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Maggie on advocating for herself and her baby after opting for a vacuum birth

mother holding baby close outside - essay on a vacuum birth

Content warning: Discussion of postpartum depression, birth trauma, domestic abuse or other tough topics ahead. If you or someone you know is struggling with a postpartum mental health challenge, including postpartum depression or anxiety, call 1-833-9-HELP4MOMS (tel:18009435746)—The National Maternal Mental Health Hotline This free, confidential service provides access to trained counselors and resources 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in English, Spanish, and more than 60 other languages. They can offer support and information related to before, during, and after pregnancy.

At 36 weeks and 5 days, I was told I was developing preeclampsia due to high blood pressure and swelling, and should go to the hospital immediately for further testing. By Saturday morning, I had been in and out of the hospital three times for testing and monitoring, and my OB suggested that I be induced that evening around 8 p.m.

I decided to pamper myself that day and go to the nail salon around 4 p.m. I started feeling contractions at the nail salon and called my husband when I left at 5:30 p.m. to tell him I thought I was going into labor.

As soon as I was checked into my room in Labor and Delivery, my water broke. I was given antibiotics immediately as I was group B strep positive. I was only dilated a few centimeters, but I was in so much pain already that I asked for an epidural.

Related: My epidural worked *too* well: Here’s what I wish I knew

Little did I know the button to control the medication was out of commission, so every time I needed more, the anesthesiologist had to manually administer the medication throughout my labor resulting in minimal pain relief.

Timelines get fuzzy here, but I know that I had spiked a fever due to an infection and almost went into an emergency C-section. I was administered antibiotics which helped lower the fever and regulate my baby’s heart rate. I was administered pitocin as I got stuck at 7 centimeters for 5 hours and soon after, my baby’s heart rate began to drop.

Again, I almost went into an emergency C-section, but my provider lowered the pitocin which regulated my baby’s heart rate. Finally, I was at 9.5 centimeters and my OB asked if I wanted to push or go into C-section, which I thought was strange. I opted to push but my contractions slowed down to 5 minutes apart.

I pushed for an hour with little progress and I asked my OB what my options were. We decided to try a vacuum birth. As soon as we opted for the vacuum, what seemed like 20 more people rushed into my room, which caught me off guard. As I tried concentrating on pushing, we experienced two pop-offs with the vacuum and a nurse hopped on top of me and started pushing on my stomach. My baby was stuck for 90 seconds and was finally delivered at 1:18 p.m. on a Sunday.

As soon as she came out, I noticed she wasn’t crying. I panicked and screamed, “why isn’t she crying?” I pleaded with my husband to check on our baby. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we heard a cry. The neonatologists had to administer her oxygen.

They brought my baby over and I held her as my OB stitched me up for nearly an hour as the epidural slowly wore off. Unfortunately, I had a third-degree perineal tear that would require physical therapy to help fully heal.

We were told that we should be thankful that our daughter was alive and did not suffer from a hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy injury and that due to the shoulder dystocia she has Erb’s palsy (a brachial plexus injury) as a result. She was taken to be X-rayed shortly after we held her for the first time. There was no break but her right arm was completely limp.

My OB explained to me that she believed I may have a misshapen pelvis, am physically unable to deliver vaginally, and that she strongly suggests a C-section for my next labor to avoid complications. There was never any mention of the vacuum being the culprit.

In the days following, we tried to piece together what happened. My husband and I both felt traumatized and wondered if our birth experience was “normal.” We soon found out that our experience was no where near normal and felt completely clueless as to what to do next and what our daughter’s diagnosis meant.

Related: To the woman deciding what to do after a traumatic pregnancy or birth

The doctors were casual about our daughter’s Erb’s palsy diagnosis. They downplayed the severity and told us that it would heal on its own and to take her to an orthopedic doctor to be examined.

My husband and I arrived at our first pediatrician appointment, frazzled, but excited that we had figured out how to get out of the house with an infant. The nurse came into the exam room and immediately brought up my daughter’s Erb’s Palsy diagnosis. She mentioned that her nephew also suffers from Erb’s palsy and at 22 years old, he is still disabled.

She told us stories of how he could barely crawl but seemed to manage, and showed us pictures of him as a child, post-surgery, with a large cast on his arm. She told us that her information was “off the record” and how we should speak to a lawyer.

My husband and I were distraught, to say the least. We felt completely blindsided, and as I sat there sobbing in the doctor’s office, they handed me a postpartum depression survey to complete.

Related: How to overcome—and heal from—a traumatic birth

A few days later we had our initial appointment with the orthopedic doctor that was recommended to us. He was very casual about her diagnosis and said that we should “let her be a baby” for the next 3 months and follow up.

My husband and I both felt very uncomfortable about how to proceed as our baby had no movement in her arm and decided to get a second opinion. I did my research and found that Lurie’s Children’s Hospital had a Brachial Plexus program for babies and children with this type of injury. I tried getting an appointment but was turned down. Thankfully I had some connections through work and was able to get an appointment within a few weeks.

At the initial appointment at Lurie’s, we were told that our daughter should begin therapy immediately to help heal her arm. They told us that the orthopedic doctor was incorrect and that “doing nothing” would not help her heal faster. We were told that her progress would be monitored over the next few months to determine if she will need nerve surgery.

Related: 4 must-do steps after your child gets a diagnosis

My daughter is now 9 months and has been thriving with physical therapy and occupational therapy appointments every week. She has been cleared for nerve surgery, but may need a tendon transfer down the road, based on her progress. She will suffer from this injury for the rest of her life but the work she puts in now will make her life easier in the future.

As frightening as our first pediatrician appointment was, I am happy that I was finally told how severe this injury could be if you are not proactive. I am thankful for our due diligence to do research, get second opinions and fight for the very best care, but I often wonder what would have happened had we listened to that first doctor.

I hope that my story inspires expecting moms to advocate for themselves and for their babies as much as possible, to do your own research, and get multiple opinions.