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Comments OffApril 21, 2014

The Story of Geneva’s Birth – an HBC Journey

I have told this story incompletely many times. I can describe it quickly in a simple sentence when I have to: It was a home birth that ended in cesarean.

1We planned a home birth with a CPM and were a low risk pregnancy the whole way. At 37 weeks the Braxton hicks contractions suddenly picked up. They had been a constant annoyance since around 20 weeks. It was quite concerning to me at first because instead of lasting for the 30-45 seconds all the books said, mine would start the moment I would physically exert myself and last until I stopped. If I walked across a parking lot, I would have an uncomfortable contraction until I went and sat down somewhere. Ten minutes, thirty minutes, an hour; However long I was moving my uterus would be balled into one giant contraction. This had really limited my mobility and exercise during the second half of the pregnancy to the point where I told our CPM that I felt I was supposed to be preparing for a marathon but was getting weaker and weaker.

I didn’t know the stigma surrounding 42 weeks, but now that it approached my CPM suddenly became very concerned that nothing was happening and wanted me to do a home induction. It turns out a home induction entails a lot of exhausting and uncomfortable things which we did for four days. It honestly felt like going through a giant circuit training at birth boot camp! This is what I remember from the first day: membrane sweep, 30 minutes on the breast pump, drink a tea, 30 minutes on the bouncy ball, take a tincture (cohosh I think?), 30 minutes walking around the block, then start over, and continue these circuits all day. Each day brought on a new onslaught of things to try. MY mom came back from the funeral that first day of the home induction, and I was so happy! Everything was as it needed to be. Now I could finally give birth.  Through the first few days of the circuits the contractions picked up well but would always stop at the end of the day when I would collapse into bed. So we moved on to castor oil, something I had hoped to avoid, but agreed to when I was told it was better than Pitocin at a hospital induction. The contractions really picked up after that, 3-5 minutes apart and I dilated to 4 cm.! I was so excited, but also exhausted from the circuits so I lay down to rest before the pending labor. I woke up that night and it was like someone had flipped the switch to off. I wasn’t even having Braxton hicks.
I was so dejected! Why was my body broken and not going into labor? Our CPM was stumped and ordered a BPP ultrasound since I was so late, “to check on the baby,” she told me. This was my first clue that being over 42 weeks was not normal. The sonographer’s office treated me very strangely, almost as if I was a walking timebomb. He told us my cervix was nearly closed at 1 cm! How is this possible when I was just at a 4 last night?, I wondered. He said the baby was really big, nearly 10 lbs., and my heart sank because I had worried about having a big baby all along since they seem to run in our families. But 10 lbs. was doable, my brother was larger and my mom pushed him out, so I knew I could, too! The good news we got from the ultrasound was that Geneva passed the nonstress test with flying colors. All was well. We headed back home to continue the circuits.2

But this was when my CPM gave up. She was at the hospital with a friend of hers who was giving birth and called me to discuss the ultrasound results. She told me that my placenta wasn’t meant for pregnancy to last this long and that the ultrasound showed mine was beginning to expire, which she knew because the amniotic fluid was so low. I asked if the castor oil I had taken could have contributed to lower fluid, and she said it might but at this point she was recommending I either start labor tonight on my own or else she would schedule me for an induction the next morning since she was already at the hospital.  She was too busy with her friend so I was on my own to start labor.

I actually was speechless and just let her talk, say goodbye, and hang up without my saying a word. The idea of going to the hospital was just devastating and of course I wanted to avoid it, but I didn’t see how I could possibly make labor start since I had already been giving it my best for the last 4 days! If even my midwife had given up trying I felt like it was a hopeless situation.

Losing the home birth was the scariest thing I could imagine. I had been preparing for this home birth the entire pregnancy. I did my prenatal yoga where I would hold incredibly uncomfortable poses for 60 seconds, breathing through them as if they were contractions and visualizing my body opening and my baby being closer to me. Then squatting at the end of the session envisioning my baby coming out and being lifted into my arms. Every single workout I would end in happy tears becuase I was practicing giving birth to my baby and soon she would be on my chest. I had the house prepared with the birth tub filled, tarps spread, the birth kit laid out, bedding prepared, etc. I knew what rooms I would labor in, what level the lighting would be set, what music would be playing on the computer, everything I thought I needed to help me cope through a painful natural labor. But now I was headed to the hospital for a Pitocin induction, one of the hardest physical births there is. I was terrified.  I just didn’t see how I could survive those unnaturally painful contractions in a hospital bed surrounded by strangers. I would cave in to an epidural, then cave in to a c section. I saw it so clearly in my mind that I just froze, crumpled in a heap, crying my heart out.

