When I got pregnant, I immediately found myself a midwife. I’d read birth narratives from women who'd delivered with the help of a midwife and was sold. I didn't want to just another cog in what I thought of at the time as the medical machine, given impersonal care by a conglomeration of physicians motivated by profit, not medical benefit, and dictated to by rapacious pharmaceutical companies. I believed that only a midwife could give me the kind of birth and delivery that I'd wanted for my first-born. So you can only imagine my surprise and my shock when it was actually an OB who saved my life, and my baby's.
After finding out I was pregnant, I called up the midwife in my town. Like I said, I had read fantastic things about midwives and still hear stories from friends about these amazing professionals. But my experience wasn't so amazing. This midwife had a birth center and gave me some herbal recommendations (they didn’t work) in a distracted, I-have-better-things-to-do manner. She also reminded me that she didn’t typically see clients until they were 12 weeks, so why was I calling her again?
At 12 weeks, prior to which I’d done zero research aside from reading her website, we went in for our appointment. We listened to the baby’s heart while I laid on my back. She gave us a tour of the birthing center, including the tubs, which she told us got “very warm.” I could eat and drink and listen to our own music playlist during labor. She kept a library of birth books. Suddenly, she rounded on us. “You’re not planning on getting a flu shot, are you?” she asked. “It’ll kill your baby.” This was 2009, when the swine flu strain was everywhere. She didn’t know I’d grown up lying to medical professionals, and so had my husband. “Oh, no,” we said. “Of course not. Poison. Total poison.”
As the appointments progressed, I realized the brusque tone I’d heard on the phone was the midwife’s standard operating procedure. She was against a lot, too. The list included mainstream medicine — if I had to transfer to a hospital, she wouldn’t come — and all vaccines. She believed in essential oils, aromatherapy, homeopathy, calling contractions “surges” — because they weren’t, by nature, painful — and something called Emotional Freedom Technique. We just went along with it.
Turns out that “just going along with it” is not the best strategy when it comes to childbirth. We never bothered to look up the education necessary to become a midwife in our state, which I later realized was shockingly inadequate. We never inquired about her transfer rate, or how many of her clients ended up in the hospital (something like 75 percent), nor did we question that the only medical practitioner willing to work with her was three counties over.
The disaster that was my son’s birth started one afternoon and continued long after. Two days later, around midnight, I was begging to come into the birth center. The midwife grudgingly agreed to meet us there, despite thinking I was way too early. I was moaning and miserable when I showed up. I was experiencing “back labor,” when labor pain wraps around your back, giving you zero break between contractions. The midwife filled the tub. I got in and found it freezing — what had happened to the “very warm” tubs she’d proudly touted on our tour? She said they couldn’t make it any warmer by law.
I paced the halls, my husband pressing on my back. Our midwife ignored me. We did this for hours, all the while I cried in disbelief and misery. My “surges” came on fast and strong — but why was I in such pain? I began vomiting. The midwife offered organic peanut butter. I vomited more. Hours passed in the same manner. The midwife ignored us while we coped as best we could. Finally, she offered a homeopathic remedy that’s loosely based on a poison. My husband was done. He demanded that I be transferred.
I still remember exactly where on the road I had each of the three contractions before we reached the “bastion of insurance-dominated medical patriarchy,” also known as the hospital where doctors and nurses would save mine and my baby’s life. They took one look at me and rushed me to labor and delivery.
I was severely dehydrated. I needed three bags of fluid before I could get an epidural. I felt the bliss of pain retreating, of feeling human again. The resident assigned to me was lovely. She kept coming in to chat between rounds. The nurse pressed on my back. “We’ll get your baby out,” they assured me. “You just need some help.”
“You need some Pitocin,” the doctor said. I was skeptical. She spent plenty of time talking to me about why the drug was a good idea, and what effects I could expect. I agreed. When she decided I needed the dose raised, she talked to me about that, too. Then I took a nap.
The “big event” took three hours. The head resident wanted to cut me open, but my glorious doctor said no, she was going to get my baby out. All she needed me to do was push. Shortly after they warned they’d need to prep an OR, I pushed him out all at once. I was exhausted but so proud when they laid him on my chest.
Later, my doctor told me it’s likely he was sunny-side up, or facing the wrong way, and flipped in the birth canal. It would explain my back labor, my long labor, and the way he shot out so quickly. My midwife hadn’t noticed his positioning. I later learned from a local doula that she was notorious for missing that. I also later learned that docs and nurses hated getting patients from this midwife, because they were usually in such dire shape upon arrival.
I wish I could have birthed with a midwife. I have friends who birthed with different ones and had wonderful births. I know local women who had home births safely and happily. But all midwives aren’t equal, and neither are all doctors. Naive as I was, I believed in the black and white narrative of the angelic midwife and the evil physician. Instead, I got the opposite — and it worked out for the best. I don't judge anyone for their choices, and I definitely think most midwives are capable of giving expectant women the care, consideration, and attention that they need and deserve. I just wish I'd done my research before settling on our first (and at the time, only) option.
Years after, our second son was born into the same doctor’s hands. We planned it that way. And I was grateful.