This story is from a lovely Karina, who’s sharing her story for the first time in 5 years—what she survived and what’s helping her heal.
Please be aware that some stories may trigger difficult memories and emotions so remember your own self care as everyone will be at different stages of healing.
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I wasn’t scared. I looked forward to the experience, actually. I had mentally prepared myself for the pains of labor, and I had prayed endlessly for all to go well. I was determined to take full control of my mind, to have a peaceful delivery, and to embrace the beauty of this experience. I was sure that God had heard my prayers—and I felt protected. I would endlessly replay the images in my mind of how it would all take place, especially the delivery. I would imagine myself pushing, proudly overcoming the pain, holding my husband’s hand, until hearing my baby’s first cry. Immediately after, the nurse would place my baby on my chest—skin to skin—and I would shed tears of joy. My husband would then kiss my forehead and hold me, while I wrapped our baby in my arms. I had created the most perfect postpartum image of our family, and I could not wait to bring that image to life.
It all began on Tuesday, September 6, 2011—my induction date. I was scheduled to be admitted into Labor & Delivery at 7:30pm. I was not nervous throughout the day, nor was I afraid. I happily prepared my hospital bag; I packed my baby’s clothes, receiving blankets, my camera, and my coming-home outfit. I was excited.
I arrived at Labor & Delivery at 7:20pm with contractions but only 1cm dialated. I was immediately admitted to my room, which had already been prepared for me. I was instructed to leave a urine sample, to get completely undressed, and to put on the hospital gown. I clearly remember the smile on my face while getting undressed—it was a smile I could not hold back. Finally, it was time.
Since I had arrived with contractions, the nurse wanted to monitor these contractions in hopes that I did not need to be induced. The contractions were strong, although painless, but they were just not close enough together to cause dilation. Finally, at 9:30pm and with no progress, the nurse decided to begin the induction process. She called the doctor in and they both began to explain how it would all work. “We are going to insert this medicine inside of you to ripen your cervix; this is supposed to stay in there for 12 hours”, I remember the nurse saying as I heard in disbelief—12 hours. “Once your cervix ripens, we will start Pitocin through your IV to make those contractions stronger and closer together,” said the doctor. Suddenly, the contractions began to get stronger and closer together on their own. The nurse and the doctor were unmistakably happy. They kept congratulating me on starting labor on my own—as if being induced diminished me as a woman somehow.
Though my contractions had been stronger and closer together, they had not dilated me much further. The doctor decided that given the circumstances, it would be best to break my water. So I lay there in bed, with my legs spread apart but completely covered with a bedsheet. I was told I would feel lots of warm water come out, to just breathe. The warm water began to rush out almost immediately, that is when my first surge of nervousness occurred. The pressure of the draining water felt endless, although somewhat relieving. I felt I was closer than ever to begin pushing. I must have looked disoriented, or scared even, because the doctor looked at me in the eye and assured me everything would be fine.
After that moment, it is hard to remember exactly how the rest of my labor took place. I remember bits and pieces—most of it as a dream. Everything happened so quickly, yet so slowly. It was a complete blur; I had never felt so overwhelmed.
The nurse began the Pitocin through my IV. I still felt the pressure of my body releasing water. When it got too uncomfortable, the nurse would change the sheets for me. It’s hard to remember everything that happened after that. It feels like the memory of this experience is mostly composed of flashbacks. Next thing I remember is feeling the pain of the contractions. It was bad at first, but not unbearable. The nurse would come and check on me every hour, and every hour I had dilated 1cm more. At one point, I remember her telling me I was 6cm dilated; my contractions became stronger and more painful from there on. Within the next hour, I was fully dilated to 10cm. I remember getting the epidural, but I don’t remember at what stage in my labor it happened. I just remember how painful that was. The nurse told my husband to sit on the other side, facing me, because many husbands had previously fainted in the past during this procedure. I remember holding the nurse tightly—as tight as I’ve ever physically held something in my life—while the anesthesiologist performed the epidural. It was painful. Really painful.
