Katie's birth story is not one that's too uncommon in the birth world, unfortunately. An array of interventions and days on end of slowly progressing labor. Add in a low platelet count that denied her an epidural and things get hard and exhausting quick! So many factors of her birth could have been prevented if the lines of communication between her and her provider were more open. She felt so removed from her own body and that made this whole experience even harder. Her message is important. We need to ask questions. We need to know our options. Katie ended up asking for her medical records after this whole experience and she recommends you do the same if you have any questions at all. Thank you for sharing your story with us Katie, I hope that it can help us pave the way for more empowered and informed births.
When I found out I was pregnant, my husband Luke and I decided not to find out the gender. This is still one of my favorite parts of the whole thing. We were cautiously excited to share the news of the pregnancy with family and friends, still recovering from an early miscarriage the month before. My pregnancy was smooth. I was under the care of an OB, and decided to switch to a small practice in my area in hopes of more personalized care. We had our monthly, then bi-monthly, then weekly checkups as everything progressed!
Although I was under the care of an OB, I was focused on having an intervention-free, unmedicated birth. An acquaintance of mine told me of her success using the Hypnobabies techniques years before I became pregnant, and I decided that this was definitely something I wanted to try. I also took prenatal yoga and a natural-focused birth class led by a doula. During my pregnancy, I switched to a vegan diet from vegetarian.
My husband was super supportive of my approach to the pregnancy. He picked up extra chores around the house so that I could fit in Hypnobabies or prenatal yoga during the evenings. I poured over books and blogs and websites about childbirth, especially unmedicated childbirths, successful birth stories, really anything I could get my hands on! I could not get enough of learning about how amazing our bodies are throughout this entire process. During the childbirth class, we covered all aspects of labor, delivery, and breastfeeding. While interventions and cesareans were covered, I was so incredibly confident that my birth would go according to my plan, I just didn’t pay too much attention to those parts.
As my due date drew closer, my doctor began discussing an induction. Still, I was completely convinced I would go into labor on my own. Finally, at 41 weeks and 2 days, I scheduled my induction at the hospital. My husband and I switched our thinking as quickly as we could, trying to make the best out of this new situation. We downloaded “The Walking Dead” to watch in the hospital, decided an epidural would be the best route, and started planning. My husband was working out of state at the time, so part of our decision was knowing that if we didn’t do this now, the chances of him being out of town if/when I went into labor would continue to increase. We were scheduled to go into the hospital on a Thursday night, and we were as ready as we could be! Then, ONE HOUR before we were scheduled to arrive, the hospital called and said they were full. We were shocked, no one said this was even a possibility! Our options were to have the hospital call when they had a bed open that night, or go to bed and try again the next day. We chose the later. The next morning, we touched base with the nurses and were told that we’d get a call at some point that day. At this point, I was really starting to doubt the decision to go with an induction. If this was so necessary to a safe delivery, then why could it be pushed back and rescheduled? However, I knew that everyone was ready to get this baby out, and we decided to just keep with the original plan. Around 11:30 the following morning, the hospital called and we were all set to go in. The hospital is about 15 minutes away, and our bags had been packed, so we arrived around 12:30 in the afternoon.
This is when everything really gets turned upside down. My husband and I got into a room, I changed into a gown, and the nurse drew blood and I was hooked up to a monitor. I will never forget this next moment… our nurse walked into the room with a very disheartened look on her face and said that my platelets were too low to have an epidural, and we would have to continue with the induction without one. I was very surprised and disappointed that my doctor had not come in to discuss this or any of my options moving forward. There is an increased risk with bleeding if you get an epidural with low platelets, and my platelet count was below the threshold that the anesthesiologist was comfortable with. This is something we were not prepared for. I have since requested copies of my medical records from my pregnancy and delivery (something I highly recommend!!!), and low platelets were noted in my records, but never shared with me during any prenatal visit. This is a condition called gestational thrombocytopenia that can occur during pregnancy. All I knew about pitocin at the time was that the contractions were strong, close together, and your body was not able to “deal” with the pain in the same way as it can with naturally occurring contractions. I was terrified. My nurse hooked me up to the pitocin, started at a low dose that increased throughout the afternoon, and we were on our way to meeting our baby. I was not even 1cm when I was induced, and due to the induction being pushed back, my OB decided to skip any other induction medications and go straight to the pitocin. Maybe 30 minutes later, an anesthesiologist came in looking very somber. He shared that I had signs of preeclampsia and would need to have an emergency cesarean under general anesthesia because of the low platelets. Ok, now even more terrifying! Luke and I decided to just go through with the emergency cesarean and tell our families after the fact as to not add additional stress. We then called our nurse, and she came in looking very confused. The doctor had the wrong patient. Apparently there was another person with the same first name who had this situation occurring. After that we got a slew of apologies from the nurse and the charge nurse, but never from the anesthesiologist.
