Nina — a healthy 26-year-old with an uneventful pregnancy — never could have imagined how the experience of giving birth to her first child would play out.
The teacher from Washington Township, NJ, woke up the day after an emergency cesarean section with a breathing tube down her throat and both hands bound to her hospital bed. Soon, a doctor arrived to give her the shocking news: Her newborn son was fine, but she had lost her uterus in the process of delivering him.
Two years later, Nina (who declined to give her last name for privacy reasons) can’t make peace with this. The now 28-year-old says that she felt mistreated by the hospital staff during her 14 hours of labor — and she’ll always wonder if her hysterectomy could have been avoided.
“I’ve experienced a severe trauma,” she says. “I wake up screaming from time to time. But the worst thing is, I feel like I didn’t stand up for myself. If I had really stood my ground from the beginning, then maybe this wouldn’t have happened.”
Women are leaving the hospital with buckets of regret after giving birth to their bundles of joy. As much as 30 percent of women feel belittled, dismissed or even bullied during labor, according to a 2017 study of 748 women published in the journal BioMed Central Pregnancy and Childbirth. These unlucky new moms say that their birth plans, or even just preferences, were ignored when they didn’t jibe with the staff’s own wants and needs.
“The doctors know everything, and you’re not allowed to have an opinion,” says Kelsey Spitalny, a former labor and delivery nurse who has worked in three New York City hospitals. Women with “traumatic” birth experiences have one thing in common she says: “the lack of control, and feeling like they weren’t a participant.”
Nina — whose uterus failed to contract after the birth, which caused severe postpartum hemorrhaging — says she was pushed into laboring for 14 hours, despite asking for a C-section as soon as she was admitted. “Call it mom gut, but I knew it wasn’t going to be a natural birth,” she says. But the on-call doctor, who was not her regular obstetrician, made her feel like she was copping out. “She kept pressuring me, like: ‘You don’t want that . . . you want the natural experience,’ ” Nina says.
Brooke Slabic, who lives in Bensonhurst, says she got a similar response from the on-call midwife when she arrived at a Brooklyn hospital for her scheduled C-section.
Slabic, 35, says that she wanted a natural birth throughout her pregnancy. But as her due date approached, and her daughter wasn’t moving into the right position, she wondered if her small size — a “very petite” 4-foot-11 — might be the problem. Her doctor agreed that “pushing for hours,” only to then get rolled into surgery, “wasn’t worth it.”
Unfortunately, a midwife at Slabic’s hospital didn’t approve of their decision, and made that clear. “She said, ‘That’s ridiculous. Everybody can have babies at your size,’ ” says the interior designer, whose daughter, Elliot, is now 3 months old. “Two other nurses came in, and she told them, ‘She’s electing to have a C-section, this is ridiculous.’ ”
Slabic says that she and her husband Joshua managed to ignore the rude midwife, but her judgments ruined their time at the hospital. “It’s supposed to be such a beautiful moment,” says Slabic, “but we just felt like we were attacked.”
It’s not just C-section mothers who feel they were bullied during birth. Masha Bennett, 30, had two firm preferences in her birth plan: she wanted a female doctor, and she didn’t want any drugs.
‘The doctors know everything, and you’re not allowed to have an opinion.’
But when she arrived at the Long Island hospital to give birth to her “little miracle” — a daughter conceived after four years of in vitro fertilization — she was confronted with an unfamiliar on-call obstetrician, who also happened to be a man. And he wasn’t remotely sympathetic to her discomfort, Bennett says.
“This doctor tells me, in his exact words, ‘What is all this male/female mumbo jumbo?’ ” she recalls, getting choked up. “He said, ‘I am the one who will be delivering your baby, and you should shut up.’ ”
Things got worse from there: Bennett says he called her “annoying,” pushed her into having an epidural, and then used Pitocin — a medication used to induce and speed up contractions.
“I felt like a science experiment,” the stay-at-home mom says, adding that she can’t pass by a hospital without crying. “I felt like a patient lying on Frankenstein’s table in a scary movie, like I had no rights.”
Preschool administrator Faye Brown says that six years later, she’s also still haunted by her nightmare birth experience.
Brown, 43, says she was admitted to the hospital the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, after a routine test at 39 weeks showed that her son wasn’t moving around as much as he had been at previous checkups.
But as soon as she got to the labor-and-delivery floor, she says the on-call staff started “rushing” her into making decisions about the birth. Brown wanted to wait for her husband, Amyr, to show up before agreeing to have an emergency C-section, but “It seemed to really anger them that I didn’t just say, ‘Oh yeah, let’s do this.’ ”
Brown, who lives in Bed-Stuy, suspects that the holiday had more to do with their sense of urgency than the fate of her unborn child. When she asked for a second to “pray and collect” herself, “They started threatening me,” Brown says, tearfully. “They said, if I couldn’t sit still and relax, they were going to strap me to the table.”
In some cases, the pushiness doesn’t end with the big push. Robin Arnott, 26, never wanted to breastfeed. But after the Marine Park resident gave birth to her daughter, Autumn, the hospital nurses shamed her for asking for formula.
One nurse in particular became “very annoyed,” she says, and insisted that Arnott should at least try to nurse her hungry, screaming newborn. Tired and emotional, the veterinary assistant says she gave in, but “she just wasn’t doing it.” Then, she says, “the nurses started squeezing at me, which hurt . . . My daughter was crying the entire time.”
Arnott says she still had to wait two long hours for the formula, even though her baby was ravenous. “It sucks,” she says, that her earliest memories with Autumn, now 3, are so fraught.
Spitalny, who left her job as labor and delivery nurse, and now teaches birthing classes, says that situations like these are common. She suggests pregnant women look into hiring a doula — “one that supports you, and advocates for you without creating more tension in the room.”
Megan Davidson, a Brooklyn-based doula and former rape crisis advocate, whose new book “Your Birth Plan: A Guide to Navigating All of Your Choices in Childbirth” (Rowman & Littlefield) will be published in June, says having a good friend or close family member in the room can help, too.
“Having people with you who help you feel confident enough to ask questions, or who can ask questions on your behalf, is so valuable,” she says.
If a hospital birth begins to go awry, Davidson says there are always options, including asking a kind nurse about how to switch doctors or, conversely, speaking with the floor manager about getting an unpleasant nurse transferred to another patient.
Above all, she says, remember that “hospitals are not prisons,” and doctors and nurses “should give you that care only in the context of you consenting to it.”
Photo Credit: New York Post