"Women think they’re in control, but they’re really not."
1. your first birth sounds a lot like my first - everything but the hot dog cart up there, as a friend put it.
2. sometimes your writing just gives chills it's so good, you sly old thing: "It was so long and exhausting that my son actually being born, a tiny hard pit being pried out of an unripened peach, felt like an afterthought." CLAIRE. <3
3. these perspectives are great.
Thank you, thank you for this. It's the first thing I've read in the 5.75 years since my son was born that I've seen something in writing that so accurately captures a lot of how I feel about his birth. I was a week overdue (and 41 years old, which up until that point had mattered very little to my jaded NYC doctors) and suddenly it was IMPERATIVE that I be induced. I was barely dilated, not effaced, and the general attitude was that my body wasn't working. I have no idea if it would have worked, but I got scared out of any more waiting for sure. A Foley balloon, pitocin, an epidural, so many hands and electrodes inside, my OB walking into my room and lamenting while watching coverage of Hurricane Maria on CNN that her vacation home might be ruined, and 24 hours later, I had a c-section. When they told me he was here, I barfed.
I have a lot of Feelings about the whole experience. I don't know any different, because I stopped at one, but I'm pretty sure it could have been at least a LITTLE better.
Thank you thank you thank you for your shout-out to those who have never experienced 'going into labour'. It's funny how it feels like a missed experience.
I was an L&D nurse and also induced for complications 😞. And after witnessing 100s of inductions and births, I still felt unprepared for how mine went.
Now I do psychotherapy with perinatal populations cause that blew my mind.
Thank you so much for this. I was induced at 41 weeks and I did feel unripe! It just never felt like the right thing was happening in my body. After 36 hours (3 of pushing), the baby was stuck and I had a C section. I honestly just wish I could’ve had the C section instead, to skip the day and a half of labor and all the awfulness.
The one bright spot was my doula, she made so much of it more okay than it would’ve been. I knew I wanted an epidural and was scared of birth, I had no crunchy empowering feelings about it, and you absolutely can find a doula who will support you in that. It was so precious to have someone in the room who knew her shit and was advocating for me.
I live in Georgia right now, which has appalling maternal health statistics - and it’s *dramatically* worse for women of color. Being dismissed, ignored, treated like a piece of machinery, overruled, not given pain relief - honestly, it starts with something as small as calling birthing parents “Mom” instead of by name, and goes downhill from there. Women aren’t people, they’re baby machines.
It’s frustrating to hear the system blamed on staff shortages, when that’s a symptom not a cause. The problem is the structure of the whole medical system, from insurance companies to shift hours to pay to for-profit hospitals to a million other things.
(I did spontaneously go into labor both times, so my story is not the same and I recognize that, but my first birth was traumatic and involved pitocin and 4 hours of pushing anyway - 6 months later, when I ran into the midwife who came in for the last few hours and saved me, I cried and cried. The system is fucked. I am also v cranky this morning.)
Please don’t read my comment if you are pregnant. My perspective on child birth was a little different. My cousin died in childbirth in the 21st century. She was a white upper middle class woman and not a drug user, so all the asterisks that people attach to maternal mortality rates to think that would never happen to them did not apply to her. She developed preeclampsia which progressed to eclampsia. The hospital focused on saving her and did not deliver the baby quickly enough, so her baby died, too. We buried them together. That was the knowledge I held while I delivered my babies. My first birth was surprisingly smooth. After years of medical interventions to get pregnant, I went into labor, got the epidural I wanted, and vaginally delivered my oldest child within 24 hours. My second birth, I developed preeclampsia. Over 24 hours of magnesium, pitocin, and terror that I would die and leave my older child motherless. I had been informed that I was an hour or 2 away from a c-section, when I requested an epidural and finally dilated. (My body never slows with the epidurals. They always brought on a rapid dilation). I finally delivered vaginally, but it was over 24 hours before they could stabilize me enough to get me off the magnesium. I don’t know how we solve this problem. We are fed so much about how child birth is so natural, and women have been doing it for millennia, but we’ve already forgotten that up until 50 some odd years ago childbirth was the leading cause of death in women. We were never in control. Sure, we can have preferences for epidural or unmedicated, scheduled c section or try to wait for labor to begin, which hospital we hope to deliver in. But that’s all plan A. At the end of the day, childbirth is the first glaring lesson that parenthood is fundamentally about a loss of control. We can however all agree that those photographers are shenanigans! I don’t know if they had been banned from the hospital by my second, or whether the fact that I did most of my postpartum recovery in L&D because of the magnesium meant I was spared them, but that hard sell while you are still flooded with hormones clad in a diaper and a hospital gown is BULLSHIT.
