When I gave birth to the Little One, I almost died. The pregnancy itself had been a difficult one. Questionable genetics combined with a bad obstetric history (and that would be putting it mildly) dictated that I would be watched carefully, and that we would always err on the side of caution. Once we cleared the initial genetic hurdles, I found myself faced with such issues as the unexpected discovery at week 16 of an incompetent cervix (resulting in urgent surgery to put in a cerclage and me working from home for the remainder of the pregnancy) and the subsequent diagnosis of gestational diabetes. To make matters worse, I was utterly depressed. Despite the fact that the pregnancy was progressing relatively decently – if not smoothly, the fear that something would somehow go horribly wrong was never far from my mind. Four failed pregnancies led me to believe that the odds were not in my favor, which meant that I basically spent my entire pregnancy holding my breath and waiting for something to go wrong.
Nothing in my wildest dreams – or nightmares – could have prepared me for what I experienced when I gave birth. The bleeding began once my son was out, and it simply wouldn’t stop. The placenta wasn’t coming out and my uterus wasn’t contracting as it should have. In short, I was hemorrhaging. I suddenly felt weak and sick, and as the blood drained from my face and I turned white, I heard my husband pleading with me to stay awake.
As the medical team worked feverishly to get my body to do what it was supposed to, I was consumed by sheer terror; I was sure that I was dying, and even began to think about my husband having to raise our son as a single parent. An anesthesiologist was hovering outside the room, ready to rush me into surgery in the event that the doctors wouldn’t be able to stop the bleeding, which would have necessitated the removal of my uterus in order to save my life. Fortunately, we didn’t reach that stage. The doctors managed to stop the bleeding, employing a number of often painful techniques and persevering until it worked. I received four units each of blood and plasma, and was hooked up to oxygen after they discovered that my oxygen saturation levels were low. I remained in the delivery room for approximately twelve hours after giving birth, at which point I was moved to a room in the maternity ward that was directly across from the nurses’ station.
While the doctors in the hospital refused to discuss it, my own doctor confirmed what I already assumed to be true. My life had been in danger, and I could have died. While the birth itself had been fairly routine, my condition deteriorated rapidly within an hour. There was no indication that what I had experienced was in any way related to the problems I’d had during the pregnancy. What had happened to me could happen to anyone, without any prior warning.
And that’s why I was so utterly appalled by this article in last Friday’s Haaretz Magazine about unassisted home births. Don’t get me wrong – I can certainly respect that there are some women who are turned off by the hospital experience, or that some women wish to give birth naturally and with no painkillers (I, on the other hand, informed the nurses every ten minutes or so that without an epidural, I wouldn’t give birth…). I also realize that most births tend to proceed as they should, and that complications are minimal. But what about those few births that go wrong, those births that go so spectacularly off course that the lives of the mother and and/or the baby are in danger? What do you do when you’re giving birth alone in your bathroom and your baby won’t come out? What do you do when the bleeding just won’t stop?
I was shocked by the women in the article, angered by what I perceived as being ignorance and misguided priorities. Isn’t it more important to survive a birth procedure that might not be precisely to your liking than to die as a result of the “perfect” birthing experience? I realize that given my own background, I may not be the best person to judge. Perhaps I am overly sensitive when it comes to such issues, but I cannot help becoming incensed by women who naively believe that nothing can happen, that despite all of the medical technology placed at our disposal, they are prepared to turn their backs on modernity in the most extreme manner possible. Some of you will condemn me for being judgmental, and I accept that there’s truth in that. I just cannot help but think that had I chosen this path, my son would not have a mother.