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Mother-Sized Activism: The Story of Myshell & Hannibal

by Krista Cornish-Scott

Sarah (our regular blogger) found this link the other day, and I was drawn into the story immediately, not least because of the fabulous pictures which seemed to so perfectly capture the souls of this family.  As I read further I found myself shaking my head at the all-too-common story of the “bait and switch”.  What was uncommon here however, was the reaction of the couple involved. Instead of being cowed into doing what the doctor said, and then regretting it later, or deciding that somehow they were going to “fight the system” and just go in and try and deny everything in a hostile environment, Myshell and Hannibal decided to vote with their feet, and left – four weeks before her due date.  I wanted to talk to Myshell about her cesarean and her upcoming VBAC, and she was kind enough to take some time to talk with me this week.

Myshell felt like she was a typical product of our culture when planning her first birth.  She knew she wanted to go natural, but wasn’t as educated as she needed to be.  However she did have a birth plan, and had taken childbirth education classes – albeit run by the hospital.  When she went into labor and decided to go in, her contractions were very widely spaced, as far as 30 minutes apart.  Two days later, still unmedicated, she was dilated to a four, tired and worn down, and ready for some manipulative techniques by the doctor who came in to talk to her.  He won her trust by mentioning that he’d read her birth plan, but then quickly spun her around by mentioning some personal details in the plan that he used to scare her into “choosing” a cesarean.  Myshell noted ironically, “and then the anesthesiologist came right in like he was waiting outside the whole time and knew that I was going to be saying yes to the cesarean”.

Her recovery was physically uncomplicated; she was back to teaching dance classes just a few weeks later.  But emotionally it was a whole different story.  After the delivery she had a very severe reaction to the pitocin she was given, and after she was stabilized and taken to her room, she was so traumatized by that experience that she barely wanted to hold her baby.  It took four hours before she could even muster enough interest to try and breastfeed her.  Myshell feels that their bonding was strongly impacted by the way her daughter was born, she states that initially she was “not connected” to her daughter.  Luckily a rewarding breastfeeding relationship was established and the bonding did eventually start to take place, but this is clearly a very painful part of her story to talk about, and something she would do anything to avoid happening again.

So flash-forward to now:  pregnant with her second baby, has a new husband, a new circle of more “birthy” friends and a new plan: she’s going to have a VBAC.  She reached out via her social network, asking in her Facebook status one day “anyone who has had a VBAC, let me know!” and got a flood of encouragement.  She watched natural birth videos on youtube, and was greatly impacted by sites such as www.gentlebirth.org  Choosing Kaiser again, she prepared to have a hospital VBAC.

And then this happened (from an email written to friends by Myshell):

“We had a very discouraging prenatal visit last week. When we told the doctor of our birthing plan, the doctor said, “If you don’t have this baby by your due date, we have to schedule a  c-section.” He also said that there was no way Myshell could deliver at their facility “without receiving  Pitocin after the birth of the baby.”

For a woman who had a previous history of a strong and severe reaction to the routine pitocin she was given after her cesarean, clearly this was evidence that her personal health and safety were not being taken seriously.  Hospital protocol was going to win out.

So did Myshell moan and complain and just decide to be scared for the next month about what her reaction to the pit might be?  Did she just secretly decide that she was going to try and refuse the pit anyway with support from her birth team?  No, Myshell and Hannibal (after a few pep-talks and a viewing of The Business of Being Born) decided to opt out of the system and plan a homebirth.  Which by the way, they haven’t had any time to budget for, and need to pay for up front.

And as another example of the power of the social network, Myshell and Hannibal reached out to their friends and the greater community, and asked for help with the poignant email reproduced in full at the link above.

It takes a village to have an HBAC?

Maybe it does. And maybe it should – maybe more of us who are birth activists should put our money where our mouths are. It’s all too easy to feel like we’re “doing something” when all we’re really doing is posting links so other birth activists can “like” them on Facebook.  We all get to cluck our tongues together and shake our heads sagely.  It’s all very well to wear our “Midwives Rock” button to the grocery store, or have our ICAN cesarean awareness ribbon on the bumper of our car.  But what about plunking down $5, $10, $50 to say “I’m with you, sister!  It’s not my birth, but it’s still OUR earth.  And we’re all connected.  What happens to you, happens to me.”

Today’s Mother-sized activism:  Believe that you CAN make a difference to one mother, one baby, one birth.  Click here to chip in and add your piece to Myshell’s fundraising paypal account:

And for those in a similar situation, here are some more ideas from ICAN women who have thought creatively to make their desired birth happen:

1. hold a fundraiser
2. have a yard or garage sale
3. brown bag it to work and eat other meals at home
4. make your own coffee, give up anything “extra” in the budget
5. ask for family and friends to donate to midwife, doula, birth pool, hospital, birth center, etc. fund in lieu of regular baby shower gifts
6. for a time go without cable/satellite, downgrade cell service, choose a VOIP over regular house phone, use coupons, cut out convenience foods, use an indoor laundry line even in fall and winter…
7. open a flex account or HSA account
8. car pool, use public transport if possible, even sell second vehicle if possible
9. run errands in one trip out instead of making multiple trips out, menu plan for once-a-week shopping
10. find out payment plans or barter options for provider or birth location
11. look into a personal loan or loan on your 401k
12. think creatively for other sources of income – babysitting, cooking, cleaning, etc

Warmly,
Krista Cornish Scott
“Mother-sized Activism” cheerleader

4 Comments

  1. First of all, thank you so much for this piece, which is amazing!

    Second, as much as I wish I could take credit for the email, Myshell wrote that from our joint email account. All credit due where it belongs!

    Thank you again and thanks to everybody who’s stepped up to help us in this experience!

  2. blog says:

    Thanks so much for making that correction, Hannibal. I fixed it in the text. Best wishes to you and your beautiful family!

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  4. Great, I will work hard just like you.