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Her Story

A long day.

I met with the woman who lost her baby during her UC today. It was emotional and painful for both of us; her to share and remember – me to hear.

She said I could blog and share her story where I felt it was important or could be heard. I will work hard not to dramatize what she said, either, but parts are dramatic and painful. And scary if you are pregnant, so you are forewarned.

We sat in my back office and I just sat and let her talk. She said she cried all the way up to see me and didn’t want to cry right away, but both of us did. I hugged her hard when I saw her in the hall, before walking back to the office. At times, it seemed right to touch her. Others, she felt inside her own space and I tried to honor that.

Nothing was linear, so writing it probably won’t be either.

After she talked for a few minutes, I wanted to touch base with her physical recovery. She continues bleeding (not unusual at 4 weeks, especially since she isn’t nursing). She took care of her milk production perfectly… with sage, ice, no pumping. It was horrible for her when her milk came in. I can’t even imagine. She didn’t tear, but she still feels twinges in her belly and vagina. Again, I reassured her that that is normal. I shared that she might “feel” the baby kick sometimes… she said she does (and cried).

She feels empty. Defective. Much of our talk revolved around her NOT being defective at all, but normal. Her body worked perfectly. I shared my experiences of other labors and births – she wanted to compare her labors and births to her family’s and friend’s… apparently they all had easy births that got easier with each baby. I reassured her that not everyone gets that. I didn’t! I reassured her that her body is perfect for birthing. She described horrible back pain (posterior babies?) and I let her know that some women do get that, too. She wanted to know if her attitudes and feelings during the birth were normal. She cussed and hollered in places… why doesn’t anyone else do that? Laughing gently, I told her that she was sooooooo normal! I think she felt better knowing she wasn’t the only one screaming FUCK in labor.

She said until today on the way up she couldn’t remember why she wanted a UC in the first place… and then she remembered.

The midwife she had during her first birth (not in California), while kind and friendly, ignored her birth plan during the birth – broke her water without permission, did extremely painful vaginal exams even after being told she didn’t want them, made her push on a cervical lip for a long time before the baby was even ready to come down, and kept her on her back. The midwife also brought an apprentice that S went to school with and S could not stop thinking about being naked in front of this person who knew so many of the same people. She said it was so hard to stay in the labor and birth – something she wanted to do so badly… and had planned for so hard. The midwife made comments that hurt… and laid her head down during pushing as if she had given up on S – S herself said she then gave up on herself when no one else seemed “there” for her. The midwife and apprentice kept talking about stuff during the labor, too. Nothing to do with S’s labor and birth… just life stuff. S said she tried to be a compliant patient and didn’t say, “shut up!” to them. When S got to the cussing, noisy part of labor, the midwife told her she was being too loud… SCARING HER BABY! (emphasis mine) She said her thought was, “Great! The baby isn’t even out yet and I’m a bad mother!”

She saw the midwife after the birth… took her baby to see her. She said she doesn’t have terrible feelings about her or anything, that she is human and was probably doing what she knew to do, but it wasn’t what she needed. So, she decided to UC instead. She removed the variable in the equation – the midwife.

As an aside, I asked her to please consider telling the midwife her feelings and experiences. She doesn’t have to now. She doesn’t have to over the phone. She can write her whenever she is ready, but that unless she tells her, she will never know and never change. This feeling I am going to share is confused with a lot of other ones, so it might not come out so graceful. I feel that midwife is at least partially responsible for that baby’s death. That if she hadn’t hurt S, S might not have chosen to UC. Sure, I know, the baby might have died anyway. There is no telling if anyone or anything couldn’t have kept that from happening, but what if? Even staying away from the culpability aspect, the midwife still should know that she hurt a woman’s spirit.

So, her labor begins and it’s 12 hours from beginning to end. Nearing the end, she thought about calling a CNM friend, but knew she wouldn’t be able to come (for professional and personal reasons) and thought about calling me, but thought I wouldn’t even remember her. I told her I’d thought of her often and would have known and come immediately. That made her cry. Me, too.

