There are times as a mother when I’m folding my babies’ clothes and I smile, warmly remembering when I first put certain outfits on my little boys. Then there are other times when my daze is interrupted with a flashback to the trauma I went through to bring these little lives into the world. After months of sitting with this unexplainable nightmare, I have finally found the words to describe what so many fellow mothers have been through: Obstetric Violence.
Although there is no law in America using this term, other countries are putting a name to the horror stories being birthed in the labor and delivery rooms, along with the babies.
For a little over 6 months, I have tried to define the reality of my second labor and delivery. In the beginning, the weight of the “what could have happened” was too heavy so I focused more on, “at least we are alive and healthy.” But when I’m honest and vulnerable, I can say there was nothing normal about my laboring experience with my second child.
Before this ordeal began, my primary doctor, a Black woman, had flagged my medical file for being a ‘difficult labor’ because of all that transpired with the birth of my first son just a little under two years ago. Knowing she would be unavailable for my birth, she ran labs and searched for a medical reason to perform a c-section for the safety of me and my baby in case of emergency. Prior to this time, we were all set for a natural birth. But something was going wrong, and we needed to find it. With all my lab results returning normal, there was nothing she could argue. So instead, she urged me to listen to my body and take the necessary precautions in the days to come. Unfortunately, since she wasn’t available when it came time for me to give birth, my fate was left in the hands of medical professionals who I felt didn’t give the same attention and care to my pain and suffering.
I had been to the hospital 4 times in a matter of 5 days and each time I cried that “something was wrong,” I was turned away. Given my medical history, I should have been admitted to the hospital sooner and extra precautions should’ve been taken with me and my child. Instead, doctors kept sending me home with Tylenol and Benadryl. One nurse even told my husband I would need to be in so much pain “my smile was gone” before they admitted me. Finally, after 6 days of “latent phase labor” (when the cervix is dilated 0 to 3 cm), the time had come when I would not take “no” for an answer.
I sat in triage for almost six hours in excruciating pain. They wouldn’t admit me because I was not dilated and my water hadn’t broken. I was suffering so much I began hyperventilating and dry heaving.I yelled. I screamed. I cried. I asked God to please make me dilate so they could admit me. I asked God to take the pain away. Because they couldn’t see my pain. Even with all of this, the medical staff still tried to send me home. It took one nurse—a black nurse to whom I am forever indebted—to find a different doctor than the one who had been performing my checks to have me admitted.
“And I know every delivery is different, and I know these people are trained medical professionals. But I also knew that whatever I was feeling in this time frame was going to kill me.”
Immediately after receiving the epidural, before the nurse could administer the Pitocin, my water bag ruptured. With the amniotic fluid went my baby’s heartbeat. Very calmly but seriously, my angel of a nurse told me a team would be rushing in the room because they’d lost his heartbeat.
The team of doctors was not foreign to me. In fact, it was too familiar. With the birth of my first son, my doctor had to call this team because he, too, was in distress and had she not arrived after 22 hours of labor and taken matters into her own hands, I could have lost him too. As the doctors flipped me from side to side to see if his heartbeat would return, they began explaining the process and necessity of a cesarean section. I could only nod in agreement. In my peripheral, I saw my husband and my mother standing—stuck—unsure of what was going on or what to do next. In a matter of seconds, I found myself being wheeled out to the Operating Room. I was only able to ask one question: “Will my husband be able to be with me?”, to which they responded, “we probably won’t have that time.”
Alone and afraid, I prayed only that God would save my baby.
“We need you to take three slow breaths,” one doctor said. As I obeyed, another said, “the heart rate is back but he’s been down 7 minutes.”
I recall nothing else.
Now, my baby is healthy and we are both doing well. I thought for some time that sharing this story would sound like I was ungrateful or whatever else people want to call it.
But after reading this article, I had to share. Black women, in particular, are so familiar to trauma—of all sorts—we either don’t acknowledge it or know when to call it exactly what it is. And while my experience lies more on the scale of what I believe to be neglect, the truth of the matter is that we lie on the extreme end of the spectrum when it comes to the mishandling of our bodies and babies during pregnancy, labor, and delivery. As more and more people like Serena Williams and everyday Black women share their stories, the reality of the maternal mortality rate no longer seems inconceivable.
We go through it.
And we carry so much more trauma than the world will ever be able to measure. Passed down from generation to generation and multiplied by our own experiences, Black women need a place to share their stories. Had it not been for my Black doctor—who had the foresight to have my labs done in case of an emergency—and my Black nurse who would not let me go home, I could be gone—me and my baby.
I give God all the praise for sparing our lives because it was so close to being over.
Maybe you have experienced a traumatic birthing experience and have not been able to bring those feelings together. Perhaps, like the women in the article, your experience was a bit more forced, physical, and hands-on when you wanted them to step back. In any case, we want to hear from you. We can only begin to heal that which we are willing to have opened up. Let’s heal together.
To share your story, email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more from AC Jacobs at her blog here.