Unfortunately, birth doesn't always go according to plan. No matter what hopes and dreams you have for your birth experience, some things are simply out of your control. Usually, that's fine. That's simply the way it goes. But other times, birth takes a turn for the nightmarish. You don't expect to have an awful birth experience, but unfortunately, that's the way it works out sometimes.
When I had my first child, I wasn't even in labor. I thought I was because I didn't know what real contractions felt like, and the nursing staff admitted me based on a discrepancy over whether I was dilated to four or four-and-half centimeters. Instead of admitting their mistake and sending me home after 12 hours of no progress, I was bullied into having my water broken and a slew of other interventions which resulted in my son being born before either of us were ready. By some miracle, I was lucky enough to still deliver vaginally, but the experience still left me traumatized, and mourning the birth that might have been.
Unsurprisingly, I am not the only woman who's endured a traumatic birth experience. Though it's an experience we'd all wish to entirely bypass, these eight women share their birth-gone-wrong stories as well:
“I went to the hospital with contractions about three-to-five minutes apart, but I was only dilated to 3 cm. I told them I was violently sick with the stomach flu a few days prior. The nurse told me that I might be in false labor since I was only 37 weeks. They made me walk for an hour, because I had a history of quick labor with my first pregnancy. Hearing that I was in false labor made me cry. It was such a disappointment. They checked me again: still nothing. So they told me that I was dehydrated and that can cause false labor. They told me they would put me on an IV then send me home. I was devastated. By the time they came back in to put me on IV fluids I was in immense pain, my contractions were so strong I was throwing up. I told the nurse who was training I felt a pop but she said it wasn't my water because there was no fluid. So they proceed to try to insert an IV catheter and ended up blowing a vein.
I felt I had no choice. I needed to know my baby was OK.
"By this time the senior nurse decided to check me and she instantly ran out yelling, ‘She's at a 7!’ A crew of nurses had to physically move me to a birthing room. The moment they got me into the room I had to push. I told them this and they all yelled, ‘Don't push!’ Well, I couldn't control it and the nurses had no time to gown up, and they barely caught my daughter. She shot out with two pushes. She arrived five minutes after the senior nurse had checked my dilation in the other room. The doctor came in to finish things, up but my placenta had fused itself to my uterus and wouldn't come out. Fifteen minutes after birth I started hemorrhaging so I was rushed away to surgery to control the bleeding and to get the placenta out. They were talking about a possible hysterectomy and blood transfusion.
"Surgery went well and a couple hours later I was able to see my daughter and actually get to hold her. She was 5 pounds, 7 ounces, and 17 inches long. She is perfectly healthy and perfect in every way. It was definitely a scary situation and a very emotional one at that. From ‘false labor,’ to having my baby fly out of me, to life-saving surgery — it is one experience I will never forget.”
“I had planned a natural, out-of-hospital birth. I really wanted little to no interventions but ‘failure to progress’ had me transferred to the hospital at only 6 centimeters after two days of consistent (minutes apart) contractions. Once at the hospital, I consented to an epidural. After that, things got out of control. I wanted no interventions and found myself having every intervention. A hospital midwife broke my water, to no effect. They administered Pitocin, which finally had me dilating but eventually caused my baby’s heart rate to drop. They put in a fetal monitor, which I didn’t want, but they said they needed to keep a close eye on his vitals, so I felt I had no choice. I needed to know my baby was OK.
They couldn’t up my epidural anymore so the last thing was to knock me out. I had to be awake when my baby was born. I had to know he was OK. It was so scary and so painful. They wouldn’t [even] let my husband in right away, so the anesthesiologist held my hand.
"I pushed for five hours. I remember the beginning, not really being able to feel the urge to push because I’d had the epidural, which, in retrospect, I wish I hadn’t. They brought in a mirror, thinking if I saw my baby’s head that I’d push harder. I really pushed with all my might. Nobody wanted that baby out more than I did. I saw his curly little hair and pushed and pushed. I heard my mom say, 'I see his nose!' and then he disappeared back into the depths of my body. I felt betrayed by my body. In the last hour, my epidural wore off, and I was so exhausted after being up for three days that the pain hit me like a ton of bricks. I kept saying, 'my epidural wore off, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts,' and they barely acknowledged me. I think I got an eyebrow raise and an 'it's OK' from between my legs. He wasn’t coming out. A doctor came in with a vacuum extractor. After trying that a few times, my fluid and blood was all over the lights, the walls, the bed, even the ceiling.
"[My baby's] heart rate was dropping and dropping so I finally consented to an emergency c-section. As soon as I signed the paper, the nurses all swooped in and took me away. Even in that moment it felt like they were all standing there waiting for me to fail. In the OR, the anesthesiologist, who was also super nice, upped my epidural. I could still feel everything. They couldn’t up my epidural anymore so the last thing was to knock me out. I had to be awake when my baby was born. I had to know he was OK. It was so scary and so painful. They wouldn’t [even] let my husband in right away, so the anesthesiologist held my hand. I felt everything. His head was stuck in my pelvis and, in addition to the searing pain of incision, I felt my hips banging back and forth on the table as the doctor tried to pull him out. I was crying, and then I heard my precious baby cry. His voice was so much deeper than I thought it would be. A nurse commented on how chubby his cheeks were, but I couldn’t see him. But I heard him cry, [and] I knew he was OK. I asked the anesthesiologist if it was almost over and he very honestly told me that it wasn’t even halfway over. She still had to deliver my placenta (and then throw it away even though I wanted to keep it), clean me out, and stitch up the seven layers of tissue that were severed. I couldn’t do it anymore. The pain was too much, and I knew my baby was safe. I nodded at him and he knocked me out.