Feels so validating and less lonely to hear so many other people who are still processing / not “over” their experience years later. I’m 4.5 years out (with a PTSD dx) and I still have days where I replay the whole thing step by step. For me, everything went wrong -- the opposite of what I had hoped for. I was pressured into an induction, labored for 36 hours without meds, finally asked for the epidural which failed then was turned all the way down for 12 hours during which I was immobilized in the hospital bed but able to feel the full force of my contractions while I waited for a c section. I came home and had a severe post op infection that required wound care treatment every day of my maternity leave. The incision closed the day before I went back to work. I remember the labor disaster more than meeting and holding my baby. Fucking sucks. Sending love and care to all of you 💛
I just had to pause my reading because your story pinged my memory that I went into an active fight to not get induced with my first baby who was a week late. My midwives got super heated because I refused to show up for my induction at the hospital. One even said “hope your baby is okay” in a tone that meant “hope your baby drives off a cliff and dies in a fiery crash.” It was rough! I went into labor “naturally” a few days later, labored for a very long time in the hospital, and ended up having a c-section anyway. It was its own hellscape but I was always proud they didn’t “get me” for an induction (lol?). 9 years and another baby later, I had forgotten that knock-down drag-out fight. It was so scarring I haven’t figured out how to write about it yet, and I guess my mind was busy tucking it away. I’m so sorry you were treated this way. Ok, back to your excellent post, sending love and all the nasty essays we can conjure about the industrial baby complex in this country ❤️🔥
My experience was a lot like yours though I actually had my water break at 37 weeks. I went into the hospital with EXTREMELY elevated blood pressure (that they thought was just nerves and sent me home????????????) only for me to turn around the minute I got to my house as I'd gone from no contractions to full-blown, minute-apart contractions. I was put on magnesium for the preeclampsia and then after not progressing for a LONG ass time, pitocin to accelerate labor. What blows my mind is that as a highly educated person with a background in health who has never had an issue advocating for myself I STILL felt as if I was not getting the level of communication I needed in order to make informed decisions throughout my labor and delivery. Because I was considered "high risk" because of the preeclampsia every decision I had made about the nature of my birth was taken away from me. And I'm not talking about playlists and lavender candles. I'm talking about not birthing on my back because I had worked with a pelvic floor therapist to learn how to push in other positions that were more accessible to me and not holding my breath while I pushed because as a goddamn athlete I know that's never what you're supposed to do when you're contracting your muscles. A year out I am still SO angry about my labor and delivery. And angry when I learn that with my background (my mom had preeclampsia, my sister had it) and my health situation (I had hyperemesis my whole pregnancy, which is correlated with preeclampsia), I should have been considered high risk from the beginning. I feel that I had walked in with that knowledge I would have made different choices. When I think about all the people out there who don't have my background and how disenfranchised they must feel, if someone like me can feel so lost and overwhelmed. My biggest regret is that I didn't get a doula BECAUSE I thought "I am such a good self advocate and I am so educated" - what a dummy I am!! Now I suggest a doula to everyone I know, no matter their background, if it is available to them. I wish doulas were the standard rather than a costly "nice to have" for some people.
I find it so frustrating that providers who are supposedly all about the data can then be so anti-doula - the data is also very good for having doulas around!
I got very lucky, I did the full OB/ hospital/ etc thing and labored for a gazillion years and pushed for four hours before my OB was like "so, might be time to think about a C-section" but I had a doula (well, two, see the labor for gazillion years part) and it made a huge difference. As did my providers and even my anesthesiologist's wholehearted embrace of doulas (anesthesiologist went into a whole thing about how his last hospital had hospital provided doulas and how cool it was, which was kind of hilarious)
I got warned that induction could have a long time frame but no one warned me labor could take as long as mine did- I feel like we utterly fail to give women a good picture of how broad the range "normal" birth is
I'm 38 weeks tomorrow and I'm in the UK, so have booked a sweep (with a finger) with my midwife on 40 weeks. My midwife also said I'm having a very boring pregnancy!
