I had my first child at 27 years old. Before her birth, I had never spoken with any women about pregnancy and my gynecologist certainly never educated me on anything pregnancy or birth related. What I mean is, no one ever said to me:
Paulina: Birth is different from getting your wisdom teeth removed. You may not want to know how they go in there and rip your teeth out but you need to know as much as possible about pregnancy and birth in order to own your experience and make educated choices.
No one ever said that to me in my life.
So I went into pregnancy winging it.
I put 100% of my trust in my OBGYN, because he was an OBGYN, do I have to explain any more? He went to school for this, he delivered thousands of babies. What more did I need to do?
And my OBGYN never said "you really should take a birth education class, and also, here are some resources to prepare for birth" or anything. My prenatal visits were laughable, under 5 minutes in and out. Extremely impersonal, most of the visits I left feeling like “did he really know who I was?”
In the beginning, I would bring in a list of questions regarding pregnancy and birth, but he would dismiss all of the questions and say I’m the ‘perfect patient’ how he wishes every patient would be 'this perfect, and that I had nothing to worry about and I shouldn’t bother myself with those questions.
How I really felt was that he thought I was an idiot, or that he didn’t have time to waste on me.
But I stopped bringing in the lists of questions and just shut down.
I had such bad red flags, but I suppressed them, I pushed them down and told myself to shut up, you’re wasting his time and annoying him, don’t look bad in front of this highly educated individual, you don’t want him to be annoyed by you.
I went into my first birth completely uneducated and it was nothing short of fear-filled and overwhelming.
My OB asked if I wanted to be induced, I said "I guess?"
He might as well have asked me in Chinese, I had no idea what an induction meant.
After 12 hours of cervidil they turned on the pitocin, and the pitocin made her heart rate decel (it dropped and that was bad) and they said c/section, I was faced with my greatest fear.
This was literally the one thing I was freaking petrified of and refused to learn anything about and in that way, hey it happened.
One thing about me and my first daughter, when we are freaking out in public, you can’t see it, we internalize the shit out of it. So clearly no one had any idea I was having a panic attack.
And me, not knowing anything, I thought I was going to die.
I looked at my husband with tear filled eyes as I laid AWAKE FOR ABDOMINAL SURGERY on the OR table and said "if something happens to me, if I bleed out and I don't make it, you have to promise me that you will make sure our daughter grows up with my parents and my family as part of her life"
I honestly have no idea what was even going through his head hearing me saying that. Maybe he was equally afraid. We’ll have to ask Mr. Splechta in my next blog post.
My OBGYN walked into the operating room, DIDN’T EVEN GREET ME, and imagine how I am seeing this: I am thinking I’m most likely going to die, I hadn't spoken or seen my OBGYN at all since my last prenatal visit, he immediately talked about 'last night's game' with OR staff.
And this fucking conversation is stuck in my memory for nearly 7 years now. “So how ‘bout that game last night”
What the fuck, to be carrying around ‘his last famous words’ in my head all these years.
I thought thats it, this is how I die.
No wonder I had post partum depression for a large part of that first year, although I wondered why did I get unlucky and stuck with ppd?
I never connected the two.
I was a photographer and after I had my daughter, I met a lot of mommies with infants, and that became my tribe. My life boat. But lord, I didn’t even leave my house to meet other people until she was 9 months old. It was thanks to an internet mommy-group friend who had anxiety too, we both agreed to show up at the playground one day and take a chance. And that is when my post partum depression fog began to slowly lift.
The more moms I met, the more I shifted into motherhood photography.
I was hearing a lot of stories of women being bashed for breastfeeding and also for doing so in public, and I started to build some fire in my heart to be their voice. So I got into breastfeeding photography and with each new photograph I posted a very compelling story, a combination of facts and empowerment, to tell people to basically fuck off, and that breastfeeding your child is as normal as bottle feeding, AND in public.
I worked with a lot of pregnant and nursing moms. And all our children were of similar ages.
One of the moms / maternity photoshoot clients welcomed me into her birth space at the time, this was 5 years ago now.
I went feeling curious.
I thought, hey this could be the next natural step for my work, I do maternity, family, newborn, breastfeeding, birth is part of that cycle (I had NO freaking idea what I was in for, birth is NOTHING like photography)
As I drove to her hospital, I wondered what birth looks like, I felt I completely missed out on seeing the rest of the story in an LD room with my birth.
