The Birth of Vienna Belle Keeler
Vienna’s pregnancy was perfect. Pure bliss. I honestly loved every second. No nausea. No discomfort. I was very blessed. Unfortunately, the care I received from the Vanderbilt Midwives was mostly clinical. There was a definite lack of wholistic interest in the mother’s overall wellbeing. That being said, they were still wonderful to meet with. Very kind and educational. And I wanted to be educated! I came every week with lists of questions. I even wrote & compiled a comprehensive book (bound and everything because Type A much?) about prenatal care, stages of labor, routine hospital interventions & pain medications, coping techniques, postpartum care, birth mantras, everything… I knew I needed to hold birth with an open hand, so I wanted to prepare myself emotionally for every possible outcome. Also I think I might have an untapped calling as a birth doula? What ended up being done to me during my labor was of course the one thing that was never discussed with me as a possibility, nor did I ever come across such an intervention in all my very thorough research. More on that later.
Early labor was phenomenal! I woke up at 4am on December 8th (my due date according to my cycle, 3 days before the due date I was given according to her measurements). The contractions were 10 minutes apart and lasting a little over a minute long. I had lost my mucus plug the night before and experienced a huge burst of energy, but I just chalked it up to my body gearing up for the big day. As a first time mom, I mostly expected to go late, maybe 41 weeks or so. When I first woke up with what felt like cramps, I attributed it to the late night Chick-Fil-A cookies & cream milk shake and fries I shamelessly devoured before bed, but as the cramps continued I realized this was the real deal. I timed them for about an hour before waking up my husband. There’s just nothing like the first time you tell your partner, “Hey babe, I think I’m in labor!” His eyes got huge and immediately he popped up ready to rush me to the hospital haha! I reminded him that it could still be a good long while, so we did what any crazy in love couple would do knowing that sex was very imminently going to be off the table for the next 6 weeks at least, and then proceeded to snuggle in bed watching our Netflix binge. From there we took our sweet kidless time eating breakfast, taking a bath, picking up around the house, etc. It was so glorious I didn’t want to go to the hospital. In fact by the time we went in the contractions (or birth waves as I call them in labor) were coming every 2 1/2 minutes and lasting a minute long. Before we finally headed off, Nathan and I drove down to the creek on the property, read our devotionals, and then per my request, he went down to the water to hunt for my “push gift”–a memorial stone of sorts that I could add to my collection to remember the day. What he found was incredibly significant to me. It was an “Indian Bead,” the same memorial stone that I found on a hike to mark my healing from the traumatic death of my dog when we were hit by a distracted driver 5 years prior. I knew it was God telling me that whatever happened that day, there was purpose to it and he would bring good from it. Now to speed things up: Contractions in the car on the way to our midwives office were NOT fun. I missed being home and mobile.
When we got to the office around 3:30pm, our midwife informed us that we were 5cm, 100% effaced, and having a baby today! From there she sent us to the hospital where the midwife on call would start getting our room ready. The walk from the parking garage to the hospital was pretty hilarious. My husband was loaded like a pack animal with all our bags, meanwhile I was having to stop every two minutes to sit on my birth ball and sing low hums when a contraction would hit. It was the longest walk of both of our lives I’m pretty sure! The midwife waiting for us was absolutely amazing! Her name was Annie and we just clicked immediately. I had to labor in the waiting room while the birth room with the tub was cleaned and prepared and by the time it was ready, I was in hard active labor. First thing I did when we got in our room (about 5pm by this point) was strip butt naked of course. I wanted in the tub! Up until that point, Nathan helped me manage the “waves” quite well, but the intensity I experienced in the water broke my zen. It was so intense in my mind, I began to panic. The downward pressure felt like I was surely about to expel all of my insides, not just a baby. At the same time I thought for sure I was about to vomit my brains out. That’s probably the best way I could describe what was going on in my mind. I thought for sure I wouldn’t survive it. There was a lot of fear.
