E is in week 39 of her second pregnancy and careful not to slip on the icy streets of Stockholm. In week 39 of her first pregnancy, it was summer in Port Jervis, New York. It was hot, and we were excited and hopeful.
Now I am again excited and hopeful. But that has been a long journey, and, perhaps my greatest relief is that in week 39, we areI not in Port Jervis, that E’s doctor is not Tanya Paul and that she is not giving birth at Bon Secours Community Health Center.
With each day here in Sweden, we come to a deeper realization that E’s 75 hours of labor were not a nightmarish act of God but an act of negligence and incompetence and callousness by the medical professionals supposed to take care of us.
In general, America has a more medical attitude towards birth than Sweden, at least in the mainstream. And the mainstream mattered in Port Jervis. We had no chance to hire a midwife or go to an earthy birthing center – there was not a midwife or birthing center in all of Orange County, New York – and E did not drive.
So we chose Bon Secours, the local hospital. Of course, nobody we heard of went there. All fled somewhere else – Middletown, New Jersey, anywhere. But we valued the walkability, that sense of access. We were being earthy in that sense, I guess.
So we went with Dr. Paul, who was one of two OB/GYNs in town. She was condescending during the pregnancy, if not overbearing, and showed no sensitivity to the fact that E was giving birth in a new country, in a new system.
But, hey, she was new in town and from Brooklyn! She had worked in Syracuse! This was the level of our hope, our justifications. So we overlooked the problems and did what you are supposed to do – take birth classes at the hospital, do Lamaze, simply assume a moderate level of suburban care (except we were in the exurbs, or, really, in rural upstate — ahh, the miscalcuations).
After labor started, we heard nothing from Dr. Paul as early labor stretched from hours into days. After 24 hours of hard early labor, we showed up at the hospital only to be met by surly nurses and dark rooms. They looked at us with disbelief, not compassion. They told us nothing, shrugging their shoulders at best. The cycle of fear and tension had begun.
Over the following days, and three trips to the hospital, Iza received no basic medical care, no information and no support.
At some point Dr. Paul went off call, and, on our final hospital visit, we got a doctor we had never met before and who was brutal and angry. The details of the final hours get too personal but it was a horror.
Finally, after the birth, three different doctors did not tell us whether we had a girl or boy. E spent an hour thinking she had a son.
Before the birth, we created a birth plan with the head nurse. We said the most important thing was that E hold the baby after birth. Then I had to order the doctors to let Iza touch the baby. And even this turned into a momentary drive-by, the briefest glance of finger on cheek.
They did not bring NK to E for another three-and-a-half hours. They told us NK was sick, but their paperwork, which we got when we moved, says that NK was not sick. It explicitly says this wait is standard procedure, like something out of the Stone Age.
It was 75 hours of trauma. For a long time, we thought we were unlucky, doomed by a combination of both bad care and a bad medical situation. Now we know better. Now we know that if the doctors and nurses had been clear, engaged and warm … well, then the whole labor might have been different.
As it was, those days were redeemed only by the wonder and glow of meeting NK, who stared into our eyes and transfixed us with love.
And, hey, the special meal we got two days later. That was wonderful. And the room had a wonderful view over the Delaware River. Props to Bon Secours!!
Here in Sweden, we talk to person after person, make our wishes known, set our conditions over and over again.
And, yes, I am well aware that the Swedish system has its weak points. And I know that if you find the right doctor or midwife or doula, childbirth in the US can be wonderful.
But we did not live in the right place or near the right doctor. We lived in Port Jervis in Orange County in the State of New York. Our doctor was Tanya Paul (who has since built a mini-empire in western Orange County) and our hospital was Bon Secours.
So, as we work through our past, and face our immediate future, we repeat a mantra we hear from all the midwives and staff.
Things are better here.
It can not be as bad as last time.