The moment she gave birth to her son, not only did I transcend whatever photography meant to me at the time, I was in love with the documentary aspect of birth, but I also I decided I was finally ready to shed my fears and try for a second baby.
This time I had ammunition. This was about 4 years ago, at the time, I knew from all the moms I met at the playground, (many of them with traumatic birth stories of their own) that in order to have a positive experience you need a midwife, a doula and to stay as far away from a hospital as possible. (Oh how things have changed for me in these last 4 years)
So at 20 weeks of my pregnancy, I left the care of an OBGYN (who I very much admire) and at 22 weeks I hired the only remaining available home birth midwife in the community (everyone else was completely full for my due-month).
So I hired this midwife, even though sitting with her during that consultation I thought “she’s not even paying attention to me” (I didn’t realize at the time that not every midwife is perfect for every mom)
I hired a doula who was excited to ‘trade services’ with me being a photographer.
And I decided I was going to have a vbac (vaginal birth after a c/section) at home.
My husband got me that said "she believed she could so she did" and it became my creed. I was convinced, that it is the power of the mind.
As my due date approached I started having some health related issues that were dismissed during prenatal visits as nothing too big, and while red flags were popping up in volumes, I tried to shut my instincts down.
I went to a prenatal visit with my midwife and my doula came with me (to meet my midwife for the first time) during that visit I completely faded into the background as they networked and I felt like a 3rd wheel. I thought “why am I even here? maybe I should just leave”
I felt so fucking invisible during that visit, or maybe even like an annoyance.
But I shut down my intuition, because lord, I was well into the last month of my pregnancy, it's not like "vbac accepting providers" were plentiful or even willing to take a transfer with 4 weeks to spare.
The night before my due date I was so fearful that I wouldn't go into labor and would have to be transferred out of home birth midwifery care and into OBGYN care to my midwife’s backup OB 1 hour from my home, so I went to get ‘acupuncture to try to naturally induce’
I called my mom that evening and I said “Mom, can you please pray that when I go into labor, my water doesn’t break until the last minute”
I knew what happens if you’re a vbac at home, and your water breaks before labor even starts. You have no chance if labor doesn’t promptly begin then, and you’re on the clock. Then you get transferred, and who knows how that will end.
At 5am the next morning, my water broke. My labor didn’t start until 10am. My worst nightmare.
By 2pm, I knew my midwife would be coming soon to check my progress, and I started to panic. I called my doula and told her that I need her. I wasn’t in active labor and if I didn’t do something to stimulate stronger and closer-together contractions, I was afraid I would have to be transferred.
My doula relayed to me her frustrations that pick up time was coming up at her kids school, she’d have to arrange that and also get the tub from her house
Me thinking: WHY ARE YOU TELLING ME THIS?!
And then she completely abandoned and stripped down all my security with saying: if you’re not even in active labor, by the time you do get to active labor, I may be completely exhausted and unable to support you for active labor, so you have to choose if you want me there now or labor, I can’t do both.
And I thought “but what if I never get to active labor if you don’t come help me with spinning babies or rebozo or something else to strengthen my contractions?”
And then I thought, she clearly doesn’t want to be here, why would I push someone to come who doesn’t want to be here. So I told her not to come.
Don’t fucking come.
By 5pm, my midwife arrived and checked me and I was only 3cm dilated, but worse, I wasn’t anywhere near active labor. My contractions were weak, erratic. She told me she already called her backup OBGYN who told her she needed to transfer me.
Laboring for at least 24 hours at home prior to transfer went out the window. She never told me that if my waters were ruptured prior to active labor, I would get cut down to 12 hours at home. And so here I was, driving to a city an hour away, to a hospital I had never set foot in and I was put in a really gross under cared for room in Triage with a heck of a bitch of a nurse who really didn’t care about the fact that I was barely holding on emotionally. She didn’t care that my first birth was extremely fucking traumatizing. And that this was suppose to be my redemption, a healing experience.
She painfully checked me for dilation.
I was left in Triage for hours without being told anything informative. I kept asking when I would get to speak with the doctor. I wanted to know if I could move around, if I could continue to try to labor. No one could answer that. They had no idea where he was, or when he’d even come to see me.