The baby moved throughout labor, reassuring her as to his health and well-being. She had been in fear during the first birth with the midwife – had zero fear this time. She felt safe and that all was great. Her husband was there and her 3.5 year old daughter was in and out once she was awake. She pushed for about 45 minutes (if I recall correctly) and her membranes were intact. She said that they presented… a huge bubble of water that her husband thought was the head… and she knew, finally, she was nearly there. She gets extremely tired at the end of labor, as most women do, and thought maybe she didn’t have what it took to push her baby out… that maybe she was abnormal that way. Not at all! Many, if not most, want to sleep and certainly a lot of women fall asleep inbetween contractions – some even snore! – during the end of first stage and in second stage.

She wandered around, in and out of the water, leaning a lot as she labored with her major back pain. When she was pushing, she was in a standing squat… not terribly deep, but not standing straight up either. This is how the head was born.

She said that with her first, the head was born and the midwife told her to just wait for the next contraction to push again. A couple of minutes later, the contraction came and she pushed her out. This time, however, the head was born and then there were no contractions at all.

She felt the baby moving and looking back, she believes it was probably the last movements that occur as a baby suffocates/strangles/loses his/her oxygen… fast and hard. At the time, she felt, “oh, he’s moving!” and felt reassured as she waited.

Her daughter, watching the rare tv show, all of a sudden cried out from the other room… just as the baby stopped moving.

S said that in that moment, she began doing stuff to free the baby. She squatted, she went to hands and knees, then she lunged at least once… doing everything she knew to do. She then flopped onto the floor, butt flat, and pushed with her entire being as her baby came out. His head was purple. His body “perfect.” (I asked if his body was white… she just said he was perfect in her answer.)

She didn’t tell me minute by minute details, so some is missing as I re-tell it. And that’s okay.

She rubbed him up, but he didn’t respond. She tried rubbing him harder and he still didn’t do anything… no breath or anything. She remembers knowing something was very wrong and started doing mouth-to-mouth on him. Somewhere along the way, she told her husband to call 911. I don’t know where the daughter was in all of this.

She describes the EMS firefighters as they came in – all huge and yellow (as SO many women describe them!) – and she was on the floor naked and so was her baby. They asked her lots of questions as they began CPR on the baby… she stopped mouth-to-mouth when they brought the ambu-bag in. They wanted to cut the cord, but she said not until it stopped pulsating. She doesn’t really know if it was even pulsating at that time (I suspect not). She said that it was all in slow motion. As they worked on him in front of her, she focused on his fingers, staring at them… memorizing them. She looked at his ears… saw that one was folded over just like her daughter’s. She felt how soft he was. They asked again about cutting the cord and she said okay – she just wanted the baby to be okay, so one firefighter did cut it with a scalpel.

Questions – did you have a midwife? Answer – I was my own midwife. Question – Did you just feel the urge to bear down and come in here? Answer – No, I was in labor.

The husband was being questioned by 4 police officers in the kitchen. She said pretty much she answered all questions with “I don’t know” while her husband answered all questions he was asked.

A Deputy Sheriff I am close to said UCers should practice “I don’t know” and “I want to talk to my lawyer” and NOT SAY ANYTHING ELSE except your name to law enforcement. S did it perfectly.

So, they are taking them both to the ambulance – they are still working on the baby – and she reached out to touch her baby’s hand and she said he was so cold! She was upset because he wasn’t covered and despite her extreme modesty, she pulled the towel off of herself and covered her baby, tucking it around him.

The ride to the hospital included listening to the EMS people talking to the hospital, confusing the story – saying she did have a midwife but they couldn’t find her, that she was wedged inbetween the sink and toilet (she said that was stupid). (Apparently, they thought she had a midwife who left the scene. She had to explain several times they did not have a midwife.)

Once at the hospital, I think they took her one place and the baby to NICU. She said that later (45 min after the birth – 15 min after entering the hospital), they took (wheeled?) her down to the NICU to show her how they were trying to make her baby breathe. A very young doctor, matter-of-factly said something to the effect that “it has been a really long time that they have been trying to help him breathe and that it was unlikely he would respond… and if he did, it wouldn’t be a good thing” (something like that).

I don’t know if she watched them stop working on her son.

I know that her husband, who doesn’t cry much, cried as he went to hold his son for the last time.

I don’t know anything (yet) about her holding her son for the last time.

During another part of the talking with S, I asked if she had the picture the hospital took of the baby. She looked at me completely lost. I said, “Didn’t you get a picture of the baby?” and she said she did not. “Did you get a lock of his hair?” No. “The blanket he was in?” No.

