Today's post is the first in this week's series devoted to pregnancy and disabilities. Giving Birth with Confidence is contributing these posts as part of the Bloggers Unite event, People First: Empowering People with Disabilities. The blogging event aims to raise awareness about empowering people with disabilities by sharing stories around the 'Net in support of people with disabilities and the groups who work to empower them.
Meet Jennifer, a mother of two who has a chronic seizure condition. Below, she tells the stories of her two, very different birth experiences and how her condition affected her treatment and day-to-day life. Jennifer blogs at A Day in the Life of Choice Spirit.
After receiving a Depo-Provera overdose, I suffer from psychogenic non-epileptic seizures (PNES), coupled with infertility. I finally became pregnant after meeting a doctor who used Metformin to control my fertility. Upon pregnancy, my PNES stopped for 6 months! I enjoyed being pregnant, but had to overcome a lot to be able to have the opportunity to try to birth naturally. No midwife would accept my case for home birth because of my seizures, and I switched Ob/Gyns three times to find one who didn't immediately move to schedule a cesarean.
In my third trimester, the PNES returned and I had to deal with increasing seizure activity in addition to rising blood pressures and a doctor who treated my rising blood pressures as pre-eclampsia regardless of the evidence that the blood pressure was induced by my PNES. I spent quite a lot of time in the Labor and Delivery ward at my local hospital ensuring that my baby was safe -- he always was -- but I had to overcome the prejudices and fear of doctors and hospital staff who didn't understand my condition and refused to listen to me when I tried to explain that PNES is not epilepsy and doesn't respond to traditional epilepsy treatments.
After an agonizing 3 months, labor arrived and I went to the hospital... but far too early. I fought tooth and nail with the hospital staff for 2 days before my doctor scared me into a cesarean to ostensibly save my baby. I reluctantly agreed to the cesarean and my perfect baby boy was ripped from my body with perfect Apgar scores. During labor and delivery, I had no PNES activity, but this didn't stop the staff from treating me like an invalid and making me feel like an inadequate mother. According to them, I was incapable of caring for my child, nursing my child, or caring for myself. This led to me having trouble bonding with him. I ended up with post-partum depression, which, coupled with the PNES, was nearly more than I could bear. But with help from my husband and a loving God, I made it through it all.
Three years later, I became pregnant again. I had spent the last 3 years studying my options and becoming better informed about pregnancy and specifically, VBAC. I knew that no midwife would take me on, especially since in the intervening years -- in addition to my PNES -- I had contracted type II diabetes and chronic hypertension. But armed with the knowledge that my PNES didn't affect my unborn child, I was determined to be treated with respect during pregnancy and childbirth.
I learned that my previous doctor wouldn't take me on for VBAC, so I was referred to a specialist clinic in Seattle. After spending more money than I could count traveling back and forth to Seattle, and dealing with a condescending doctor who was insistent that I was too fragile to VBAC, I switched doctors. I found a clinic in Tacoma that wasn't afraid of my PNES -- the disease that did not give me the 6 month reprieve that I had enjoyed during my last pregnancy.
I fell several times during my pregnancy -- once so hard that I landed in the ER with a sprained elbow and wrist! The continued seizures drained me physically and emotionally, but I didn't worry that my child would be injured by my convulsions and I took measures to ensure that I was safe from accidental falls. After my severe fall, my husband took over the household duties so that I could focus on the pregnancy and reduce my stress. My PNES never became a concern to my doctors, and with tight control of my other conditions, I was able to mostly gestate in peace. I did, however, deal with a lot of ignorance from medical staff and in the end, they tried to scare me into scheduling a repeat cesarean at 38 weeks without even an attempt of trial of labor. This came despite their own admission that I had controlled my diabetes and hypertension carefully and that ultrasound after ultrasound showed that my baby was perfectly healthy.
I realized that this clinic was more concerned with their bottom line than with helping me achieve a VBAC. I decided to labor at home and go into my local hospital in active labor rather than head to the hospital in Tacoma. But because of my seizures, the local hospital refused to care for me and threatened to airlift transfer me to Seattle. This was the same hospital and doctor who had delivered my first child -- they KNEW about my seizures and refused to care for me despite knowing that they did not cause problems last time. My husband and I reluctantly drove to the Tacoma hospital. After determining that I was not in active labor, they did an ultrasound to see if the baby was tolerating my prodromal labor. She was doing fine, but the placenta was not -- it was completely calcified. I knew as soon as I saw that bright white placenta that I wasn't going to get my VBAC... especially with my blood pressure so high.
I made the decision to have a cesarean -- but I wasn't upset! I mean, sure, I was disappointed, feeling a loss of something I had worked so hard to achieve... but really, the whole point of working for a VBAC was to give my baby girl the best start in life. And at that moment, a VBAC wasn't the best choice, considering my circumstances. If I would have waited for labor to start on its own, it could have been weeks and by that time, my placenta may have given out entirely... it was just too risky. IT WAS MY CHOICE. That made all the difference.
I returned to Tacoma 5 days later and had the most wonderful experience I could have had for a cesarean birth. I was treated with respect and dignity and at no time was I made to feel broken or inadequate. I bonded wonderfully with my sweet daughter and came home happy and confident, despite not having achieved my VBAC.