I was laboring for a few hours on the pitocin and handling the contractions well. I tried using Hypnobabies, but honestly at that point everything had just been turned around and changed up so many times I could not concentrate enough for anything to be effective. My husband and I were halfway through a Walking Dead episode when I felt my water break around 5pm. We were very excited that labor was moving along! However at that point, the contractions intensified immensely. This is definitely when things start getting very fuzzy in my memory. I have very few memories of the entire night as I labored. My husband was amazing, and only left my side to get refills on my ginger ale. When Luke would walk down the hallway to get me a refill, he said the nurses kept their heads down and didn’t look him in the eye. At that point they had been hearing me throughout the night. I remember the only way I could get through a contraction was to “catch” it as it was beginning. I developed a breathing pattern that worked as well as it could. If I didn’t get ahead of the contraction, I would just bear down and scream through it. Due to the pitocin, the contractions would come a few at a time, and I do remember watching the monitor and seeing a new contraction starting and just feeling completely defeated. As the pain and intensity of the contractions increased, the nurse offered a pain medicine called Stadol. She said that this would help take the edge off of the contractions, but I could only get 2 doses so I had to really wait until I was ready to use it. I was progressing, and at 4cm at about 7pm. Luke was so fantastic supporting me during this time, I honestly don’t remember most of it. I did decide to go ahead with the Stadol at some point, and Luke said I would be very out of it in between contractions, and then wake up and begin working and breathing through them. At around 9pm I was at 6cm. Things continued on, I was at 7cm at 12:30am, and at 9cm at 2:30am. The nurses were fantastic, but Luke did so much work. I was bleeding and passing clots throughout labor, and he changed countless chuck pads. He helped me walk to the bathroom, we very quickly learned how to unstrap and restrap on the fetal monitor. I stayed at 9cm for hours and hours, and my OB decided to turn off the pitocin around 8am to just take a break and see what was happening. I had been stuck at 9cm for about 6 hours still having intense contractions. At that point, Luke and I were both exhausted, I was in so much pain and the contractions were so non-stop, I couldn’t even talk or form a thought until the pitocin wore off. In between contractions, the pressure from the baby’s head in my pelvis was so intense, it hurt just as much as the contractions did. My OB decided to take my blood one more time to run the platelet count to see if there was a change. This time, they had gone up slightly and there was an anesthesiologist willing to do the epidural. Our amazing nurse waited outside of the OR to grab him as soon as he was out to come to us. I will never forget him walking in and saying “Normally I’d have the patient just tough it out at this point”. Wow. So I got an epidural around 9:30am, and my OB decided to let me rest for a few hours and then come back and check for progress. Luke and I slept for 4 hours and it was one of the highlights of the whole experience. At 3:00pm, I was finally at 10cm and ready to push.
