I went into labour 3 days after my due date at around 10:00pm. I was just getting ready to go to bed and was quite tired. My husband was already sleeping. He has the ability to fall asleep when his head hits the pillow – a trait I wish I had. I wanted to let him sleep so I tried the breathing techniques I was told would be helpful. They were useless. The pain started out very extreme and the contractions were coming frequently. By the time we arrived at the hospital the contractions were coming one right after the other. I struggled to get into the admitting area and had to endure the stares and pointing of all the people who were also waiting. I was finally brought to the labour and delivery area in a wheelchair while my husband filled out forms. I still have no idea what he was signing. I was handed over to a nurse that was one of the nastiest people I had ever met. I was having contractions that were still coming one right after the other and I was vomiting. I still had the ability to talk but I could only get words out slowly. The nurse wanted to know what my religion was. I asked “Why”? She made it clear what her religious leanings were and also made it clear that my religious leanings should match hers. I should convert to her point of view so if I died I wouldn’t go to hell. I needed to use the washroom and escaped the nurse from hell and went to the bathroom and closed the door. She immediately opened it (there were no locks) and yelled at me for closing it. She stood by and watched while I vomited some more, had a bowel movement and cleaned myself up. My husband returned during this time. I was put back in bed and given a vaginal exam by her. Then three more people showed up and did the same thing. I protested this lack of privacy but was ignored. I tried to catch their eyes with mine so I would be harder to ignore but they wouldn’t look at me. A discussion ensued about how far everyone thought I was dilated. No one could agree but the final general consensus was either 2 cm or 3 cm. It was still early on but I already felt violated and humiliated. I had been leaking what I thought was urine for about two days. Turns out it was amniotic fluid and I was made to feel stupid for confusing the two. I began hyperventilating. I was hooked up to a monitoring system right after this. They were done routinely in the hospital I delivered in. My husband and four other people (three of them students) were present during this procedure. I didn’t want this and said so but I was dismissed and ignored again. One of the students accused me of being a bad mother because I wasn’t considering my baby. By the time the external and internal monitoring devices were attached to my abdomen and inside my uterus and on my baby’s scalp my contractions were coming so fast that one wasn’t finished before the next one started. The machine wasn’t registering this. My nurse called me a drama queen and was explaining to my husband what was ‘really’ happening. I was trying to explain to my husband that they were wrong but I could see he believed them. This went on for about 10 minutes before they realized that the monitoring device wasn’t working properly. I received no apology for the treatment I received. They called for a machine technician to repair the equipment. I knew at this time that my experience would be worse if my husband stayed with me and I told him to leave. He did and it was a decision that I have never regretted. I had genuinely expected the hospital and my husband to support and care for me. The sense of betrayal when neither of those things happened was profound. I kept asking where my obstetrician was because I hoped she would care for me in a humane way. I was told she hadn’t been called and she wouldn’t be for awhile. The first time I remember seeing her was in the operating theatre. I had discussed labour and delivery with her during a prenatal visit and I was assured that pain relief would be available. The machine technician showed up. I was not covered in his presence. When I tried to cover myself the nurse slapped me. He wasn’t able to get the equipment working and they unhooked me and took everything out of the room.

The next 2 to 3 hours are etched in my mind as well. Things were really just more of the same except there wasn’t monitoring equipment. The pain was excruciating and I was denied pain relief. If I asked for it I was told that it may cause fetal distress and “Didn’t I care about my baby?” Of course I did. This was a constant fear. I was afraid that we would both die. I longed for the times when I was left alone by hospital staff. I was treated with disrespect and a complete lack of privacy. Exams were done without my permission or consent. Several people were there while they were done. I had no control over who was there or what was done to me. They talked amongst themselves but never to me. I wasn’t prepared for the complete disregard of my human rights. I couldn’t even protest anymore because I couldn’t speak. The pain was too severe.

I realized that my nurse wasn’t the only problem. There was a trade off between maternal rights and fetal rights in the minds of medical staff that I wasn’t prepared for and it was very clear that I was on the losing end of that attitude without any evidence to support it. Logically, the two are inextricably linked and to defend fetal rights at the expense of maternal rights was ethically and intellectually indefensible. These people knew how effective emotional blackmail is as a tool to manipulate mothers-to-be so they had the evidence needed to understand the strong connection but they lacked the intellectual capacity to understand it. I had entrusted my life, and my child’s life by proxy, to people who didn’t seem very smart. My confidence in their abilities was shattered.

I have no memory of the next 2 or 3 hours except for two clear exceptions. The first was while I was still in the labour area. I was in a different room and I don’t remember seeing any monitoring equipment. I must have been hooked up again either then or later because I was told that the caesarean was done because of fetal distress but I have no memory of it being reconnected. The original nurse wasn’t there. I remember wondering what time it was and what day it was. I remember being alone with a kind nurse who was holding my hand and telling me she would protect me. I remember crying at this unexpected kindness. The second was while I was being pushed down the hallway to the operating theatre. I knew without being told that I was going to have a caesarean and I didn’t consider this a failure. I was relieved that my ordeal was ending. I had an oxygen mask on my face that I tried to take off because I felt I couldn’t breathe. The nurse kept pushing it back on and holding it on my face. I was trying to ask if my baby was O.K. She ignored me. I was handed off to the surgical team waiting for me. They stripped me from the waist down and the anaesthesiologist (at least I think it was the anaesthesiologist because he was the one who put the mask for anaesthesia over my face) began ridiculing me and making rude gestures. My obstetrician made a slashing movement across her throat to stop him when she realized I was aware of my surroundings. The oxygen mask was removed while they draped me in blue sheets and it was replaced with the mask for general anaesthesia. I remember nothing more until recovery.

