A planned natural hospital birth that went off course.
From the second I stepped foot into Mount Sinai hospital on Thursday, August 13th, one day before my due date, I was in fight or flight mode. Fighting to defend my baby and my body against the constant push for induction tactics (namely the drug pitocin) to ‘get things moving’. Labor is a natural process that takes time. So, why do hospitals feel the need to ensure things move along on their schedule? My take after spending almost three days there fighting them at almost every decision point? It’s about efficiency and convenience. And not for me or the baby - for them. The birth of our baby girl was incredible, no doubt. But the experience was peppered with so much tension and so many disappointments that it's hard for me to look back on that day as a beautiful one. And that’s really, fucking sad. This is my birthing story.
It all started with my final ultrasound on a Wednesday, which indicated that I had subjectively low amniotic fluid. I was told this was normal at my age (37), and at term (40 weeks) - but something to keep an eye on, as it could put the baby at risk if it continued to significantly decrease. To be safe, my OB suggested a stretch and sweep that Friday if labor hadn’t started. For those that don’t know, a stretch and sweep is a procedure where the doctor uses their fingers to separate the membranes of the amniotic sac from the cervix, helping to expedite the shortening of the cervix and dilation. I agreed to the appointment on Friday, understanding that it was the most natural form of induction available. I was told if I noticed anything unusual before Friday to come straight to triage.
Fast forward to Thursday evening and I hadn’t felt the baby moving in a few hours. Of course that little seed of fear had been planted so I couldn’t ignore it. Around 9:40pm we headed to the hospital. After a few hours hooked up to a fetal heart rate monitor, tracking the baby’s movements, it was deemed everything looked normal. Phew. However, the doctor who examined me still suggested we stay and be induced with pitocin to start labor that night. This was her recommendation based on us having had two potential warning signs: low fluid and a period of decreased movement from the baby. Knowing I wanted to avoid pitocin due to potentially dangerous side effects for the baby and it’s ability to bring on more aggressive contractions, plus the fact that I was planning a natural labor and wanted to be in early labor at home, we declined and left. Despite knowing our baby was well, we didn’t sleep much that night.
At my stretch and sweep appointment the next morning, the doctor confirmed that I was already 1 cm dilated and my cervix was 50% shortened, so the odds of the sweep speeding things up were good. In my head, this was wonderful - I’d get the sweep and head home to labor comfortably with my husband and doula until things started to intensify. But the hospital had different plans for me.
Despite another normal check on the baby's heart rate, my OB strongly recommended that I stay and have the baby as soon as possible. She wanted to break my water and give me pitocin to speed things up right then and there. I reiterated my desire to go home and reminded her that I was strongly against pitocin at any point, unless me or the baby were in danger and required it. This is when the scare tactics started; throwing around words like, ‘fetal demise’, ‘medical negligence’ and ‘against medical advice’ alongside a bunch of medical mumbo jumbo that I barely understood. I knew my baby and I weren’t in any immediate danger, yet all my OB could say to me when I stated this fact repeatedly, was that "we could eventually be in danger" and it would be better if that happened in hospital vs. at home. Well, fuck. Here I was, alone and scared in a hospital being told by my OB that if I went home my baby could die.
Desperate to avoid further intervention, I requested another ultrasound. If the baby's movement was good and my fluid levels were similar to what they’d been two days prior, I’d feel more confident making the decision to leave the hospital against medical advice. Unfortunately, I learned my fluid levels had dropped from 9.5 (subjectively low) to 5 (confirmed low). Definitely not helping me in my case to leave.
Over the next few hours I got the advice of 3 doctors, all of whom told me they did not recommend I leave the hospital. All of whom wanted to break my water and start pitocin. Of course, I asked why I couldn’t have my water broken without the use of pitocin. Each of them gave me a different excuse: “limited hospital resources" (aka we don’t have time to sit around waiting for you to labor naturally), "danger of infection" (this is true for some but only 24 hours and beyond after breaking the water), "a long labor can be dangerous for baby" (wait, what? Even if that’s the way my body wants to naturally progress? And is it more dangerous than drugs to force it to progress faster than it wants?), "blah, blah, blah”. Finally, I forcefully said to my OB: "You can break my water but I refuse to take pitocin until baby or I show signs of being in danger due to a longer labor. So you have two options: break it and send me home or break it and monitor me here." At this point, I think she realized I wouldn’t budge and gave in.