I thought I was going to throw up. I didn’t tell her how angry I was that they didn’t give her these things. Even the towel she tucked around her son was thrown away. She has nothing but his ashes. To me, that is just wrong.

S said it took a long, long time before she realized he wasn’t going to breathe. She kept thinking, even at the hospital, that he would just wake up and breathe. She said it was so weird how it came over her that he wasn’t going to wake up.

And a lot of that happened during the time that they were all over her to deliver her placenta. It isn’t unusual to “cling” to the placenta as a child is dying (from my experience and what I hear from others)… or, conversely… to have a hemorrhage, especially after the shoulder dystocia. She knew if she didn’t deliver the placenta, they were going to poke her. So, she told the placenta to come and it did. They shot her in the arm with pit anyway.

And then, they wanted to take blood and start an IV and poked her TWELVE TIMES before getting the blood and IV started. At 4 weeks postpartum, she said her arms just now are un-bruised. She couldn’t even move her fingers afterwards from so much pain.

They dripped pit in the IV, too. She said at that point, she didn’t care anymore what happened. She wanted to die. Her daughter lay next to her on the hospital bed.

I know that she went home around 12 hours postpartum. During the stay in the hospital, she had to talk to the police and social services. I think she said the police came to the house again, too, afterwards, but once they answered the questions, they haven’t been bothered again.

(My cop friend said that had they had a different group of cops, they could have made it evil for her… taking her to the Women’s Jail… just making things very difficult for her. Blessedly, everyone that she had contact with were decent enough. Even the doctors told her that babies die from shoulder dystocia in the hospital or with a midwife… and that no one wanted to make her feel guilty, but they just needed to ask a lot of questions. CPS has had no contact, as far as I know, with the family. If they haven’t come by now, she can breathe easily.)

I don’t know when they had their 8 pound baby cremated, but dad went to pick him up.

She said she has a new respect and love for her husband who has been nothing but incredibly loving to and for her. He holds her anytime she needs it.

Her daughter is working through things herself. She wanted to leave the hospital, saying, “let’s get the baby and go now” several times. She asks about the baby, says she misses him and such. Mom seemed confused about how to deal with her questions and feelings, so we role played a little about how to address her worries and feelings while also honoring S’s feelings. I encouraged S to sit with her daughter and ask her what she remembered of the event… and then ask her if she had any questions and to answer them. I encouraged her to ask her daughter to draw whatever she remembers, too. Draw pictures for the baby. Talk to him (his ashes) if she has something to say. I encouraged her to cry… with her daughter… and that if she was crying and her daughter wanted to know why, to be honest and tell her. Not to hide it in the pillow. Her daughter saw a pair of scissors and asked if that is how daddy cut the cord… S didn’t know what to say because EMS cut the cord. I told her that would be a great way to jump into the discussion… and it will happen more than once.

I reminded her that her daughter doesn’t have the emotional or linear ability that adults do to put things in context. That her thoughts and worries will jump out like firecrackers, sometimes at the most inopportune times, but that it is great that she trusts enough to speak out… and she needs to so she doesn’t eat it up and swallow it, trying to take care of mom and her feelings. “Don’t Feel” isn’t a good way to grow up.

We talked about self-care. She feels so empty. She isn’t pregnant or nursing and she is such a good mother! It’s what she does best in the world she said. I reminded her that it is time to mother her Self for awhile. That this is a moment of practice for when all her kids are grown and gone and she is still left with her Self.

I encouraged her to find something interactive to do with her daughter… pottery, or swimming, or something… not just driving her somewhere and dropping her off.

I encouraged finding space and time for dating her husband when she is ready.

She asked about having another baby… when? I said that physically she could probably conceive about 3 months postpartum, but that emotionally and spiritually, she should wait until she was ready for THIS baby to come… not as a replacement for her son who died. (She’d already told me she wanted to have another baby because she felt incomplete.) I told her how this was so not like when people have a dog die and go out and buy a new one to replace it. This is more spiritually important. That she cannot foist the wishes and dreams for her dead son onto the new spirit to be. She said she understood, but I suspect she will be pregnant sooner than later. I told her she would "know" when it was time.

