Childbirth is a horrifying beautiful mess of a thing, isn’t it? It is painful and scary and humiliating and yet… we do it again and again. Nearly all of my childbirth experiences are ones I treasure in a special place in my heart. But there is one that still to this day shakes me to the core. One that changed our perspective and rocked our happy little world. One where a hospital’s prejudices and negative attitude towards homebirth nearly cost me my life.
Join me as I rewind three years. I had three beautiful children and was pregnant with my fourth. The baby was healthy and strong and there were no complications. After three deliveries at the hospital I was hopeful we would get to try a homebirth with our midwife. Because we live 45 minutes away from town I was prepared that we may need to go in if anything went wrong so our bags were packed and sitting the car. I had had “prelabor” for a month. I was tired and had had useless uncomfortable braxton hicks contractions for over a month, 10 minutes apart. I was late.
With three prior pregnancies I had been early. We were sure this one would follow suit and supremely disappointed that she seemed to be taking her time. We jumped on the trampoline, we went for walks for hours on end, we tried to turn these contractions into labor with EVERY trick we could find (I’ll let your imaginations finish the rest of the list). About five days after her due date, I was as big as a house and woke up at about 2am with contractions. Funny how you question so many times “is this it???” and yet once it starts, you KNOW. I knew. I got up, I cleaned the house for the midwife, I let my hubby sleep for a few hours and then woke him up.
And Then we Had a Homebirth
I called the midwife around 5am, but this wasn’t my first rodeo, I knew if I was still cheerful and upbeat and talking, it was going to be a while so I told her I would call her when we were further along. I decided to hop into the bath and everything changed. Wowsa, active labor here you come! I told my hubby around 6am to call the midwife that this was active labor, I could hardly speak but in his head I had cried wolf so many times, he thought he’d have a shower first and see where we were at (men). Our midwife lived an hour away so once he called her we were still left waiting. My mom came and picked up the kids (poor little tykes were a bit worried with all my moaning and groaning) and I managed to get out of the tub and make it to my bed just as she arrived.
I was ready to push (perfect timing hey?) so homebirth it would be! It was horrible, it was awful, it was the most painful labor I had ever had. You know how some people say “it just feels good to push”? It flipping felt AWFUL! But, feel it I did. I felt her head come, I knew it was there, I had no doctors or nurses telling me what to do or what position to be in or what was happening, when to push or how. My midwife followed MY lead and I did what worked for me. It was the most incredible, empowering, fulfilling event of my life. I cry just thinking about it! And voila! I had a beautiful baby girl! In my bed! I got my homebirth after all and it was everything I dreamed of and more!
And then my Placenta Wouldn’t Detach
If you have given birth before you will know that the placenta usually comes out within about 10-20 minutes of giving birth. Mine was firmly attached and going nowhere. The midwife gave me a shot of oxytocin right away and when that didn’t work, started an IV drip. No use, that thing was superglued inside of me and all the while I was slowly bleeding.
We still weren’t at panic point. We knew this needed to be addressed in the hospital but I was stable. The policy for these types of events in our hospital is that the midwife calls ahead and the hospital prepares an OR so that they are ready to go by the time we get there. They had over an hour to prepare as it took some time for the ambulance to come, get me checked out and ready to go.
Oh, by the way, getting wheeled out into your cul-de-sac naked and covered in blood, super awesome, hello neighbours! I had to hold my newborn in my arms, having contractions and the urge to push the entire drive. Each time I felt another contraction I would feel more blood gush out. It was intensely uncomfortable and I was feeling a little nervous.
We got to the hospital, in an ambulance, lights and sirens going…. and it all went wrong.
Meanwhile, at the Hospital… the Midwife was going to get Taught a “Lesson” with Me as the Star Example!
The nurses made us go to admitting. ADMITTING. With me laying on the stretcher holding my baby seeping blood for nearly 2 hours. This took over 10 minutes. I sat in a hallway waiting. Then, they sent us up to labor and delivery. I knew this wasn’t right, they were supposed to take me to the OR! The midwife was trying to figure out what was going on as I was starting to feel faint and she knew policy was out the window. I passed the baby off to my hubby (so much for nursing and baby bonding time) and they wheeled me into labor and delivery. Once there we looked around… where was the obstetrician? The anesthesiologist??? It had been over an hour, why weren’t we in the OR?
Once the nurses took my blood pressure and started to understand the situation, the room was a flurry. They paged the obstetrician and everything seemed to happen at once. I have since requested all my medical records and will quote my situation from the obstetricians notes:
“The patient was in hypovolemic shock. Her blood pressure was 70/20, heart rate was 120, and she was pale and diaphoretic. The placenta was still in situ.“
They called the anesthesiologist on call to start a second IV. I remember it so clearly. The obstetrician took one look at me, literally ONE LOOK and said “My name is _________ and we are going to get this placenta out”.
WAIT! This isn’t how it was supposed to be! I was told it would be a manual removal under general anaesthesia! Why aren’t we going to the OR????
No time, I was crashing. I didn’t even have time to voice these thoughts before a doctors fist was inside of me digging while the anesthesiologist pushed on the outside trying to stimulate contractions.
