By Gabrielle. Print via Etsy’s Letters on Love.
Whew. Lindsay Gault Drakos’ experiences are going to fill you with hope, helpful information, and maybe some anger. With three babies born in three countries, there’s bound to be a story or three! As with all of my Growing A Family posts, I hope you find even just one sentence or shared moment to make your day (or delivery) easier. I will warn you that Lindsay’s birth experience in Athens is difficult to read, but rest assured: Lindsay’s three babies are all thriving and growing up happily ever after, despite the trials of their journeys. (Be sure you stay tuned to the end: I borrow some of Lindsay’s worldly experiences and ask her a few questions. If you’ve still got your own babies to deliver, you may want to borrow Lindsay’s advice, too.) Welcome, Lindsay.
I’ve had a good but different birth, a horrible birth and recovery, and a terrifying pregnancy but excellent birth…in that order and in three different countries!
My story begins in Madrid, Spain, where my first daughter was born in the public system. My Spanish was horrible, but I waded through an uncomplicated pregnancy in a totally foreign system just fine. I had appointments with the same gynecologist all the way through – with four scans at the typical milestones – and made it just shy of 42 weeks. (I was supposed to see a midwife with a group of pregnant mothers around the same stage as me before and after birth, but my lack of Spanish worked against me and I didn’t reap the benefits that I’m sure were offered.)
After begging to be induced, they reluctantly agreed to do it. I arrived at the hospital at 8:00 am and was led to a communal laboring room. There were six of us with our husbands at different stages of labor, some natural and some induced. They didn’t give me Pitocin, but started Cervadil to soften the cervix. We were checked at regular intervals, and during each check, the husbands were asked to leave. After hours of waiting because the doctors were busy, they broke my water because I was progressing too slowly.
Shortly after that, I was taken to a private delivery room where I asked for an epidural. Once again, they were resistant, but my husband was persistent, and I got one! A little over two hours later, my daughter was delivered by a midwife who placed her on me immediately to breastfeed, and we were wheeled together upstairs to our room. Audrey never left my side during the entire two days in the hospital.
My next delivery was in Athens, Greece. This is the horrible story with too much information, but at the end of it all, I was left with a perfectly healthy, beautiful baby girl. As awful as it all was, I have just accepted that this is the way that she came to me.
I could write pages on the terrible health system in Greece, especially surrounding childbirth. In 2008 when I was pregnant, the C-section rate was over 75% in private hospitals in Athens and you were not allowed to room in with your baby unless you paid over 10,000 Euros for private room. This meant that breastfeeding wasn’t supported. These were my two driving factors when making decisions about the birth.
I saw a gynecologist through the public system, but one that only delivered at private hospitals. My intention was to see him through the pregnancy, but deliver at the public hospital where C-section rates were much lower and you were allowed to room in with your baby. At my 36-week appointment, the doctor stripped my membranes without asking me. Without even informing me! It was painful, but I didn’t realize it until I was doubled over in pain about an hour later. I called him and asked him why he did that, and he answered that Easter was approaching and he wanted me to deliver before then. I reminded him that I was giving birth in a public hospital and not with him, and then I yelled in fury for the unethical treatment I received. No apology came.
The stripping didn’t put me into labor, but I was now 36 weeks pregnant with no doctor. After dozens of calls, we found a doctor that would take me so late in the pregnancy. He worked at the public hospital, but we would still have to pay him 1,300 Euros under the table for him to deliver.
We arrived at 8:00 am, and I was taken to the admittance area. There were curtained off rooms, and the doctor led me to a dirty one and told me to wait while he got someone to clean it up! Then nurses arrived to shave me, give me an enema, and instruct me to take off my toenail polish. I was treated so abruptly and had no control or say over anything. I was in shock. When that was done, I was led in an open-backed hospital gown toward the labor area.
At that point, I was told my husband would not be allowed in the delivery room, although I had been told that he would be with me. I broke down in tears. I was then taken to a room the size of a closet and given Pitocin. I informed the doctor that I react really strongly to any drugs, and to give me less than an average person, but he didn’t listen. He started the drip at 9:45 am and told me I should start contractions in about 15-20 minutes. Within two minutes, I started having contractions about three minutes apart. I was denied an epidural, and at 11:30, I was fully dilated.
They wheeled me into a delivery room, where he gave me a shot of a painkiller without asking or informing me. Again, I react strongly to drugs and was completely out of it from the shot. I pushed three times, and my daughter was born at 12:00 exactly, just two hours and 15 minutes after the induction.
I wasn’t allowed to hold her; they took her to a warming room and I was wheeled into a hallway for recovery. Truly, there were about six of us in a dark hallway for almost three hours. There were doctors, nurses, and orderlies passing by constantly. They took the baby for my husband to see soon after birth, and then they took me to see him. I cried and cried when I saw him. Then I was back in the hallway and had to urinate before they took me up…in a bedpan…in a hallway. I couldn’t, and so they inserted a catheter.
I was finally taken to my shared room, and about another hour passed before they brought me my daughter. When they were bringing me upstairs, the doctor informed my husband that he needed to slip money to the orderlies so that would also bring the baby up shortly. He obliged and gave them 50 Euros as demanded so that they wouldn’t take hours to bring the baby!
