intensely trivial

Sondra’s story

I like to tell good birth stories, ones that inspire and lift our vision of what can be. Ina May Gaskin has a rule for women giving birth at the Farm: No bad birth stories while you’re pregnant! So if you’re pregnant, feel free to skip over this blog post, because there’s a difficult birth story in it.
I need to tell you the truth, though. As of the beginning of this writing (June 22), the story is not finished, so I think I’ll be writing it in little installments, like a journal. Frankly, I need an outlet for my frustration, so I selfishly hope writing this will make me feel better. But if it improves birth for even one person, that would satisfy me.
This is a true story, all except the names of people and locations. And don’t worry; Sondra gave me her blessing in telling this story. Perhaps the most exciting thing about this story is that Sondra is still pregnant. She still has a week to go until her guess date. I grilled her on whether it would be OK to make her story public in real time, and she assured me it was. (That wasn’t really my intent; it’s just working out that way.) First, I need to give you a lot of background.

January 2010
I get a phone call from Sondra asking about my doula services. She’s expecting a baby at the end of June and is hoping for a vaginal birth after cesarean. She lives in a town about 45 min. from where I live, and she’s planning to give birth at a hospital that “does VBACs.” She has a three-year-old son on the autism spectrum. Her husband, Vince, is in the military and is deployed, and there’s a good chance he won’t be back in time for the birth. I like her immediately on the phone; I can tell she is smart and personable, and I believe in her desire for a VBAC. We set up an initial meeting.

February 2010
At Sondra’s house, I meet her and her son Bryan, and we start getting to know each other. She tells me the story of Bryan’s birth: A week before her due date, her amniotic fluid started leaking. She went to the hospital to find out for sure, but medical staff never did actually test to see if it was amniotic fluid. They just sent her home. She continued to leak for about five days. After a week, the puddles were bigger, so she went back to the hospital, where they finally confirmed her water had broken. Still, her cervix was closed. Cervical exams were painful — because of the nurse-midwife’s big hands? Suddenly, her contractions went from sporadic to one on top of the other, in her back — yay, back labor. Vince, Sondra’s husband, was there, but he wasn’t sure how to support her physically. Finally, after six hours sitting in bed with back labor, she asked for an epidural, despite her plans for a natural birth.
Obviously, I wasn’t there. I wonder if having more labor support during that time might have changed things — maybe some position changes? But it’s too late to change things now. (I have to laugh at myself, doing the post-game analysis on a birth I didn’t even attend.)
The first epidural didn’t work. The anesthesiologist prepared to redo the epidural placement, when Sondra started feeling she was going to black out. She asked them to wait, but they continued with the second epidural placement. Sondra said her heart rate plummeted to 20 bpm, and then skyrocketed to 220 bpm. She was blacking out when she heard someone say, “She’s going tachy!” Finally, she was stabilized, and she got comfortable for about 10 min. Sondra was dilated to 4 cm. The baby’s heart rate decelerated soon after that, and the doctor called for a c-section, by which point, she said, she didn’t even care.
As if the crises in the labor room weren’t enough, Sondra’s bad experience continued in the operating room. Her doctor, Dr. N, has a reputation for misogynistic attitudes toward his childbearing patients and is nearly deaf. The way he treated Sondra was no different from the way he treated (and apparently still treats, since he still practices at this hospital) other women. Sondra was scared and having a true health crisis, and her baby was, too, and the requests she made were ignored. After the baby was born, even though he was healthy, he was taken from her, and she was not allowed to breastfeed for a day. Her milk came in on the second day, thanks to her assiduous pumping, and she went on to eventually breastfeed Bryan successfully.
After the birth, Sondra didn’t know how to care for her incision and did not receive good communication or follow-up care from the hospital. She had postpartum depression after his birth and has decided to start taking antidepressants immediately following this next baby’s birth, because she can’t bear the thought of going through that nightmare again.
Telling me about Bryan’s birth still brought Sondra to tears. In fact, even now, in June 2010, she still cries, remembering the enforced separation between her and Bryan at his birth. I don’t know if she’s been officially “diagnosed,” but I’d lay a heavy wager on her having post-traumatic stress disorder.
Sondra has become such a good mother! When Bryan was a year old, he started showing developmental delays and is on the autism spectrum. I love watching her interact with Bryan! She is consistent with him and doesn’t complain about the extra work of parenting a child with special needs. To me, Sondra seems like a very strong woman, even if she does call herself a “pain wimp.”
As Sondra and I talk, I can see the big, red target painted on her. She has a health history of endometriosis and hypothyroidism, the low thyroid having led to her being overweight. Add that to her cesarean birth and a hospital whose support of normal birth is questionable, and I know what she’s up against in preparing for a VBAC. It’s not that I think VBACs are that remarkable, really; they’re just births, and birth is normal, albeit extraordinarily beautiful. But I think medical care providers underestimate the bodies of women with these characteristics even more than they underestimate the bodies of low-risk women.
Still, Sondra is compelling. I believe in her. I believe in her body. I am energized by the possibility of healing for her through a birth where she is more in control of what happens to her and her baby. I’m in.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Sondra’s story, Part 2 « intensely trivial pingbacked on 7 years, 11 months ago
  2. Still closed. . . « intensely trivial pingbacked on 7 years, 11 months ago
  3. Q: Can babies rearrange your insides? « intensely trivial pingbacked on 7 years, 11 months ago
  4. Sondra postpartum « intensely trivial pingbacked on 7 years, 10 months ago


  1. * shelley c says:

    I’m in too! More story, please!

    Posted 7 years, 11 months ago

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