I was hovering between unconscious and barely conscious when my husband came in holding my daughter. I don’t know how long that was after she was born. I remember two things about this. One, I was so happy my daughter survived and since I was aware of this it must mean I survived as well. I was also aware I was the last one to see my baby. What I wanted was to have time alone with my baby but I was so drugged I couldn’t hold her. She lay beside me on the bed and I couldn’t focus or lift my arms. I wanted my husband to leave me alone. I remember nothing else until the next morning. I have no idea what time that was but the sun was shining. This room had windows. Two nurses came in and told me I had a caesarean because my daughter developed fetal distress. They also apologized about having to get me up. I was still attached to the IV and a urinary catheter (neither of which I remember getting) and they helped me get up. As soon as I did I lost a great deal of blood. They cleaned me up and they were cleaning up the floor. That was the last thing I remember until I woke up on my own several hours later. I don’t know what time that was. A nurse eventually came in and I said I wanted to be with my baby. She said I would need to get my urinary catheter removed first and she didn’t have permission to do that. I waited such a long time to have that removed. When it was I went looking for the nursery.

I walked down there dragging my IV pole and being unable to stand upright. I felt drugged and I thought I was going to faint. When I arrived at the nursery (it was very large) I told them who I was and they tried to find my baby. They tried to find her and it was obvious they were becoming concerned. She wasn’t in her basinet and they couldn’t find her. I couldn’t even help because I didn’t know what my baby looked like. They finally found her – much to my relief – in the arms of a volunteer ‘cuddler’. The nurse who found my baby left and I reached for my baby. This woman wouldn’t give me my baby because she wasn’t finished cuddling her. She thought this was very funny. I couldn’t believe anyone could be so cruel. This happened within earshot of one of the nurses and she came to my rescue. I held my baby for the first time then. I don’t know how many hours that was after she was born and I never let her out of my sight after my experience in the nursery. I remained in the hospital for three more horrible days. I wasn’t able to sleep. I felt unsafe and the hospital was busy and chaotic. I would close my eyes but all I could think of was the sound of me and other women screaming while I was in the labour area.

When I was released the first thing I did when I got home was lock the door, unplug the phone and take a shower. I nursed my daughter and then went to sleep. My sleep didn’t last more than 2 hours before my daughter was up. I tried to get some sleep between feedings but it was difficult to get to sleep knowing that I could be up again shortly. Sleep deprivation was a huge problem for me. My husband was ineffective and un-supportive. He and his parents made my postpartum recovery far worse than it needed to be. I would have been much better off on my own.

The only thing that got me through was the strong and abiding love I felt for my baby. I immersed myself in motherhood and excluded everything else. Breastfeeding was a very isolating experience for me because I produced so much milk. I couldn’t go out because the leakage was enough to soak through nursing pads and my garments. When I nursed I would have to wait for the gushing to end before I could feed my baby so she wouldn’t choke. I contacted the Le Leche organization for guidance. I was told what I was experiencing was normal but I should stop eating food from the cabbage family. This struck me as amazingly stupid advice but I did it anyway and it made no difference. I didn’t bother phoning back. I didn’t develop cracked or bleeding nipples or a breast infection so breastfeeding wasn’t painful for me. There was a great deal of guilt new mothers were burdened with back then if they didn’t breast feed that started in the hospital and continued with the Public Health nurses when you took your child for vaccinations. I was certainly subjected to this. From what I hear from new mothers today this still exists.

My nightmares started shortly after I gave birth and they have continued episodically throughout my life for the past 15 years. There are triggers and one of them is any event related to childbirth. When episodes are triggered I have re-occurring intrusive thoughts and memories and nightmares. I feel anger. My body experiences symptoms of stress. I have shortness of breath and chest constriction. My pulse races. I am afraid to go to sleep because the nightmares will come. Insomnia and the resulting fatigue are big problems. These episodes can last for a few days or several weeks. I have no control over when they start and how long they last. I am very adept at avoiding situations that trigger these episodes but it is often very difficult to avoid them. If I am the only one who can, I listen emphatically to other women’s birth experiences because I want to be supportive and I understand how much they need to de-compress and find validation but these horror stories always trigger episodes. If I can avoid these stories I do and I feel guilty for doing that. I can’t watch movies that aren’t light comedies. I am always on guard for situations that may be harmful to me. Social injustice reduces me to tears. My teeth are cracked from grinding them at night. I need to wear a mouth guard to sleep when the nightmares are a problem. I use avoidance, distraction and stress management techniques to cope with PTSD. I’m very adept at tuning things out. If I told people I had PTSD they wouldn’t believe it. People who know me may comment that I’m quieter than usual or that I seem preoccupied during episodes. Sometimes they point out that I look tired. Outwardly I am a quiet, calm, efficient person just as I was before having children.

I did try to get help when my nightmares first started but the stigma attached to women who suffered during their postpartum was evident. I was told to move on and be thankful I had a healthy baby. I never mentioned the problem again to anyone. I also tried to get my medical records so I could fill in the time where I have no memory but I was told I had no right to that.

birth stories 'uncomplicated' vaginal;  operative assisted vaginal;  pregnancy