Your Voice Counts Day is a day going around the internet on which, for Thanksgiving, we are supposed to submit letters to our caregivers regarding our labors. We mail or hand them in to let them know how terrific or horrible our experiences were in the hopes that it raises awareness for the level of treatment we are receiving. I’ll be doing mine here, in a series of 3. The reason I hesitate to actually send these consists of several reasons. One, I believe that mainstream people will disregard me. Two, many people are mentioned, and it isn’t overall praise or blame for the whole, and some are nameless. Three, some of these people already know how I feel. Four, at the end of the day, I’m not sure if this is more for me, or for them. Or maybe it’s for you. It’s not that I think I can’t make a difference, but it’s about too much wasted effort in one direction that feels like barking at the wind. Anyway, this series will stand here, and maybe it will help you, or maybe those people will actually find their way here and it will matter to them. Just like in my book, names have been anonymized in part or completely to protect real identities. For those who read my book, this may be a nice accompaniment, but it’s not a prerequisite to appreciate this.
Dear Dr. L, Thank you for your kindness, gentleness, and understanding. You were so pleasant and comfortable to be around. Visiting you was a great first experience for a first time mom. I have now given birth with doctors and midwives, and I think if I had to relive an attended birth, I would go back to you. I came away from the birth feeling a sense of lack or emptiness. I thought it went well in some respects… in that I got to be numb, I got a seemingly healthy child from it, and I wasn’t too messed up afterwards. By conventional standards today, I think it was normal.
I think our standards are too low. They make us thankful when maybe we should ask why more. Several years and births later, I have learned a lot more about birth. I’m mad. I’m mad that at only “41 weeks” (which I thought could have been wrong, anyway, since my due date changed so much) I was induced, and with Christmas just a week away. I have contact with women regularly who are induced around the holidays. Obviously I can’t help but wonder if that played a part. I thought I was going to get at least the 42 weeks to wait. Ultrasound alone, even if it had shown anything potentially concerning, is a faulty measuring device for non-stress tests, and I wish they would only be taken with a grain of salt. Induction I feel is used for convenience, and it hurts people. It robs people of their chances at a truly natural birth, it rushes the baby, and it increases risk of emergency (moreso than simply waiting for baby). I have no doubt that the interventions which followed, including the epidural, were influenced heavily by the induction. Why didn’t we just wait? My placenta was not in bad shape. My baby was healthy. I was fine, and the pregnancy was fine. It’s my fault, too. I know. I could have said no. But I was 21, I was dying to meet this baby, and I trusted you. I think those things overruled my better judgment and I went along with it. I am in nature a much more stubborn, opinionated, savvy person. I constantly read during my pregnancy, I ate only the right things, I cared so much about this baby and birth. I was totally committed and devoted, and I’m not usually gullible or foolish. You deal with impressionable young women every day, some less headstrong than me, some who don’t do any research on their own. Your role is vital. 2/3 of OB/GYN guidelines are not based in science, but are based more in medical liability issues or convenience, things themselves based largely on myth and tradition and sometimes selfishness, and not on birth physiology. These are the modern old wives tales. It’s hurting women. It’s hurt me. My daughter was affected. She and I suffered seizures and convulsions. Mine seemed to only last for about six months after the birth. Call it an extended epidural headache, a bit of a hiccup if you will. It didn’t feel like a hiccup when I was slamming my neck into a railing and I blacked out, but whatever. My daughter was less lucky. She didn’t take to breastfeeding, and was not thriving. My dreams of being a natural earth mother were dashed there too when I gave her formula. I cried but I wasn’t going to watch her starved, and the nurses and lactation consultants had done all they could do for me. She was sickly as a baby, constantly with some bug, constantly getting medication. Today she still has absence seizures, problems with concentration, and a slight speech impediment. I will always wonder if this was as a result of the birth, which I know it could be (I saw her develop these changes after vaccines, but her weak condition probably made her ultimately susceptible to being damaged by them). We needed more time, and more nature. Nothing about us was broken, we didn’t need tweaking, or fixing, or saving. And none of us can take it back now. Please think twice before inducing women. Please read up on mammalian birth physiology and Dr. Michel Odent, Dr. Sarah Buckley too. Tell me what you think. Read Childbirth Without Fear, too, or Pushed, or Born in the USA. Please stop insisting women get strapped down and monitored and stuck in one place, especially when they’re totally healthy. Please allow women to eat and drink in labor. I know it might be inconvenient for you, but we need to do what is natural and keep up our energy during long labors. It makes us more sickly and weak and easier to give in when you don’t (which I hope isn’t a goal). Please find out more about delaying cord clamping and those benefits to the baby. Please encourage women to move more freely and give birth in whatever position is comfortable for them.
