My Doctor Bullied Me While I Was In Labor
I hated both of my pregnancies. I suffered from extreme nausea and vomiting until the third trimester with both of my kids, which was debilitating and rendered me useless. Anti-nausea medication helped to ease some of my symptoms, but the side effect of drowsiness mixed with the pregnancy exhaustion turned me into a zombie. So I came to a decision when I was pregnant with baby number two: immediately after she was born, my uterus was planning to erect a “Closed For Business” sign. Oh, and I was bullied by my doctor during labor.
I was so eager to have an unmedicated birth the second time around in part because my first experience with labor was downright horrific. I was induced at 39 weeks with Pitocin, a drug that induces and strengthens contractions. I was medicated with an epidural that only affected one side of my body, and I threw up a lot; to top that all off, I had an episiotomy. It. Was. Awful. And it lasted 22 hours long. So naturally, when it came time for the birth of my second child, I wanted an entirely different experience, one that was blissful and memorable in the best of ways. I had heard other women refer to unmedicated childbirth as a transformative experience that brings out your "inner warrior." I wanted to sign up for that. No Pitocin, no epidural. I wanted to give birth "naturally," and I'd be glowing, strong, confident, and in control doing it.
Unfortunately, no one can prepare you for the unexpected, and that’s usually what happens when you make a birth plan. It doesn’t matter what your birth plan is, how long you’ve practiced and visualized your labor, or what songs you’ve put on your playlist to get you through the tough moments. When the unforeseen decides to surprise you, there is zero amount of preparation that can help. In my case, the unforeseen was a doctor who decided to bully me while I was giving birth.
When I was 39 weeks pregnant, my water broke. It was baby time. I was elated, as I felt like I was finally getting that second chance for the labor of my dreams. I knew what I wanted. I had a plan. This baby and I were going to travel to the depths of pain together, and we'd both come out victorious. I had an arsenal of techniques at my disposal for the occasion, such as deep breathing tactics and soothing music for the more challenging moments.
When we finally reached the hospital, however, my midwife was nowhere to be found. The nurse informed me that she wasn’t coming, due to an "unexpected family emergency." All the words began to run together until they had no meaning.
“You don’t need to try and be a hero," he said. "Get an epidural!”
“What the hell do you mean, she’s not coming?!," I thought angrily. "Put the cork back in. I’m not having this baby without her." Of course, I knew I couldn't put the cork back in. Only one thing comes after your water breaks: a baby.
Suddenly, a doctor walked into the room. I realized I'd met him before: My OB had a policy that you were supposed to meet with every doctor in the practice, in case your regular physician or midwife was unable to be present the day you went into labor. I saw him in the hallway at one of my appointments. He had curly blonde hair, judgmental eyes, a disheveled appearance, and not one, but two gold chains hanging around his thick neck. I had an immediate and visceral reaction to him. Arrogance just seemed to radiate from his pores.
As he stood over my hospital bed, I communicated my birth plan to him, emphasizing that I didn't want an epidural or Pitocin. He kept saying things like, "labor is hard," and, "accelerating the process makes sense." I could feel the weight of my expectations slowly crash down upon me as he questioned my resolve, and I knew my labor was going to be a tug-of-war with this guy. “You don’t need to try and be a hero," he said. "Get an epidural!”
I allowed myself to be bullied into something I knew I didn’t want, because I couldn’t find the strength to say no. For a while, I continued to refuse the pain meds, but the Pitocin caused the contractions to ramp up with such intensity that I could no longer manage the pain on my own. I eventually caved and consented to the epidural. What did it matter what I wanted anymore? I thought. We’d already strayed so far from my original plan.
The second that my water broke, I felt like this doctor had put me on the clock. He wanted to immediately start the Pitocin to move this whole experience along, but I stood my ground. So he gave me an expiration date for when he’d administer the Pitocin to speed up my dilation. To speed things up on my own, I walked up and down the hallways of the labor and delivery unit. I squatted. I sat atop a birthing ball, all in an effort to speed things along with every tool in my chest. Things were progressing, too: every time the nurse checked my dilation, I was moving along, but not quickly enough for him. And every time he saw me waddling down the hallway, he took the opportunity to say, “We’d already be done if you’d take the Pitocin.”
I was frustrated. My determination weakened. The vision of how I thought this would go was blurring into something familiar yet totally unwanted, and I couldn’t help but think back to my first experience with childbirth when I had completely relinquished control.
I felt defeated by a doctor who didn’t know me or care about my goals. So eventually, after hours of waiting to go into labor naturally, I consented to the Pitocin. I allowed myself to be bullied into something I knew I didn’t want, because I couldn’t find the strength to say no. For a while, I continued to refuse the pain meds, but the Pitocin caused the contractions to ramp up with such intensity that I could no longer manage the pain on my own. I eventually caved and consented to the epidural. What did it matter what I wanted anymore? I thought. We’d already strayed so far from my original plan.
The nurse didn’t check my dilation until right after the epidural, at which point we discovered I was at 8 centimeters. I had been so close to the finish line, and I was so disappointed with myself for not continuing to hang in there. Within an hour, my baby was ready to be born. The doctor finally came back into the room to assist in the delivery, and my fierce and strong baby girl was born after 30 exhausting minutes of pushing, a serious improvement from the 22-hour struggle I’d endured with my son.
I never said anything about the doctor or reported him to anyone. I just wanted to get out of there. In retrospect, I regret not having been more vocal. If I had it to do all over again, I’d hire a doula, someone who’s there to speak for me, and be a companion, who’s equipped to handle how tumultuous and emotionally jarring childbirth can be. But I don't think there'll be a next time. Thanks to the doctor at my last delivery, my uterus is officially closed for business.