This is stella's birth story
You might think this is a story of bad luck. You can read it and think “Oh that poor mom”. Or maybe “Oh well, the baby is healthy and that’s all that matters”.
Of course a healthy baby is the goal, but what about the woman who birthed them?
What about her perception of the whole experience? THAT matters, too.
This is the story of a birth that was nothing like the parents dreamed of and yet, it was transformative and incredible.
We met in February 2023, when Thai and Steve were looking for a doula to walk with them on their journey to become parents.
We were an instant match. They wanted a natural and holistic approach to a hospital birth and I was there for it. Although I have to say I had a little crisis after a very traumatic experience with a client’s birth in June and I almost quit all hospital births for good, dropping them as clients. But I didn’t and I’m glad.
We met a few times to talk about all things labor and birth. We built a birth plan according to their desires and preferences. Their provider was strangely on board with everything on the plan and though it seemed too good to be true, we were very hopeful.
Thai was absolutely determined to have a natural, undisturbed and unmedicated birth. She also wanted a water birth and was hoping that the one provider that actually “does” water births at their hospital was on call at the time she went into labor.
Guess what? She was.
It couldn’t be more perfect. Labor started slowly at home, with shy but effective waves that came and went to tell them that their baby was closer.
Said doctor was on call that Saturday September 16th through the 17th, so it was very likely she would be the one attending Stella’s birth.
Around 6 pm, they were headed to the hospital. Contractions were strong and Thai’s water had spontaneously broke at home during a very intense one.
A while later, we met at the hospital. Dim lights, a little altar for Our Lady of Aparecida and lots of love flowing in the room. Not a wire, not a monitor, a needle or a movement restriction. So far, so good.
The waves were coming and going, bringing Stella closer and closer.
Thai was doing an incredible job breathing through them, swaying and focusing.
Steve was supporting her, either by her side or taking notes and studying different things from books that I don’t remember what were about.
The nurse was extremely nice. She was caring, she didn’t disturbe Thai. She understood the process and trusted Thai’s ability to give birth. She would walk into the room every now and then to listen to baby’s heartbeat and left after offering anything she could bring any of us.
The doctor finally came in the room and walked Thai and Steve through the process of giving birth in the water. For a provider that specializes in that type of birth (or at least feels comfortable attending them), she sounded very firm about all the rules and regulations about water birth. She mentioned things like “severe hemorrhage” and “flooding the room”, I think for liability purposes but also (and this is my personal opinion) because she didn’t really enjoy having to attend a birth that wouldn’t be the usual birth you could see in a hospital setting. Talking about this first encounter with Thai months after the birth, she told me that she felt the doctor was coming in too hard, but she at the time decided to ignore it and keep doing her job.
She also asked about the choice of not using antibiotics that they had in their birth plan. This was the first time the doctor mentioned antibiotics. See, Thai was tested positive for GBS and had refused antibiotics in her birth plan. The doctor told them a very tragic story about how her own baby died from infection. It’s never easy to listen to a mother talk about her dead child, but we agreed it wasn’t the best decision to mention a demise to a mother in labor. The doctor kept telling all the bad things that could happen to the baby and how they would have to stay in the hospital for a longer period of time to watch over baby while she get all the antibiotics her mother refused to take.
Of course this didn’t suit well the parents. It was the first intervention that was really pushed to them.
They moved us to the only room that could fit the tub and they set it up for Thai to labor there. Before getting in the water, the doctor offered to check her cervix and Thai agreed. She was at 6 cm dilated. even though she knew it didn’t mean much, she was happy that she was making good progress.
Thai decided to wait a little longer and got in the tub, where she labored beautifully for a few hours. The contractions were definitely becoming more intense and closer together. The lights were still dimmed, there was Brazilian music playing and she was holding her birth comb to distract her mind from the intensity of labor.
Before going in the tub, the doctor came in once again and said “I don’t see an IV on your arm. So you’re really not taking the antibiotics?”. And then began talking about how they would watch closely on baby after she was born, and give her antibiotics and even transfer her to another hospital even if she “sneezed”.