At 3 pm our wait for a delivery room began. My contractions were picking up, and completely manageable, which was great. I had expected them to feel like intense period cramps but it was more like a vice grip like tightening of my belly at this stage. Fast forward to 10 pm and there was still no delivery room available for us. We’d literally been in a waiting room for 7 hours and not a single medical staff had checked on me or the baby the whole time. Remind me why we couldn’t be at home laboring comfortably during this whole time? Total bullshit. Finally around 10:30 pm the new attending OB came to speak with us. She apologized and told us there were still no delivery rooms. Her solution was to get us a temporary room where they could insert a foley catheter to help me dilate to 4 cm. Basically, it’s a small balloon that they place in the cervix and gradually inflate - when the balloon falls out, you’re at 4 cm.
We soon realized our "temporary room" was actually just a stretcher behind a curtain in a common area- lol awesome. The procedure was not pleasant but I did well despite the many challenges inserting the balloon. The intern tried but failed using the traditional metal vagina opener things that they use during a PAP. Ha! No clue, what those things are called. The resident doctor took over and couldn’t get it in either so she removed the contraption and used her arm to thread it in; the third arm elbow deep in my vagina that day! After a serious struggle and considerable discomfort (apparently my cervix is very deep inside me), they finally got the balloon in. Contractions intensified considerably. At this point I got a little scared and began to doubt my ability to make it all the way without pain relief. I had a little cry and continued to have my husband rub my hips and apply counter pressure on my belly, which really helped. After about an hour, the balloon fell out. I was 4 cm! We tried to get some rest while we continued to wait for a room.
Finally, around 12:30 am we got a delivery room. It wasn’t at all what I imagined. The room was a sterile cave with no windows, bright fluorescent lights, massive digital clocks everywhere and zero comforts of home. Upon arriving, my nurse introduced herself and asked me to change into a hospital gown. I asked whether I could forgo the gown and wear a sports bra with nothing else but was told no. Weird... I’m having a baby, not an operation. She then told me the doctor would be in shortly to break my water. I asked whether it was possible to delay this a bit so we could get some rest, given we’d been at the hospital since 8 am. Her exact words: “Rest? We’re not here to rest. We’re here to have a baby and this is valuable space.” Are you effing kidding me, bitch?! I am about to push a baby out of my vagina! Doesn’t that require me having energy? Thankfully, she exited quickly and seemed to come back with a whole new attitude. I would have requested a new nurse, otherwise.
While we waited for the doctor, we made the room a little more comfortable by setting up my essential oil diffuser and some music. Contractions continued to intensify but were still manageable with intense pressure on my back and/or hips. We tried to sleep but it seems the hospital does everything in their power to ensure nobody gets any rest, with someone coming in and out of your room to poke and prod you every 15 minutes. About 2.5 hours later, the doctor arrived to break my water. She confirmed I was 5 cm dilated and my cervix had fully thinned out. This was great news - things would likely progress quickly from this point on.
This is when shit got real on the pain front. Contractions were coming fast and hard, some right on top of the one before it. My whole body was convulsing from the pain- eventually I couldn’t stand on my legs during a contraction because they were shaking too much. I remember thinking about how ridiculous all of the hypnobirthing tips I had read were- as if I could ever relax into this pain right now. LOL As soon as one contraction came to an end, I waited in sheer terror for the next one. Thank god for my amazing husband who continued to apply counter pressure through every single one; and for the TENS machine that my doula had given us. Blasting that shit on high really helped. I highly recommend it to anyone planning a natural birth. I was also dosing the highest potency of CBD oil you can buy in Canada but I honestly don't think it helped. As time rolled on, I got the stress shits from the pain. You know the kind you get when you’re super nervous about something...Fun! This hard laboring went on for three hours. We tried all the positions. We tried the bath. I was definitely reaching my breaking point in terms of pain.
Going into labor we’d come up with a ridiculous code word for epidural: beetlejuice, beetlejuice, beetlejuice. I figured choosing something silly would make it easier to avoid saying it out loud. Ha! Nevertheless, the time came for a serious chat about pain relief. I was losing steam and god knows how much longer there was to go. We agreed that if the doctor checked me and I was 8 or 9 cm, I would try to push on without pain relief. If I hadn’t progressed, I’d request an epidural. When they checked me 3 hours later, I was still stalled at 5 cm. Epidural here we come!
