Margaux's Story - Flashbacks to South Africa, 1985

I have been following the news about Dr. Paul Shuen, the OB/GYN at North York General Hospital in Ontario who abused his patients for years before being caught. The story gave me flashbacks to my own horrific first birthing experience and the abuse my baby and I suffered. So. many. tears. shed. I. will. never. forget. Obstetric and gynaecological violence is a worldwide epidemic and I hope that as more stories come to light, things will finally begin to change. This is my story:

March 4, 1985 - Provincial Hospital, Port Elizabeth, South Africa

I was booked for Monday morning induction of labour.
I was given buccal Pitocin, and it was repeated a few times.
I was not informed of the actual effects/ dangers of taking this except that it was to induce labour.
I had expected to have an active labour, and this was laughed off by nursing staff, one of whom stated that in a few years all women would be opting for C-Section birth.

Within no time I was having unbearably painful, strong contractions, and was begging for an epidural/ pain relief/ help. I was told I couldn’t have an epidural yet as there wasn’t an Anaesthetist available. After 6 hours of hell, I had an epidural inserted. A while later, I felt like I wanted to vomit, but suddenly couldn’t move myself. I was labouring alone in a room and I was thinking I would be the first maternal death, as I was sure I was going to aspirate. My teeth started chattering uncontrollably, I thought I was going to break my teeth. I felt I was fighting for my life. There was no call bell and a cleaning lady came into the room. I knew I had to make eye contact with her - I couldn’t talk, my teeth were chattering so hard. She immediately called for help. At this point I was crashing. The Emergency Team arrived and a midwife looked me in the eyes and talked me through my terror whilst the doctors were checking me. I had a BP of 60/? I recall hearing that baby was in distress.

I was put into lithotomy and a large episiotomy incision was made and I was told to push hard, but I couldn’t push hard enough. Baby went into deep transverse arrest. A failed high Keilland’s forceps manoeuvre followed. Then things rapidly changed direction and I was wheeled into OR for Emergency C-Section.

I heard them talking about me “these women who want to have natural childbirth “ I felt them suturing up the lower midline incision ( yes, not the bikini cut others have had) and I called out to the anaesthesiologist that I was in unbearable pain. He gave an IV shot of pain killer which worked.

My baby girl was born with a large forceps cut on her cheek, and quickly whisked away from me and went from there to the nursery where she stayed, whilst I was taken to maternity ward room and left on my own, crying and begging to see my newborn daughter. 

The next day, still crying, my OB/Gyn came in (smoking a cigarette) and stated to the nursing staff “she wants to play dolls now, so give her her baby” I felt so disempowered, so deceived, so abused, so violated, so mutilated, and couldn’t stop crying. I knew I had to somehow “pull myself together “ so that they would allow me to have my baby with me. I was told they had to take care of her in the nursery and I was not helped to breastfeed, which was my goal. Instead, they fed her formula. My husband at the time was out celebrating the birth, which is what he was told to do.

I was too traumatised to give feedback after the horrendous first birthing experience. We moved 3 weeks after the birth to a different city.

It took 4 years of healing to overcome the feelings of violation. I subsequently found an extremely competent, compassionate, caring OB/Gyn in Cape Town ( where we had moved) who delivered my next two babies by VBAC with no drugs, no epidural, and I was allowed to labour in water, and deliver upright, with doula and midwife also present. I allowed the medical students and midwifery students to watch my birth - they were respectful and asked permission. I felt it was important for them to witness an active birth with respectful attendants. I also had a birth plan, so when the bossy nurse in charge of the Labour and Delivery unit popped her head in and started telling me to be quiet and breathe properly when I was grunting through intense contractions, she was politely asked to leave by my OB/Gyn who told her this was the way I wanted to do it . 

My third child was 10 lb 4 oz and I had no drugs/epidural and did not tear at all (I had laboured in water). In contrast to my first birthing experience, these two births were magical, empowering, happy events. I put baby to breast right away, and began breastfeeding as is recommended by WHO/UNICEF

I feel very strongly that it is important to realize that it is a privilege to attend a birth, and that respect and compassion are as important as the medical expertise you bring to this event.

It is important to have a birth plan, otherwise you will end up being “managed”

If a hospital refuses a birth plan - RUN!!!

Submitted by Margaux