TRANSCENDING THE CLINICAL
By Melanie Samaroden
Both of my daughters were born by caesarean. Neither of my daughters were supposed to be born by caesarean. I had conceptions and misconceptions about hospital births. Both experiences were radically difference, but the outcome the same: I have two beautiful girls that I love with everything in me.
Isabella, my first, came after over 40 hours of labour and three and a half hours of pushing. A caesarean was needed as her chin was not tucked in and my narrow pelvis would not let her through. Despite my extreme exhaustion and a body high on all the medication the hospital staff had pumped into me, I was elated to meet my little girl. It was love at first sight.
About a week before my second daughter, Madeleine, was born, I went to the hospital for an ultrasound. My doctor wanted to double check that the fluid levels in my uterus were looking good, since they seemed low on the previous ultrasound. Once I produced the images and report to the nursing staff, they began to have hushed conversations on the phone while surreptitiously looking at me over the counter. I knew something was wrong; clearly the fluid levels were lower than expected and it was now a real problem. Once the whispering nurse rushed out the door, I approached the nurse at the desk to find out what was going on. Fortunately, she was as honest as she could be, confirming that there was a problem and I would be speaking to a doctor, but she wasn’t sure how bad the problem was.
I was ushered into a room and was soon speaking to the obstetrician. Indeed, the fluid levels were dangerously low and I was not going to leave the hospital without a baby that day. Although he strongly recommended an elective caesarean, it was my choice of whether to go that route or to try and labour after being induced. The difficulty was my own mental block. Since my first birth was quite traumatic for me, I had done everything I could to make sure that this time, things would be different. This time, I would know what to expect, I would have an experienced doula, and I would have a doctor that understood I wanted a natural birth. This time would be better.
However, babies have their own plans. After speaking with my husband, my doula, and my sister, it was clear that the best choice for my baby and me was to have an elective caesarean. The experience was definitely different from the first time around. Although I was not supposed to have more than one visitor in my prep room, the hospital staff were happy to have my husband, doula, and sister there as long as they were able to stay out of the way of what they needed to do to prep me for surgery. The mood was joyous as we joked around with one another. The surgery itself was a calm affair, with some joking around with the anesthesiologist and surgeon. Then Madeleine was born and she was put in my arms and I felt…nothing.
It was disconcerting to look at this being that I had spent nine months being excited to meet and to think to myself, “Huh, she kind’a looks like an old man.” It was more like someone had handed me a lovely present rather than a beautiful baby girl. I was not too concerned about this initially, as I could easily explain it away by realizing all of the medication I was still on and how exhausted I felt.
Although the feeling of disconnect with my baby continued while I was at the hospital, it wasn’t until I went home a few days later that I became really worried. I needed a bit of help with breastfeeding anyway, so I phoned my doula and asked her to come over. When I explained my feelings, she confirmed what I had been stewing over. I had not laboured at all for this birth. When a woman labours, her body is releasing endorphins, which eventually translate into falling in love head over heels with your baby first time you meet him or her. However, I was breastfeeding and eventually, she assured me, the bond would be formed and I would feel that same rush of love for my second daughter as I had with my first.
As Madeleine and I became better at breastfeeding, we began to bond. I suppose I should say, I began to bond with her, because I am pretty sure she was happy with me; after all, I was feeding her! My love for her did not come in a rush. Slowly, over a few days, I would look at her and love her more, want to protect her more, want to be with her more.
There is a lot of information on birthing that can make hospital births seem like the most horrid experience to have. It is not cozy or friendly, and not warm and comforting. A lot of lives are saved because of hospital births (including my own), but they often lack the environment of nurturing, although they certainly try. Hospitals that have been able to do a more recent renovation to the birthing and recovery rooms have made an effort to use relaxing colours such as peach and blue. They also recognize that the mother may have visitors, so a comfortable bench with plenty of sitting room is part of the room design. I have also noted that the lighting tends to be softer and warmer, rather than the bright, white fluorescents of the past. Of course, those lights are available if necessary, but they are not the main lighting in the room. These are simple changes that are relatively inexpensive for a hospital to make.
In any case, it is important to voice what is important to you in your hospital experience. Some hospitals allow a small stereo or helpful birthing devices, but not all of them allow this, so having multiple people tell the hospital what they want or need will help push the boundaries and give arguments for head nurses to use when they meet with hospital management.
Best is for you to take the time to write to the hospital (ask for the address before you leave the hospital) to share your story and explain what you would like to see in the hospital that would enhance your hospital birth experience. Think to mention how protocols can deal with non-clinical issues that can enhance a woman’s birth experience, such as updating and adding ones about waterbirth, eating and drinking during labour, reading and following birth plans, asking permission before doing vaginal exams, massage and touch, warmth and smile, etc.
Despite these setbacks, babies and mothers bond because that is what they have to do to survive. Birthing is a part of our human life cycle and the experience goes beyond whatever environment in which it happens. I am in love with my daughters because I am their mother and my body was designed to want to love and protect them. There were some setbacks to that process, but the process happened nonetheless.
Melanie Samaroden is a teacher with two beautiful girls, aged 5 and 16 months. In her small amounts of spare time, she enjoys knitting and tae kwon do.