Obstetric Violence: How it Made Me a Better Doula & Educator
I've planned to tell my birth story for two and a half years and for the first time today I truly feel ready. There were times I thought I'd never publicly share the details of my birth because I didn't want my truth to negatively effect my relationship with medical professionals, my network, my family, my students and clients. There are people close to me that have only heard the truth of my birth in the last couple weeks and still some friends & family who won't know the full story until they read this blog. I wrote a version of this story that shares every detail and it is a novel! So I decided to get it down to something readable and honest. I realize this short version will leave a lot of questions and I'm prepared for that.
Reasons I'm Sharing My Birth Story.
- For my own healing. I'm doing some deep work to prepare myself for a possible 2nd birth in the future and being able to get my story out has helped with that healing. Since I got it on paper all I could think about was sharing it and sending it out to the universe and saying, "This is my truth". This is how a violent attack, loss of autonomy and lack of consent hurt me. This is how it made me grow. Now I'm moving on and planning a birth without violence.
- For other victims of Obstetric Violence. A week after my birth my midwife sent me a blog from a birth worker in another state who had experienced 2 traumatic births. Her words helped get me through the first months of my daughter's life. I want my story to be that for someone. Even just one person and it will be worth sharing.
- To start a conversation. I don't often hear conversations about obstetric violence that are building bridges. My trauma will be used as a means to create lines of communication, understanding and change. I've waited long enough, healed enough and had guidance to share my story without hysteria, hate and judgment. Instead I share my story to say, "Not all nurses and Doctors are this way. Let's create relationships that relieve tension and protect the mothers we serve".
- So you can have a personal look into what drives me, why I created the My Sunshine Birth Services Network and why I'm so fiercely dedicated to passing legislation that will improve maternity care and hospital transfer protocol.
- Lastly my students and clients ask me all the time to tell them my birth story. This story is on my website now so I can lead them there and keep the conversations in class and prenatal from becoming about me. Because in the end my birth story matters, but when I'm your educator or Doula it is about YOU!
For Other Victims of OB Violence.
If you are reading this and dealing with your own trauma know that you aren't alone and birth can be filled with dignity, beauty and love but sometimes that beauty is taken from us through other's actions. I want you to say out loud, "My body did not fail me. My baby didn't hurt me. Birth didn't fail me. I am a victim of a violent attack." Then have a big soul cleansing ugly cry and start your healing process. Get counseling from a professional who works with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and write your truth down and talk to your family. Then when you are ready write a letter to the hospitals administration to let your truth be heard. While one letter may not make a difference over time when more and more letters arrive they'll have to pay attention.
What I Ask of You, the Reader.
I hope this gives you a better understanding of who I am. My birth story is below and I need you to do me a couple favors if you are going to read it.
- read all the way to the end including the "Why Does My Birth Story Matter?" segment.
- Please share my story, because you never know if there is someone in your life silently processing the pain of a Obstetric Violence.
The Birth of #babydukebrown.
The birth of my Daughter, Marley Ann Brown, was a planned home birth. Attended by 2 Certified Professional Midwives, a doula, a birth photographer and my husband. I received phenomenal prenatal care and couldn’t have been happier with the Midwives and doula I chose. My husband was very supportive, educated and calm when it came to birth and I was confident in my ability to birth my baby. Yet, my story doesn't end the way you might think. My desire to prevent outcomes like my own for other mothers was the motivation to share my birth story for it also inspired me to start My Sunshine Birth Services.
Waiting On Baby.
I was ready and awaiting my baby, even before her June 30th due date arrived. Then her due date came and went and I was still waiting. Forty two weeks of waiting for a baby who just wasn't ready to say hello. Finally, on a sunny Friday morning, labor began at 43 weeks and 4 days. My husband was working on the farm rolling the last field of hay, so I was home alone. Labor thankfully began slow and easy, feeling more like unrelenting discomfort than true pain. The only way I could find comfort was to sit on my stability ball, leaning over a stack of pillows on a chair. I sat there alone, swaying back and forth in the silent room as I awaited my doula. Even I was feeling nervous, wondering if it was finally real labor, a slow start or a false call. I needed my experienced doula to come assess the situation. Her arrival was a great comfort and I was able to relax more just having her there with me. She made herself at home getting a cup of tea and sitting in the rocker next to me. I still can remember the feeling of comfort I felt just from the way she fit seamlessly into my home. I knew she belonged there as a key part of my birth story.
It's Time for the Midwives.
From the moment of her arrival, my doula and I were in constant contact with my midwives. Sometime around 4pm, my doula said, "It's time for the midwives to come”. They were called and I called my husband to tell him it was time to come in from the field. He was nearly done, rolling the last roll of hay, so the timing couldn’t have been better. When both midwives walked in, I felt this strange rush of adrenaline from seeing them there with their birth kit and supplies. The anticipation and excitement was making me restless. Or perhaps the discomfort of labor. They assured me these feelings were normal and would slow labor for a bit until I am able to relax. It took a bit of time, but with their good energy, gentle conversation and being comforted at my husband’s arrival, I was able to get my body back to work.