And then suddenly, once I was in the room, the OBGYN called me on the phone, he didn’t even come into the room. He said there was a situation, he was needed at another hospital that night to be on call for incoming VBACs, and I could have a c/section now, or sign an “against medical recommendation” form that released them of any liability if my baby or I died.
I said to him: “If I am understanding correctly, if I don’t consent to a c/section right now, I have to sign this form, and then if my baby’s heart decels or gets stuck, no one will come to deliver or help me?”
He responded with: “That’s correct”
I agreed to the c/section.
Then called my doula, to come pick up my 3 year old and take her to my parents house. The least she could do.
My doula arrived and said something to the effect of: at least you are being given a choice and it is your choice to make.
I scoffed. That was no choice.
Once out of the operating room, they pumped so many drugs in me (never telling me which or even asking me) and I felt paralyzed and my eyes shut despite me fighting for my life to keep them open. I was in a feeling of desperation, I needed my baby and my husband, but no nurse bothered to stop by my bed, I was trying to call out by the drugs inhibited my voice. I didn’t know what time it was, I couldn’t see anything because I didn’t know where my glasses were and my vision is so bad without them. I wasn’t even seeing nurses passing by my bed to stop one. I didn’t even know how much time passed by with me paralyzed in this bed. Then suddenly as the drugs wore off, I called a nurse, begged her to find my husband. A very long time passed and she returned to say they couldn’t find him. I never felt so alone and abandoned in my life and I just wanted to see and touch my baby.
I’ll say it loud and clear ^ that was North Shore Medical Center August 2015.
Finally when they FOUND my husband, who had passed out in the waiting room (the man was awake with me for 24 hours) they brought him to me, but he said they didn’t have a room for me, the baby was stuck in the nursery, and I couldn’t get out of bed, they refused to bring the baby to me. When what I strongly feel was an absolutely disorganized and destructive system at this hospital finally ended my ‘recovery time’ plus their administrational ‘shift change’ and FOUND me a room, I saw my baby for the first time in EIGHT HOURS.
Months later, I found myself suffering from daily panic attacks.
I could not function as a mother and I told my husband, I need to see a therapist, this isn’t good.
I was trying to heal from major abdominal surgery with a 3 year old and a newborn at home and my husband hustling at work to support all 4 of us.
This is the birth that broke me.
Completely broke me.
I lost all hope that anyone in the birth world cared about mothers.
I was suppose to have this totally supported and empowered birth experience because I chose a midwife I chose a doula I chose a home birth, and instead, my second birth was FIVE THOUSAND times more traumatizing than my first birth ever was.
And we were so done having babies.
After two horribly traumatizing birth experiences, there was no way I would ever allow myself to be in such a vulnerable state again.
Two years later I attended a hospital birth with Courtney McMillian, a Certified Nurse Midwife in Boca Raton.
This was my first hospital birth after having my traumatic birth with my second child.
Courtney stayed with her patient in the LD room during labor. She was patient. She sat at her bed. She was soft spoken. She was positive, she was loving, she was like a mother or a sister to her patient.
After the birth, she hugged her patient’s spouse after a tough delivery.
And then as time moved on, I began seeing Courtney at more and more of my clients births as I photographed more births.
And my hope started to grow from a tiny little spark into a little flame. Maybe there are people who care about women’s psychological state during birth.
Over the last three years now from that moment meeting her three years ago a purpose grew in my life, that little flame exploded into a massive bonfire.
I decided my mission in life is to photograph what POSITIVE birth experiences can look like, what empowered women and really damn committed birth providers look like, so that any woman who my work reaches would never ever describe her birth the way I do my second birth: abandoned, unsupported, pressured, condescended, defeated.
I will damn well make sure the world is aware of what birth trauma looks like
I will damn well make sure women know how to find fierceness within yourself to never have that traumatic experience
I will damn well make sure women know how to build a team of people who will worship and support you as a birthing woman.
I can’t even look at our cell phone pictures without crying, I just looked at them yesterday and it is nearly 4 years later from my second birth.
In these last four years, I have met a few teams of precious individuals who honor the sacred birthing women. I sing praises of these LMs, CNMs and OBGYNS on my social media accounts, because the rest of the world should be ashamed of how they treat birthing women, and these fine individuals represent the change I will damn well make sure the next generation of birthing women will experience.
The only way I heal my trauma
My trauma I live with to this day.
I fight to every single birthing woman in south Florida, that they may listen to their intuition and guide them down the path of empowerment through my work.