When I was finally in the room with my daughter, Lena, I learned I was to share my recovery with two different roommates. One was a woman whose mother massaged her breasts with olive oil for hours a day, two days straight, and the other was a woman who was fully made-up with curled and teased hair and full makeup who had no less than 15 visitors in the room from 9:00 am to 11:00 pm! You’re required to stay in hospital for five days post-delivery in the public system, but I tried to get released early. However, the pediatrician wouldn’t release me until Lena gained more weight. The sister-in-law of my roommate offered to breastfeed my baby to help her along! It was a surreal five days!
Now when I look back, I can’t believe that I made it out physically and emotionally. The entire system and treatment I and countless others received angers me beyond anything I have ever known.
My third pregnancy began in Athens. I was seeing a gynecologist through the public system that delivered only at the private hospitals, and was leaning toward a home birth or a clinic run by midwives, but I was still unsure of my plans. All was great until my 20-week anatomy scan. The doctor does the ultrasounds in her office, and she told me that the lung of the baby looked “echogenic” and that I needed to go the next day to a Maternal Fetal Medicine specialist for an ultrasound and his opinion. I asked for more details, but she gave me no further information. Eventually we were told that our baby had a lung deformation known as CCAM.
For the next week, I did almost nothing outside of research. CCAM is very rare; 1 in 25,000 to 35,000 births, and has only been able to be detected in the last 15 years or so with more advanced ultrasound machines. Overall, the medical information out there was pretty grim. At the fifth day of research, I found a Facebook group that changed everything for me. There were countless stories of babies with diagnoses just like mine…and all of the babies were just fine. I went to my next appointments extremely informed. I asked questions, and received vague answers and the suggestion of termination came up. There were five doctors in the room, and they were all in agreement that termination was the best course of action because her CCAM was so large and taking up the entire right lung. My gynecologist pushed me to terminate, as well. When I said that there was no way I was going to terminate, she asked me if my husband agreed with me, as though I was making an irrational decision!
In some of my mom’s own research, she found a reference to a pediatric surgeon in Denver who treats CCAM. I called the doctor’s office immediately and told the receptionist my story. Within 15 minutes, the doctor emailed me and requested my scans. Another 15 minutes later, he called and assured me, “You and your baby are going to be fine. Come to us.” And so I went home to Denver.
My delivery in Denver is probably typical of most American hospitals, but I felt like I was treated to a five-star hotel and the best care in the world! My room was so comfortable and not clinical compared to Spain and Greece; I even had on-demand movies! The most surprising thing to me was that after about nine hours after being admitted and a couple of hours before painful contractions started, I said hopelessly that I was hungry. The nurse said, “Here’s the menu – order whatever you want.” I wasn’t allowed even ice chips in Spain or Greece, so I was shocked. I ordered a cheeseburger, fries, and a milkshake!
My daughter was born at 6:00 am while my husband coached me via Skype, and my mom finally got to be in the room when one of her grandchildren was born! Overall, the care by the nurses was unbelievable. I feel like I got to know them personally, that they really did care about me and my needs, and that my opinion mattered in my own medical care. I did not feel this even once during the other deliveries.
Q: As someone who has experienced childbirth around the world, what is the one element that should be present in every birth? Both medically and emotionally?
A: I think this is difficult to answer because the answer would vary wildly based on the mother’s nationality or culture in regards to health care. For me, personally and as an American, I think the most important medical element in childbirth is communication, agreement, and trust in your doctor, all of which are nearly impossible to find in some countries. The culture of medicine in Greece, for example, is that doctors make decisions without necessarily informing the patient and certainly without consulting or asking their opinion. The woman’s wishes are totally dismissed here because the doctor knows best. This is infuriating to me, as I feel completely unheard and disrespected. But, generally speaking, the women here accept this attitude from the doctors and don’t question anything! For me, the way that doctors treat women in childbirth in Greece is unconscionable…but to Greek women, it’s totally acceptable.
Emotionally, I think it is mandatory that the partner be allowed to be in the delivery room, no matter what.
Q: If you could give other parents some advice regarding birth plans no matter where you happen to be, what would it be?
A: I think that any woman approaching delivery has her own hopes for what is going to happen based on a lot of different things – her nationality, her friends’ experiences, etc. But you also have to take into account where you are living and what the typical scenario for childbirth is in that country. More than likely, you will not have an experience similar to your friends’ back home. Accept this beforehand.
Find an expat group of women in the country where you are currently living, and ask everyone their experiences so that you will be able to adjust your expectations based on what others have gone through. If you are still uneasy about what will probably happen, search for alternative birth options. When I was pregnant with my second daughter in Greece, I went to some meetings about home birth options in Athens. I felt that it was too alternative for me at the time. In retrospect, I wish that I would’ve explored that option further.
Whew, right? There’s so much to discuss! I would hate to feel like I had absolutely no control over my deliveries, wouldn’t you? Or worse, be pressured to terminate at the very thought that something could be wrong! Not to mention, I quite liked Ben Blair hanging out with me to welcome our babies when they arrived. Thank you so much, Lindsay, for sharing yourself with us!
Friends, did you giggle at Lindsay’s recovery room roommates in Athens? “Oh! Sure, strange woman I’ve just met! You may breastfeed my infant daughter!” Ha! Any shared post-delivery room dramas out there? You know I love your stories!
And hey, if you delivered in Greece and had a different experience, I’d love to hear that as well! My first pregnancy actually took place in Athens, and I loved my doctor and medical care there! But we moved back to the States before I delivered, so I can’t speak to what that would have been like. Plus, it was 17 years ago (so long ago!), so my experience might not be up to date, anyway.