After a little bit, Thai and Steve decided she would take the antibiotics. Not because they thought it was the best, but to avoid animosity and unnecessary interventions on Stella once she was here. The doctor seemed thrilled about their decision. The feeling of being fear mongered was starting to creep in.
Few hours had past and Thai was showing signs of transition. She was hot, she was a little nauseous, she felt like she couldn’t do it for much longer. But there was still something missing. That pressure that tells you that baby is engaged down low on the pelvis, those grunting sounds that come involuntarily from a birthing mother.
I had a feeling. I felt that something was off. You might think this is crazy but I truly believe (and had experienced it) that when women are part of a birth team, their intuition gets sharper and on point.
So I suggested she talked to the doctor to maybe consider checking for cervical lips (when a portion of the cervix is not fully effaced and it’s preventing the baby to fully engage) or maybe to check baby’s position to understand if there was something delaying the process. Thai thought it was a good idea and the doctor came in the room.
The doctor checked her cervix but instead of saying a number and coming out of her body, she stayed with her hand inside Thai’s vagina, just checking and moving it around. “There’s something weird” she said. She didn’t say anything else. “You think she’s breech?” I asked her. She didn’t answer and asked for an ultrasound machine, which the nurse brought quickly. She proceeded to check with the ultrasound, without saying anything to the parents, until she said the shocking phrase “Baby is breech”.
Without hesitation she said “We’ll get you ready for a C-section. We don’t deliver breech babies here”. And then she proceeded to tell a scary story of cerebral palsy, broken clavicles (which we know are common on any type of birth) and dead babies. Just to justify there was nobody trained to handle a variation of normal birth.
Thai’s face was transformed. With disappointment. With frustration. With fear. Those are things I’ll never forget. She quit everything she was doing, she succumbed to the contractions and their insane intensity. She started to feel uncontrolled pain and sadness. Anxiety, fear. All the things she was effortly avoiding for hours and hours, came to hit her with all their might.
She was so helpless. She asked for the epidural right away and for the nitrous oxide to help her through what were now extremely painful contractions.
No one gave her the epidural. She was starting to feel pressure and wanting to push but nobody seemed to care. They were just taking their time to get the anesthesiologist, surgeon and OR ready. Steve got ready to go back with her and despite all our efforts and requests, they didn’t allow me as a doula into the OR. The doctor came back in the room and she said “You don’t want me to deliver your baby. I’m not trained for breech births. I haven’t even seen a breech birth in my life!”. I was so surprised and frustrated the words “Even I had seen breech births before” came out of me, to which she answered “Well congratulations”.
Thai was having an incredibly hard time for the entire HOUR it took them to get her ready for the cesarean. She was feeling the urge to bear down but no one cared. I went outside the room and told everyone at the nurses desk “She’s pushing” and then they started moving.
Finally she went back and had her perfect, healthy baby in the same operating room where her dream was crushed by the lack of training of a group of providers.
It’s important to mention that said doctor didn’t even check on Thai after the birth, not once.
What’s my take away?
Well, first of all I wonder how nobody realized baby was breech the whole time. She clearly was breech long before the day of the birth. Not only because it’s very unlikely for a baby to flip during labor (plus Thai didn’t notice a big shift or movement that would’ve been provoked by such a turn), but also because how Thai felt her moving throughout the pregnancy. A round, hard thing by her ribs, that was clearly her head.
Second, it really blows my mind that there are no providers trained to receive a baby that’s breech. How can it be possible that only those babies that are in one ideal position can be born via vaginal? Breech is normal, it happens all the time with great outcomes. I wish it was something that was studied in medicine school as a variation of normal and not as an emergency.
Third, the lack of humanity. The time that took them to get everything ready was too long. Only some the nurses were noticeably upset with the whole situation.
And fourth and last, I learned how Thai had to accept the new plan while on fight or flight mode. I saw the adrenaline and cortisol (the two big enemies of natural birth) taking over. And I saw a woman giving up her dream in order to finally receive her baby girl. I saw her heart being broken by a third party. I saw trauma that would need to be processed later on. And I saw one of the strongest women I know, become a mother.
Did I mention it was my birthday, too?