S has asked me and another midwife (a CNM) to attend her next birth… to keep our hands off, but be there if she needs us. When she spoke about no fear at this birth, I asked how she would feel next time. She said she wants to have no fear! I beamed with joy to hear her say that.

Then she also said that once the head is out, she will push with her soul even without a contraction. She didn’t care if she tore everything, she would push her baby out. I gently explained that it was important to allow the baby to do his rotation, too, but that if her instinct led her to push, then, by all means, do it!

I’m putting her in touch with my friend who was birthraped on the east coast. They have so much in common. I sent her home with her phone number. I am also going to find a group for her of parents who lost a baby during late pregnancy and birth and right after. She doesn’t know anyone. I want to also put her in touch with the other UC moms I know who lost babies.

Of course, I told her she could call me anytime… at any time… even just to cry and be heard.

I can’t even imagine her pain. She said she can’t either. She tried to quantify it… comparing it to moms who lost their babies in pregnancy or later. I told her there was no measure for sorrow… that each person has their own horror to tend to… and trying to wonder if someone feels worse than you is a waste of your healing energy.

I shared with her about how Judaism teaches (she is very eclectically spiritual and it seemed appropriate to share) that there is a full serious year of mourning. How our culture says, “take a week off” and then back to business. But that is so unrealistic. We talked about the Stages of Mourning… and how they overlap and superimpose on top of each other… over and over… for a long, long time. Not to set a time limit on her sadness… that that removes a level of stress to try and conform. (Like labor.)

She kept a blog for awhile, but felt there wasn’t the support she wanted on-line, so logged off in November 2004. She went back last week and emptied her emailbox to start over. She went and read her blog and had written about how tired she was and how her body hurt already… complaining about the pregnancy and what it was doing to her body. A yoga friend of hers said to her, “You call that suffering? Imagine if you lost a baby! Now, that would be suffering.”

And that is how her blog ended.

So horribly prophetic.

I feel so honored to be a part of S’s process. I feel compelled to tell the midwives around me – ALL around me around the world – why she chose to UC. Is that using her sorrow to press my agenda? Probably. Is that okay? I’m not sure yet. (She said TELL!)

I don’t want to say or even make it seem like all women who UC have problems because, for goodness sake, most have beautiful births! But, can’t I use her birthrape (her word, without my prompting) and the other birthrapes out there as an impetus for change because women continue choosing UC because of their previous experiences with midwives?

I’m so confused. And so, so sad for her.

I’m glad I could hold her for a moment.

Reader Comments (4)

I can't believe this is still sitting here without a comment! So I just wanted to say thank you for sharing it.

July 8, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

You are more than welcome, Penny. Thanks for commenting.

July 8, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

Reading that was very intense...Wow.

Barb, I think I must know your friend on the east coast - MM? I met her thru freecycle when she recognized my name from other local homebirth message boards, and we got together and talked. She told me about her first bad birth and her subsequent UC. She told me once she had a midwife friend in CA named Barb. Small world!! (well, if that's her, it is. ;-))

July 10, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterkayla

She sounds like a brave woman who did everything she could, who is not striking out at others in her grief.
I hope by now she has had a happy birth.

I don't know if you read comments, especially on such old posts.
But if you do, I would like to ask you to explain shoulder dystocia.
The mechanics of it. Why the baby can die from it. Why isn't it still getting oxygen from the cord? Is it trying to breath and its chest is squished so it can't?

This woman did get the baby out. Why was she able to do it later but not sooner?

I think I am experiencing retroactive realization that I really thought that nothing could go wrong with my births, and that I didn't have enough fear when I helped my friend and my daughter give birth at home. I think it is possible that someone may someday ask me to be with her at a birth-seeing that women have so few options around here. One of my daughters got into a disagreement with one of the four midwives at her birthing center and started to talk about staying home if that one was on call, and would I come... She wound up having an absolutely wonderful birth with one of the midwives she liked and I didn't have to face the question. But I have more daughters and there will be more births. I just feel as if I have to have more knowledge to guide me to know what to say.
And I just don't like it that I don't feel that I have a handle on this issue. I had a couple of maneuvers in my mind that I read about, and then the Ina Mae flip over thing, but I think I was assuming that these were all it would take. I think I was thinking of "sticky shoulders" when I heard shoulder dystocia.

Could you maybe write an "all about shoulder dystocia" post?

Susan Peterson

August 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSusan Peterson

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