Since I was already 10cm dilated, the nurse said she was going to call the doctor and begin preparing for the delivery. Meanwhile, she had gotten me in position for delivery and had me practice my pushing while she was gone. She said that when I felt a contraction to hold my breath for 10 seconds. On the next contraction, she said to hold my breath and push my hardest for 10 seconds.
I’m not sure how long she had been gone for, but my contractions were getting closer together and stronger. I remember feeling when it was time to push. It’s weird because it’s such a natural feeling, so unmistakeable. I clearly remember feeling like the baby was coming out of my body. I could clearly feel his head pushing his way through in between my legs. I remember asking my husband to call the nurse. I was scared that the baby would come out without her or the doctor being there. My husband didn’t believe me at first, until I said, “please, please, go call the nurse! He is coming out already! It’s time to push! It’s time to push! I can feel his head down there! Please!! PLEASE!”
I’m not sure if he called the nurse or if she came in on her own. She said to start pushing, just how she had taught me. Contraction: Hold my breath. 1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6… 7… 8… 9… 10… Contraction: Push as hard as I could, with all my mighty strength, keep my mind focused on the counting instead of the pain. Contraction: Hold my breath. 1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6… 7… 8… 9… 10… Contraction: Push again, stronger than before, still focused on the counting. My husband was standing beside me. I’m not sure if he was holding my hand, I don’t think so. I think, he had his hand on my forehead. He kept saying how good I was doing, that he was so proud of me for enduring the pain. The epidural was an obvious fail. Suddenly the nurse said she could see the baby’s head! She went to get the doctor, it was time to deliver.
I had been told before going into labor that my baby would be placed on my chest as soon as he was out, and that he would be able to spend the whole night with me in my room. It was just as I had imagined it to be. Once the doctor was in the room I continued pushing and counting. My mother came in the room. She stood beside my husband. I smiled at her and she told me to be strong.
I remember the nurse coming towards me and standing beside me. She had something to tell me. She pointed at the screen that monitored my baby’s heartbeat. She said that everytime that I pushed, my baby’s heartbeat dropped drastically. She gave me several reasons why that could be happening, but I don’t remember them really. I just remember her saying, “or maybe he is holding on to the cord with his hand”. She said that they were not going to be able to give me my baby as soon as I delivered him; that he would have to be placed in his crib which was a few feet away from me. She asked if I understood.
It’s hard to explain how I felt when the nurse told me all of this. I understood what she had said. I just don’t think I fully understood at that moment what it truly meant. I knew something wasn’t right, yet my mind wouldn’t register that something was wrong. Next, I remember the doctor sitting next to me on the edge of the bed. He looked at me straight in the eye, with his hand placed on my knee. I don’t remember exactly what he said to me, I just remember him saying that things were not ok and that he was going to have to intervene. He said he could do either one of two things: use forceps, or something else—something I can’t remember. At that point, my mind was beginning to allow room for fear. Deep inside I knew something was wrong, I just didn’t want to admit it. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. I didn’t want to admit it.
I remember asking the doctor what were the risks involved in those two procedures. But I wasn’t able to understand a word he said. I was listening to him, trying so hard to actually hear what he was saying, but it was inevitable—my mind was blanked out—I couldn’t process a single word. Finally, I asked what he recommended and he said the use of forceps. I told him to do that—to do whatever he thought was best for my baby. This is when the trauma truly began. I couldn’t feel my legs at all—which is probably why I didn’t feel the rather lengthy needle he stuck inside of me prior to performing the episiotomy. I rested my head back down again. He said all I had to do was push my hardest on the count of 3, at the same time he would try to extract my baby with the forceps. 1… 2… 3… Exhausted, I pushed my hardest. While I was pushing I thought to myself that I would do anything for my baby, that I would push myself way over the limits for the sake of my baby. Exhaustion would not defeat me. Pain would not defeat me. 1… 2… 3… I pushed even harder this time. I waited for the doctor to start counting again, but he didn’t. I looked up and he was holding my beautiful baby boy. I couldn’t believe it. I was exhausted, but very much happy—I had just given birth.
But that happiness was quickly replaced by panic, fear, anger, frustration. Just as the nurse had warned me, my baby was not given to me right away. Instead, he was placed in his crib while a crowd of nurses rushed into my room and surrounded him.
