In my classes, I often share the story of how I genuinely believed I could escape the hospital while labouring with my 3rd child if only my husband would distract my midwife and the 9 other people in the room (specialists of all sorts who were anticipating drama due to my baby son being quite large).
In my mind, it made perfect sense. I could come back tomorrow when I was calmer and finish the job. It generates giggles in class...on my part too! In fact, I had these thoughts when I was in transition, experiencing the fight/flight response, and my 4.8kg son was born minutes after my failed efforts to escape.
What I have never shared were the events that led to me experiencing the fight/flight response, or how those events impacted me during my son's birth, during my post-natal period, and still affect me today in indirect ways. The events that day are the reason why I am a vocal feminist, why I changed careers, why I now work as a birth advocate, as a birth doula, and as a HypnoBirthing® Educator.
I will preface this story with this: In my classes I am adamant about the importance of informed consent. Every week I preach that your body is sacred in birth, just as it is any other day of your life. No one has the right to touch your body without your consent. Even in birth! When something feels wrong, it very likely is wrong.
The following story took place in an Irish hospital, as we were living there at the time.
At 42w2d gestation, I agreed to an induction of labour via ARM (Artificial Rupture of Membranes - having my 'water broken') After the ARM, my labour started up beautifully. I laboured in a dark room with only my husband and midwife present. I was so confident - having read my HypnoBirthing® book (there were no classes in Ireland at the time) and I truly believed my body could do this. After all, I had already birthed two large baby girls without incident and had the confidence of an experienced, third-time mother.
When I was around 5-6cm (I could feel a bit of pressure building) my midwife stepped out for a quick tea break, as we all knew it wouldn't be long until I was birthing. During her absence, the male registrar walked in the room with a male junior doctor. He turned on the lights. Ugh! That alone was a red flag.
What happened next was nothing short of vile. I don't want to disclose his nationality, but will say this registrar was not Irish. At that moment I desperately missed my gentle Irish midwife with her calming voice and comforting touch.
While I had my eyes closed, breathing through a strong contraction, this man took my left hand (I was so focused I barely noticed) and roughly jammed a 16-gauge grey cannula into it. At no stage did he ask for consent. He hadn't even spoken to me or my husband! There was no explanation. It was extremely painful and blood was gushing out of the wound on my hand. Blood was running down my arm and dripping all over my feet and onto the floor. It wasn't inserted correctly. While I protested and screamed, he fumbled with the cannula while instructing the junior doctor to hold my arm still (this poor young man must've been traumatised) while telling the junior doctor that women always protest the cannula! Well, is there any wonder why?? My wrist still hurts to this day from the cannula grazing the bone.
In the registrar's eyes, I swear I saw a hint of satisfaction. Or was it glee? Whatever it was, it wasn't kind. I fully believe he took satisfaction in inflicting this pain on me. I am certain there was no empathy present in his eyes. At that moment, the feminist in me woke up with a roar, but it would be a few more years before she had the confidence to use her voice.
At this stage I began running around the room to get away from him, all the while screaming for my midwife. When I stopped to breathe through my next contraction while hiding behind the head of the hospital bed, he hooked my ill-fitted cannula up to a bag of Syntocinon. Again, no consent. No explanation. I was in well-established labour. Was this really necessary?
After hearing the commotion, my midwife came back to the room. The registrar was told to leave. Thankfully, he did. However, the damage was done. My midwife was visibly horrified and could only apologise to me with tears in her eyes, as she was outranked by this man. In a matter of minutes, the Syntocinon turned my contractions from manageable to completely unbearable. Almost immediately, I entered the transition phase of labour. This is where my escape efforts enter the story!
I climbed onto the bed (it was in an L-Shape with the bed head raised) and I got in a hands and knees position. During the next contraction, I made an attempt to climb the bed head and jump off the end. I pleaded with my husband to help me escape. This is also when my midwife pushed the emergency button and 9 other people entered the room. The contractions were incredibly strong and had multiple peaks thanks to the Synt infusion. My midwife turned it down, but it was too late, I was already in full panic mode. My husband describes that time as completely feeling helpless and failing to protect me from what happened. I believe he is still traumatised to this day.
Realising I could not escape, and remembering why I was there, I finally semi came back to my right mind and for 2 contractions I breathed my beautiful big son out of my body over an intact perineum. He presented with his arm above his head and the cord twisted around his neck and arm. I was able to glimpse him momentarily before he was taken for resuscitation and I fell into semi-consciousness from the dramatic bleed that followed his birth. The blood that was able to be measured exceeded 1.3L. More was on the floor and bed underneath me. I've always wondered if my bleed was caused by the synt. Or the large baby. Or my panic. I'll never truly know.
My baby son quickly started breathing and turned a beautiful pink colour. He was given to my husband, as I was too unwell to hold him. Once the bleeding was under control, I finally got to hold him to my chest with assistance. There was no sweeter relief. It would be hours before I finally opened my eyes. It would be months before I felt my blood supply replenish. I would go on to suffer from debilitating post-natal depression for 2 years during which time I would repeatedly relive these moments and contemplate how I could've changed it. Those years are still a blur in my mind. I feel robbed of them. And it would be years before I forgave myself for something that wasn't at all my fault.
Four years later, I found absolute peace with the painless, hands-off, comfortable HypnoBirth of our 4th child. In the same hospital. With another beautiful Irish midwife. With a warm, kind female Obstetrician who didn't put her hands on me other than to touch my leg and gently tell me I could totally DO this. That's the day I found my voice and changed my path in life.
It's a story for another blog post, another day.
I hope this story explains a bit of why I am so adamant about consent and making informed choices in pregnancy and birth. Thank you for letting me tell my story. I know there are sadly many others out there who have experienced similar around the world. I often wonder what sort of disciplinary action came to that registrar after his irresponsible treatment of me. I wonder if he's out there now 'looking after' labouring women. I hope to hell that he is not. I wonder if the junior doctor went on to be a kind, empathic doctor...because I could see the empathy and silent apology in his eyes.
The only photo I have of my son's birth. Things were too hectic and this was in the pre-smartphone days. You can see my daughters have tears in their eyes, as I was unable to hold them. I was quite broken and they knew it.