I remember being so excited and determined when it was time to push. Our nurse was great and coached me through how and when to push. At that point, I was loving the epidural and didn’t want to feel anything so I was relying completely on the nurse and monitor to tell me when to push. The machine that gives the epidural stopped working at some point, but was fixed quickly. So one hour passed, still pushing, then two hours, then three hours. At 3 hours, the OB came in (she had been checking in periodically) and gave me 30 more minutes to get this baby out. In retrospect, I think she knew he wasn’t coming. Due to the epidural, I was on my back in the hospital bed and did not try any other positions to push. After 3.5 hours of pushing, the OB called it and said it was time for a cesarean. Luke texted our family, who had been in the waiting room since I started pushing. There was an emergency cesarean who had to go in before us, so we were pushed back a little bit. We were well known in the L&D unit at this point since everyone on the floor had heard me screaming for the past 24 hours. A few nurses on the floor came in to say hi and check in while I was being prepped for surgery. We went through our third and final shift change, which made for our 4th nurse, and then it was time to go to the OR. The cesarean went fine, and our sweet baby BOY was born at 9:10pm. He was 9lb. 1oz. Luke texted pictures to our family, but waited to tell them the gender until he went down in person. Our baby boy, Cole, had aspirated some meconium so he went to the NICU for an hour for monitoring. We are incredibly grateful that Cole was so healthy after such a long, traumatic labor and birth. Luke split the next hour between Cole, our family in the waiting room, and me in recovery. After about an hour, the nurse brought Cole to me and the three of us made our way to the recovery room. It breaks my heart that Cole spent the first hour of his life away from me and Luke. I still look back on Cole’s birth and just feel sad that I don’t remember most of it. I don’t remember him coming out, or his first cry, or who said, “It’s a boy”. I was so looking forward to skin to skin, and breastfeeding for the first time, and those other precious first moments, and I didn’t get them. Luke remembers, so I still ask him questions about what happened from time to time.
Once Luke, Cole, and I had settled into the recovery room, our families visited for a few minutes around midnight. I remember asking repeatedly when I could nurse Cole, it had been 4+ hours since he was born, and the nurse kept saying his sugars were too high or low (I can’t remember), so he kept getting heel pricks until they were stable. Then I could finally nurse, which I also don’t remember. Another nurse came in a few times throughout the night, and would wake me up to ask when she could take Cole for a bath. At some point I just said to take him. None of those first hours with him went like I had imagined or hoped.
Recovering emotionally from my birth has been a process that I am continuing to work through. I feel like so many things were taken away from me during my birth, and with information from the medical records, I also feel like I wasn’t given all of the information necessary for me to make a completely informed decision regarding the induction. Once I was in the hospital and in labor, I was unable to have any sort of conversation with my OB regarding interventions being used or any questions or concerns that arose due to the pain. There is so much that I wish I did differently looking back, but I am getting to the point of feeling that we made the best decisions we could with the information we had, and after going through so many interventions. The night following Cole’s birth is a complete blur, I remember so little of his actual birth and the first few hours of his life. I was so physically and mentally exhausted that I just wanted to eat and sleep. Requesting my medical records is something that I really recommend for anyone who has similar feelings. I requested records from the hospital, and my prenatal records from the OB office.
I recently read an article in support of women whose births did not go as planned. She drew the comparison to a graduation ceremony. No one would ever tell a recent graduate who missed graduation that it didn’t matter because they still graduated. It is acknowledged that the act of walking across the stage is a hugely significant, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Even though you still have a degree, you still missed that moment in time that you can never get back or recreate. That is how I feel, that the birth I wanted and the first hours of my son’s life were taken from me.
I am able to look back and think of some of the things that went well. Even though I disagree with a lot of the decisions our OB made during the whole process, I do remember her putting my hair in a ponytail, which was nice. The nurse that was with us during the cesarean asked me what Pandora station I wanted to listen to during Cole’s birth. This is one of my favorite memories. He was born when one of my absolute favorite songs was playing - “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show (originally by Bob Dylan - fun fact). Our nurse that was with us while I was pushing came and visited a few days later when we were recovering. This quote has also helped me process through many of my feelings regarding my birth experience and how I am moving forward. “Perhaps this is the moment for which you were created” Esther 4:14. I am in the process of starting an ICAN chapter in my area, and look forward to connecting with other mothers who are also recovering from their birth experiences. So while everything did not go as planned, and there are moments that I regret and moments I will never get back, I continue to focus on healing from the experience, being proactive in planning for future births, and growing a community of support in my area. My goal in writing this is so that other mothers going through a similar experience feel supported and understood. It’s so frustrating to hear repeatedly that a healthy baby is all that matters. While this is true to a degree, what happens to a mother during birth is also an important, life altering experience that should be respected.
I'm Katie! I live near Annapolis, MD with my husband (Luke), son (Cole, 1.5), dog (Patrick), and 6 chickens. I was a special education teacher for 8 years, and am now a behavior specialist for a local school system. I'm also a vegan and all about that lifestyle, while my husband is an avid hunter and fisher. When Cole goes to bed, I enjoy crocheting, drinking wine, and watching "The Office". Instagram: @theherbivoreathome Facebook: Katie Peternel