Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Chelsie's story: babies aren't the only ones hurt by homebirth

I chose a freestanding birth center across the street from a hospital to have my first baby in.

 I naively thought that it was the best of both worlds, close access to the hospital and comfortability of the home like birth center atmosphere. Looking back, the midwives use this fact of close proximity to the hospital fully to their advantage to draw in clients who may have doubts or second guess their decisions. The closeness of the hospital made me feel safer than I really was, but I also didn't know much about birth except from "The Business of Being Born," and other natural birth books. I was 25 and pretty healthy. I truly thought I was safe... and I'd never heard the words "postpartum hemmorhage," spoken in the 9 months I went to that birth center and birth classes there
Labor began early in the day, and it got more and more intense. Contractions seemed irregular and way more painful from what they had taught me it would feel like. We called around 3PM and told them how far apart contractions were, and we decided we would come at 7PM. We got there and the midwife checked me, I was only 2cm. I was slightly devastated at that moment, but I didn't want to drive an hour home and an hour back. She took us to one of the three rooms in the birth center and told me to try to sleep. I couldn't relax at all, I was in labor. 

I did everything I had been taught to do... swayed, rocked, bounced on that stupid ball, got in and out of the jacuzzi tub several times, went to the toilet many times. Nothing helped the pain for me. Time was an agonizing blur.The midwife left us alone mostly, coming in every so often to use the doppler, I remember her mentioning she was watching Orange is The New Black in the other room. She didn't check my dilation very often I remember thinking. When the birth assistant finally arrived I felt a little better thinking it might almost be over! I went into transition while on the bed squatting, and I threw up. I asked to be helped to the jacuzzi tub, because I remember the classes talking about not tearing as badly and having less pain if you have a water birth. I felt like I had been pushing forever, but at 3:35 in the morning my beautiful girl was born. She was doing just fine, and I was SO glad it was all over and thankful she was here and healthy.

I walked back to the bed, and the midwife told me to try to breastfeed, so I tried. The baby didn't seem interested yet, but I kept attempting. The midwife started tugging on the cord, she muttered, "It's stubborn," I hadn't even noticed exactly what she was doing down there until I felt something pain and said "OW!" My husband looked and said he saw some blood trickling down my leg. She pulled out part of the placenta.
My husband and I had no idea what this meant.

 "I have to get the rest out." She said. Things were really blurring now for me. Forcefully she reached into my uterus, what felt like punching to me... it was the worst feeling I've ever felt. I screamed in pain over and over, I felt blood gushing. Then she stopped. She was silent for a while.

My sweet husband, trying to be helpful asked... "Should she get up and try to go to the bathroom? What can we do?" I remember then trying to squat on the bed, and trying to push as hard as I could because I didn't want to feel a hand in my uterus again. "I have to try again." Again, she tried to manually remove part of the placenta, and I screamed and screamed again, my legs started to shake uncontrollably now. When she stopped I looked at the birth assistant who's hand I had been squeezing and her eyes were really big. 

The midwife got up from the bed and began pacing around the room. Aloud she asked the assistant something about "EMS." The assistant was replying, "Yes, you have to call." I felt like I was in and out of what they were saying exactly... but I knew for sure that the midwife was coming in and out of the room and I was confused about what was happening. I still didn't know the severity, and I felt like I was shivering all over.
(50 minutes after she was born until EMS arrived.)

Suddenly five men walked in, firefighters. I was sprawled on the bed shivering and naked. I felt like an animal, I felt inhuman and embarassed. My husband quickly gave me my robe and helped me cover up.

"Wait, what about our baby! Will you stay with her?" I asked my husband. 

"We will take the baby, you don't want to have to check her into the hospital." The midwife said. 

"I'm going with you..." my husband told me. 

So they covered the stretcher with chux pads and wheeled me out. I remember shouting back, "take care of her.." as the birth assistant held the baby and she grew further and further away from me. They loaded me into the ambulance. "I have to stay and do some paperwork. I'll be over soon." The midwife said. The truck then took me across the street to the ER, where a nurse was waiting and holding the door for us.

