Denia’s public hospital, Marina Salud: 4 a.m. “SIP card please. Pregnant woman with contractions” said the receptionist without even looking at me. A nurse quickly takes Brenda away on a wheelchair through a labyrinth of doors and corridors. Marta the midwife and I follow, walking briskly.
Brenda is still having contractions during her journey through the hospital. Inside the lift she holds my hand tightly while she surfs another uterine wave. Finally we get to the maternity wing where our friend and midwife Nines welcomes us. She is suddenly a warm and friendly face in this cold place that seems so strange and surreal after the wonderful experience we had been through in the last twelve hours.
Nines shows us to Brenda’s room. It is cold, very cold, even if it is a hot Spanish summer night. The hospital protocols begin: hospital gown, monitoring the baby, intravenous antibiotic…Brenda is still with strong contractions. Nines talks to her in a soft and calming voice. Breathe.
Brenda was terrified of giving birth in hospital. And there she was. Confronting her fear face to face. Despite the cold room, the interventions and the fear, Brenda was still in labourland, with her eyes in a kind of a trance, surfing the waves.
And then came the time to go and see the gynecologist.
Even writing about it hurts. Just to imagine her in that moment, in that vulnerable position that all of us women have to go through in front of a gynecologist, with open legs, shaking inside, wondering how that white coated person will treat the most intimate part of a womans body. Brenda was in that position and in labour. And then it happened. An act that I can only describe as violence. A vaginal exam. Manual uterine palpation. Call it whatever way you want. If it is done forcefully and fast it is a violent way to touch a woman. A vaginal exam that was done without the respect that we all deserve without having to ask for it or demand it. The cry of pain this time was completely different to the cries of her contractions. This was pain coming from the outside, a heartbreaking aggression.
“She is completely dilated, the baby is on the third level”…this seemed good news, but the essence had already been broken… “your baby will be born soon”, Nines said softly and excitedly to Brenda.
But it didn’t happen like that. And what we did not know is that with the sentence “she is fully dilated”, the gynecologist had started a countdown of 2 hours which is the maximum time allowed in the hospital for the second stage of birthing.
After the violent vaginal exam, Brendaś contractions went down in intensity and rhythm….we tried to reconnect, make the call, but we were now in a strange and unfamiliar environment, even if Nines put down the lights, gave as a ball, a birthing chair, music, what I remember the most is the coldness and the constant noise of the monitors… the animal instinct had recognized this place as an unsafe place to give birth after the aggression of the vaginal exam and the wisdom of Brenda’s body had responded, slowing down the uterine waves…..
When the two hours had nearly passed, Nines and Marta began to fear the worse. They knew all the interventions that would take place once Brenda’s time was up. So they began to ask her to push even if she was still not feeling any urge to push. When I realized what was happening I began to feel a pain in my chest: we were suddenly on a desperate rush to get Lennon out just because of a hospital protocol.
Brenda was pushing all that she could but it was not working. When Nines did a vaginal exam she realized that the baby’s head was not as far down as the gynecologist had said, but that did not matter now. The gynecologist was on her way to sit in the driving seat of this birth that had exceeded established time limits. Established by whom? And for whom? I was asking everyone the reason for this rushing but all the answers were the same: It is the protocol.
“Its the protocol, for safety, for your baby’s safety”. However, the monitors were constantly saying that Lennon was still really well inside Brenda. Besides, Brenda had been given antibiotics to prevent infections. Therefore I couldn’t understand what was the risk and what exactly was the danger that the gynecologist was going to save us from.
I considered leaving the hospital. But Lennon had to be born there. With only 36 weeks gestation he was a premature baby and so it was too risky to give birth at home. I reminded myself this was the whole reason why we had left our cozy home where Brenda had done most of her labour work, to come to the hospital. And this is why we had to follow this protocol, that now demanded it was time for Lennon to come out. And according to their protocols, it was necessary to apply medical interventions to help him. This translated into the use of a kiwi, a type of ventouse to get him out, together with a Kristeller maneuver and with the threatening shadow of a possible cesarean if the ventouse didn’t work.
Surgery room. Operating lamps. Crowds of nurses arriving. Accelerated movement and the sensation of being swept away by a strong current against your will. These were my feelings as I got to Brenda’s hand, with my heart trembling with the frustration of not being able to stop that current and with the pain from seeing Brenda being pulled to the rack.
From there, again in that opened legs position, Brenda, with an amazing assertiveness worthy of a non violent communication handbook, mixed with a beautiful humanity and gentleness, managed to get the gynecologist to see her as another woman, as a human being with feelings, as so much more that just a body for operating upon. The medical interventions kept flowing but at least the gynecologist attitude had changed. She was more respectful, explaining beforehand every step of her interventions, more gentle in her touch and for just a second even looking into Brenda’s eyes.
Brenda surrendered to the medical intervention and gave all that she had to help Lennon’s birth. She was cut, touched, a hand inside her looking for Lennon’s head to place the ventouse…and in each contraction the gynecologist pulling, Brenda pushing and a midwife pressing down on her uterus (Kristeller). Suffering wrung my heart watching all of this, Brenda was sqeezing my hand as I was trying to connect with Lennon, sending him all my energy so that he could come out safe and sound. In the second contraction he was born. At 8:23 am on the 30th of July 2016. Tears flooded my eyes when I finally saw him in Brenda’s arms. Purple. The contact lasted only moments. He was inmediately taken to the pediatrician, I went with him although they would not let me touch him. I saw how they handled him like a small animal, they weighed him, they examined him and when they checked everything was fine they fianlly brought him back to Brenda. Brenda covered him with kisses while the gynecologist kept doing her work, waiting for the placenta to come out, removing dressings, sewing stiches…..
And that was the end of the hospital nightmare.
And here begins the beauty and magic of being a new arrival to the world, of a young and intense love, of the life’s journey of our third son Lennon…