Posted by: emjb | November 19, 2005


This is a hard post to read, I want to warn my readers. It was hard to write.

I had a long, somewhat funny, happy series of posts already started to talk about Nathan’s birth. Step by step..this is how I felt, this is what time this thing happened, then this. Then we were off to the hospital.

The hospital part was all that remained to be written. It seemed like it would be fairly simple.

The hospital part made me throw out everything else I wrote before the hospital. Because I can’t look at those posts; I can’t face my own optimism and happiness and innocence. Because it hurts too much to think about myself, so confident and hopeful.

Because the hospital took all that away from me. Or tried to. Because while my midwives are perhaps well-meaning, when they contracted to take their clients to that place to birth, they left those clients open to a brutal, heartless, dangerous experience.

Let me start with the worst of it. Let me start with myself, battered by hours of hard and mostly fruitless labor, hours of Pitocin-induced pain that escalated past anything I could possibly get on top of, hours when I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink or use water therapy (which we’d been promised; no one had told us that those things are only available if you don’t use Pitocin, and of course we’d been given no choice about using Pitocin), when I had nothing but the edge of a rickety bed and the hands of my doula and my husband to deal with the pain.

While hospital personnel walked in and out, using part of my room as some sort of office…I remember one woman calmly sitting in an office chair at the other end of the room, entering data into spreadsheets with her back to me, while I screamed my way through one of those hellish contractions. Like I wasn’t there. Never a moment of quiet or privacy or calm; always on edge, even apart from the pain itself.

Let me start with myself finally giving in to the cesaerean, not knowing why I couldn’t progress, why I’d stayed at 8 centimeters for four hours, even after an epidural. About to have surgery for the first time in my life. Defeated, and scared, and confused. Not wanting to hurt my baby, not feeling I had any choices left.

Let me start with myself wheeled into an operating room, strapped with my arms out on platforms like Christ on the cross, staring at a green sheet that blocked my view of what was being done to the rest of me, screaming at a surgeon who was poking at me that YES, I could STILL FEEL EVERYTHING, for the love of God don’t cut me yet! Three times, I had to tell him, as he waved his eager knife over me; the anesthetic was working, but slowly, and my midwife and I and my husband were yelling as he kept coming in for the first cut. Not looking at me or talking to me or taking any time to calm me down and let me deal with the terror that was making the teeth rattle in my head. Just impatient to slice into me like a piece of meat.

My poor husband. Oh my God, how scared he was for me. I don’t think the midwife had ever seen anything like it either. She looked sick. It’s funny what you notice, what you remember.

I’m not sure if I was completely numb when they did cut, but I was mostly, I suppose, thanks to no one. The indescribable feeling of pressures inside my body, pushing and pulling, hard–the baby resisted, or he was hard to get a hold of. I remember alternating between hollering loud “ah-ah-ah-ahs” of shock and fear, and reassuring Matthew that it was ok, I was numb now, I was just freaking out, I was just scared. I wasn’t really hurting, he didn’t have to worry.

Then the pressures stopped, and there was a pause, and I suddenly realized a baby was screaming. I was delerious, from drugs and stress, and I couldn’t figure out where the sound was coming from at first. Then I saw nurses in a corner, gathered around a table where the screaming came from. “Is he ok? I want to see him. Is he ok?” I kept asking. No one answered me. I was told to keep still.

Then Matt appeared with the baby in his arms, wrapped in blankets and a cap. I couldn’ t really move; I knew he needed to be put to my breast right away, but the sheets covered me and my arms were still out to the sides. I put out my hand to touch him for a few moments, and Matt and I shared shaky smiles, because he was beautiful. Then the surgeon told me not to move my arm anymore because of the IVs.

The baby and Matt were escorted away, though I could still hear the baby yelling. The nurses laughed about what a yeller he was. And then they finished putting me back together, I suppose. I couldn’t really tell. I wasn’t being talked to, until my midwife bent over to tell me I was going to the recovery room. It seemed to take a long time, to sew me up. At some point the surgeon bent over to tell me that the baby was too big, which was why the cesearean was needed, also that my abdomen muscles had probably been “too tight.” I had no response to that. I was shivering a little less hard now.

