Editor’s note: We believe that all birth stories and all birth experiences matter. This post is part of our ongoing series of birth stories featuring a diverse range of women and their birth experiences.
When Emma’s spinal block failed, she ended up delivering under general anesthesia and missed the birth of her baby, leaving her with a slew of confusing emotions and eventually a diagnosis of postpartum PTSD. Emma is sharing her story in hopes that one mama out there will discover she is not alone, understand it’s okay to not be okay, and know that she, too, can find strength from her trauma.
If you would like to share your own birth story, visit this post to learn how.
TRIGGER WARNING: If you’re pregnant and reading this, you might not want to… or you might. If you were my provider, this is in no way intended to blame you or make you feel bad. I think you are all awesome doctors, and I hope reading how things felt from my perspective only makes you better.
They say as many as 1 in 3 mothers describes her birth experience as traumatic. I’m sure that has a lot to do with the fact that giving birth is such an emotional process with 9 months of buildup, but nobody talks about it. We don’t want to scare our pregnant friends. So we struggle in silence… or we can choose to speak out.
My sons birth, while I wouldn’t dare call it easy, went pretty smoothly. My water broke at 36+2. I wasn’t expecting it and didn’t really have time to make a plan. My dad drove me to the hospital. I met Russ there, got my epidural – which I knew I wanted – and pushed him out a few hours later. They threw him up on my stomach where he immediately shit on me and it was AH-MAZING.
But somehow, I just knew this chick was gonna cause some trouble. When I found out my second baby was breech, I thought that was the curve ball. I scheduled a external cephalic version to turn her, but somehow I just had a feeling I would end up with a c-section. Sure enough, 7:00 am on Sunday morning, at 36+3, the day before my scheduled version, my water broke.
We got to the hospital and checked in. I’ve been a nurse here for almost 10 years, and this place is my comfort zone. They called in my OB, a doctor I’d never seen before. Whatever. They do so many c-sections these days, I was honestly more worried about anesthesia. The surgeon got there, and they walked us down the hall. We dropped Russ off in a room to put on his bunny suit for the OR. I gave him a quick kiss and said, “Love you. See you in a few.”
Time for the spinal. It didn’t feel much different than when I got my epidural for my son ??♀️. I did get a shock down my left leg when they were positioning it. I kind of flinched a little, but the nurse said, “That’s normal, stay still.” I wasn’t worried. I laid back on the table, and they quickly started positioning me and putting up the drapes. The resident brushed an alcohol swab over my stomach and chest. Feels the same… feels the same… feels the same… feels the same… At some point I could hear the “oh shit” in his voice. I knew it should feel different… but it didn’t.
The back of my left leg still felt a little funny so I kept kind of rolling my ankles. I think it was the nurse who said, “She’s still moving… she’s still moving, guys,” and they explained that sometimes people can still move but they’re numb. “Remember you will still feel touching and pressure but not pinching pain. Do you want them to start and see how it feels?” In my head I’m trying to convince myself that the tingling in the back of my leg is the spinal starting and it’s going to work. ?? Either way I can just lie there and fucking take it because I’m not going to sleep. Then they put clamps on my skin and it was more like ???? “NNOPPPEE… if you’re not cutting then don’t start because I can feel all of that.”
This is where it all spiraled.
“We are going to have to put you to sleep.”
“I don’t want to.”
“I know but we have to.”
No further explanation that I can remember. No discussion of options. I don’t even remember them repositioning me to try to get the level to rise. A million things start running through my head. I don’t want to debate the risks of repeating a spinal… a lot of people say no way… some people say it’s “attending dependent”… some people say the risks are so rare… I don’t know ??♀️. I honestly had no idea why they wouldn’t just try again. But either way, she looked up at the surgeon and said, “We have to convert to general.”
The surgeon started yelling. “Call the senior OB resident. We’re gonna need more hands!!! Call Peds, tell them it’s gonna to be fast!!!”
She didn’t bother to look over the drape or say anything to me. The anesthesiologist said, “We’re just waiting for everyone to come so they can work quickly once we put you to sleep,” or something along those lines. I think it was the nurse who said, “Where’s her husband?! Where did you put the husband??!” And someone responded, “He can’t come in!!” They said, “Okay we’re ready,” and I felt the propofol go in.
The anesthesiologist held my hand and rubbed above the IV trying to distract me from the propofol. The resident put a mask over my face and told me to take deep breaths. It was all happening so fast. I can’t even describe the level of panic I felt in that moment. My last thought was, “THIS IS REALLY FUCKING HAPPENING RIGHT NOW. I BETTER JUST LISTEN TO HIM.” So I did. (Not like I had much of a choice at that point.) ??
I woke up a couple of hours later in recovery, although it’s all really hazy. I kind of remember holding Taylor for a picture… I look at that picture all the time, time stamped over 2 hours after her birth, but I don’t really remember first meeting her. I remember when they said they had my baby, I grabbed for my big belly and I didn’t really believe it. Obviously I know they were giving me my baby, but I felt like they had taken her from me. Are you sure she’s mine?? (What terrible fucking thoughts to have upon meeting your daughter!! ??)
