An OBGYN's Birth Story
Issue No. 4: Black Maternal Health
Words - Wendy Goodall McDonald
Illustration - Alice Clark
“Are you okay?”
I was a resident physician and had just finished performing a C-section. I turned to my co-resident to respond.
“Yeah, I’ll be fine. I’m just a little nauseous and hot. It was hot in the operating room. I’ll be fine in a minute.”
“What? You’re crazy. No, I am not. I’m on birth control, and, well, I’m just not.”
“I’m getting you a test from the ER.”
“Fine, but I’m not.”
Line one appeared… then line two…
I slowly walked back out into the hall where I was intercepted by my senior resident.
“What does this mean? We just got a dog yesterday.”
“It means that you’re pregnant. Let’s go back to the call room and call your husband.”
“Hey babe. I’m, well, I’m pregnant.”
“But we just got a dog…”
That was the beginning. Now fast forward to the end of the pregnancy.
I had endured 80-hour work-weeks, no vacation (I had to save it all for maternity leave), nausea and vomiting that never completely went away, and sparse weight gain because of my vomiting tendencies. I would run down the hall to the bathroom to throw up and hear new nurses saying, “Where is she going?” Then I would hear another nurse say, “Oh, she is just going to throw up.” They knew me so well.
At 35 weeks, I had my first elevated blood pressure in the office. It was only mildly elevated, in the pre-hypertensive range. My nurse practitioner told me to recheck my blood pressure a few more times in the coming week. Being the disobedient doctor that I was, I waited 6 whole days to check my blood pressure again. The day before my next prenatal appointment, “160/100.” Wait, what? Excuse me? So, what are we saying? “Take it again.”
It was still ridiculously high.
“So how about I go home, rest a little bit and come back?” My doctor literally looked at me with an “are you crazy?” face. I knew better.
Multiple severely high blood pressure tests later, and after receiving IV blood pressure medications (the big guns), my fate was sealed. I needed to be induced at 36 weeks, four weeks before my due date.
But we weren’t ready…
I had four more weeks left. I had work to do. The baby’s room wasn’t even started, let alone finished. I had my husband go to Target and buy a bassinet. So, I guess we were ready. All that a baby really needs are clothes, diapers, and a safe place to sleep, right?
I was admitted Sunday night. The decision was made to induce on Monday morning. After a cervical balloon, pitocin, breaking my amniotic sac, more pitocin, flipping me all over, an epidural, and a bunch more pitocin, I started feeling the pressure. I was tanked full of magnesium to prevent seizures that could be caused by preeclampsia and was feeling rather delirious on that Tuesday morning when the time came to push.
I remember looking up to see two of my favorite people in the world on the news. It was January 20th, 2009, inauguration day. I had to watch the ceremony reruns later to take it all in because, while history was being made, I was pushing.
I needed an emergent vacuum assistance because the baby’s heart rate dropped to dangerous levels. The vacuum failed twice, and my attending ended up pulling my 4lb 13oz baby boy out with forceps (yes, the salad tongs). He is amazing today. He is smart and handsome.
Storytelling like this can be therapeutic and even fun, but sometimes hearing these stories can be anxiety provoking. If you are pregnant or desire to be, separate yourself from the stories that you hear. If you desire to tell your story to someone, remind that person that the events in your story happened to you, not to them. Reassure and comfort them. Oh, and make sure that they listen to their doctor.