Despite planning for a natural birth, this was an easier decision than I imagined. I didn’t feel an extreme sense of failure like I thought I would. To be honest, I was surprised and proud that I’d made it that far! I’d been in early labor since 8 am that morning. I'd made it 12 hours without pain relief, half of which were pretty intense for me. I’m not superwoman. I know I didn’t have many hours of that shit left in me. For me, epidural was the best decision I could have made. We now had time to let my body rest so that my labor could progress. And it worked! I got the epidural at 5:30 am and by 9 am I was 8 cm dilated. I felt zero pain whatsoever. Epidural is one hell of a drug!
There were a few downsides though. First, the bullshit hospital policy that wouldn’t allow me to eat anything solid afterwards, which no one told me before they did the epidural so I was starving by early afternoon. Oh don’t worry though, they give you all the jello you want. As if that garbage is what a woman needs to have the energy to give birth.*eye roll* Another downfall was the massive adrenaline rush it gave me. My legs were shaking uncontrollably and I had a really rushy, anxious feeling for what felt like hours. By the time I reached 9 cm around 2 pm, I was extremely weak, anxious and nauseous- so much so that I asked for a puke bucket but nothing came out. (oh yeah, I was starving!)
At 9 cm dilated the nurse went on her lunch break. My hubby asked if I could feel any pain as the monitor showed that my contractions were basically on top of one another and off the charts in terms of intensity. Damn, that epidural was a life saver! When the nurse got back from lunch she checked me again and said I was still 9 cm. For some reason (I can't quite remember why) the resident also decided to check me and thankfully so, because I was actually at 10 cm. However, the baby was not in the face down position and my contractions were only 4-5 minutes apart now. It would appear the nurse missed that I was 10 cm dilated before she took her lunch break so we had missed the perfect opportunity to push. Awesome! At this point, we were presented with two options: accept the pitocin we’d been refusing for the last 24 hours and give birth vaginally, or the doctor can try to push the baby back up into my uterus and perform a C section. I wanted to do everything in my power to avoid a C section, so we reluctantly accepted the pitocin, feeling as though we had no other choice and desperately hoping it wouldn't negatively affect the baby’s heart rate.
Of course, within a few minutes of taking the pitocin our baby’s heart rate dropped from the 150-160 range to the 80’s. There was a flurry of activity as they rushed to give me more drugs (some spray in my mouth?) to stop my uterus from contracting so quickly and alleviate the stress on the baby. Of course, they tried to tell us it wasn’t the pitocin that caused her heart rate to drop, it was probably just because she was tired. Yeah…OK. After her heart rate rose to an acceptable rate, we revisited our options: I could attempt to push our baby out with contractions only 5 mins apart, meaning between every push, the baby creeps back up the birth canal - resulting in the probable assistance of forceps or vacuum. I asked about risks associated with either option. I don't remember the full list, only the fact that forceps could fracture our baby’s skull (awesome). The vacuum definitely seemed like the lesser of two evils so we pushed for that. The doctor would also attempt to manually twist the baby into the right position as she descended in the birth canal (sounds pleasant!). The other option of course, perform a C section. We chose to try and push.
I did not want to push on my back in the lithotomy position, as everything I’d read suggested this was the least favourable position to avoid tearing but because of the epidural I wasn’t allowed to push on my knees as I had hoped. Thankfully, my nurse was respectful of my wishes and adjusted the bed so my upper body was higher than my lower body and I could take advantage of gravity. I'm not sure if time started eluding me at this point or if it truly was that quick but after only a few pushes I feel as though both nurse and hubby could see the baby's head. Mind you I was pushing exceptionally hard- much harder than I read you should, if you wanted to avoid pelvic floor damage. But the priority at this point, was getting the baby out as quickly as possible. Screw whatever happens to my vagina! And let me tell you, EVERYTHING happened to my vagina! I honestly feel as though there were arms elbow deep in me from this point on. Between pushes the doctor had to tickle our baby’s head to keep her heart rate up and during pushes the doctors were manually trying to twist her little body around as she came down.
