A nurse steps in and shifts my position. She has been with me since I got to the hospital and knows exactly what I need.
In fact, she told the entire Labor & Delivery unit what I needed before I even arrived.
Childbirth and pregnancy are unpredictable. There is absolutely no telling what you are in for when you commit to them.
I ventured into them in the best shape of my life, a good state of mind and in a healthy marriage. The pure excitement was exhilarating, the ultimate adventure I thought! So to my surprise, at my first ultrasound when the midwife said, “I hate to bring this up, but we have to talk about it!” I was shocked.
Just like pregnant women and life experiences, trauma comes in all shapes and sizes. It is unpredictable and there is no telling how it will affect you through your life, no matter how many punctuation marks you have put on that time or event. Whether its previous birth trauma, hospital stays, abuse, sexual assault, pregnancy and labor can be the ultimate trigger.
She hands me a flyer on the services offered at the hospital that I shove to the back of the folder and I continue on to have a great pregnancy.
It was not until around 9 months that my anxiety really escalated when I started to see ads for labor robes.
What was I going to wear to labor? This was something that had not crossed my mind...but as I thought more about it, the pure terror of wearing a hospital gown really set in.
Wow I thought, that’s not normal, but tried to push it away.
I started to lay awake at night thinking about ways to not have my baby at the hospital. What if my provider isn’t the one to deliver my baby?! Maybe I should just change providers all together and go to the birth center.
I was just slow diving back into a riptide that I spent years trying to get out of.
Finally, when I accepted I needed help, I went deep into the folder and got the pamphlet from my first visit with the midwife.
Mission Hospital here in Asheville is designated a “Baby Friendly Hospital”, the first in the US, which by the way, is the most dangerous developed country to give birth in!
To be classified as baby friendly, you must meet extraordinary standards for labor and postpartum care. A (healthy) baby goes directly skin to skin for an undisturbed hour before any type of test or weight is taken. It is protocol to wait 90 seconds before the cord is clamped and cut, if not until it stops pulsing. A baby who is born via C-section goes skin to skin and can be vaginally seeded upon request. They do not wash the vernix from the babies skin, lactation consultants come by your room…etc.
But most importantly, Mission Hospital offers a program called, Survivor Services.
Women are encouraged by multiple outlets within the community to utilize Survivor Services for a variety of reasons. You have an initial consultation with a nurse in a labor room and create a birth plan to have on file at the hospital. You discuss possible triggers and how the hospital staff can respect your past trauma while still responsibly caring for you. You state your preferences, your pain management plan, discuss solutions to problems that may arise and why those solutions may be appropriate.
The goal is to set you up for a birth experience that does not tier your trauma while keeping both you and your baby healthy.
I set up my appointment hoping it would provide me with some relief knowing that I would not have to advocate for myself in the depths of labor since I chose not to have a doula.
That my voice would be heard.
The initial consultation was a flood of emotions. The nurse Katie understood, verbalizing all the unexplained fears I was experiencing. Noting that wearing a hospital gown is one of the most noted triggers for many women.
She was able to help me explain my anxieties to Mike in a coherent way and she was able to suggest ways for him to help in the depths of my labor outside of normal partner support.
Techniques taught both in a labor class and by her about utilizing code words if something was getting to be too much or someone was making me feel uncomfortable.
Just the exercise of sitting in the hospital helped level my senses.
So, three weeks later and two weeks before my due date, I am back at Mission Hospital slumped over a check-in desk, soaked in amniotic fluid, trying to spell my last name.
There is only one labor and delivery room left and a few patients ahead of me all being examined before the room is assigned.
My contractions are intense and around 3 minutes apart. They send us down the hallway to wait in this room and my heart starts to sink.
This is where my experience is about to change.
I’ve spent the entire day at home in the shower, trying to cope with back labor and limit my chances of unwanted interventions, all to be sent to a waiting room!
I look to Mike, about to be so upset when I hear someone yell, “Ashley!” It was the nurse Katie who happened to be working in outpatient that afternoon...she whisks us away to the last available room.
Transitional labor pretty much set in the second I got into my room and the nurses were running around trying to get everything set up. Everything was happening so fast.
I got in the shower and Mike began filling the whirlpool. I remember a nurse yelling, “Someone needs to check her, get her on a monitor!” when another nurse stepped in. She had reviewed my birth plan on file and slowed everyone’s roll.
In a matter of two seconds she refocused the energy in the room.
She communicated with me and with the other nurse. It was obvious this baby was coming fast, but not so fast that everything had to happen without informed consent.
She told the other nurse to make sure the midwife was on the way and that we would be waiting for her until I was to be examined, something noted in my plan.
I thanked her but had to know how far along I was, granting her permission to check my dilation.
At this point, Katie was able to switch from outpatient to be in the room with us. She instructs another nurse to call the midwife again, she needs to get there as soon as possible.
Mike helps me move about the room with monitors that allowed me to get into the tub. It was important that I was not connected to the bed unless I had to be. When the monitors started to feel suffocating, they removed them completely and brought them to me on regular intervals.
The midwife arrives, scrubbed up and everyone leaves but her, Katie and Mike.
With Mike’s hand in mine, our baby worked her way here.
As much as I yelled, “Get this baby out of me!” everyone stayed calm and present!!
After a few minutes I was overcome with the purest form of joy and that is a baby exiting your body and being placed on your chest! We were so moved by the moment we forgot to even see if it was a boy or a girl!
Medically speaking I was extremely lucky that I had such a great pregnancy and quick labor, but emotionally, I am luckier that I had professional support at such a vulnerable time.
Connecting with this program and the two nurses who created it, has been one of the greatest honors of my life.
Making it their mission to help women of all walks of life to feel safe and strong. Continuing to grow this program and advocate for women and their partners who don’t know they have rights.
They are now working to help teach other hospitals how to start programs like this one, with the hopes maybe one day ALL women will have the option to sit down with a nurse to talk about their preferences, their fears and how they can be supported through their labors.
Trying to conceive, grow, birth, deliver, adopt and raise humans is exhausting and there needs to be more awareness and accessible perinatal support for individuals and families.
In light of the MeToo movement, I think we can all agree there needs to be endless education on trauma informed birth.
There needs to be more conversations about prenatal anxiety.
There honestly just needs to be a shift within our society.
There is so much unnecessary judgment these days, conversations about postpartum anxiety and depression are often overshadowed by oversharing physical journeys back to pre-baby bodies.
“It takes a village” is such a popular phrase, but some of us don’t have villages where we live!
Some of these services may be more available than I think they are, but either way I am so grateful that we were able to utilize them for peace of mind.
I want to be clear that I am in a good place, but I just wish someone would have mentioned this to me prior to my own pregnancy. I feel a sense of responsibility to start a conversation so that others are not surprised as I was.
I suggest researching your providers, hospitals or birth centers. Determine what is important to you, with the full understanding there is no guarantee anything will go the way you want it to! Just being educated about your options is empowering.
No one way of birth is better than the other, so never feel ashamed or put too much pressure on yourself to get a human out of your body in a certain way.
Being there to support someone or asking for help at any point in your life is the greatest gift you can give yourself or someone else!
It has taken me a long time to come around to sharing this because I don’t want congratulations or apologies. People have endured far worse than myself and women have been giving birth for literally ever! I just hope to bring awareness to at least one person that pregnancy and labor are/can be as intense emotionally as it is physical and that women need just as much support through their perinatal journey as they do through those sleepless nights!