I gave birth to my first baby 13 years ago today, and God used that experience lead me to birth work...
When my doctor asked me if I wanted to pick my baby's birthday, I - being the planner that I am - willingly jumped on board with that! We scheduled an induction for 38.5 weeks, and I was so excited that we could fly my family in for the birth. Jason and I arrived at the hospital at 12am - per the doctor's orders, for "billing purposes" - on Monday, October 30th, and I got started on antibiotics every 4 hours for Group B Strep and cervadil, a vaginal suppository that can help ripen the cervix.
After 12 hours on cervadil, we tried 12 hours of pitocin. My body was not responding well to our attempts at inducing labor, so we tried another 12 hours of cervadil, and then started pitocin back up. At 6pm on Tuesday, October 31st, contractions finally started and intensified quickly, so I got the epidural and the doctor and nurses encouraged everyone to rest, since I was still only 4cm. I woke up around 1am feeling the urge to push, so we call the staff and my family back in to the room for delivery.
At 2:11am on Wednesday, November 1, I delivered our precious Layla Claire. As soon as she was out, they whisked her away to the warmer for assessments, then wrapped her up like a burrito. The nurse handed her back to me as the doctor was giving me stitches.
No skin to skin.
They promptly put us in a wheel chair and rolled us down to the postpartum room.
When we got to postpartum around 4am on Wednesday, I was able to eat for the first time since dinner on Sunday and then we all went to sleep. A nurse came in around 6am and told us that she was going to take the baby to the nursery to "check on her" and so that we could get some rest. 3 or 4 hours passed, and my baby was still gone. We started calling our nurse to find out where she was and if someone could bring her back, but they kept putting us off. Finally, a new nurse came in to inform us that our baby had been admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), because she was lethargic, not responding well, and her hands & feet were blue.
Our NICU experience was a nightmare, to say the least. This particular hospital had visiting hours for NICU parents, so I was only allowed to see my baby for 4 hours in the morning and 3 hours in the evening. I was discharged on day 2 postpartum, so we left the hospital without our baby. Even though I was pumping and bringing tons of my milk (hello, oversupply), we walked in on NICU nurses feeding my baby rice fortified formula on 2 separate occasions - despite requesting that she be fed breastmilk exclusively. After 48 hours in the NICU, they had run all of the tests that they planned to run on Layla, which all came back perfectly normal, but they told us that they had to keep her in the NICU for 10 days to receive IV antibiotics twice a day, per their hospital's policy. We repeatedly asked to speak to one of the 3 NICU physicians and were told time and time again that the doctors were busy with "more critical' babies. On day 6, we still had not spoken with a doctor - only the nurses. That evening when we came back during visitation hours, we found that the entire NICU was closed to visitors (aka: parents) because they were admitting a baby that was born at 26 weeks. We were sent away without seeing our baby.
At home that night, I went through every emotion I'm capable of....
sorrow, fury, anxiety, fear, anger, regret...
I felt ignorant, helpless, and heartbroken.
I felt like my baby was being held hostage against my will, and that there was nothing we could do about it. I cried, and prayed, and pumped for her.
Then my mama gave me a pep talk that I'll never forget. She said, "Amanda, you are Layla's voice. She can't speak for herself. If you don't speak up for her, no one will."
Then on the morning of day 7, Jason, my mom, and I walked in to the hospital with our carseat in hand, ready to take our baby. We were once again met by the staff telling us that we could not have her, because it was the hospital policy that she stay the full 10 days. I asked to speak to a patient advocate, so finally... for the first time in 7 days, I felt like we were heard.
The patient advocate called a meeting between us, the hospital's head of women's services, a NICU nurse, and one of the NICU doctors. We were able to voice all of our concerns:
1. That our baby had been in the NICU for SEVEN days and not one of the physicians had spoken to us.
2. That even though we had requested that our baby be exclusively breastfed and I was pumping and bringing plenty of milk, we had walked in on two different nurses feeding her formula with rice cereal in it.
3. That we had been unable to see our baby during designated visiting hours because the hospital closed the NICU.
4. And in reviewing her charts, we found that one of the doses of Layla's antibiotics had been misnumbered, so they would've given her more than they were planning on giving her.
We asked to sign AMA (Against Medical Advice) papers to have her discharged, but they told us that if we did that they would have to report us to Child Services.
So we asked for a transfer of hospitals, and they quickly switched gears. They offered us a room in the pediatric unit so that Layla could be in the room with us for the remainder of her "required" antibiotics. I still felt like we were being held hostage, but my baby was with me so I was content.
We left the hospital and drove my mom to the airport on the same morning. Layla became very attached to the bottle during her NICU stay, and I knew nothing about breastfeeding or options for support so I exclusively pumped for her for 4 months before switching to formula.
I know that my birth experience and Layla's NICU stay caused (undiagnosed) postpartum depression, attachment issues, and was detrimental to our breastfeeding experience. I wholeheartedly regret my decision to induce for convenience. Thirteen years later, I still get choked up talking about this experience, but I know that God promises to work all things out for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). I can see how He used Layla's birth and NICU experience to help me find my "mama bear" voice, to advocate for myself and my children, and to teach me how to trust Him more. There are good things about my birth and I have a beautiful, healthy, brilliant 13 year old, but a "healthy mom and healthy baby" are NOT the only thing that matters.
Birth affects women. Birth trauma is real. The way we give birth matters. How women are treated during their birth matters. Interventions in birth have consequences. Women are beautifully created to birth an nourish babies.
I became a birth worker so that I can walk with new parents into parenthood and give them the information they need to advocate for themselves and their babies. If I can help one family avoid the experience that we went through, then I will feel like I have done a good job. When parents feel confident in their decisions and feel equipped to voice their preferences, they are more pleased with their birth experiences.
"Birth is not only about making babies. Birth is about making mothers--strong, competent, capable mothers who trust themselves and know their inner strength." -Barbara Katz Rothman