Once she got close to crowning, there was a flurry of activity; of which I can only assume was the episiotomy and vacuum being inserted to get her out. Then all of a sudden the doctors were yelling at me to catch my baby. I remember looking down and seeing a tiny, slimy, grimacing baby head between my legs. It took another yell from the doctors before I snapped out of it and pulled our baby out of me and onto my chest. Massive win: vaginal birth achieved! And I didn’t poop on the table! Though, I’m not going to lie- there was one point where I thought I did but it turns out it was just a super loud fart, for which I apologized for profusely. *Face palm*
Finally, our daughter Harlowe was in my arms. I don't even remember what I thought at this point. I was definitely in shock. The moment was cut short by the doctor aggressively telling my husband to cut her umbilical cord despite my request for delayed cord cutting. Before I could protest, it was done. Immediately following, someone was on top of me rubbing Harlowe aggressively. We barely had a few seconds with her and she was snatched from my chest. Everyone was yelling and there was another flurry of activity. It turns out she was grunting instead of crying; a sign that she’d swallowed fluid. Her and my hubby were whisked away to another room for observation and I was left alone in the delivery room for what felt like an eternity.
Thankfully, after 30 minutes everything was deemed OK and they returned. Despite being so thankful that she was OK, I couldn't help another wave of disappointment that washed over me. We’d lost the golden hour that I so badly wanted: an hour of quiet, skin to skin, alone time for our new little family. I get that it was for her safety but it hurt nonetheless.
Thankfully, Harlowe latched on to my breast almost immediately. I wouldn’t have been able to handle breastfeeding issues on top of everything we’d just been through. I turned to my husband and told him to go downstairs immediately to get me Swiss Chalet- with two chalet sauces, damnit! I don’t eat Swiss Chalet often but we did a lot growing up so the quarter chicken meal is a nostalgic and comforting meal for me. Nothing ever tasted so good. And yes, I absolutely drank the second chalet sauce!
Shortly thereafter, we were transferred into our recovery room where we were told we had to remain for a full 24 hours. Wait what?! After being forced to stay in the hospital for the last 33 hours, we had another 24 to go. We were so upset. I’m pretty sure I cried. My poor hubby would be attempting to sleep in an uncomfortable chair again tonight. We made the best of it and by 6 pm the following day, we were finally cleared to leave the hospital. I hobbled out of that hell hole, clutching my donut, as quickly as I could (which was painfully slow).
The next few days are a total blur. I committed to spending 3 days in bed, 3 days on bed, and 3 days near bed to give my body time to heal. I’d read that lots of skin to skin helps your milk come in so that was our plan, while my wonderful hubby waited on us hand and foot. I’ll be forever grateful for that. He even executed an epic charcuterie board complete with champagne in bed! Winning!
Recovery was tough, not gonna lie. I’d never had stitches before so to experience them for the first time in such a sensitive region was not fun. And the postpartum gas! Who knew that was a thing?! Painful trapped farts that you’re too scared to push out because the thought of pushing anything out from down there, well yeah... And don’t even get me started on pooping! Sheer terror! The pressure I felt sitting on the toilet was next level - I honestly felt like my uterus was going to fall out of my vagina. Thankfully, after two weeks of rest things started to feel normal ish again. At my 6 week postpartum appointment my doctor confirmed everything looked good. I took her word for it. I sure as hell wasn’t about to look!
Overall, my birth was nothing like I imagined. It was 33 hours filled with frustration, disappointment, fear and anxiety. Still I'm thankful, we were blessed with a beautiful, healthy, baby girl in the end. And while I know Mt. Sinai had the safety of my baby and I in mind at all times, I also know that many of the decisions pushed on us were out of convenience and control on the hospital’s part. Many of my wishes were not respected, whether blatantly or with an excuse as to why it couldn’t be that way. I felt more like a number ‘on the clock’ in that place, than I did a woman having a baby.
We won’t have more children. We’ve always said we’d only have one, but I know our experience solidified that. I think we both left there with a mild case of PTSD. Giving birth is not a medical procedure that needs to be ‘actively managed’. Sure, sometimes it requires medical intervention - but those cases are actually few and far between. The hospital doesn’t see it this way. In the end, they are running a business and it shows. For anyone seeking a natural birth, or even a medicated birth that is free to progress on it’s own, without multiple interventions - I suggest steering clear of the OB route. I’m sure there are good ones out there but the fact is they are trained to actively manage birth. They want you in, ideally medicated (controlled), and out. If they can cut the baby out of you on their schedule, even better!
Thanks for reading. If you have specific questions about my experience, feel free to reach out!