Then Eric found me. My sweet, wonderful husband. He comforted and encouraged me so much! But I do remember that we didn’t pray or ask God’s guidance or anything! Instead we just focused on what we could do to make the situation work. We planned more circuits until the evening, and then we would put together a birth plan and pack for the hospital if labor hadn’t started.  I think this was a big mistake because we were trusting in ourselves and our own ability instead of God’s protective hands. It was foolish because the last few days our attempts had been completely useless, yet we seemed to think we could control the situation anyway.  This was really the point where we stiffened our necks and turned away from God, relying solely upon our own endeavors. I don’t know what we were thinking, but at that point I was so exhausted from the circuits I wasn’t really thinking much anyway. I kept doing circuits like a mindless beast and tried not to think about what was coming. That night labor did not start, of course, so we prepared for the hospital. When I did the birth plan I went over the details with Eric and our CPM and they both promised to protect me from being bullied into any unnecessary interventions. I believed that I could trust in myself to handle the pain, and trust them to protect me from the staff, and that I would be birthing Geneva the next day. Then we went to sleep and I tried to get as much rest as possible so I would be ready to face the Pitocin torture in the morning.

Then came the OB. She was so rude, and so, so rough. I didn’t know it but my CPM said that I was a “failure to progress” which actually means I was in active labor that just wasn’t dilating the cervix. In actuality I had never been in active labor, which is what the OB told us. When at last she removed herself from me I stared at her hand expecting it to be dripping with blood. My entire body was shaking from the screaming pain and I felt like I was in shock. No one had ever touched me like that. I felt so violated, and it was done in front my my mom and my husband and neither one even seemed to notice how horrible it was. As I sat and shook, the OB informed me that I would be having a c section because my baby was measuring so big. I absolutely refused. My mom is petite and delivered my 10.5 lb. brother, and my grandmom was even more petite and delivered my 11 lb. uncle! That’s the family I come from, we make -and deliver- big babies!

But no one listened to me. And this is the hardest part of Geneva’s birth. I kept telling them I at least wanted to try a vaginal birth as long as me and the baby showed no signs of distress. They admitted the she was fine and had passed her nonstress test, and since I was still hooked up to the monitors we could all see how strong her heartbeat was and how well she was tolerating the contractions I was having. But everyone kept telling me I just needed the c section. My mom, Eric, the CPM, and of course the OB. So for two hours I lay tied down in bed arguing for my bodily integrity. I wanted to leave the hospital and go somewhere else and this is when they used the dead baby argument. They said Geneva wouldn’t make it if I tried to leave: the amniotic fluid was dangerously low and my placenta could fail at any moment. Being tied to bed was a picture of how I felt: like an animal in a trap, and everyone was trying to cut me open.
I don’t want to dwell on this scene too long except to tell of the abandonment and betrayal I experienced here. My birth team was there to support me in this foreign place and had promised to help me through it, but now wouldn’t even listen to me. This abandonment of my support team was outshone only by how far I felt from God. Where was He? How could He allow this? Was this really His plan? What had I done to deserve this? Why wouldn’t He just make labor start so we could get on with the birth?
Ignoring the fact I had been ignoring Him all throughout the transfer process, I held Him completely responsible for this situation. He had abandoned me, I reasoned, so now I wouldn’t even think of Him let alone pray for help, comfort, or guidance. I was on my own to protect myself and Geneva: absolutely and completely alone.

3And this was my fault. My body so broken labor wouldn’t start, and now it was on the verge of suffocating Geneva. I had no choice but to give up my body for my baby. It was a moment of sacrifice: sacrifice of my dreams, of my body, of my future pregnancies and births and possibly even children. It was a moment of surrender. I gave up and stopped fighting and knew what I had to do, and at last consented. The OB became very cheerful and asked me, “But isn’t this what you want?” My answer was of course not! “I consent under duress!” I felt bullied as if I had no choice. Then, despite the claim my baby wouldn’t survive a trip to another hospital, they made me wait a full 8 hours before the surgery. Because they didn’t have a staff assembled, they said. Lying there waiting for the surgery was awful. I had given up having any role in birthing my baby and waited for the removal procedure to begin as if it were a death sentence. I wasn’t allowed to eat and the contractions hurt worse and worse, and of course now that my baby was at risk they kept monitoring me so I had to stay tied down. I had to ask permission to even get up to use the bathroom, as if I were a child. It was horrible. My dad managed to get there just before the surgery started, and he immediately swept me into his arms and began praying for me and Geneva. I was so upset with God for what was happening I almost didn’t want him to, but when he did I was so glad because I was reminded that God was watching over me even in this, even if it felt impossible.