Just then in the height of transition, my wonderful midwife Annie’s shift ended, and in walked a brand new midwife. Low and behold, it was the one midwife I did not connect with at all (In fact I’d say she rubbed me VERY wrong when I met her during one of my prenatal check ups. So much so I told my husband about her and prayed that she was not there during my labor.) Seeing her walk in made my anxiety all the worse and at that point I begged for an epidural. My husband and volunteer doula (who was amazing and arrived as we got into our room) both assured me that I was so close and that it wouldn’t be worth it. I didn’t believe them and began begging to be checked. The fear that how I was feeling at that moment could last for hours was absolutely overwhelming. My midwife completely dismissed my pleads and spent most of her time chatting with the nurses in the room. It was awful. Then when I didn’t think I could take anymore, I told my husband how tired I was and then proceeded to lay back in the tub. It seemed to me that I had only closed my eyes for a few seconds before the next wave hit, but my husband told me later that I had actually taken a 15-20 minute nap. It was beautiful and gave me just the rest I needed. From there my doula helped me out of the tub because I just wanted to lay down on the bed. Before I laid down she encouraged me to pee if I could so the next couple of waves were on the toilet. This was the best and most defining moment of my labor. My doula Amber locked eyes with me during those waves and guided my breathing deep and long to match hers. Her eyes were calm and so peaceful that my emotions began to match hers as well and I remember suddenly the waves weren’t as scary. When I stood up from the toilet my water bag was bulging outside my body. I shuffled to the bed to lie on my side and the urge to push hit me like a freight train. At this point I began begging for relief again and to be checked. I still had no idea how much longer I had to go and I really needed some encouragement. My midwife called in the nitrous oxide (which I was told wouldn’t take away the pain as much as “take the edge of a bit”). Once I began to breathe the nitrous she finally checked me and told me I was 9cm and not to push. I couldn’t help it, my body was bearing down whether she liked it or not. I could tell she was annoyed with me.
The next 20 minutes were a blur. I still felt everything, but in a confused state. My waters broke a few minutes after I was checked and suddenly there was total panic in the room and all over my midwife because there was a little meconium in my water. The entire NICU team entered and hovered around observing me. I hated it. My husband was down by the midwife holding my leg up like a champ and keeping an eye to try to make sure my wishes were respected. I began pushing like crazy because I feared for my baby’s life. After 17 hours of labor, I was exhausted. My daughter’s heart began to decelerate and my midwife coldly instructed me saying “Ok Amber, if you don’t push your baby out with this next contraction, we’re going to have to do an episiotomy on you.” My husband interjected on my behalf to remind her that I really did NOT want an episiotomy unless absolutely necessary. What happened next was a complete break in the proper standard of procedure and was absolutely traumatizing. My midwife stepped out of the way and without a word of communication or introduction to myself or my husband, a mystery doctor reached his entire hand into my RECTUM (yes you read that right), to force my daughters head out through my anus. My husband saw the whole thing. I of course had no idea what happened other than that I screamed as if I was being cut in half from the inside because that is exactly what it felt like. He forced my daughter out all at once and before I could process what just happened, my baby was in my arms and my sweet sobbing husband announced to me that we had a beautiful baby girl! She was blue. Turns out the chord was wrapped around her neck twice and the nitrous oxide ended up being very beneficial to get her more oxygen as well. As for me, I tore twice. First degree, but they were long tears. I was still in so much pain as she rested on my chest, and my eyes were so swollen I could barely make her out. But she was healthy and crying and beautiful and the first thing I said was “She has arm hair!” I was absolutely amazed that she was already such a perfect little human down to every detail, straight out of my womb. I held her close and clung to her as the midwife and what seemed like a parade of nurses checked me, stitched me, told me I was hemorrhaging, gave me shots of pitocin in my leg, inserted cytotec suppositories, etc. It was horrible. I just laid back, eyes closed, stroking my baby’s warm head, feeling the comfort of my husband’s touch, and singing worship songs while everyone hustled around me and on me. Then just as I was beginning to find peace my midwife came back in and told me that the Doctor had “assisted the birth rectally” and she was going to need to check me for rectal tearing because of it. It was excruciating. I felt SO violated. Again. Some random male clinician was watching me to my left and said “That was the most beautiful birth I’ve ever witnessed.” His words were nice but they did NOT resonate. My daughter was beautiful–gorgeous! Her existence was beautiful. Holding her in my arms safe and healthy was beautiful. The birth was disrespectful to me and my body. And that’s not beautiful. Here’s the thing, I was molested similarly as a child by another child. My past was never discussed with me by my midwives, nor did I ever think to bring it up because like I said of all the interventions I read and prepared for, nothing ever came up involving the rectum. Why would it?
It took about a year before I was ready to talk about what happened to me during my labor and how badly it affected me. What should be one of the most empowering moments of a woman’s life left me feeling violated and completely disrespected. Postpartum depression hit me like a ton of bricks on day 3. Looking back, I’m not sure how much of it was from the hormones and how much of it was not knowing how to process the trauma of her birth and the long road to my physical and emotional healing. It took over a month before I could even walk comfortably. When we got pregnant again 13 months later, I began listening to The Birth Hour podcast and found an incredible support team of empowering mommas, midwives, and doulas. I briefly told my story on their Facebook page and was validated for the first time since my daughter’s birth. They were shocked and angered for me–that I was not communicated with before the rectal intervention one, and two that a more gentle approach was not attempted first. Their validation was my first step to having what came to be a pain-free, euphoric, empowering birth with my second daughter.