After that, time is a blur. I remember suddenly the sun was down and almost instantly it was coming back up. I had labored through one day and into the next. As the sun came up, I felt exhaustion setting in and had trouble finding the strength to push my baby out. As long as I was fine and my baby was showing no signs of stress, I was able to continue pushing without medical intervention.
Then, around lunch on Saturday, my midwives had a sobering conversation with me on my bedside. They let me know that my baby was starting to show some signs of possible stress and I should consider transferring to a hospital for vacuum assistance. The decision wasn’t an easy one, but I knew after hours of pushing it was in the best interest for my daughter. My midwives were able to tell me that my daughter was posterior (sunny side up), her chin was untucked and they heard cord sounds around baby's neck. I was of course exhausted. So I finally relented and agreed that a transfer was the next step of my story.
I loaded up in my car with my midwife and husband while the other midwife and my doula followed behind. My midwife continued monitoring my baby as I continued pushing in the car. My husband, doula, one midwife and I made our way to Labor & Delivery where I was quickly ushered into a room. Then, everything changed. My environment had changed, my husband and I had never talk about a transfer plan and I was speaking to people I had never met before that couldn’t hide their concern and disapproval. Suddenly, I went from a peaceful birth story to one of criticism, judgement and violence. This negative energy quickly began to affect the level of pain I was experiencing and in turn my baby’s heart rate.
Since Certified Professional Midwives are still not formally recognized in Kentucky, there isn’t a generally accepted transfer protocol between home birth midwives and delivering hospitals. This lack of an open line of communication often creates tension." - Mary Duke LCCE
Suddenly, my birth experience went from beautiful to traumatic. It was fast; only lasting 4 minutes from the time the on call doctor arrived to the time my baby was born via instrument delivery. It was however 4 minutes of my life I’ll never forget. How could I forget the physical trauma or how people made me feel with their comments, looks, attitude and energy? A moment that stands out to me is when I was first physically restrained my eyes start darting around the room as I searched for someone to reassure me I'd be ok and there I found my Doula. Somehow her eyes still calm and her support still there even amongst the chaos. The feeling of helplessness and loss of control was painful for me and unfair for my doula and husband. When the Dr entered the room for the first time I looked up at the Dr and said, “please don’t cut me” to which she responded, “I’m not playing with you” just as she purposely tore my perineum with her hands. The only other thing I remember her saying was, “DON’T TOUCH” as I reached for my daughter just after her birth. The trauma and separation effected my feelings toward my newborn and my daughter and I had a slow time bonding afterwards, but we are inseparable now and she is a healthy and happy toddler.
Why Does My Birth Story Matter?
Every birth matters. Each mother's unique birth story profoundly transforms her with memories that will be carried with her forever.
My story is relevant to you, because now you know that I have been there too. I've felt the same mixture of excitement and worry and I've seen the best and the worst. I know first hand how beautiful birth can be when you feel in control, surrounded by love and supported by your birth team. Yet I also know all too well how it feels to lose control and be treated without dignity and respect. I know how it feels to be proud of yourself for laboring unmedicated, but to also wonder why you weren't enough. The painful self-doubt that can overshadow the beautiful birth of a new life by making you feel you weren't strong enough, powerful enough, special enough or even capable enough. Despite all doubts, know that YOU ARE ENOUGH. As women, we are ALL enough. I want to walk beside you and guide you as you find your power through your own birth story. At My Sunshine we believe all women deserve the right to labor in the environment they choose, surrounded by only those they choose to be there. Let me help you feel the freedom of removing fear through understanding and the comfort that comes with knowing that you’re ready even for the unexpected.
How My Story Made Me a Better Doula, Lamaze Childbirth Educator and Advocate.
My experience fueled my advocacy work in legislative matters concerning access to maternity care options and rights of childbearing women (Visit the Kentucky Home Birth Coalition website to see some of the work we are doing) and is the primary reason for starting My Sunshine Birth Services. I am better prepared to handle home births, hospital transfers and and planned hospital births relying on lessons from my own experience and training to guide me. In the end, my birth story made me a better doula & educator. I work hard to ensure all my home birth clients and students have hospital transfer plans, pre-packed hospital bags and every potential need planned just in case they must have medical intervention at the last minute. I also ensure partners have been trained to be able to respectfully communicate with care providers to implement steps that assist with alleviating tension upon arrival. I'm also working to create, maintain and grow a healthy relationship with the labor & delivery nurses in our area. I am happy to say since my birth story, I have had the pleasure of working alongside extremely compassionate and capable nurses, Doctors and Midwives. I have helped countless mothers enjoy a more positive transfer experience, be supported for unmedicated hospital births and have seen a great improvement in the outcome from the local delivering hospitals. There is still much work to be done and I am thankful to be able to advocate for the freedom of mothers across Kentucky and beyond.
This Atmosphere is changing.
We are seeing great strides in respectful care with more mothers choosing comprehensive childbirth education, care providers with respectful practices, hiring birth doulas, having fathers trained through Lamaze or Bradley to support them and communicate during birth and letting their truth be heard. Let's keep the conversation open and respectful and continuing building bridges to create change! If you are in Southern, Kentucky, the My Sunshine Birth Services Network is here to support you in planning and nurturing a positive birth experience (however that looks to you). In other areas of the world please seek out your local Doulas and Childbirth Educators for support.
Images: © Carrie Vrska Photography