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CAM Birth Story: Cortney’s Cesarean

This birth story, in honor of Cesarean Awareness Month (CAM), comes from Cortney Speir. To have your birth story posted on this blog, email it to:

I lay there unable to move, unable to speak, unable to breathe. I was opening my mouth, gasping for air, but nothing. I kept opening and closing. Open…close…open…close…NOTHING. I lay there praying for my life. Please someone notice me! Please can’t you see I’m not breathing? “I CAN’T BREATHE DAMN’T!”, I wanted to shout but I couldn’t even muffle a sound let alone yell. “Don’t panic”, I kept telling myself. Finally, the woman said, “She is trying to say something. She needs something”. After what seemed like hours but was less than 2 minutes they began giving me oxygen.

As far as my body is concerned, I had a fantastic pregnancy! The complications that I ended up experiencing were NOT due to my body’s ability rather than others’ inabilities and interventions.

Being rather new to Saint Louis, I chose my doctor, Dr. B., based on a friends referral, the fact he was personable, had MD behind his name and he would see me when I was only 7-weeks along. It was at that time that he took the first ultrasound. My husband and I had only tried to conceive one time so we knew the exact date and Dr. B’s 7-week ultrasound coincided with that due date, August 27th, 2008. At four months they took another ultrasound, this time by an ultra sound technician, which read that I was 10 days farther along than I really was, putting my due date at August 17th.

I voiced my concern to the ultrasound tech who said that “based on the baby’s size there was no way that August 27th was my correct date”. From that day I voiced my concern at every appointment and Dr. B would always brush me off. I also explained to him that I wanted to have a natural birth, unless the baby or I was in danger. He responded with “Why do you want to go natural, do you think you will get some sort of feather in your cap”. I felt my body was doing great without interventions so far why not let it go all the way. As their due date, August 17th, approached I was seeing Dr. B every week and every week I would bring up the due date issue. He would make remarks such as, “How do you know the exact date you conceived, you can get pregnant earlier or later than the optimal time”, or “Are you trying to tell me you only had sex one time in the months of November and December” and one that really shocked me, “I am sick of arguing with you about your due date”.

Then there was the dreaded appointment. I wasn’t dilated and my cervix was hard, and his solution, “We need to start talking about induction”. I immediately started to cry. “I do not want to get induced, that is not my correct due date and that will increase my risk of a C-section”. Thankfully I had spoken with my birthing class teacher (who recommended I switch doctors a month prior) and she told me to tell him to look at the first ultrasound, which was taken at 7 weeks.

He pulled out the first ultrasound, raised his eyebrows, “Hmmm, this does put your due date at August 27th. Fine, I will let you go to 41 weeks by your due date but not a day later and you will have to go the hospital to take non-stress tests (NST) 2x a week”. He explained that if something were to go wrong it would be on his shoulders because the last ultrasound would have put me at 42.5 weeks. Even with 3 sources all confirming the same date, my 7-week ultrasound, my word and the date of my last period; the 4-month ultra sound superceded. I even offered signing a waiver that would dismiss him of all responsibility but he just laughed in his condescending tone.

Regardless of the healthy NST’s, I was scheduled to be induced at midnight on September 2, 2008 but needed to call before I came in to ensure there was a room. I called at 11:55 pm; they were full, again at 2:00am, 5:00am. Finally, a little after 7:00 am, they called and were ready for me.

I was induced with Cervidel, which started my contractions that came on fast and furious, I had less than 1 minute breaks between them. After 5 hours of constant contractions and agonizing pain I opted for the epidural. Dr. C., the anesthesiologist, came in, commented on my muscular back making it more difficult for him to insert the epidural (which I still wonder if my “muscles” had anything to do with the later complications) and that was that, the pain gone, for a little while. A couple of hours past and the pain started back up like I never even had an epidural. Dr. C said I could push the self-administer button which released drugs into my epidural as often as I liked. It was at that time I found out that they had also given me Pitocin. The nurse said she would lower my levels of Pitocin so the contractions would become more manageable. My husband coached me through breathing techniques we had learned in our birthing class, which helped a little. Dr. C’s shift ended and Dr. V, a new anesthesiologist, came in and asked how many times I had pushed the self-administer button, When I told him, he was shocked. Both the nurse and me explained to him what Dr. C had said and he told me that if I am in that much pain I need something different.