At this point, my mind was set on two things: my baby, and the physical pain I was enduring. The doctor had began stitching me, and that pain was excruciating. It hurt badly, intensely. But at that point, I feared for the safety of of my baby. Tons of people surrounded my baby, and another crowd surrounded me—I was experiencing a postpartum hemorrhage. I remember my mother asking, “why is the baby not crying?” That’s right. My baby had not cried since I delivered him. I started to panic. Suddenly, I was able to understand what the nurses were saying, “Come on baby, breathe. Breathe. You can do it”—one nurse in particular kept saying that. I heard another voice say, “How long has it been?””X minutes”, I heard someone say. The worst was when I heard someone say, “It usually takes within X minutes; I don’t think he’s going to make it.” I felt a cold hand on my heart. But the nurse kept insisting, ignoring her colleagues, she kept repeating, “Come on buddy, breathe, you can do it.”
In the midst of my unbearable pain as the doctor continued to stitch me, I began praying for my baby—desperately praying for him. “Please, help him breathe!” “Please, help him breathe! Please!” Finally, I heard the nurse say, “there you go baby!” I heard my baby’s first struggling coughs and then he cried a bit. Immediately after, the nurses wrapped my baby in a blanket and they let me hold him for a second before they took him to intensive care. This is when I learned that my baby had been born with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck and that every time I pushed, I choked him. I asked my husband to follow my baby wherever he went. I pleaded him not to lose sight of him. They left the room.
Meanwhile, the doctor is still stitching me. The pain begins to gradually worsen. To say that the pain was excruciating, at this point, is an understatement. My mom is standing there beside me, holding my hand. I start crying pleading the doctor to stop. I take the nurses hand, who is standing beside me as well and plead her to make the doctor stop. I tell them that it hurts too much. They don’t care. The pain continued and I don’t remember when it stopped.
Next, I remember crying hard and desperately. I started yelling rather loudly at God, “I prayed! I prayed a lot! This wasn’t supposed to happen. This is not how it was supposed to be! I prayed!” At that moment, I felt so angry at God. I felt he had ignored my prayers and completely forgotten me.
I cried because my delivery had not gone how I had imagined it to be—me happily holding my baby, next to my husband, and my family. I cried because I almost lost my baby. I cried because I was suppose to feel happy, not afraid. The room was supposed to be full of joy, not panic or resentment. I cried because I felt a type of hurt I had never known before—a mother’s hurt.
I remember the nurses switching me into a different bed and taking me to another room. I got my own room. I was grateful not to have to share my room with anyone. Particularly because I had become emotionally unstable and I didn’t want to see or talk to anyone. I was given vicodin and I had a terrible reaction to it. My ears began buzzing really loudly, I started feeling extremely dizzy, until I threw up. I was instructed to rest my head in the pillow until I passed out. My next piece of memory is being in my room, I pretended to be asleep for any visitors. Until I specifically asked my nurse to restrict all visitors, except for my immediate family. I clearly remember not feeling my legs. I had not felt my legs for a very, very long time. Two nurses would have to carry me to the bathroom and help me in and out of bed. I hadn’t seen my baby for several hours—maybe even a whole day. I missed him. I was told that because of the high amount of blood loss I had suffered during the delivery I had to have a blood transfusion. I signed papers giving my consent and waited the blood to arrive.
I was in a lot of pain. Because of the use of forceps, the doctor had to perform a surgical incision down there—an episiotomy. The cut he performed is classified as a 3rd degree cut. Episiotomies are classified according to the depth of the incision:
- A first-degree episiotomy cuts through skin only (vaginal/lierineal).
- A second-degree episiotomy involves skin and muscle and extends midway the perineum.
- A third-degree episiotomy cuts through skin, muscle, and the rectal sphincter.
The nurse told me I could go visit my baby at the Intensive Care Nursery (ICN) whenever I felt better; she said I could visit whenever I wanted. I think the first time I walked to the ICN was at 2am., holding my husband by the arm because I could barely walk. I wasn’t physically ready to walk, but once I heard I could visit my baby I couldn’t wait any longer.