Please allow water births, even if it means the patient brings an outside pool into the birthing suite. Please stop performing episiotomies and find out why they are actually worse and not proven scientifically as being helpful. Women should not be lying on their backs to birth at all, unless it’s an emergency or they instinctively choose it. Please keep the birthing suites dim and quiet with as little hustle and bustle (staff presence and intrusion) as possible during hard active labor, as this disturbs the primal laboring mind and thus increases pain and danger. Please stop doing regular and routine vaginal checks for dilation and such, as they can actually stall birth and the 10 centimeter standard is somewhat arbitrary anyway. Please stop doing directed 1-10 pushing and let the woman take the reins, because her body will do the work for both of you. Please do not rush the placenta delivery. Please do not sew women up too tight after labor. If you change their bodies too much, it makes it harder for them to have sex again. All of these things and more would help you to really give women back their births, and I guarantee you would notice a change and healthier patients. If I had had all these things, I might not be a solo birther today. You would be doing a service and honor to women, and it would be particularly noble considering it may go against your training and your acquired education in the field. I loved you and I know you could help people in ways you haven’t thought possible. As great as you were, if you take my words seriously, you could do so much more. I went on to have two more healthier babies afterwards, so I have seen the power of what we can do when we respect nature and respect the mother’s instinct, letting it lead the way. Love, Elizabeth
Dear Nurses Amy & Lisa, Thank you so much for your warmth, kindness, pleasance, tenderness. You really made my experience that much sweeter and easier, and you can see that you really do this for love of women and babies. Your jobs really matter to you. I know the hospital has certain procedures and protocol, but some of the normal stuff done, the routine every day stuff, is actually causing harm. Amy, there are some things neonates need more than to be immediately weighed, and bathed, and measured, and pricked… they are cold and crying. They need to be with their mothers. Those first few moments and hours are critical and it’s a sacred time. They all long for peace. If everyone seems healthy, those things can wait. When this stage is disturbed, it has actually shown to have unexpected effects, such as increased risk of PPH (post partum hemorrhage) in mothers. I wish the hospital could adopt these standards more easily. Lisa, the reason women even try for natural birth is because it doesn’t have to be some horrific painfest, and we don’t want our babies negatively affected by the drugs. As amazing as it was to have you by my side, the biological missing pieces affecting my psyche after this birth stayed with me, puzzling me, for many years until I “got it right”. We are doing this to most women today in birth, even if they are not always conscious of it. We are robbing something from them that their biology recognizes even if their mentality cannot. Believe me, there is a beauty to natural birth that maybe isn’t so apparent in the hospital setting. Anyway, thanks ladies, for standing by me, and caring about me and my little girl. Love, Elizabeth
Dear Anesthesiologist from Heaven, You were my hero of the day. I have no idea what I would have done without you. You were a lifesaver. I literally thought I would go insane without your help. When you mentioned scoliosis and had trouble placing the needle, I thought I was going to cry and lose my mind. Your presence was one of gentleness and comfort, and after some of the horror stories I have heard, I am so thankful for your loving demeanor. Your drugs were quick and effective, and the little button I got to press gave me security and control. My baby and I did suffer after-effects from the epidural, but I truly feel that when you are in the hospital, the conditions can make the labor so completely unbearable that having mercy on yourself is crucial. I am happy the drugs are there for those who find themselves in an impossible situation, for they truly need it. Thank you so much for being there for me. I know I’m *supposed to* (haha) see you as some paternalistic symbol of our obstetric model, saving the “damsel in distress”, but in that situation I needed you. I’m forever grateful. If I had one critique, it would just be to be there sooner for everyone, because when they need you, they need you five minutes ago, or maybe clone yourself. Love, Elizabeth
Dear Elderly Nurse, I wish when I told you I couldn’t breathe, you hadn’t covered my mouth and nose with that rag. I needed space, not smothering. It would have been nice to have not been made to go to the bathroom and shower right after birth. I could barely walk. Letting me rest would have been better. When I almost fainted on you, you didn’t seem like being alone with me was the best situation for either of us. I would hate to think what it would be like for you with overweight patients in that scenario. But, thank you for saying that my breathing during labor was good. Love, Elizabeth
Dear Bitch Nurse, I don’t know what your problem is, but you have no business working alongside women, especially new mothers. Your bedside manner was the worst memory I have from my first child’s birth. You were rude, accusatory, incorrect, and uncaring. I have no idea why you are even a nurse. You couldn’t even see how you were hurting people, or did you not care? A mother recovering after labor should not ever have to cry herself to sleep during her stay in the hospital. You’re horrible. Please find another profession that doesn’t involve interacting with the public. Sincerely, Elizabeth Dear Formula Nurse, Thank you for breaking the news kindly and gently to me that my daughter was not thriving and needed formula. I am getting unexpectedly teary-eyed just thinking about it. You helped me do what she needed at that point in time. I would do anything for her. I just wanted you to know, though, that despite what everyone says, sometimes women just have sensitive nipples and sometimes breastfeeding does just hurt the first several weeks. I know it isn’t “supposed to”, but it can. With future children I discovered that, because I stuck it out and after 4-6 weeks, it finally felt natural because my nipples toughened. I bet it would help your patients to know that. You saw us… the latch was correct, when she would even latch. Formula is expensive, so thank you for all the free samples. Love, Elizabeth Dear Hospital, You’re a birthing suite, you are supposed to be comfortable and deluxe. People actually choose you because they feel it will be the most home-like environment in a clinical setting. I know I was happy to end up with you. As far as I was concerned, you were the best choice in the region.
When a woman has had a long labor without eating anything and it’s the middle of the night, it doesn’t matter if the cafeteria is closed. Food is needed for the patient… it’s part of their health. Please don’t make your nurses scrounge to get cereal boxes when they’re trying to help someone recover, or put new tired dads in the position of searching for a 24 hour store or restaurant in a hurry to get some food for everyone. Maybe consider keeping your cafe open all hours. I mean, what women go through is hard enough. Make it easier for them without turning everyone into sudden scavengers. Food is as basic as blankets for the beds or running water for the bathrooms, when you think about it. Plus, everything else I said to everyone above. Sincerely, Elizabeth