Posted by: emjb | May 6, 2006

One letter down

Just thought I’d share it with ya’ll. I’m sending it out Monday. It seems fitting that I had to get up at 5am to write this…seems like that’s the time of day I wake up to deal with ALL my birth issues…

Park Slope Midwives

Dear (names);

It’s been just about six months since my son was born at Park Slope Methodist. He’s healthy, and I’m grateful for that, as any mother would be. But every time I think of his birth, I remain troubled and sad, and that’s a shame. I will have a difficult story to tell him when he’s old enough to ask. Because what should have been a joyous beginning to his life was marked by a tremendous amount of trauma, depression, and pain for me, and that can never be changed.

When I came to your clinic, it was after leaving my original OBGYN because he was so dictatorial and unsympathetic to my wish for a natural, drug free birth. I chose midwives because I believed natural childbirth was part of their mission. And in my appointments with you, that’s an idea I repeated several times.

From what I’ve learned since, my mistake was not in believing it was possible to have that kind of birth with your practice–if my birth had been in a more “acceptable” range. If I had not gone past my accepted due date, if I had been able to labor quickly enough.

My mistake was in believing that I would have your support and help with the birth I wanted once I had left that acceptable range. It was as if a switch had flipped–I went past my due date, and suddenly Pitocin was mandatory. Even though, the morning I was due to be induced, my water broke before I got there. You should have sent me home, and let me labor as long as I could. You should have honored my requests to eat and drink to keep up my strength, and to have the Pitocin either delayed completely or turned down so I could go and use the shower to manage my pain. I asked for all these things, and was denied. Consequently, when I did run out of strength to handle the pain, weak, hungry, and discouraged, it was inevitable that I need an epidural. And not surprising that I ended up with a c-section.

As I told my husband, I might have been better off staying with my OBGYN. At least I would have had no illusions about what awaited me.

And it was not simply the fact that I ended up with a c-section. They are a useful tool for saving lives. It’s possible I would have needed one no matter how I labored. But I will never know for sure if it was necessary, or simply the outcome of the lack of support I received in birth. Except for examinations, I don’t think the two midwives (names) who were with me touched me much at all. I needed someone to encourage me through that pain and fear, to be in my face, to just believe in me. Instead I felt abandoned. I had my husband and doula, but it was the midwives I really looked to, the professionals who had been through most of my pregnancy with me. And you guys just stood there, watching me, most of the time, with concerned frowns. Do you know how unnerving that was? It gave me the impression that I was a problem case, that you doubted my ability to do this. And being a first time mom, it wasn’t like I wasn’t terrified already. You didn’t believe in me, and so I didn’t believe in myself. And so I gave up sooner.

Of course, I take responsibility for being so timid, so worried about making you mad that I came to the hospital before I wanted to. I didn’t know about EMTALA then, didn’t know my rights, didn’t really believe the warnings I’d heard about how even having a midwife didn’t change the way hospitals pressure laboring women. But then, you let them take advantage of my fear. What first time mom isn’t afraid and extremely suggestible to interventions?

The next thing that troubles me is why you are affiliated with this hospital–especially if my postpartum experience is any indication of its quality. Because I have never been treated as badly as I was there. Once I went into the c-section, things went downhill rapidly.The surgeon attempted 2 times to start cutting on me before I was fully numb. It was only my screams and my husband’s that made him stop. Perhaps I was making him late for his golf game.

At any rate, as they pulled my baby out, after such a frightening labor and a terrifying beginning, I really thought I was going to die. I know that c-sections do not have to be that way! I was treated like a piece of meat and barely spoken to. Once Nathan was born, they barely let me see him and I never got to put him to my breast. It was hours before I did see him and they had given him a bottle of sugar water in the meantime. My husband valiantly tried to stop them, and nearly got into a physical altercation when they would not listen to our wishes for even a few precious moments with our son. What kind of a hospital is that??

And then of course the no-visitors policy. What kind of system expects an exhausted mother who’s just had major abdominal surgery to care for and struggle with breastfeeding a newborn? Why was I expected to haul myself out of bed alone and lift my baby to my breast and struggle to get him to latch on when I could barely sit up?? By the time I could have called a nurse, the baby would have been so distressed he wouldn’t have been able to eat.

My milk never did come in. Exactly two weeks postpartum, I experienced sudden unexplained hemorrhaging that put me in the hospital. Once again, as they put me in the ambulance, I believed I was going to die. I think that surgeon, the one who was in such a hurry to carve me up, didn’t get all of the placenta out, and my body had to finish the job itself.

And when I couldn’t breastfeed my son on top of all that, the intense depression I suffered is hardly just a matter of hormones. It wasn’t just PPD. It was also post-traumatic stress. When you offered me anti-depressants, I refused–mostly because I felt like you were just trying to shut me up. I was angry (still am) and I didn’t trust your practice anymore. I preferred to suffer in my depression than accept any help from the people I believed were part of the cause of it.

Again, my experience cannot be unique–you have to have known. Why would you affiliate yourself with them? And even if you felt you had to, why would you not prepare your clients for what awaited them, or help them fight for a better experience? I have to assume the answer is money. And that’s a damn shame too.

When I expressed some of my feelings to you (the ones that I could bear to even talk about) I was basically patted on the head, told brightly that I could VBAC, maybe even homebirth, next time, and that I should of course write the hospital a letter.

Now that was just insult to injury. First of all, you undoubtedly know that many hospitals make it very hard to VBAC. That there are pitifully few homebirth midwives, especially for VBACs. And that unless I was actually suing, that stupid hospital most probably won’t change a thing. Why should they, when they’ve got people like you to keep funneling them clients??

The system is broken. And I don’t expect your practice to fix it, but I do expect you to care enough about your patients to help them fight it in whatever ways they can. As it is, I felt like just another insurance check.

I still have occasional bleeding, by the way. I still have numbness and pain in my scar. And I still know that the hemorrhage I experienced two weeks postpartum was caused by my rushed c-section. If I ever attempt birth again, I will not only have to worry about normal complications but about additional dangers caused by adhesions and my scar and god forbid, anything else that surgeon may have damaged.

I’m sorry to have to have written this letter. I’m even sorrier that I’m cynical enough to think it won’t have any effect. But I’m writing it for myself, not for you. I hope that your practice can become part of the solution instead of part of the problem someday.

(my name)

It’s shorter than I originally intended, but I didn’t want to give them an excuse to skim it (supposing they even give it much of a read). If, as I expect, I get an ass-covering condolence letter from them (expressing regret, explaining why they couldn’t possibly have acted differently, possibly even casting some doubt on my own actions during labor) I will retype it and share it here with all ya’ll. For posterity.

thanks for all the support…so strange that it took me six months to be able to write this. But I had to be healed enough to look at it head on. Not that I’m not writing this with tears running down my face, of course.

stupid midwives.

Next up: the hospital from hell. That’ll be even more fun.



  1. I hope this felt healing to write. I feel for you and your experience. I had a horrible hospital birth with my daughter nearly twelve years ago and all anyone wanted to say to me was “well, at least you and the baby are healthy”. As if that was all that mattered. As if I was a selfish bitch for wanting my baby’s birth to be something that was sacred and honored.

    Many hugs to you. I wish we were alone in our pain from birth. 😦 Sadly, too many of us are walking around with mistruths about the “brokenness” of our bodies, of how “we don’t dilate”, we “don’t start labor on our own”, we “have a small pelvis”.

  2. God it sucks what the medical system does to women. Can I make a suggestion? There’s a yahoo group called birth rage, for women who want to talk about how much the birth sucked without hearing “at least you have a healthy baby”.

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