When I walked in, I saw him and went straight to him. I saw my little fragile baby inside the incubator. I reached for his tiny fingers through the circle-shaped opening on the side of this apparatus. I started to cry. I couldn’t stand to see him laying there hooked up to so many cables and machines. I held him, and breastfed him for the first time. It was such a wonderful experience. One that I will keep in my heart forever. And that’s what I did for the rest of my stay at the hospital. I went to my room to eat, sleep, and take my medicine, and I took many trips to the ICN. The blood transfusion took several hours—and still after performing another blood test, I was told that it had not been enough blood.
What I hated the most at the hospital were the visits from the various social workers that were sent to me. “How are you coping” “It was a traumatic experience for both you and the baby” “Do you have support?” Endless of these comments and questions, it felt as if they were trying to make me breakdown in front of them. Yes, I was suffering. But I was strong enough to take care of my baby. My baby came first. Always. So I kept my composure in front of everyone, only when I was alone and away from my baby would I let myself break down. I felt that if I was honest the social workers would deem me too emotionally unstable to care for my baby; I feared they would take him away from me. So I lied and said that I was okay. The truth is, I kept replaying the bits and pieces of the events I could remember during the delivery. Thinking how unfair this all was. Crying myself to sleep, hiding my emotions from everyone.
I imagined friends and family paying me visits at the hospital and bringing me flowers and balloons. I saw myself happily holding my baby and chatting with everyone about the wonderful experience. Instead, my room was dark and empty. That did not matter much—actually it didn’t matter at all. I just remember thinking about it after I was released from the hospital.
That was tough. I was released. My baby had to stay. I told the nurses I would not leave without my baby. They said I had to be strong because my baby was probably going to be staying in the Intensive Care Nursery for at least 6 weeks. My heart sunk. I literally felt empty. I came home with empty arms—without my baby; and when my brother opened the door to greet me, I fell in his arms and cried, I cried really hard.
The next morning, I went back to the hospital to breastfeed my baby and speak to his doctor. The doctor said he had to run extensive tests on him because he was worried about a possible trauma to his brain due to the length of time he went without breathing. At that point, I felt my knees go weak. Tears welled up in my eyes and soon began rolling down my cheeks. “Hold on there” said the doctor, “I have great news. All his tests came back normal and show absolutely no damage to the brain; his kidneys are now functioning well, and he is breathing pretty well on his own.” He said that my baby had responded very well to treatment and that I could take him home with me that afternoon. I still can’t find the words to fully express what I felt at that moment.
As we were heading out the ICN, we ran past the nurse who had told me just the day before that my baby would be in there for at least 6 weeks. “They’re letting you take him home?” She asked, in completely disbelief. “That never happens. He’s a lucky boy!” I smiled and thought to myself, “We’ve been truly blessed”.
At that moment I realized what God had done—he had saved my baby! He made me worthy of this miracle. I suddenly began to see things from a different perspective—God hadn’t forgotten me and neither had he ignored my prayers. God was with us the whole time; He sustained me through the ordeal and He was the nurse who saved my baby. I immediately asked him to forgive me and I thanked him for watching over us despite my shaken faith at the time. I thanked him for my miracle. Finally, I was coming home with my baby in my arms.
I wrote this journal entry only about a month after having delivered my son and had not revisited the piece until today. Prior to this traumatic birth experience, I had also endured the whole nine months of my pregnancy with severe and untreated Hyperemesis Gravidarum—a debilitating illness during pregnancy. My physical recovery took about 5 months, maybe a little more, because the incision from the episiotomy had cut through my muscles as well. Needless to say, the whole journey from conception to delivery was pretty brutal, not to mention having to deal with PTSD alone, in silence.
This is the first time I share my story—over 5 years after it happened. The first year was hands-down the most difficult to overcome, and although my son is a healthy and pretty bright kid, I still get flashbacks when I look at my son in the eye or when I give him a hug, and I think how I almost didn’t get to have these moments with him. I often think about the nurse who didn’t give up on my baby—the nurse who saved him. I will never forget her. I’m trembling as I’m writing this, tears welling up in my eyes; my heart is pounding but I’m glad to finally be able to share my story. I think, today, I begin the real healing.