They wheeled me out into the hallway. Dimly I saw Matt having some sort of altercation with a nurse; later I learned that he was demanding the baby be put to my breast for a few moments, as promised and requested. He even ran after her and grabbed the bassinet, but she refused to stop or even speak to him, and broke away, wheeling the baby off to the nursery. It was probably 6 or 7 hours before I saw my baby again, during which time they gave him sugar water, which we also didn’t want. Matt didn’t want to leave me but went with the baby, since someone had to. I think he may have chewed the midwife out at some point as well for letting this happen. But he knew my doula was supposed to be with me.

I spent some time in the recovery area, visiting with my doula until they threw her out because she wasn’t a relative. Then Matt showed up, and was told he only had 15 minutes to stay with me; thankfully, the nurse who said this got too busy to enforce it, so he was with me until we got a room.

I don’t remember much of the rest of the night, except when they threw Matt out because visiting hours were over and not even husbands were allowed to stay. I remember trying to get my baby to breastfeed, not sleeping at all really, in a haze of pain and getting in and out of bed to pick him up out of his bassinet while wincing from the stitches. I didn’t get any food, just ice chips, but I snuck some of my labor snacks out of my purse when no one was looking. In the morning they came to get the baby for tests, and I slept a little. At some point in the next day I was de-catheterized and told to get up and use the restroom. The restroom was filthy; there was actual blood and shit on the floor and seat. I saw a roach skitter behind the shower. The toilet was low to the ground, and there were no bars to help me get up and down from it, so I just stood over it the first few times. I couldn’t bend because of the stitches.

A sponge bath was promised but never materialized, so I didn’t get to bathe or change clothes until about 24 hours later, when I could barely manage it myself. My hair wasn’t washed at all while I was there; there was no way to do it by myself.

I had a fellow cesearean patient for a roommate, who was having about as hard a time as me. I was too exhausted to really talk to her much, though. Sometime during the second day, after my wonderful mother in law had helped me get some breastfeeding going and I was actually managing to do it, the blood pressure nurse came in and yanked my arm away from my baby to take my pressure. He fell off the nipple because I needed both hands to make it work. She didn’t care.

I pleaded to go home on the second day, but was told I couldn’t until they could take my staples out. It would be bad to go home with staples, I was told solemnly by several people. I couldn’t figure out why it was worse than being where I was.

The one thing they did do for me was feed me, eventually, though Matt had to supplement when he brought me things; my body was starving. And I found out from my roommate that I could call any time for pain killing drugs; they were generous with those. That helped me.

By the second night, my baby was having trouble breastfeeding. I was producing colostrum, and he could latch on, but it just wasn’t enough and he was getting frustrated. He was a big baby, and my body was in shock, so it couldn’t keep up with him. He was starting to get jaundiced, so for my last night, I let them keep him in the nursery and feed him formula so he wouldn’t starve, while I dutifully pumped to keep my breasts going and help them catch up. I slept deeply for about 4 hours, then woke up in the dark. I started thinking about the birth, and then the tears came. They still come, when I tell this story.

And then I went home, still in shock. But today, it started to get better. My fear and shock have started to turn to anger. I am beginning to make plans about filing complaints; I am able to come here and talk about this now, although it has taken me several hours to type and a few spells of sobbing to remember it all.

Matt is as shaken as me; you can’t watch someone you love go through that and not be. We cling to each other sometimes, and cry, and have no real way to comfort each other except by holding our precious baby. We both feel that when we talk about this week, we have to separate out the birth from the baby. One thing we can share with our friends in joy and pride. The other is something we have to grapple with and heal from.

The hospital in question is New York Methodist in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Yes, I am filing as many complaints about them in as many places as I can think of. I wouldn’t send my worst enemy there for a flu shot. Apparently they do something like 6,000 births a year.

My midwives were Park Slope Midwives in Brooklyn. Methodist is the only hospital they use. I am also going to be telling them my opinions next week at a follow up visit; they talk a very well-meaning, holistic, natural birth talk, but I might have actually had a better birth if I’d stayed with my epidural-happy OB/Gyn, frankly. At least I would have been under no illusions. And probably been at a better hospital. The midwives appear to have little to no power to direct how a birth will go if there is any medical intervention necessary whatsoever. This makes them worse than useless.

I want to finish by saying; my little boy is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I love him with my whole soul and will never regret having him. But I will also never say, having him made what happened all ok. It didn’t. The two aren’t related. He would be what he is no matter what. What happened to me, should never happen to anyone.



