I have had the idea to write a memoir for a few years now, but have put it off for a number of reasons. Primarily though, I would have to revisit, reflect upon, and re-feel my first birth to attend. This birth truly was life impacting, and will be a birth I go back to time and time again as I walk this road of "birth worker".
Almost three years later, I finally am able to bring myself to go there.
*** Information in this blog has been shared with expressed permission from the mother. ***
February 15th, 2016, I found myself rushing to the hospital late at night, to photograph my first birth. I had been so excited about this opportunity. But at this point, I was mostly scared about missing the birth. I drove as fast as I could, without risking getting pulled over, praying that I would make it in time. Every birth is different, and I just had no idea how fast or slow things would go.
It took me about an hour to get to the hospital, one I had never been to. I ended up getting so turned around on where to go, that I ended up parking on the complete opposite end of where I needed to be. That was one heck of a hike, and especially scary late at night. I finally figured out where I needed to be and walked in to find things still in progress. I slipped in as quietly as I could, taking as much care as I could to not be a whirlwind (despite how I felt inside), and got ready to start taking pictures.
9:25 pm: I took the first picture. Mom was already working on pushing, supported by her amazing doula and loving husband. The nurse sat between her legs, feeling for baby to make her way down the birth canal, while doing perineum massage. This was an interesting thing to observe. I had seen it in birth videos, and knew about it, but did not recall ever having this done to me in my births.
In between pushes, dad wiped mom's face with cool washcloths, while her doula held her hand and fanned her. These two were such an amazing team, supporting and encouraging mom every step of the way. She was tired, but so strong. The amazing thing about photographing events such as this, are all of the little details that would be forgotten otherwise. But the smallest things show so much power and strength in the birthing woman. It is awe-inspiring to see such determination. Birthing women truly are warriors!
10:47 pm: The doctor came in and started working with mom. I remember him as very calm, happy, and gentle; a good-seeming man.
The downside to being the photographer is, you miss things in conversation. Apparently though, it was time to have a baby!
The delivery lights were turned on, and he "suited" up.
This is where things became hard for me.
The first thing I saw was this woman's perineum cut into. I do not get sick over surgery-type things, but this made me feel weak. Not because of what I saw, but because of what was missing. I do not recall anything being said to the mother before, permission being asked and given, or anything. He just took the scissors and started cutting. And not one small cut, but several deep cuts, leaving her flesh laid open. I felt like a deer caught in headlights. I wanted to speak out, to stop him, but that was not my place. Maybe there was more to this than I knew. Maybe mom knew and was ok and I missed that. But it felt so wrong.
The next part that was traumatic for me to witness, was the use of a vacuum and forceps for the delivery. There are just no words to fully describe how I felt at this point. Horror is really about the best. This birth was an induction for no medical reason. It was doctor's preference.
This baby was not ready to be born. She was not coming down. So, the doctor pulled her out with both tools (that I would later find out in my education are not really supposed to be used together, but should be one or the other).
Every good thing I had felt about this doctor disappeared.
11:00 pm: Happy Birthday!!!
Once baby was born, the joy was soon interrupted by her having to be taken away from mom because she could not clear her lungs. Her cries just broke my heart. They were different than a normal newborn cry. Looking at her head, looking at her face and in her eyes, the sound of her cry, I knew she was in pain. The mother in me wanted to scoop her up and guard her from anything more. I stayed with her, soothing her the best that I could. She locked eyes with me at one point (11:17 pm, I was able to capture it on camera). I fell in love!
I remember looking over at mom and dad. They were so worried about their little girl. I didn't really know what to do but I felt like me being with baby was best. She seemed to be comforted by my voice, and mom had dad and doula with her.
11:24 pm: After some time and work to get baby's lungs cleared, she was given back to mom. At this point, I finally started to breath, thinking surely things will be ok now.
What should have been a time for everyone to back off and let mom, dad, and baby really meet and start to bond, unfortunately was invaded by the nurse. Mom and babe were not allowed to explore one another on their own time, and have a chance to discover breastfeeding on their own. Hands should not be placed on a mother's breasts without expressed permission and NEED! And when baby is in pain and exhausted from a very traumatic birth, give the child time to recover and be soothed by mom.
I had to walk away and sit down.
There have been very few times in my life that I have wanted to lay hands on someone, but this was that time. I was so angry at what I was seeing, and so lost as to what to do. I witnessed, and was still witnessing, so many violations to personal autonomy and rights. This was the very thing I had feared happening, the very thing that kept me from wanting to be a doula. There would be no way that I could sit by and keep quiet as a doula, regardless of what I might be expected to do. This was just wrong!
Thankfully, the the violation ended, and mom finally got lots of baby cuddles. Her doula gently helped her with nursing. And dad even got precious skin-to-skin time.
I sat back and soaked in all that I could, reflecting, and trying to begin processing all that had happened. The doula and I sat together, talking quietly about all that had happened, when I had something hit me unexpectedly.
I had just watched their little girl come into the world, and knew that I was about to say good-bye to mine.
My daughter died February 18th.
I cannot reflect on this first birth, without the pain of the birth trauma of it, along with my personal loss being a part of it and inseparable. But, two years and nine months later, I am finally strong enough that I can go there now AND come through whole. I have learned so much from this birth that I have taken into the birth of my youngest child (unplanned c-section instead of allowing forceps and/or vacuum), and into other births that I have since been a part of.
I also understand that this is my perspective and that perspective varies from person to person, and that what I saw may not have been quite what I perceived. Remembering that perception is not always reality helps to keep me centered as I journey with families through their experiences.