I just did it - after a year of battling the doubt and the demons... I formally filed a complaint against the practitioner who was present at my daughter's birth. I've stayed quiet about what happened for over a year and been holding onto a lot of anxiety over what happened. Today, I set myself free from the shame and guilt of the experience and knew I needed to share what happened so that if something like this has happened to you, you might be encouraged to do the same. If you have experienced birth or sexual trauma, please be aware that this post may be triggering.
What happened - my water broke at 8pm on the 19th and with a baby girl that was 4 days overdue I was READY. I slept through the night being woken up by a few contractions. I knew from my first birth, which was a 3 day marathon, that any sleep I could get would be precious and valuable for my task ahead. To my disappointment contractions stalled despite my best efforts and at 3pm the following day on March 20th I was induced with a teeeeeny tiny dose of pitocin. I walked the halls, labored in the shower and the tub, feeling joyful and excited as my husband, my doula and my body worked together to bring Eden earth side. As I entered the final stages of labor my midwife came in and told me it was time to get out of the tub (the hospital I was birthing at allowed water labor but not water births, much to my dismay). I knew it was time! I tried to get comfortable so that the midwife could perform an internal exam, which I requested so that I could get a progress report and give myself some mental motivation to finish well. I was 8cm and close to the end! Feeling excited and ready I reclined in a 45 degree angle, which was the most comfortable for me at the moment. My midwife told me I needed to lay on my left side because of Eden's position in the birth canal - she assured me this would ensure the best birth possible. So, I did. Immediately the waves got stronger and everything became a blur - It felt as though my body had taken the reigns and my mind was just along for the ride. I mentally understood that this meant my daughter would be in my arms in moments and then as the next contraction approached my midwife, without warning, attempted another internal exam. I remember screaming "get out, get out" and attempting a whale-like version of a heisman pose, only to have her push my arm aside and yell "it's going to hurt whether I'm in there or not" and in an instant my beautiful birth began to unravel.
I had lost control - of my body and my birth. I felt completely violated, disrespected and abused. I'd lost trust in my care provider and the process. My excitement deflated and my joy turned to anguish. I went into "fight or flight" mode, which for me - is fight. I felt my entire body tense up as she held her hand inside of me, and the weight of her body on top of me to hold me still. Moments later she was back at my feet. As I approached crowning my legs intuitively began to try to find something to push against to help my body along. My midwife (who I will remind you had requested I lay on my side, and had decades of experience under her belt which one would think would have prepared her to hand a woman's body in this position) yelled "stop kicking me" as my sweet baby girl's head came down to crown. Less than 30 seconds later Eden's fresh beautiful healthy baby skin was on mine and an overwhelming sense of relief settled in. After everything was over just before she left the room my midwife found my eyes with a look of, what appeared to be disgust, and said "you made quite a mess down there, you' should shower to clean yourself" and left the room.
Every birth is different and every birth trauma is as well - I've read stories of incredible physical abuse, while others remain more emotional or mental. While I am grateful that my experience was not permanently damaging physically, it has been something I've dealt with on a regular basis since that day. I felt so anxious about even seeing that midwife again I specifically requested my postnatal visit be with a different midwife at a different location so that there was no chance I'd even run into her. Unfortunately, when I was bold enough to bring up my experience during my postnatal visit, the midwife replied "oh, her parent recently passed away, I'm sure she was just having a bad day" - almost completely invalidating my experience and trauma.
In instances like my own, it seems like the fact that having a healthy baby is enough - but shouldn't we expect more from one of the most life-changing, vulnerable and incredible experiences of our lives? Shouldn't the bar be higher than "at least we are all healthy."? Shouldn't we be free from the idea that just because a physically healthy baby and mother are the result that anything that happens in between is justifiable? Yes, medical emergencies are necessary and sometimes the trauma of birth results from those unexpected events, but I'm specifically referring to the ones like my own that are 100% unnecessary, avoidable, preventable and/or harmful mentally. As patients and mothers we have the right to expect that our physicians, midwives, nurses and medical staff have our best interest in mind when they come to work - both in body and mind.
And if we so regularly feel the need to report a bad customer service experience (ranging from the rude service to full on food poisoning at a restaurant), should we not also be reporting our poor experiences within our medical care? After a year of flashbacks, and sorting through my emotions with the help of professionals I finally came forward to report the abuse I experienced as a patient under the care of a medical provider. I reported not to get an apology or in hopes that anyone would lose their job, but rather that my story would be recorded, that people would know about what happened so that steps can be taken to ensure no other mother will ever have to go through that (or worse) again - and more importantly, that if any other mother has come forward, or will come forward in the future, that she will feel the comfort of knowing she is not alone. I will continue to heal... continue to reclaim my birth experience by focusing on the blessings and accomplishments of that day rather than the hardships and abuse. I will use the challenges I face to become stronger and I hope that in doing so you, my dear reader, would be empowered do so as well.