It’s been 12 months and I’m still learning how to process my traumatic birth and what happened to me
Most days are better than others. But some days I flash back to my daughter’s birth and feel anger towards my care providers because they violated my body and my trust; they committed obstetric violence against me. Not only was I assaulted (when you are touched inappropriately against your will it is considered assault) but during my four-day induction I was repeatedly pressured into having an epidural, a c-section and told that I was lucky my son wasn’t brain damaged due to his shoulder dystocia that occurred during his birth. Anthony (my husband) and I were shocked to hear this as we were never told our son had shoulder dystocia. In fact we hadn’t even heard of this term until these scare tactics were being used against us.
However, my birth story does not begin with my assault
It actually starts much further back during my first pregnancy. Towards the end of my third trimester of my first pregnancy I began to experience high blood pressure. High blood pressure is a very scary thing even when you’re not pregnant. Thankfully I was able to manage it (I credit that to HypnoBirthing) and went on to give birth at 41 weeks (yay); delivering a healthy baby boy. Sometimes when you experience high blood pressure during pregnancy you might be prescribed medication; I wasn’t but I was told to monitor it at home so I bought myself a blood pressure device. No further action was taken and eventually I stopped monitoring it altogether.
Fast forward to my second pregnancy
Due to my high blood pressure history and race (African Americans are two times more likely to develop high blood pressure) my care provider thought it would be best if I started on a low dose of aspirin at 81 mg a day; and monitor my blood pressure at home. I did both of those things. My pregnancy was going well until it wasn’t during the third trimester. My blood pressure numbers were reading high at home but at the doctor’s office they were within normal range. Every time I had an appointment I would bring in my machine for the doctor to check my numbers but not once did they check my device.
This and a few other instances surrounding my prenatal care was starting to cause alarm for my mother, Dr. Unjeria Jackson, who was an accomplished maternal-fetal medicine specialist (she’s now retired). I too was getting concerned that my doctor was not taking my high blood pressure seriously. Based on my mother’s advice I asked my doctor for a BPP test (fetal biophysical profile); this prenatal test is used to check on the baby’s well-being.
My doctor refused to perform the test; so I sought a midwifery practice instead
At my very first appointment with the midwifery practice they took my high blood pressure seriously. They not only took my reading at the office but they also checked my personal blood pressure device, and agreed I needed a BPP test done. Thankfully the baby’s growth was normal but due to my continued high blood pressure my midwife provider scheduled an induction for March 3 (2019), a whole three weeks prior to my expected due date. The concern with high blood pressure during pregnancy is that it can lead to preeclampsia. Since I had previously been induced (my first labor had lasted a total of 11 hours from admission to delivery) Anthony and I were overly optimistic as we headed to the hospital especially since this was my second pregnancy; we assumed it would go just as fast, if not faster, than the first.
We arrived at the hospital on March 3rd ready to welcome our daughter
On March 6 after exhausting ALL other induction methods (naming a few… cervidil, cooke’s catheter, pitocin, nipple stimulation (some of these multiple times)) my midwife provider was able to break my water (also known as AROM, artificial rupture of membranes); and within a few hours I was thankful that I had finally gone into labor. For those of you wondering, yes I was at this hospital the entire time (March 3 – March 6, waiting for labor to start). In total labor lasted roughly eight hours (from AROM to delievery).
By the time I went into active labor on March 6th I had several cervical checks performed (frankly too many to count)
For those of you who don’t know, a cervical check is an internal exam of the cervix; it can be used to determine certain things, like dilation and where the baby’s at. For me a cervical check is extremely painful and unpleasant; I’d rather not have it performed unless absolutely necessary. After four days of being in the hospital, repeatedly pressured by my care providers and several cervical checks, the last thing I wanted was another cervical check done while I labored. I simply did not want to put myself through any type of pain or discomfort. While laboring my midwife and a male doctor (contracted through my provider whom I had never met prior to my hospital stay) came barging into my room, turned on the lights (disregarding my instructions to keep the lights off) and yelled at me that they needed to perform a cervical check. No explanation for this exam has ever been provided to me.
My immediate reaction was to say “No!”
I was adamant that I did not want this cervical check to be performed. Keep in mind at this point my contractions were coming in every one to two minutes; I was in “the zone” laboring and birthing “naturally” (i.e. no pain meds) with my husband and birth doula by my side supporting me. The doctor forced my legs open and held onto my right leg as my midwife stuck her hand into my vagina and performed the cervical check; violating me.
I said “no” throughout the assault.
I share my story to say what happened to me is not okay. I share it to let you know that you have the right to decline consent at any point. I share my story to empower others to find their voice and to give courage to those who may need to seek professional help.
Please access these resources which may prove to be helpful to those who have experienced a traumatic birth. Follow me on the Parentpiphany Facebook page where we’ll be getting real about pregnancy, postpartum and early parenthood.
Authored by Sharita Thompson, M.Ed, HBCE