The year was 1982 and though I had experienced motherhood through the adoption of a son, it was my first time to give birth. I searched and read and studied all the methods of coping with contractions, but coming from a 'don't make waves' background that was about as far as I got. I was very committed to having a medication-free birth at least. One of the most influencial books I read was ""Childbirth Without Fear" by Grantly Dick-Read, M.D.
At midnight on the evening of November 20 my water broke with a gush. I had been instructed in this event to go immediately to the hospital. Contractions took many more hours to begin, at first faint, then many hours later they came with a vengeance. I walked the halls for a while, pushing an I.V. pole, wearing those hideous hospital gowns and laughing with my husband and my cousin who was an off-duty house supervisor RN.
Later, once labor was well established I was confined to the bed. An OP positioned baby made for excruciating pain in my low back that never abated. I calmly breathed through every contractions and occasionally rubbed my own low back, as my husband and cousin watched television and continued to chatter and laugh. When transition hit, a labor and delivery nurse got in my face and breathed with me through every contraction, though at the peak with every one I thought I would lose it. Finally complete, I was wheeled into a delivery room where I had to transfer myself onto a cold, hard, flat stainless steel table. My own OB was out of town and I was forced to accept the services of an OB whose practice I had left before getting pregnant because I didn't like his bedside manner. It wouldn't have mattered….there were no good OBs in this southern town.
I was put into stirrups, flat on my back with an OP baby. Covered in sterile drapes and had my private parts washed down with Betadine solution. Instructed to keep my unsterile hands under the sterile drapes and not to contamine the sterile area. Every contraction required me to use my energy to lift myself up from a prone position to curl up with my legs in stirrups and try and push this baby out. When it took longer than the OB's norm, I was threatened with forceps and he performed a 'routine' episiotomy while a nurse threw herself across my belly to apply fundal pressure. Finally, a 'sunny side up' 8 pound 6 ounce little girl came forth. They brought her up and put her on my belly while her cord was clamped and cut immediately. When I instinctively reached for her to touch her, I was told to put my unsterile hands back under those drapes or they would have to restrain them with leather straps. I complied but my heart followed her across the room as they took her through all their routines and I had my bottom put back together.
Later in the 'recovery room' I asked if I could have my baby and try to nurse. They finally brought her to me but our first attempt was not successful. I had inverted nipples and she would root back and forth, never finding anything prominent to latch onto, so she finally gave up and so did I for the moment. She was returned to the nursery and I was finally able to go to a room on the mother/baby floor.
Every four hours, they brought her to me and sometimes our efforts to nurse were semi-successful and most often she was sound asleep and wouldn't even try. I wonder now if even though I had asked for no formula, sugar water, etc. if she was being fed something in order for her to be so soundly asleep every time I would try to nurse.
One night, during one of our every four hour visits, I had given up trying to rouse this sleeping angel and just rebelliously tucked her up close to me in my bed. Staring at her beautiful face, I was washed in love for her. Examining her tiny fingers, bow shaped lips, tiny nose, eyelashes and all else tiny and perfect I finally had the moment I had been denied at birth. A scowling nurse arriving to whisk her away to the nursery and admonished me for having her in my bed but I didn't care. When I got HOME I would do whatever I wanted with no one to tell me to ignore the most basic instincts for this little person I had given birth to.
Late one day, my best childhood friend was in town visiting her family and came to see us at the hospital. Arriving late during visiting hours, we walked down the hall to get a glimpse of my new daughter through the windows of the hospital nursery. Unfortunately, because of the hour, they had closed the curtains and despite our requesting that they simply open the curtain so she could see my child, they refused. They were on their schedule and had their routines and a childhood friend only in town for the evening was not on the agenda. I will never forget the attitude and hatred shown to us by the nursery room nurse.
In fact, I will never forget the whole experience.
It is a memory that propels me to give mothers and babies a better start than what we had.
Three years later, I experienced hospital birth again, in a different city with a different and precious OB. A few things had changed but not many. Not nearly enough. I had a short natural labor in two short hours, but still had a routine episiotomy and was still separated for a period of time initially from my second daughter. This hospital did practice rooming in so she rarely left my side and our breastfeeding experience got off to a much better start. But, I was still so happy to get home and enjoy the privacy and comforts of my own home and routine.
Then, some time during my kids teen years a midwife friend asked me to accompany her to a birth as an assistant.
I would never be the same again.
It made me grieve a little for what had been taken away from myself and my children, but it mostly made me passionate about giving low-risk women a CHOICE! How sweet to see mother/father/baby in a trio immediately after the baby emerges from the mother's body…to see the oxytocin flow and everyone falling in love with this new little one. How precious that they are never separated, even the newborn exam is done with momma just inches away, touching her baby if she wants to. How sweet that she is the first one to bathe her little one in a sweet herb filled tub, floating him or her and watching their limbs relax in the warm water. How precious to make sure baby latches on right away, receiving life giving colustrum which helps to ensure they get protein, carbs, immune factors and purge the meconium from their tummies. How beautiful to tuck mother and baby together in her own bed to sleep and recover, having made sure momma has been fed something nourishing. How lovely to have been honored to be present for this most holy of moments. How beautiful to have been bonded with this family for the months prior to their birth and during this special occasion.
The contrast is vast. I am committed.