My son was born in May 2017 and even though he is thriving and I feel I am lucky to have such an amazing baby boy in my life, I have had a difficult time processing his birth.
My pregnancy was what you would call low risk. Other than terrible heartburn and suffering with depression and anxiety, everything was going according to plan. Due to a condition I have, any cervical or vaginal exam is extremely painful so I tried to keep these at a minimum towards the end of my pregnancy. I declined all the stretch and sweeps my OB offered and hoped I didn’t go past my due date. I did and a few days later I felt very unwell and went to the hospital to be monitored.
There my cervix was checked (one of the only ones that was done with my consent 100%) and I was 4cm dilated. I had no real contractions, but because I was feeling unwell I was given the option to break waters to jumpstart labour. To this I agreed because my baby was already very large and I was concerned about being able to give birth to him vaginally if we waited a week or 2 more.
Little did I know that this “intervention” would lead to being induced with pitocin, which I had not consented to but then told I had no option but to go with it. I was terrified. Blood soaked amniotic fluid kept on leaking out of me and I was too scared to ask if it was normal.
I had to get an epidural because of the pain. The pain was so bad that even the epidural was not working. I was crying, trying to breathe through it but I literally had no more than a 30 second break between contractions due to the pitocin. I repeatedly told the nurse the epidural anesthetic was not enough and she would just disregard what I would say and tell me that what I was feeling was just feeling pressure, not pain.
I got to see some of the medical notes in my chart a few weeks after the birth and it said I was coping well with pain. I was absolutely shocked to read this. Eventually an anesthesiologist came and actually listened to me and fixed the dosage. Apparently the resident anesthesiologist who set up my epidural had messed up. He was probably the only person who listened to me.
I progressed all the way to 10cm, but my baby would not engage because of his size and position. His head position was not ideal and a doctor tried to adjust it using manual rotation multiple times but it did not work. I am not sure how I got through these at the time. The pain was unbearable and I felt so violated.
At times residents would come to do cervical checks, one after the other without asking me if it was okay. I can’t believe I didn’t say anything, I felt so powerless. Eventually I had to choose between trying to push or a c-section, with trying to push potentially being dangerous for my baby. We were already seeing irregular heartbeat in the fetal monitor at times likely because of all the pitocin. I chose the c-section. It was an emotionally painful decision for me as I had been in active labour for almost 20 hours.
During surgery I felt pain even though I had a spinal. I told them at least 10 times and I was ignored. After my baby was born, this was probably the only happy 10 minutes I had in that first week. I was able to forget everything that was going on and focus on his face for a few minutes while I held him for a bit and my husband did skin to skin. Shortly after I started to feel faint and weak and I mentioned it but nobody listened to me.
As I was getting wheeled out of the operating room I was handed my son to hold, but I was in no condition to do so. I could barely hold him. I was pale and I felt like I was going to pass out. No one knew it at the time, but I was actually bleeding internally.
It wasn’t until the following day that they ran a CBC and learned that my hemoglobin levels were critically low. They decided to give my an iron IV. At the same time, nurses were invading my personal space touching my breasts trying to get me to breastfeed even though I was unwell and couldn’t even hold my baby. Another CBC the next day and my hemoglobin levels were even lower. At that point I could barely stand to go to the washroom and my heart rate was more than 120bpm at rest, 24/7.
I was literally begging for a transfusion. I finally got a pint of blood nearly 60 hours after surgery. Another 24 hours passed until another pint of blood was given to me because there was barely any difference in how I felt and my bloodwork.
Everything that happened felt like severe neglect from the medical professionals at this hospital. I even had a nurse who would not even set up an IV line for me because she couldn’t handle seeing blood. I couldn’t believe the incompetence at this “leading” hospital.
No one would give me formula for me to feed my baby even when I asked. I had wanted to breastfeed so badly, but why couldn’t they understand that my milk levels were severely low because of the anemia, that I was in severe pain, that I had no energy to try and get my baby to latch. I was shamed and judged, but I finally got someone to get me formula and I was finally able to properly feed my baby. No one asked about my mental health even though I was high risk for PPD due to my perinatal depression and overall history.
The last day I was in the hospital, I went more than 12 hours without pain medication because the nurse needed approval from a doctor to override a block in the system and they were not getting back to her. I was told my best option was to go to the pharmacy to get Tylenol. How was I supposed to do that in my state, with my husband having to do most of the baby care? How is this acceptable? I am in the process of obtaining my full medical notes, so I can see for myself their version of what happened.
When I was finally discharged 5 days after the birth I felt like I had escaped some horrible nightmare, but it was not over. After my discharge I became extremely worried about the bruising in my abdomen that had been ignored by nurses and doctors. I returned to the hospital and an ultrasound showed a large hematoma caused by postpartum bleeding.
I have physically recovered for the most part but the truth is, I have been reliving my experience over and over again. Every time I talk to a doctor, when I read about people blaming women for causing their unplanned c-sections, when I feel my c-section scar, when I see the permanently darkened skin where my hematoma used to be, when I get a vaginal exam… I see it all repeat in my head over and over again.
I go to therapy every week to try and come to terms with what happened to me, but I've felt very alone. Other parents I've gotten acquainted with have had positive experiences and cannot even fathom how I can think of a birth in such a way. Not having your feelings validated is heart crushing.
My OB/GYN who was not involved with my son’s birth was absolutely shocked about what I experienced and recommended I get in touch with Patient Relations, but I have not done so for fear that I will be shamed and blamed for everything that happened to me.
The severity of my depression and anxiety postpartum required me to go on medication. The cost of this plus therapy is anxiety inducing on its own because of the significant expense it represents to my household, but I wouldn’t be here without it.
I feel like being young, in my 20’s, the possibility of complications was greatly underestimated. A lot of medical decisions were also made based on “how I looked” vs my lab tests / vital signs (i.e. Doctors debated on whether to give me blood transfusion because if my HGB was as low as it showed in my bloodwork that I wouldn’t be able to do the things I was doing and would look more pale)
I have not provided feedback to the hospital yet. It is something I want to do, but I am very nervous about the process. My first step is to get a copy of my medical records about my hospital stay.
I hope my story and that of others will raise awareness on how the medical professionals are failing birthing parents and their children. They must be held accountable.