I think the UK experience is very different from the USA. My pregnancy is midwife led and I've seen a consultant (presumably an OB?) once and that is because I'm high risk age 41 and overweight. But I've talked through all options with the midwife, there is no induction by medical routes being discussed, though the consultant did say they didn't want me going beyond 41 weeks. But I can have up to 3 sweeps before any other kind, so I think they will rely on that.
I've read a lot about pregnancy and labour now, some of it from the US, and I do think the US system seems crackers and not very woman friendly. In the UK we put that down to the USA's capitalist healthcare system where of course they want you in hospital as much as possible and want to intervene in the natural process as must as they can get away with. I don't know if that's true but my hospital doesn't want me in until I'm in labour with 3 regular contractions in a 10 minute period lasting at least a minute each. And even then I phone triage not just come in. I know this is different from induction but I won't just be hanging around the hospital waiting for them to tell me they're medically inducing me. They will forget about me in between appointments as I simply won't be there. I do feel in control. I have confidence in the midwifery team at my hospital. I will have a private room to give birth in at the birth centre, with its own water birth pool. The "in case of emergency" room is right next door in case a C-section is required. The NHS website has a lot of information on there and I've read it all 3 times. I only wish others could have the good fortune to have such excellent care as we receive here.
It has been great to read this story and the others in the comments. They are all enlightening, thank you for sharing!
I could have written this. My firstborn daughter turned 5 in April and I'm still not over how she was born. Induced on a Thursday morning at 37 weeks for blood pressure, seemingly endless things stuck inside of me for days, labored epidural-free until Saturday night when I was given an "emergency" C-section (the only thing that felt like an emergency was getting everyone the F out of the room so I could try to handle my business in peace), some baby music sales lady almost immediately coming into the recovery room to lecture me on the dangers of letting my baby fall asleep in my arms and sell me CDs (in 2018???) that would definitely solve any death-by-cuddling situation, followed almost immediately by the newborn photographer's pitch (I'm pretty sure I still had a catheter hooked up to a bag of bloody urine attached at this point), a forced (and ultimately displaced and surgically removed) IUD because "they needed to have me on birth control and an IUD was my only option if I wanted to nurse" (and not-nursing was apparently as unthinkable as considering a nice season of abstinence after all my body had been though), months of lingering damage to my colon following labor and C-section that kept me in more diapers than my newborn, and nerve pain in my pelvis that has only started to heal in the last year or so. I'm now pregnant with my second and every time my OB/GYN has asked to review this part of my medical history I cry telling her. Blindsided is the exact word. Thank you for making me feel more sane.
I was induced twice as well, although I chose it with my second. My body doesn’t go into labor and I had my first at 42 weeks which was scary for both of us. It was definitely traumatic. Having a planned induction at 39 weeks with hemorrhage prevention support was perfect, and I do not consider that birth traumatic at all. I definitely know lots of women who went the forced induction to forced c-section route, and I think that was a pretty frustrating experience for most of them. I wish we could do better for American moms.
Claire, I had no idea your birth experience was so similar to mine! And then to read all these other comments is so eye-opening. It really is weird to be like "yes, I carried this baby; no, I have no idea what it's like to go into labor." But I can't say I feel any regret about skipping right to the "here's your baby" part.
I started having pre-preeclampsia symptoms right at the 36w mark, which was a Sunday. I ended up spending that night at the hospital for observation because my blood pressure was so high, followed by another overnight later in the week. (This was great timing because we'd just moved into a house 45 minutes away. I figured we'd have plenty of time to get settled in before my due date, lolsob.) By Friday the plan was "you're getting induced on Sunday." After my OB appointment we spent the day buying a carseat(!!) & cleaning our old apartment for the deposit, then headed home to order a pizza & enjoy our last ~24 hours of being childfree. But around 8:30pm my doctor called to say my bloodwork numbers were bad enough that I had to drive back down to the hospital & get induced *that night.* I burst into tears & then proceeded to do an epic job of dragging my feet while getting out the door. I wasn't ready!! They had said Sunday!!!