They kept me awake for the surgery. The meds they gave me froze me completely and I could not move or speak. It felt like I was dead and no longer existed. They put an oxygen mask over my face and I felt buried under it. Everyone milled around as if I wasn’t there, pulling and sucking and cutting as if I were a dead body. No one told me what was going on, truly treating me as if I were a dead body they had to remove Geneva from. They provided fundal pressure which feels like an elephant is sitting on your chest and I literally could not breathe, but had no way to communicate this.  I thought I would pass out. When they pulled out Geneva I felt nothing but despair, and cried because I could not see her and she was surrounded by strangers. She needed me and instead the first woman to hold her was that hateful OB. I knew I should be happy and felt so guilty that I couldn’t be happy. She stopped crying almost immediately and no one told me why. I was so scared maybe we had waited too long for the surgery and she wasn’t okay. I didn’t get to meet her for an entire hour.

In Recovery I did meet her and immediately did skin to skin. It was such an amazing moment! I had been lying there unable to move or speak, helplessly listening to her cry out for me off and on. Her golden hour was spent in the arms of strangers being scrubbed, jabbed, manhandled. She had the violent, scary, lonely entry into the world we had wanted so much for her to never know. Thankfully, Eric was able to follow her around everywhere she was taken so she was not entirely abandoned. When at last she was brought to me it felt unreal, like the fading flashes of a dream. I pulled off my gown and her blanket and put her on my bare chest – the visual that I had used to prepare for my home birth labor at last fulfilled. It was only then I finally felt like my spirit reentered my body – I began to exist again! The intense loneliness I had experienced that long day had intensified when she was torn from my body, leaving me in state of feeling completely dead and worthless, and our reunited state made me whole again. That was the first time I knew she was worth it. This meeting seemed so fantastical and magical I didn’t even believe it had happened until Eric showed me pictures. Only then I knew it was real.

I was devastated to learn she was 8 lb., 6 oz., a very average sized baby. They had told me the 10 lb. estimate was “accurate within an ounce” but it was over 1.5 lbs. wrong!! I had been forced into the surgery based on false information. It was unreal. The OB refused to see me and sent residents to do her rounds. I had so many questions: why was the weight estimate so wrong?? Why did my average sized baby not descend during my contractions?- was her cord constricted? -was she malpositioned? But that horrid OB wouldn’t see me and the residents couldn’t say.

The drugs they gave me had a horrible reaction and by the time I was released I was covered in itchy hives. I called to schedule a follow up with the OB whose office informed me “You are not her patient, she will not see you.” Thankfully my CPM did the postpartum visits. For weeks we tried so many things to get the hives down and finally antifungals worked – it was antibiotics that caused it apparently. All this time I was off the pain meds due to the reaction and the pain was insane. For eight weeks I couldn’t even roll over in bed without it feeling as if my stomach was ripping open again.

Recovery was so hard. For weeks, then months, I just sat at home crying. I wanted to stop thinking about it but incessantly it flashed before me eyes, whether I was awake or sleeping. I couldn’t believe what had happened, but the gaping hole in my stomach screamed painfully just how real it all was. People would ask about it but I couldn’t speak of it without crying. This was when I learned to numb myself and give as little detail as possible. I turned off my emotions so I could mentally survive. I didn’t know about PTSD and birth trauma but I knew something wasn’t right. I really felt like the birth was something that had been done to me rather than something I participated in.

To this day I struggle to say “I gave birth” because I had nothing to do with it, I was lying tied down to a bed unable to move or even speak!! It takes effort to say Geneva was born rather than removed, and to call it her birth rather than my surgery or the procedure. I had daily nightmares and flashbacks about it and obsessed, it was all I could think about. I got my medical records since the OB wouldn’t see me and read them daily with tears pouring. I researched all the medical terms and learned everything I could about my situation.

Through all this there was my precious little Geneva. I felt like a horrible mom for not giving her a peaceful birth at home, and did everything I could to bond with her. Breastfeeding actually worked – my body could do something right, apparently! Just spending time with her was so healing. She is my little comforter. I knew all along she was worth it, and spending as much time as possible with her is always a reminder.

My relationship with my birth team needed work. Forgiveness came as I tried to see the situation from their point of view. My mom and Eric were as ignorant as I about the lies we were told, and they didn’t have the instinct I did that reassured me all was well. They believed Geneva was at risk and saw my reluctance to consent as stubbornness that was risking her life. I knew how scary it was to hear that my baby could die – that threat, the even slightest possibility that it could be true, was what kept me in that hospital bed. Eric and I had the most to work out since he had so vehemently promised to protect me, but we got through it and are stronger for it. I have also forgiven my midwife, and even the OB. I do not know why they did what they did, and never will. Meeting with the OB was impossible, but I did sit down with the CPM who was regretful but not repentant. I urged her to provide all the evidence so women can make informed choices. We parted peaceably.

Bio: Rachel Jones became a HBC mama in 2013. She lives in California with her husband and daughter and enjoys spending time outdoors and writing.