G's Story - Grey Nuns Community Hospital, Edmonton, Alberta

October 22-23, 2017 - My pregnancy was easy and complication-free. An ultrasound showed that I was carrying a large baby but since I was 9 lbs 6 oz, I wasn't surprised nor worried. My water broke early on the day after I was due. I didn't go into labour right away so used the time to shower and eat a quick breakfast. I was GBS+ and was advised that I shouldn't wait too long before going to the hospital so we set off relatively quickly thereafter. My contractions were regular and 5 min apart from the get go but I was handling them well. I was walking around and joking between contractions. The pain was manageable and I was feeling pretty confident. When my doctor came in, he seemed surprised that I wasn't already on an oxytocin drip. After checking me, he said I hadn't progressed enough and we needed to start oxytocin. I thought it a little strange since I'd only been in labour about 7 hours but trusted that he had my best interests in mind. Fast forward 3 hours and I was in agony. The contractions never stopped and it became too painful to lift my legs to walk around. My back and hips hurt badly. I finally requested an epidural. The anesthesiologist arrived and as he was explaining the side effects to me, I cried out in pain. He looked at me and said "There's no need for you to make so much noise, you can just breathe through this." Normally, I would have snapped something back but I was keenly aware that this man was about to stick a needle in my spine and I was desperate for some relief so I said nothing and did my best to "breathe through it."

The day wore on and I had gotten stuck at 8 cm. A new doctor was on shift and she advised that I needed a c-section. The same anesthesiologist from earlier came and administered the drugs into my epidural, telling me that I shouldn't be able to feel anything below my waist. I asked him when that was supposed to happen because I still had full sensation and he responded that I did not because they had already started. That was a lie. When they did start, searing pain shot through my abdomen and I began to scream. Still incredulous that I could feel, he asked "Well, is it just a tugging feeling or sharp?" As if it wasn't glaringly obvious, I yelled "SHARP! IT'S SHARP!" and so I was put into a light sleep. I have no memory of what followed but according to my husband, I became very uncooperative. I began hitting the curtain and pulling at my IV. I even refused to breathe in the oxygen mask at one point. They had to hold my hands down. When the doctor could finally get to delivering our daughter, it was discovered that she hadn't been in position when my labour was augmented and her 98th percentile head was stuck sideways in my pelvis. Forceps were required to dislodge her. She was born safely and while I was being sewn up and our new baby being weighed, etc., the anesthesiologist approached my husband. "Is your wife a heavy drinker?" My husband, having been up for over 24 hrs by this point responded in disbelief "While she was pregnant?" Still seemingly not understanding how inappropriate this question was, he passed on, "Well, how about before she was pregnant?" to which my husband retorted "No! how is this relevant?" at which point, they handed him our new baby. (P.s. while I do indulge in a glass of wine from time to time, I don't think I would be described as a heavy drinker).

When I woke up and was in recovery, they placed our 9 lb 4 oz baby on my chest although I hardly remember our first moments with our first child because I was on a lot of drugs. I would also like to note that my husband was hugely supportive of me but we were both newbies to the scene and we were trusting of the system. Initially, I coped by laughing about my experience and not letting on how deeply it affected me. 

The effects were far reaching and started with complete detachment from my baby. I literally went to sleep pregnant and woke up not pregnant and now there was this stranger baby on my chest that I'm supposed to love and feed and take care of. And I did the latter two but felt nothing for my daughter for the better part of a year. I can remember working so hard to do extra things for her, hoping she wouldn't know. 

Everybody in the medical community acts like a c-section is no big deal and is this easy breezy thing. For me, not a single day has gone by that I am not in pain. At my incision site, it feels like a knife point is pressing in. On days I exercise, the knife digs deeper. Other days it lets up but is never less than a 4 out of 10. There are certain types of pants I can't wear anymore. I get debilitating back pain that wraps around directly to my scar. My hips tighten with shooting pain directly to my scar. During my period, the pain is unbearable. Before I was pregnant, I was running 10-15 km. I still ran 5km until I was 20 weeks pregnant. Now, I can't run 1km without the knife blade digging in. I run anyway but it's definitely more challenging pushing myself through the pain. I've gone to physio and done the exercises, stretches, dry needling, scar tissue massage and nothing has been able to offer any kind of relief so I carry on and just deal with it. I would like to have another child but the thought is terrifying. What if they don't believe me again and I get to feel the doctor slicing and pulling? If I do have another, I will try to get a midwife although the waiting lists are long. If I'm to be stuck with a doctor again, I've decided against all interventions. No cervical checks, membrane sweep, induction, labour augmentation or epidural.

I did inquire with the Alberta Medical Association and they told me I would need to call the hospital for the doctor's name since I didn't remember it. There were 2 anesthesiologists working and I wouldn't be able to tell which was the nice one and which wasn't so I didn't submit an official complaint. I also work for a professional regulator and I know the complaint process is lengthy and often doesn't yield results. Since it would basically be my word vs. a doctor and the story is somewhat unbelievable, I didn't think it would go anywhere.

My advice for patients: Stand up for yourself. They try to scare you into thinking any false move and your baby will die. And when things go wrong your feelings are invalidated because you should be thankful you have a healthy child. Your feelings matter. You are not just a vessel for a baby. There are 2 humans in this equation yet somehow childbirth has become completely dehumanizing.

Submitted by G