Before my discharge, at my post op appointment, when I got back to work and ran into the residents in the halls, I asked everyone, “Was I unstable? Was something happening with the baby? Was there something I didn’t know was going on?” And everyone said, “No. You were stable the whole time. There was never any danger to you or the baby. The spinal just didn’t work so they needed to use general. It was just a fluke thing we had to deal with.” ???
THEN WHY THE FUCK DID IT HAVE TO BE LIKE THAT?! ?? Why the clusterfuck and the yelling and the rush?! Why couldn’t I have seen Russ again!? Explain it to both of us. Maybe let someone who isn’t strapped to a table, naked and draped, use their brain. Give us a minute to process?! I wish someone had told me, “You’re not going to remember your daughter’s birth.”
Why couldn’t it have been like, “Hey, time out. You’re stable but things are changing. We need to make a new plan. Let’s bring your husband in real quick. You aren’t going to remember her birth, and he can’t be in here. Is there anything you want or don’t want done?”
These were my coworkers for crying out loud!! I thought they had my back. I know they did what they felt was best for us medically. They took good care of us in that sense, and if I had planned a general anesthesia surgery I would have been happy with their care. But this wasn’t SURGERY, this was our daughters BIRTH… one of the most important days of our lives!!! And I can’t help but feel angry… like they stole something from me… like they could have done things differently, allowed me to maintain some control… and like I would have done things differently had I been taking care of them. (Sorry guys. ?)
I came across her first picture a couple weeks after her birth. (I love this picture ?. They fell in love immediately, and his hand is the size of her body. ) The photo was time stamped 11:26. She was born at 10:33. I asked Russ, “Was this taken right away?” He said, “Yeah.”
It turned out that he stayed alone in that room where he was supposed to get changed. Someone came in and said something along the lines of, “You can get undressed. You’re not going to be able to go in. They had to put her to sleep, but the baby’s already out. She’s doing great, Pediatrics is with her now.” ??? A little while goes by and they came back out. “Her sugar’s a little low. Is it okay if we give her some formula? Can we give her the Hep B vaccine and the erythromycin ointment? It shouldn’t be much longer, they’re still closing.” ???
ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?! All that shit can wait, and my husband is more than capable of holding a bottle!! Are you really asking about VACCINES before anyone’s even SEEN her?!
I can’t remember who said this in recovery, but it stuck with me. “Ooohhh, she was screaming when she came out!” (Thanks. We will never be able to hear her first cries. And I will continue to hold my baby daily and tell her I’m so sorry I wasn’t there to comfort her.) “Her APGARs were 9 and 9!!” (Then what the fuck took you almost an hour to bring her to her Dad?!?)
Then the guilt… I should have said something. Why didn’t I say, “Stop. I don’t like how this is going. Do we have any other options? Can I see Russ real quick?” As a nurse I’m not afraid to speak up for my patients. Why didn’t I speak up for myself?
I am traumatized by the memories I have… but I am tortured by the memories I don’t have and can never have. I’m so sad that a day that should have been full of happy memories was filled with fear, sadness, anger, and regret… and then I feel guilty for that too because I have a beautiful baby girl and I should remember her birthday fondly regardless of how it happened.
I still cry about it almost every day. I still hug her close and tell her I’m so sorry I wasn’t there for her when she was born… that she was alone. I put on my nurse hat and say, “It really wasn’t that bad. You were both fine. It could have been so much worse…” But I know that’s not helpful. Because yeah, of course it could have been worse, but I’m still traumatized by the way it was.
I wasn’t a nurse that day. I was a patient and a mom. “You have a healthy baby so you should be happy.” I am super happy about that, but I’m learning that being happy and grateful for Taylor, and being sad about her delivery, are two completely different things.
It doesn’t help that she will be our last child, that those awful memories and non-memories will never fade behind the memories from my next delivery. It doesn’t help that I work there, that I walk by these people and take report from them every shift. I’m always wondering when, and if, the conversations that I have with them in my head will ever happen in real life. And what good will it be if they do? It’s not like anyone can go back and change it. I go into work in a full sweat and clench my teeth trying not to burst into tears. The flashbacks are in full effect. I smile and say, “I’m good. How are you?” I’m not. But I will be. ??
Hopefully writing this helps me heal. And hopefully reading it encourages someone to be an advocate, whether for themselves or their patient. Or it encourages someone to share their own story, and invest in their own healing, and realize that these fucked up feelings are okay and all too common. Or you just get from it whatever you may be looking for. ❤️
Our birth story was more of a mindfuck than anything else ?. Luckily we were both physically fine, but many women’s traumatic birth experiences also involve significant physical trauma leading to life long health complications. I think that adds a whole different complexity to the healing process that I can’t really speak to… but the more I have invested into the healing process, the more I realize how common and how REAL birth trauma really is. ?
Emma is a wife, mom (and stepmom) of three, registered nurse, and birth trauma mama. She writes at CliCKwithMRSQUiCK, a Motherhood & Lifestyle Blog with a special focus on Maternal Mental Health. She’s #onestrongmama and so are you! Check out the “Birth Trauma Mama” category on her blog to read her full birth story, the resources she’s found most helpful in healing, the triggers she still faces, and how she chooses to build herself up in the wake of this experience.