By the time we arrived it was after midnight. And I'd been frantically ordering preemie onesies, absorbant/disposable underwear, etc. during the whole drive down. (In addition to the time crunch it was May 2020 so IRL shopping was, you know, a challenge.) On Saturday morning I took my own who-knows-when-I'll-get-the-chance-again shower, & had just finished eating lunch when the care team appeared, concerned that the baby's heart rate had been dropping. Even though the pitocin had barely started to take effect--I had minor cramping but I doubt I would've even remarked on it in any other context--the mini-contractions were interferring with his oxygen supply because the cord was wrapped around his neck. So they rushed me to a C-section. I was literally on the phone with Snoo customer support about expediting delivery of our order when they came in to prep me--a call that I inititated less than an hour before his official time of birth. So it went FAST.
I definitely hadn't expected any of that to happen. Even with the induction, I was settling in for a process that I knew could take days before everything accelerated. But especially compared to what other people have experienced, I feel lucky--it kind of felt like the L&D version of when someone says they'll do something painful on the count of three, but then does it on two just to get it over with. I never had to deal with the pain of unmedicated labor, or pushing, or any of the other ordeals that are so frequently part of the induction process. And my body bounced back surprisingly quickly from the surgery. The Saturday before my C-section, I took a two-mile walk that was excruciating because my feet were so swollen. The Saturday after (one week postpartum) I took that same walk, & even though I was still recovering, I was so much less uncomfortable than I had been while pregnant.
I share those last details not to brag about my relatively un-traumatic birth, but to offer some hope that you can have the "oh wait, this isn't how it's s'posed to go" experience & still feel okay about it afterward. There were shitty & sad elements to the hospital stay too (a NICU stint, plus some classic shenanigans in the form of "nurse/lactation consultant not seeing the birthing parent as a person"), plus covid made everything extra stressful & complicated. But in the end we were all healthy enough to go home together.
In addition to feeling generally lucky about how things went down, I think it also helped that it was SO early, I hadn't started envisioning my ideal birth scenario yet. I had plans to make a labor playlist & do all this other prepwork (like fully quarantining two weeks out from my due date, lest my spouse catch covid & get barred from the delivery room), but the move had been taking up so much mental energy that "prepare to give birth" was still on my to-do list. Until suddenly I had a baby & none of that stuff even mattered anymore.
Anyway, I'm glad I'm not the only one who saw this as a prompt to be like "ooh I should summarize my birth story in the comments!!" (Also, I moved away from Chicago over a decade ago, but the stress of hearing fighter jets practicing for the Air Show--before one has remembered that the Air Show is imminent--is something that I will never forget.)
“A tiny hard pit being pried from an unripened peach.”
That is exactly how my first induction felt. My first birth was so much like yours, only after the shift change a midwife advocated for me to go off of magnesium, and the new attending physician made me feel so informed and like such a collaborator that even though medically things still got dicey, I felt really powerful and accomplished at the end.
My twin birth, two years later, was also an induction and in some ways medically less scary (or at least less surprising) but I felt so disrespected, so much like a broken car and not a person. At the end the medical establishment was like, amazing vaginal birth! But I felt so violated.
It helps to hear it took you 11 years to process. My oldest is four, my twins a year and a half, and sometimes I just drop into memories of their birth and it feels so all encompassing. I wonder what’s wrong with me, that I can’t just get over it. I know therapy should be on my list of things to do, but I just don’t feel I have the bandwidth, or honestly trust, that it will help.
So thank you, because I feel seen by your writing in a way I haven’t felt seen by anyone.
My induction was baffling to me, even though I knew at 20 weeks that I'd be induced (growth restriction pretty much forced that decision on me). Even nine years later, I viscerally remember the resident accidentally breaking my water when putting in the Foley, as well as the nurse who walked in, didn't talk to me at all, and just cranked up the Pitocin. Being told that I was being too loud, that I was wasting my energy that should be spent on laboring. And then having two pediatricians and four nurses hover over my newborn daughter (before I even got to see her) while the OB just starts sewing me up without even talking to me. I didn't need to be in control, but I do wish I had been spoken to as a person rather than as a laboring baby oven. I also could have used a less "baby-friendly" hospital that would actually take infants to the nursery so that I could have slept at all while I was there. But hind sight is 20/20, and hopefully these conversations are happening more frequently with time so that women have more information before heading to the hospital.