remember my mom, being supportive, but scared for me. I remember my dad coming in a few times and trying to help coach me, I think I threw a cloth at him. I remember being stuck in the bed, connected to monitors that beeped and a IV in my hand that throbbed. I remember the multitude of well meaning extended family that were waiting in the hospital for me to have this baby. They took turns popping in to ‘help’. I felt like I was on display in zoo. At one point I remember the pain was so intense I couldn’t catch my breath, and I started to hyperventilate and nurses were saying they would give me an epidural. No one asked my opinion, but I overheard them and shouted a resounding “NO!”
I don’t know what time it was when I was finally wheeled into the delivery room. I remember pushing with all my might for what felt like forever, and my baby just would not go past crowning. I remember someone utter “episiotomy” but my foggy brain couldn’t remember the word. It was 7:38pm when I was shocked back into awareness because the doctor made the cut and my baby finally slipped out. I’ll never forget that feeling. The doctor held up my baby for a second or two, and then whisked off. I was exhausted. I forgot there was MORE. At this point I don’t remember details of what was being done, I only remember was I felt. I felt like the doc was forcibly pulling out my placenta. I remember being in such extreme pain that I was screaming so loud the father had to leave the delivery room. Thankfully, I still had my mom with me. I remember feeling every stitch the doctor did to repair my perineum (did he even bother freezing it?). At this point the pain was so intense I must have gone into shock. I remember losing awareness of time and space, floating in this foggy mirk. There was pain and lots of people rushing around just behind this fog curtain, I could see and hear but it was muddled and “other”. What I didn’t know, what I wouldn’t know till a day later, was that I had hemorrhaged so badly that I nearly died.
When I finally came to, I was still in the delivery room. It was 9:30 pm. There was only a nurse left milling around, my mom and the father. The first thing out of my mouth was “Where is my baby? What is it?” No one had even told me the sex of my child. Finally, finally she was put in my arms. And she was perfect and alert and staring right at me, like she was waiting for me all along. “Where have you been mom?” her little face seemed to say. I remember kissing her and cuddling her and thinking everything was ok now.
And of course, life went on. After I had two units of blood transfused and my first postpartum poo, I was released from hospital and sent home. My daughter grew and grew, and so did I. But it was 8 years before I ever even considered the thought of ever having another child. It was 10 years before I actually went through with it. I never realized on the surface I had this deep. deep, subconscious fear of giving birth again.
I’ll never forget, pregnant with my son and reading an article about birth trauma. I ticked off nearly every symptom box. No one, including myself ever thought of this, diagnosed this or even considered the possibility. Yet now it seems so very obvious when I read my own birth story. But we’re always told “mom and baby are healthy” and that we should be happy with this. Reading this article brought it all back to me and I finally was able to process the fear, and pain, and the anger (oh, so much rage. I wasn’t able to hold my baby for 2 hours!).
There are SO MANY stories similar to mine, and worse than mine, that we don’t realize that this is not normal. This horrible abuse of birthing women is exactly why I am a doula today. If I can lessen even a few women’s physical and emotional trauma through birth, and help them process any trauma they do have, maybe, just maybe things will change.
by Kayla Akalu