It was starting to blur again, nurses were rushing around me in my room, trying to get needles into me. "What happend? Where is the baby? Was the baby born in the car? Where is the baby?" 

They all rushed around quickly. My husband tried his best to explain. "How long did you push?" "I don't know...two hours... three hours?" I tried to answer, it all felt so surreal, I still wasn't really aware of what was exactly happening, I felt confused. More and more nurses seemed to come in.

"Are you a Jehovah's Witness?" "What? Why? I don't understand? No..." "

Sign this for a blood transfusion, do you agree to have a blood transfusion?" "Well... I mean yes if it was life or death, yes..." I told her, and I signed. 

Finally the midwife came into the room. "How are you?" She said from the back of the room. "Scared." I said. She went back out of the room. I assume she explained what happened. The doctor came in and said "We have to remove the placenta. If the placenta cannot be removed, you may need surgery. Surgery means that you could need a hysterectomy." I signed a few more papers. 

Everything was happening really fast. Two nurses were on each side of my bed now, one was coming into the room with blood. They had put an oxygen mask on me and it was hard for me to talk loud enough- my throat was the driest it's ever been and my voice was hoarse from screaming. "I am going to attempt removal now." My husband was holding my hand and I looked into his eyes preparing myself. She reached in again, her arm moving around. It felt like forever and I was shaking and screaming. 

"Hello, honey, honey you need to breathe. Please, open your eyes look at me." I heard the nurse who was holding my hand's voice faintly.

"You HAVE to breathe. Breathe, breathe. PLEASE open your eyes." 

The doctor stopped again. My legs were shaking violently.

 "I have to try again." The doctor said. 

I breathed a few times like the nurse asked me to, and I tried to focus on my husband this time. Then she went in again. I couldn't control the screams that were coming from deep down, my teeth were chattering and it was hard to breathe. I tried to focus on my husband's face... but I saw he was starting to cry, his face was visibly in a world of pain. 

I had never seen him cry... and at that moment was when I realized.. "Oh my God, am I dying? Is this it? My daughter doesn't have an official name yet... Am I going to die?" 

I stared at my husband, I was praying and praying in my head now. Please, please God let me live, I begged and begged repeating please, please let me live, PLEASE let me live, please make the pain stop, please, please, please.... Finally the doctor stopped. She had gotten it. 

"I have to stitch you now." I tried to stop shaking but I couldn't. I tried to say "I love you," to my husband, nothing came out though... my throat was dry and it was hard to say anything over the oxygen mask. I tried to say it a few times, until finally he could read my lips. "I love you," he replied... it seemed to upset him more though because it was something I had to say... just in case... he stroked my hair now, and he hid his face with tears. 

She stitched and stitched. I had first and second degree tears. She had been born at 3:35AM and finally at 7AM the stitching was finished and my husband could bring my baby to the hospital. I had the blood transfusion over the next two days. I had to lay flat during the transfusion and I tried so hard to see my baby when my husband brought her over. It has very difficult to hold my baby while laying flat.

 I had mixed emotions, I was overjoyed when I finally got to see my baby and at the same time I felt devastated and confused about everything. The nurses were very, very empathetic and gave me a whole lot of painkillers after the stitching was done. I slept and slept and slept. I felt like a barn animal, my body was weak and felt lifeless. 

They wheeled me over to get a CAT scan on my lungs the next day because they suspected fluid from all the screaming. They gave me some device to blow and breathe into to help with that. When I was discharged from the hospital the nurses all hugged me and the main nurse wheeled me out to our car, she said, "I am SO happy that you ended up okay. I really, really thought we were going to need to put you in ICU. You were like a ghost...." I hugged and thanked her profusely. I was so grateful that she had held my hand during the whole ordeal and been kind enough to give me the strength of pain killers I needed. I felt like my pelvis had been beat with a baseball bat.

When we went into the birth center after being discharged it wasn't as kind of a place as the nurses were. My husband left me and the baby in the car to go inside to get our belongings. It was taking a while and then my husband came outside and so did an assistant.

"You HAVE to do the PKU screening right now. It's just a prick in the baby's foot." 