"Looking back, I wish I would have powered through. It kills me that I wasn’t there for his first moments. I didn’t get to gaze upon his beautiful face and nurse him until he was 20 minutes old. I didn’t get to do kangaroo care, the breast crawl, and all the other things I wanted. He was probably so terrified. They had let my husband in as they were pulling out the baby, but I don’t even remember seeing him.
"A consistent theme throughout my labor was that I was not comfortable. In early labor I was much more concerned about my husband and making sure I was nice to everybody and I fought my contractions so hard. I really didn’t open up to my labor. It's no wonder I didn’t progress, and by the time it came to pushing I was too exhausted. My body had nothing left to give and it was sheer willpower, the desire to meet my baby and mommy superpowers that kept me going. I work with pregnant women often and when they ask me for advice the thing I most often tell them is to be clear about their needs in labor, don’t be afraid to kick people out of the room, be as comfortable as possible, and open up to the process. It's so hard to surrender your body to the most painful thing in the world but we were built for it and we are strong enough to do it. So if you need to, yell at your husband, tell that nurse to GTFO, and labor YOUR way.”
That was when I went blind. Suddenly I couldn't see anything. ‘I can’t see, I can’t see,’ I cried, and it seemed ages before someone responded. The rest is a delirium of darkness — the doctors rushing in, the battery of blood tests, the IV, and catheter inserted.
“After hours of no progress, I was stuck at six centimeters. The Cheshire midwife checked me again and pronounced: 'This baby’s posterior. You have to try to shift it. Go out in the hall and stomp up and down.' Stomp? Was she crazy? How could I stomp when I could barely get off the bed? But out I went to the hall in only my t-shirt, [with] my husband holding me up as I stomped back and forth like a madwoman, half-hallucinating. That was when I went blind. Suddenly I couldn't see anything. ‘I can’t see, I can’t see,’ I cried, and it seemed ages before someone responded. The rest is a delirium of darkness — the doctors rushing in, the battery of blood tests, the IV, and catheter inserted. My blood pressure sky rocketed, my urine [was] flush with protein, my brain [was] so swollen [that] I lost my vision, [and I] lost all sense of where I was and what was happening to me. I no longer even understood I was pregnant; [I was] crying in confusion for the two hours it took the on-call anesthesiologist to arrive.
I had to give myself permission to grieve the loss of the birth I wanted— the natural, empowered birthing experience— and that helped me process the trauma, accept it, and move on.
:With a posterior baby stuck at six centimeters, there was no [other] option but one. My husband bore witness to the emergency c-section that delivered our healthy, dark-haired girl. I was unable to see her or hold her, but I could smell her. They placed her by my cheek and I breathed in the warm, sweet animal smell, both miraculous and familiar.
"I had to give myself permission to grieve the loss of the birth I wanted— the natural, empowered birthing experience— and that helped me process the trauma, accept it, and move on. But I have to admit that I will never completely ‘move on,’ since it’s still emotional for me to talk and think about my preeclampsia, and I still feel twinges of envy when I hear other women describing their beautiful births or posting photos, etc. After Ava’s birth, I was sick and swollen — the photos afterwards show it. I’d gone blind during labor and had a Bell’s Palsy that left one side of my face temporarily sagging. I looked like a hospital patient, not a radiant new mother with her baby."
“I was 23 and expecting a baby. When I was freshly 34 weeks, I felt pretty crummy and spent the weekend before Valentine's Day laid up on the couch. Far as I knew, it was normal. On the morning of February 12, I headed to work and I noticed something that felt like a vibration in my uterus consistently returning. I used a website to time the contractions, and after my boss, who was also my friend, noticed, she sent me to get my husband and head to the hospital. We lived in a small town, and so we made a one-and-half hour trek to a hospital. They were pretty sure I was in labor, but couldn't accept babies under 36 weeks, so they sent me to another hospital, an hour and 15 minutes away. They said driving ourselves would be faster than an ambulance, so we drove and the contractions continued.
"Through[out] it all I was pretty calm because I was scared and didn't know if I'd actually be having a baby. When we reached our destination, I checked in and the doctor said he wasn't sure if I'd be having the baby or if he could halt the labor — it was a big question mark. The gave me one dose of a shot that's supposed to help baby's lungs develop, and before I knew it, I was in full-fledged labor. The whole thing was a huge blur filled with fear and confusion, and when my son was born at 11:35, he was whisked away to the NICU. He was good sized, at 5 lbs., 5 oz., but I found out later that his heart rate was up in the 200s. Upon inspection, it seemed as though I had a placental abruption. Apparently, in these situations often the baby will not make it, and sometimes the mother as well. Let's just say this was the most life-altering event of my life.”
