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May 07, 2014

A note from Annie:  I often write a response following the posts that women have so generously shared here, but would like to offer a preamble instead to Stacey’s important but tragic story. To the extent that birth stories flow freely, talk of loss in birth is often buried – hard to speak of and hard to hear.  Birth, noted writer Roxanna Robinson “is very close to death.  The two things move terrifyingly near to each other, like two huge planets.  Their conjunction unthinkable.”   If you’ve read my book you may know that I think there is much to be learned from the silence that surrounds the topic – that it shapes and in profound ways the way we behave around, conceive of and value all births, and is part of why the birth wars have been so divisive and intractable.

And so I am grateful to Stacey for sharing with such raw honesty her story.  It’s not easy to read, or think about – and to me, unimaginable to live with.  But it’s incredibly important to have in our midst.  Some birth advocates have offered that we must approach birth “without fear.”  But silence is no antidote to fear.  And I’d counter, anyway, that it is courage rather than the absence of fear that a good birth requires.

In an essay she read for NPR, Karla Holloway put forth for our consideration one manifestation of this silence – the fact that we have no name in the English language for a woman who has lost a child.  Children who have lost parents are orphans; an adult who has lost a spouse is a widow, or widower.  “But one of my children has died, and we are, I am, what?”  Stacey answers the question, “I’m still a mother.”  Indeed, Stacey, you are.  And in the spirit of A Good Birth, you are "wise woman" too.

From Stacey: I had a beautiful, low-risk pregnancy but a tragic birth. These are the stories that no one wants to hear, but I have learned that there are many of these stories out there. My labor and delivery were handled poorly, and my son was born with fatal birth asphyxia. After 41.5 weeks of a textbook pregnancy, I was admitted to [the hospital] for an induction. I had just turned 39, was very healthy, and this was my first pregnancy. My cervix was not ripe, so it took several days to ripen it enough for my midwife to break my water, which triggered active labor. I labored for 25 hours....the first 5 hours were without medication. Then, I asked for the epidural so I could try to sleep through the night. By the next morning, I was ready to push. I pushed for a couple of hours, and my son's heart rate looked good on the monitor. At this point, my midwife consulted the OB on call just in case a c-section was going to be needed. The OB said I was fine to keep pushing. I continued to push with all my might another 1.5 hours. The OB came back in and said I had pushed the baby far enough down for them to attempt to use foreceps. Well, they could not correctly place the foreceps because of the way my son was positioned. So, they tried the vaccum. That didn't work, so they took me to the OR for a c-section. It took about 35 minutes to do the c-section. When Tyler was delivered, he was not breathing. They attempted to resusciatate him. After 10 minutes of not getting a heart beat, they came over to me and my husband to ask us if we wanted them to keep trying to work on him. We said yes. At 12 minutes after delivery, they were able to get a faint heart beat. They took him to the NICU for "cooling", which is a treatment for birth asphyxia. Shortly thereafter, the neonatologist delivered the news, which was not good. Our son had been without oxygen for too long and wasn't going to make it. No parent should leave the hospital after a healthy, full-term pregnancy with an empty car seat and come home to a nursery that will never be used. After an induction, foreceps, vacuum, and c-section, the providers still did not save my baby. Every intervention was used with me but were used inappropriately. The induction went on for four days....way too long. My labor was allowed to go on for 25 hours, which is too much stress on me and the baby. The providers told us later, that they were tracking my heart beat in the OR, but they thought it was my baby's. It was an incorrect use of the technology. If they had realized he was in distress in the OR, a c-section would have been done faster. If a c-section had been done 30 minutes, an hour, a day earlier, Tyler would be here and be a thriving 8-month old. Providers need to remember that birth is risky and the trip down the birth canal is dangerous. Death at birth is devastating. I did everything I could for my child, but my health care team let me down. But I'm still a mother.


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