My husband looked furious. "This isn't the time to do this. You don't understand. This is NOT the time to do this." 

"Well, it's a legality. We have to." She disappeared and came out with another midwife. "Look, bring the baby in we will do the PKU screening."

 "We can't refuse it right now? This is not the time!" My husband was still emotional from the whole situation... I knew the last thing he wanted was to go into that birth center again, and I felt the same. I didn't want to see the midwife who performed the birth.

"The state of Florida require it." The midwife said. "Yeah? And that's what you care about? The state? What about God? What about what's right and wrong for US right now? My wife can barely WALK." 

I felt exhausted and I wanted to leave as quick as possible so I added, "Fine... we'll do it right now." I hobbled my way inside with help slowly. I couldn't let my baby go in there alone even though the sheer sight of this place now sent me on an emotional rollercoaster.

They seemed unaware the extent of what had happened. The midwife that performed the birth was there- and I really, really didn't want to see her. All she said was "How are you?" Completely normally. "Fine..." was all I managed to say... 

I couldn't lift my feet to walk more than an inch off the ground without agonizing pain in my pelvis. Stairs, uneven ground, getting in and out of the car, lifting the baby all sent my pelvis into a sufferable state. Despite that she had seen my husband helping me walk inside as I hobbled and winced in pain, she seemed very nonchalant. 

When we went into the office with the two other midwives, they made small talk and then asked me to breastfeed the baby while they stuck her foot for the PKU test, and so they could make sure breastfeeding was going well. I was already in a very emotional state and still trying to grasp what had happened. 

"I can't breastfeed." I replied. They both shot a look at each other. "I had to have a CAT scan on my lungs because they thought there was fluid in them." They seemed silently skeptical. "They also had to give me a blood transfusion... They had to put dye in my veins for the CAT scan... it's unsafe with breastfeeding. I don't want to take a chance with that." They were quiet for a little while and I felt very uncomfortable. 

"So... how many units of blood did they give you?" The main midwife asked. I answered but I was taken aback by the question. It made me question my own thoughts and feelings. It made me question the severity of the situation and if I was feeling like it was worse than it really was. We got the PKU test over with and my husband and I left the place, my husband furious.
Over the next few days I tried to rest and regain some strength. Walking and bending over was very difficult. Breastfeeding was very difficult. On and off I sobbed into my husband's arms and repeated, "I thought I was going to die." And "How can I do this?" It was challenging just to care for the baby in so much pain, despite my husband helping out a lot. When we opened our belongings from the birth center they had all been shoved inside and were soaking wet from my bathing suit. I sobbed and sobbed when I saw this because that's how I felt, thrown away and not cared about by that midwife. We decided that it needed to be talked about. We needed to let them know this was not acceptable or right in any way shape or form.

We met with the two midwives (excluding the one who performed the birth) at the birth center a few days later. I felt nervous about telling the details of the story. We talked for over an hour about what had happened, and how we felt it was handled poorly. 

My husband felt like the placenta was being rushed and mismanaged, he told them. I had been fine before she started messing around with it. 

We told them that we were blindsided and humiliated when the firefighters showed up, and she'd given us no warning for me to get clothed. 

We were scared and hospital staff was confused when we arrived because the midwife showed up 10 minutes later. It took a full 50 minutes to just get me to the hospital next door. 

My husband mentioned that in his job (which is potentially dangerous) they have safety meetings every week to make sure they take proper precautions, and to simulate emergency scenarios so they are dealt with properly.

They nodded and were quiet until we were finished. They were defensive and said things like "Sorry that happened. That must have been scary for you. Not riding to the hospital is not standard procedure... sometimes these things just happen. She managed the placenta in a way we all would have, but sometimes these things happen." 

They also added, "She isn't very maternal... we will have a talk with her." We left feeling like we had completely wasted our time, and they were trying to cover their own business in the event of a lawsuit with very vague phrasing.