  1. First, he is too gorgeous for words.

    Second, I am so, so sorry you had such an awful time. I can’t remember hearing such a terrible birth story (with the exception of the ones where the baby didn’t end up ok). I never liked assisting on c-sections as a student because it was always so tough for the mother even under good circumstances, and yours were hideous.

    If it’s any comfort, I will tell you that hospitals do have to pay attention to complaints, and you will be helping others by documenting all of this. One organization you may not be aware of is JCAHO. Complaints to them make hospitals VERY concerned. The website is:

    You’re right, in this circumstance your midwives were worse than useless. At most hospitals, once the decision for c-section is made, the OB then has total say. There is a harmful disconnect. Looking at that head and given the size of him, it sounds like it would have been impossible for you to deliver vaginally without damage to him or both of you. But you didn’t have to have the c-section from hell.

    I felt a little bit sad about my birth experience, and that was having been delivered by one of my best friends, in a hospital I knew well. The hardest part was the stupid groundless rules that made things needlessly hard. I’m impressed that you had the strength to get through it.

  2. I’ve been following the impending birth at MATH and was hoping you’d have a wonderful experience. I’m very, very sorry that it wasn’t.

    Don’t let up on the complaints; other women will thank you.

    Nathan is a little cutie!

    You’re all safe, warm, and secure at home, thank God!

  3. Oh, honey, this is just so awful to read – you poor thing. i hope you complain, and keep complaining, because you, and probably hundreds of thousands of other women, are done wrong in the birth process and it enrages me that at the point in a woman’s life when she most needs really good care, it isn’t happening. I am sorry you had this terrible experience – I don;t even know what to say, it just sounds so dreadful.

  4. Oh, honey, I’m so sorry.

    I do want to also suggest that you should try to bring some kind of lawsuit against the hospital. Normally, I don’t encourage that kind of thing, but my sister’s birth was a problem, entirely because of the hospital (mum went into hard labor, water broke, etc. on Thursday, sister wasn’t born until Monday, via Caesarian, and only then because my mother kept passing out during the contractions), and now she has some real health issues, most of which we feel are because her immune system was compromised at birth. My parents didn’t have the money or moxie to sue the hospital she was born at, but now that they’re dealing with all of her stuff, they wish they had, if only to pay for her future medical bills.

    Again, I am very sorry it happened like this to you and Matthew and Nathan. If there’s anything anyone can do, you be sure to let MATH know, and I’m sure we’ll find a way to do it.

  5. I don’t post often at Math, but I do lurk, and I second the lawsuit suggestion. You can bring Dept of Health in also because of the filth. On something like this any lawyer worth her salt will take it on contingency. Thoughts and prayers are with you and your little family.

  6. The thing about a lawsuit is, you really don’t have grounds to sue unless there is permanent harm — and psychological harm doesn’t count for much. Emjaybee’s medical care was not medically wrong, it was morally wrong — something not adressed by the malpractice culture. Ironically, part of the reason that birth experiences sometimes suck so much is because when a baby is born damaged, there is a high risk of a suit, no matter why it happened. So, doctors have a powerful incentive to rush to c-section — the faster a baby is out, no matter how the mom feels, the less risky it is.

    The way to effect change in the system will not be through attempted lawsuits, but through doing exactly what emjaybee is already doing.

  7. Oh hun what an awful experience you had. I know how much you wanted a 100% different birth then you had. I am sorry to hear the place you had your (absolutely ) goregous son sucked the chance of you having a good birth experience.

    I would think about talking to a lawyer since the hospital did not follow simple requests you had and did things without your permission.

    Again I am soooo sorry to hear how this was not what you wanted or planned. Its disgraceful how the dr and hospital treated you!

  8. wow. i am so glad you had such a gorgeous little boy, and so very sorry that your experience at that hospital was as awful as it was.

    i sincerely hope that you get some satisfaction from pursuing action against them. doctormama is right when she says that is was morally wrong; and it’s really too bad that it’s so difficult to get justice in a situation like that.

    but, again, your boy is beautiful. he is just so beautiful. 🙂

  9. …of course i meant, that IT was morally wrong. augh!! :-p

  10. Hello,

    I read your log of the birth and all the agony that hospital put you through. My heart truly goes out to your family, myself having had my first child earlier this year too, and knowing what an emotional rollercoaster it can be. Just know that justice will be had in one form or another, and you will heal. I will keep you in my prayers.

  11. Oh, Janell, I am so sorry that the birth happened in this way. I think that you are doing the right thing by registering all of these complaints.