A couple of hours passed, my contractions grew more intense and the nurse checked me and said I was “failing to progress”, I had not dilated past 6.5cm in the last 5 hours. She had to call my doctor and she explained with her experience he would want to perform a C-section. I lost it! I wasn’t crying, I was sobbing. I asked if I could just leave, what happens if I refuse it? She said since my water had broke it is for the safety of the baby. “Is the baby showing signs of danger”, I asked, “No, not at this time but that doesn’t mean he/she isn’t in danger”, she replied.

Dr. B. showed up 30 minutes later and I was still sobbing. How could this be happening? Because of an incorrect 4-month ultrasound and Dr. B’s fear of litigation, here I was being wheeled off to surgery. So much for my birth plan.

It was 6:00 am on September 3 and I was lying on the surgery table physically and mentally exhausted not to mention parched (wasn’t able to eat or drink anything but ice chips in more than 24 hours). Dr. C was back, he came in and looked more tired than I was, I had guessed he had just woken up from a nap. He explained to me that he was going to give me a spinal, which would numb me from the waist down. Within a minute of the needle going in I complained, “My left arm is going numb” Dr. C. said, “No, that’s just the blood pressure wrap”, “But that is on my right arm”, I exclaimed and then I went completely numb from head to toe. All of a sudden I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t breathe. I cannot describe the emotion. Imagine lying on a bed completely paralyzed and mute, thinking that these are your last minutes alive but you can hear everything and yet no one seems to notice that you are not breathing. Thoughts of my husband, family, unborn child were running through my head. I felt so sick thinking about them suffering over my death. I could hear the anxiety in the room, the nervous tension in the doctors voices when they spoke, “Call Dr. V. NOW, get him in the room AND DO NOT OPEN THAT DOOR, do not let her husband in this room!” I knew only one person could save me and I continued to pray. They began to bag me but the mask was not on tight and I wasn’t getting enough oxygen. Luckily, I was still able to move my mouth and eyelids, which I kept opening as wide as I could and shutting as hard as I could and finally the woman next to the Dr. C. noticed and said, she’s trying to say something, she needs something!” That is when they turned up the oxygen and tightened the mask. I still thank God for that woman in the room (I have since tried to find her name to thank her personally but the hospital will not release her information). After the situation was stabilized my husband came in. Although he tried to mask it, you could see how scary and painful this was for him too. A few minutes later we heard some grunting, it was a boy, Clayton. Before they took Clayton to the NICU, my husband brought him over to me. I barely opened my eyes, made a small smile, closed them and concentrated on breathing. I was still unable to breathe and move on my own. Clayton was diagnosed with Pneumothorax and Dextrocardia and fortunately only spent 4 days in the NICU.

It has been ten months since I had Clayton and there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about what happened and how it could have been different. I was able to get a hold of the head ansethiologist at the hospital and he said I had received a high or total spinal. I am actually very lucky because I have no permanent damages. Many women do not make it through a high spinal and many of those that do suffer from permanent brain damage because the time it takes the doctors realize the woman isn’t breathing or getting enough oxygen, it’s too late.

The reason I wrote this birth story is to create some closure for myself but more importantly to share it with women, soon to be mothers, so maybe they can learn something from it like I have.

First and foremost, I have learned to trust my body and my instincts. I have learned that just because someone has MD behind his name does NOT mean that his word is gold. Always ask questions, research for yourself, and if you are not comfortable with your doctor you can switch at ANYTIME. Finally, I have learned that the love my husband and I share, created Clayton and the bond our family now shares is a blessing and a gift that I thank God for everyday.