When well meaning family members announced my baby's birth they said things like, "Baby and mom are doing great!" Psychologically it made me so confused, hurt and I felt undermined. When I hobbled into a lactation consultant days later and told her my story and why I was only beginning because of the medications, and breastfeeding and was very difficult, she retorted "I would have just breastfed anyway. There's such a rare chance anything would pass through the milk- and the benefits outweigh it anyway." She said it very condescendingly... and very cold.

I felt shattered and thrown away by the people who used to be so friendly to me and act like they cared. The natural birth community made me question my own experience and wonder things like "Am I remembering right? Did I really almost die? Am I overreacting... what happened?"
I waited for 6 months to hear anything from the birth center, hoping that they would call or e-mail and apologize and let me know how the emergency procedures would be changed, or how they had reprimended the midwife who did my birth. Sadness and confusion slowly turned to anger as I watched their social media and website, hoping for some kind of sign of my existence and my story.

But it was like I never existed. The websites remained 2,000 great reviews of this place, magazine article features, and mothers gushing about the cute birth center with candles and dimly lit rooms. They continued posting their "Dangers of epidurals, why breastfeeding is best," posts. I watched and waited, and nothing happened. I was thrown away by them.

I decided to write a review about the birth center on a website who doesn't allow reviews to be deleted. I was as detailed and un-emotional as I could be and revealed names. 

After I posted this review- I then got a voicemail from the main midwife (owner), "We are so shocked that you feel this way. If you could please give us a call or e-mail maybe you can come and we can talk about it, or you could be involved in a class counseling here about emergencies... please call us back." 

I didn't want to call or e-mail them. My husband and I were disgusted that they used the word, "Shocked you feel this way," after taking the time to explain it all to them 6 months earlier when they brushed us off. I wasn't the only one who went through emotional suffering, my husband also couldn't even say the name of the midwife who performed the birth. I knew in my heart that they had a chance to contact me, and now they were only reaching out because of a review. That infuriated me even more. I knew the truth and I didn't want to allow them the chance to try to twist it all around and make my story seem like I was overreacting. I had a blood transfusion, four placenta removal attempts without pain relief, almost lost my uterus and/or life. 

They were nonchalant about me nearly losing my life, about nearly losing my uterus after having one baby- while I always dreamt of a family of 3 or 4 children.

Even now I am still affected.

The blood I was given was during the postpartum hemorrhage wasn't an exact match to me, it was Kell positive and I am negative, and now I have antibodies against this type. During my pregnancy with our second child we were scared to death for many weeks that our baby was in danger from my antibodies.

Thankfully after expensive maternal fetal medicine tests, we found out my husband is Kell negative also, so possible future pregnancies with my husband won't be complicated and at risk by that factor.

The hemorrhage still was affecting me physically even all that time later, it made me so angry at the midwives that it was still affecting me. They took no responsibility for my emotional and physical suffering, and now all I can do it try to warn others and share my story. 

It took me a long time to heal physically. The natural birth community undermined my suffering as though since myself or the baby didn't have permanent damage and survived it wasn't all that bad, or I had remembered wrong, or that I should be thankful it was me and not the baby. Which is unfair because I know any mother, myself included would gladly take the place of her baby, but that doesn't mean anyone should have to go through something like that if it is preventable. 

I am still trying to find ways to emotionally heal, and it helps me knowing that I can save other mothers from possibly going through this by sharing my story. The day my daughter was born should have been the happiest day of my life, and now I can only try to focus on the blessing that she is and block out the rest.
Please- if you are uncomfortable with home birth but are thinking of a freestanding birth center because it seems safer- please reconsider, and know that across the street from the hospital still isn't close enough.A freestanding birth center is still essentially a home birth away from home, and you might get a midwife similar to the one I had.
Don't listen when they try to scare you with stories about medications during labor and after- the hospital staff saved my life, and the most important thing is living to be a mother to your baby. I begged and pleaded with God that I could live that night. I didn't want to leave my family, that's the ONLY thing I was thinking. Everything that seemed important was trivial compared to death. I have a new perspective about everything now, and the experience totally changed my outlook. 

I know it happened for a reason- and if I can deter even one mother away and it saves her or her baby from pain- it was worth going through.