“I went into labor quickly at 11 p.m., out of nowhere, at 36 weeks. [I went from] no contractions to severe in seconds flat. We drove to the local hospital around midnight and I was checked by the doctor on call, who was also my family doctor. He assured me we could make it to the closest delivering hospital, one hour and 45 minutes away. We took his word for it — big mistake. My contractions moved closer together, and the pain became intolerable. By a stroke of luck, I had a TENS machine in the car, from a back injury I had, and I was able to find a tiny bit of relief using it on my back. (This was ALL back labor!)
A doctor I hadn't met asked to check my cervix. While she was checking my cervix, I was contracting and in terrible pain. I couldn't figure out why I was in so much pain until I felt I rush of liquid — she broke my water without warning or asking for permission first.
"My husband broke every law he had to to get there on time, and was able to turn a one hour and 45 minute drive down to just 45 minutes. We pulled up in front of the emergency entrance and quickly found a wheelchair. I was brought up to L&D, and 20 minutes later, before my OB could even make it in, I delivered our child. My body was in complete shock afterward. I couldn't hold the baby because I was shuddering. The nurses quickly covered me with hot blankets, and found me some juice and something to eat, but it took some time before I was able to hold the baby and my body felt stable.”
“I had planned a home birth, but ended up with a hospital c-section. I went into labor on a Monday morning, and my son was finally cut out of me on a Sunday night. I was really well-informed ahead of time, but there is just nothing that can make a labor like that easier. I do wish I had been a little more prepared for the hospital transfer, it ultimately was OK, but I was afraid of it.”
“I carried my first pregnancy to 41 weeks, and then I was induced. The labor and delivery were difficult, but I think they were comparable to most inductions. The labor was fast and the contractions were strong. The really traumatizing part of my labor happened when a doctor I hadn't met asked to check my cervix. While she was checking my cervix, I was contracting and in terrible pain. I couldn't figure out why I was in so much pain until I felt I rush of liquid — she broke my water without warning or asking for permission first. I was angry and confused, I felt like my control over my labor had been taken away from me. I refused to see that doctor again, and chose a new hospital when I found out I was pregnant with my second.”
“I went into pregnancy with an open mind. I had a nurse/friend tell me that women with solid birth plans often find themselves disappointed and defeated. I really wanted to deliver vaginally, any road I had to take to get there was the right choice. I had the ideal birth: no Pitocin, no epidural, [and] I would love to do it again sometime. My placenta wouldn't detach. My doctor had me try to push, she massaged my stomach, and then asked permission to remove it manually. I allowed her to stick her arm up to her elbow into my newly vacated uterus and after what felt like forever, I tapped out. I couldn't handle the discomfort and pressure. The anesthesiologist came in and gave me my options: local through my IV, spinal block, or being put-out completely.
"I looked around the room at the staff and my husband and realized that they we're all waiting for me to make the call. I was tired and in awe of my baby and in high hopes that everyone would just go away so I could deal with it later. I opted for the local and looked to the my doctor to catch some sort of approval. The anesthesiologist scoffed and my doctor said nothing. I then asked if I should go with the spinal block. The anesthesiologist was quick to tell me that he thought that was my best option. My doctor still didn't say anything. Upon changing my mind and opting for the spinal block (a decision I regret everyday). my doctor instructed the nursing staff to sit me up so I could receive my shot. The anesthesiologist refused to administer it to me in the birthing room. In the blink of an eye I was on a gurney and being whisked away to the operating room. They made my [husband] take off his shirt and handed him our baby and the doctor stayed behind to explain to [him] what was happening. No one explained to me what was happening. No one told me that this had now gone from a simple ‘manual detachment’ to a full on D&C.
My arms were still strapped down and I was wearing oxygen. I wasn’t even able to hold her. They took her back to her dad, which killed me. I cried so much.
"I was on the gurney in the operating room adrenaline pumping and fighting tears when [that man] looked at me and said, ‘You are obviously a very strong lady seeing as you had your baby naturally, but this is a really good reason why women should go ahead and get epidurals. If you had had one, I wouldn't have had to take you away from your family right now.’ I was in shock. I didn't know how to process any of it until my nurse snapped at him. I received my first shot and I started to weep, he asked me if it hurt. I shook my head no, and he told me he was going to up my dose just in case. I couldn't walk for almost 13 hours. I waited for an ultrasound tech followed by an X-ray tech (since they had to break my placenta before the move to the O.R. they had to locate the piece) They strapped my arms down, and I had my D&C. I had the adrenaline shakes, the anesthesiologist shot something into my IV, when I asked him what it was he told me. ‘I should go with the flow.’
"Then we had to wait for more X-rays and a third party to read my results. In that timeframe, they brought me my baby. My arms were still strapped down and I was wearing oxygen. I wasn’t even able to hold her. They took her back to her dad, which killed me. I cried so much. [After that,] I was returned to my room and reunited with my baby at 2 a.m. I felt disappointed and defeated. I had done so much research into having a baby and knew nothing about what could go wrong after.”