Oh the horror! I sit here shaking just thinking about it, even three years later.
I was awake, I had no painkillers. I was surrounded by at least 7 different doctors and nurses, I had people trying (and failing because of the shock) to get IVs in, others poking me to cross match my blood. I could see my husband holding my daughter, sitting out of the way, watching me.
And then all I felt, all I knew, was pain. Blinding, screaming pain. It seemed to go on for hours. I was sweating, my body forcing me to push even through it all. He dug and pulled and they scraped and pushed and I screamed and screamed.
I still think back with absolute pity on any woman on that floor who may have thought I was in labor.
This wasn’t no labor, this was a living hell.
I remember a point where I slumped. That is the best way I can think to describe it. I stopped screaming. I stopped pushing. I gave into the pain and just lay there, exhausted and defeated. They thought I had passed out and it was still attached. At that point they stopped, looked at eachother, said I was out and that they had to get me to an OR stat. I heard it all, and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt I would die. It had been two hours of bleeding, of waiting.
I know it was God. He was there. He told me I couldn’t stop. I had to keep on fighting.
And so I did! I started pushing and screaming again and miracle of miracles, it started detaching! It came out in fragments with a lot of scraping but it did come out. All in all it was about a 20 minute procedure. They whisked me off right away for an ultrasound to see if there was any left or if they would need to do surgery.
After the ultrasound, I waited to have someone bring me back up. And I cried. And cried and cried and cried. I knew I just about died. I knew that could have been it! I knew how close I had come and I knew that it was over.
People walked by, on the way to their ultrasounds, looking at me in bewilderment. I’m sure I looked a mess, bloody and bawling in my dark corner. I didn’t care who heard, I was so relieved and horrified and overcome, I just broke.
I needed multiple transfusions to get me to the point where I had enough energy to walk to the bathroom by myself or feel like I could breathe. And the recovery was terrible, long and emotional. I had a lowgrade fever for two weeks and felt so weak. My stomach was blue, it hurt to walk. I felt like I had been brutalized! But I was alive.
Hospital Birth vs. Homebirth… with me in the middle
It took us a long time to process this event. Months before we felt like we could talk about it or see past the fact that I nearly died. We realized that procedure and protocol weren’t met and wanted to know what had gone wrong.
We requested my medical records and saw that they didn’t quite match up. Much of it was missing or wrong. The obstetricians records indicated I refused to go to the hospital when the case was that by the time the midwife came I was pushing already!
We were told that this wasn’t the first time. That our specific hospital has a real issue with midwifes and specifically homebirth in general and there had been numerous cases of doctors whose attitude and prejudice against homebirth had caused other situations to occur.
I felt angry and betrayed by our medical system. I felt used. Afterwards the doctor yelled at my husband and the midwife that they nearly killed me for having a homebirth. We were treated by the staff as if we were backroad hicks who were too stupid to go to the hospital. No one wanted to hear that I was already pushing and it would have been too late by the time the kids were picked up. No one wanted to know that the homebirth was fine and if it weren’t for their lack of preparation it would not have been an emergency situation. I was chastised. I was made to feel like an idiot.
And only months later did I realize I had just played a part in a play.
And Nothing Changed, the War Wages On!
My husband and I tried to go after the hospital for not following procedure but we live in a small area and no one here specializes in malpractice or wanted to take it on. We considered going to the media, wanting to be heard, wanting to prevent this for someone else. But in the end we wanted to just move on.
I recently ran into our midwife and she was on her way to deal with another situation with one of her homebirth patients and my heart just broke. Nothing changed. If I had died, I would have just been a pawn in this game against natural or homebirth. My case did go under review with the Perinatal Review Board but it was just a bunch of doctors trying to go after the midwife for doing a homebirth rather than taking any responsibility for their actions.
I had placenta accreta, where the placenta attaches to the uterine wall. It is a rare condition and not picked up on regular ultrasounds. It couldn’t have been prevented or even picked up on and I am quite honestly lucky to be alive. But I thank God for my life, not the local hospital. I honestly think they would have been happy to see me die to have a noose from which to hang the midwife from.
For those of you who I know are itching to get your hands on the comment thread to bash me for doing a homebirth… my next baby was obviously in the hospital. In fact I was so mistrustful of this hospital that I drove 4 hours for all my appointments and delivered my last baby in Vancouver. I know that in many cases a homebirth can be dangerous and we wouldn’t have done it again because of my history. However if we lived in town and didn’t have this condition hanging over our heads we would have done it again. The homebirth itself was one of the highlights of my life, and if the hospital had followed their guidelines I would have been happily under anesthesia and all would have been well.
There are horror stories out there on both sides of the coin and plenty of risks with all of the interventions that happen in a hospital as well.
I encourage you to be careful before you judge us “dumb hicks” who choose homebirth. Sometimes we just can’t make it to the hospital because the baby comes too fast. And sometimes we do a lot of research, all our prenatals, see that everything is fine and make an informed decision to have a baby at home. We are all trying to do what is best for our children.
Have you ever had a homebirth or delivered with a midwife?
Photos by eyeliam were found on flickr and combined for the purposes of this post. To find them check out eyeliam’s profile here.