My story is not particularly dramatic, although birth stories are always kind of dramatic to the person experiencing them! I am a newish mom—my daughter turned one year old in early February 2017.
When I became pregnant, I was ecstatic. I couldn’t believe it, so I went to a Dollar Store and bought 15 cheap pregnancy tests and kept taking them, watching the line become increasingly dark. That was the coolest. I had a health care plan through healthcare.gov. I had an OB/GYN picked out who I had seen a couple of times before and knew I liked. When I reported to healthcare.gov that I was pregnant, this change in circumstances meant that I qualified for Medicaid. I didn’t want to be under Medicaid—I didn’t want to deal with what I perceived as a complicated, undcerfunded bureaucracy. I also realized that I felt Medicaid carried a stigma, and that I was slightly ashamed to be “so poor.”
Once I sorted out the Medicaid (which was, definitely, a little complicated), I got over the stigma. I now make a point of telling people that we had it while I was pregnant and that my daughter is still on Medicaid. I say it to try and combat any negative stereotypes.
The pregnancy proceeded just fine. I devoured books about natural childbirth, and we went to a birthing class and got a doula. I read too much on the internet about pregnancy and wasted way too much time on birthing forums.
When I reached 32 weeks, I learned that my daughter was frank breech (meaning that she was upside-down and her feet were sticking up near her head) and that if she didn’t turn, I’d have to have a C-section. Okay, I know, not a big deal, but I have this weird thing about doctors and hospitals that I think I inherited from my mother. I just would prefer not to go to a doctor at all, generally.
It probably didn’t help that until the Affordable Care Act, I had had terrible insurance in my adult life, so unless I was on death’s door, I probably wasn’t going to the doctor (incidentally, this is also probably why I hadn’t had a steady general practitioner).
Anyway, I tried to turn her—I went to a chiropractor, and I went to the pool in the middle of winter and did handstands in the deep end. I built inclines off the couch and laid upside down for 20 minutes at a time. I played Bob Dylan’s “Down There” hoping she’d head down to have a listen. Nothing worked. I cried. We scheduled a C-section for February 19, 2016.
The morning of February 6, at 37 weeks pregnant, Nick and I were coming to the end of an amazing night of sleep, best I’d had in weeks. I was having a super vivid dream where I actually gave myself a C-section. Sounds gross, but in my dream I was just holding her, so happy she was finally there, but thinking, “I better put her back before Nick sees what I did. He’ll be so mad that I DIYed this.” Then I kind of woke up, rolled over, felt a pop, and a trickle. I told Nick I was pretty sure my water had broke. We set off for the hospital, which was literally half a mile away. I was calm but worried because I couldn’t feel her moving and this being my first I didn’t know what the hell was going on. They did an ultrasound and all was well, tested the fluid trickling out and confirmed it was amniotic fluid, not urine. I was having that baby!
Did I mention I was afraid of hospitals and that I generally distrusted doctors, medical providers of any kind and health insurance companies? Well, I don’t recall that fear or distrust on the day my daughter was born.
Every single nurse I encountered was incredible. When they gave me the epidural, I felt faint and sick, and they held me up and then helped me onto the operating table. The doctor was no-nonsense and oozed competency, exactly what you want in a surgeon who is going to cut open your stomach. My daughter came out butt-first, small (5lbs 8oz), lovely. I’d wanted one of those “family-centered” C-sections, but they had to whisk her off for more tests since she was so little and to make sure she was stabilized. I didn’t get to hold her until about 30 minutes later, but that was actually okay since I was busy being sewn up. They brought her to me, helped her latch on, and she started nursing like a champ. I had my squishy (not-so-squishy) baby. She was small, but I could tell she was strong.
I still tear up thinking of the amazing care we received for those three days in the hospital. Helping me walk to the bathroom, showing us how to swaddle her and even change her diaper (yes, neither of us had ever changed a diaper), monitoring her initial progress to make sure she got off to a great start. Then the follow-up phone calls from the hospital’s lactation consultants, the pediatricians, and the nurse at the pediatrician’s office who sings to Beatrice while giving her her shots.
I feel so differently about doctors and hospitals now, having had this experience. I am so grateful to them. I am grateful to modern medicine. I am grateful to the Affordable Care Act and I’m even grateful to the health insurance plan I had pre- and post-natal, which had its own nurses calling me to check in on our progress. I was treated with dignity and humanity, and my daughter was treated as a welcomed addition to the planet. We are on our way to recognizing that reproductive health care is a universal human right, and my greatest hope is that we continue to progress.