    Your boy is beautiful, and I’m happy that you are home with him and Matthew.

  12. I am so sorry to read about what happened. You did everything you could, of course.

    Congratulations on your son, though not on the birth.

  13. I have been watching your blog for a couple of weeks, waiting for the birth and hoping it would be a good experience. I am so sorry about what happened.

    In childbirth classes, I have been told that the legal phrase to use when the hospital tries to force something on you (pitocin, removing the baby, etc.) is “I do not consent.” If you say that and they do it anyways, it’s abuse.

    Good luck getting some resolution/healing on this. I had a bit of trauma with my first birth (at home… my biggest fear was to go to the hospital… nothing like what you experienced) and now I am six months into my second pregnancy trying to deal with the old hurt and fears before my due date. Try EFT; it is easy and it seems to be helping.

  14. Sweety, that was an awful experience. Im truly very sorry for you and your husband that it was such a horribel instead of beautiful experience. I hope you both heal soon and get to enjoy your gorgeous, healthy baby boy! Hugs to you all from Susan (MWT).

    P.S. sue them, do it.

  15. I also am from MWT and just wanted to tell you that I am sorry you went through this. Sue them is all I can say. You deserve to let them know your grievance!! Again I am sorry you went through this.

  16. Janell, you were right — it’s hard to read. I am so sorry your birth experience was such a string of nightmares. Good for you for taking that anger and directing it someplace productive.

    Also, big congratulations to you and Matthew on your fine healthy son! I’ll be thinking of you in the upcoming weeks.

  17. Unbelievable. I am so sorry that this turned out so badly for you. No amount of punishment would be strong enough for those bastards.

  18. Wow – I have heard some horrific labor stories in my life, but none as harrowing as yours. This is just awful. My advice to you is to become the worst marketing/PR nightmare this hospital has ever seen. I am a huge advocate that says a woman at her very most weakest point deserves the utmost respect and deference of everyone around her. The treatment you described during your birth process sickens me.

  19. Oh,hon – This just breaks my heart. I want to smack those that treated you like a number instead of a wonderful woman about to bring a precious, new life into the world. I am so, so sorry you’ve gone through this, and am equally as glad that you are complaining. Please keep us updated!

  20. I agree with Smokey. Such disrespect and ill-regard for the person is not just an overlook in the machinery of healthcare, but an abomination of the oath that each doctor takes. I’d be terrified and angry to no end watching those events unfold to my love and newborn son. Are we not an intelligent and soulful society? Where did this go wrong? You and Matt have my support, as always. I can’t wait to meet little Nathan- he sounds and looks like just the perfect addition to the family! Love to you from down south.

  21. HI, thanks for sharing your story. I am still in my frist trimester and was going to call PSmidwives tomorrow to make an appt, since they are close to where I live and I like the idea of midwives–but because you were kind enough to share your story, i think I will pass them by and look elsewhere. Thank you, thank you, thank you for putting the word out!

    Another transplanted Texan living in Brooklyn

  22. Thank you for writing this.

    I understand how you feel. I had a very difficult first birth–needlessly so–that marred the early days with my daughter, and made breastfeeding very difficult (and unfortunately I took the ped’s advice and gave up, which broke my heart). I hope you do not let this first birth dissuade you from having more kids. It WILL NOT be like this next time. You won’t let it. You will arm yourself with all the information you can find. You will do everything you can to prevent it, and you will succeed, just as I have (3 times, now!).

    Many hugs.

  23. […] And even when consent is given, it so often is poorly informed. Health-care providers intentionally frighten women to get them to acquiesce. Continuous electronic fetal monitoring has been shown to be of no benefit to maternal or perinatal mortality or morbidity, but a woman refusing it will often be asked “do you want your baby to die?” Small risks of non-intervention are inflated; larger ones of an intervention the doctor currently wants aren’t even mentioned. Women are told the pain of labour is going to get much worse, and the anesthesiologist is going to be busy in a few minutes, so if they ever want pain relief, they had better get it now. Emjaybee, a regular commenter here at feministe, had a traumatic birth that culminated in a nurse running away with her baby, without her or her husband’s consent. […]

  24. I found this post via Feministe.

    Thank you for writing this very powerful story. My biggest fear would be to give birth in a hospital because of stories like these. I’m so sorry you had to go through this and so glad you chose to share your painful experience to educate others.

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