Wake up, Czech Republic!

I have recently read a powerful birth story where the poor mother compared her hospital birthing experience to being raped. The moving story brought tears to my eyes and they streamed down my face when she made the shocking analogy. I must admit I have never thought about it as such, but it certainly made sense and I realized she was right. That’s exactly what most hospital births feel like and the Czech doctors and politicians need to wake up and realize they are abusing women in our country and it’s NOT ok!

The birth story is very long but I am longing for my followers to be able to read it, so I may translate the whole article one day. In short, what was supposed to be the most incredible, memorable and beautiful day of her life turned out to be a horrific nightmare full of disrespect and abuse. The hospital staff made her fill out forms in the midst of contractions, hooked her up to a continuous fetal monitor and only allowed her to stay on her back. Then they ordered her to go to some room, no one explained where, why or what they are about to do. No one helped her. She was ordered to climb onto an exam bed and spread her legs while she was vaginally examined by several strangers who proclaimed she was not dilated enough. Surprise! Who would dilate in such conditions? Birth is extremely personal and intimate, it’s the most vulnerable moment of a woman’s life. Who would like to be poked at private parts during contractions by strangers? Shortly after their big discovery they hooked the poor woman to IV’s and injected Pitocin into her veins without a single explanations. They also did an episiotomy without a single word. No one told her what they were doing, no one asked her if she was ok with it. This is insane! How dare they!

She describes her Pitocin-augmented birth as follows:

The word “contractions”, however, is very misleading! They have little in common with the normal, natural contractions. They don’t resemble ocean waves that grow gradually and open the way for that eagerly awaited and loved human being. This artificial pain is foreign, sharp, comes with no warning, is cruel and has no waves, it’s just heartlessly strong from the moment the drug starts flowing in your veins until they plug it out. It doesn’t grow gradually and it doesn’t go away. It felt as though someone was ripping my uterus out of my body. I laid there and I couldn’t see anything, I couldn’t feel my legs, nor my child, all I could feel was that foreign pain! The pain forced me to push, but not with the rhythm of my breathing, not with my baby, it forced me to push the way the pain wanted it, mechanically…

I screamed, I am sure I screamed a lot. My husband was terrified and wasn’t sure what to do first. Some woman yelled at me not to push. “I can’t, it’s pushing for me!”, I cried. I couldn’t catch my breath, the pain kept taking it away from me, the pain kept pushing its way and it was ripping the baby out along with it. I couldn’t see anything, my head was falling backwards, my whole body was in a very awkward, uncomfortable position. Why do they keep yelling at me? In the noise of the harsh voices I could only hear orders they kept barking at me, as if I was a dog: “don’t push… breathe… now try something else… do it like a dog!” Among all that I heard my husband’s “Don’t worry love, I’m with you!” My husband, my oasis, my island of safety!

. . .

“And where is my baby? Where is my daughter? Where are you taking her? I laid on the table, Pitocin still injected in my arm, cut, crushed from how they ripped my baby girl out of me with their elbows up in my stomach, robbed, raped and empty, that’s how I felt. I sent my husband to go with her, what if they did something bad to her: how could you trust people who rip your baby out of you in such a way?

What if they treat her like an ulcer which doesn’t need love, compassion, and loving touch – just tubes, incubator, and disinfection! They stole my baby girl and no one bothered to tell me where they were taking her, what they were going to do with her and when they would bring her back to me.

… What does a newborn baby really need? – a plastic glove of a strange, sweaty nurse, or mama’s loving touch? And can a gentle suction of the baby’s nose by her mom’s soft lips be replaced by tubes and devices? Can a piece of wet cloth on her face replace gentle washing in the arms of mommy & daddy? Can anyone ever replace your voice, the voice she was listening to and falling asleep to for almost a year? How can we expect the baby to be calmly dealing with an immediate separation from her mom as soon as she takes her first breath, with transport to a cold room while still naked, with harsh and mechanical manipulation, with placement into a weird plastic box “for warmth”. Can anything or anyone replace the warmth of mommy’s chest?

They taught us to believe the heartbreaking cry of a newborn baby is a natural and welcomed manifestation of vitality. Truth is they are screaming for help, for love. When a baby refuses to suck milk out of mom’s breast after hours in an incubator, a nurse dismisses it with words “You’re not doing it right.” And when a woman who just experienced such a trauma that resembles an extraction of a baby rather than a birth feels total estrangement and doesn’t have faith in her own maternal instincts (that are strictly suppressed in hospitals) they quickly come with professional terms such as “nipple confusion” or “postpartum depression”. But this “blues” is a desperate cry over the cynicism of doctors.

. . .

They pulled her baby off her breast and kept her away for a full day and night despite the baby’s high APGAR score and no complications. The poor woman got her baby girl 24 hours later, and the baby was weary and apathetic. God knows what they did with her and how they fed the little baby, who most definitely was supposed to be on her mother’s breast the whole time. This inhumane separation is heart-wrenching and it completely conflicts with bonding and breastfeeding. Both the poor mother and her baby were traumatized. The mom cried whenever she hit rewind in her brain and played the memory of her birth, she had nightmares and felt hopeless and angry. She had problems getting relaxed and enjoying sex again – she felt abused, physically and mentally. She felt humiliated, scarred, and raped. The poor baby feared water – weeks after being born she couldn’t stand anyone touching her face with a wet hand or a wet washcloth – she would start choking. Her parents had to slowly, gently teach her water was not going to hurt her. (Note: the mother saw nurses holding sleeping newborn babies around their necks and showering them – they were waking up screaming with terror!)

This is real. This is birthing in the Czech Republic – the country I call my home, the country I love, and the country I hate for being so stubborn, so heartless and so abusive to pregnant and laboring women and their babies. The country that so desperately wants to be called democratic and wants to proudly stand next to France and Denmark and Netherlands and Switzerland. Wake up, Czech Republic! You will never get there like this! It’s the single most inhumane thing you can do to treat such a miraculous and sacred process in such a disrespectful and abusive way. It makes me sad and angry. As a birth doula I can hardly wrap my head around this.

Czech birthing needs to heal. Women and their babies need to be treated with respect. Birthing mothers need to be given power over their birth. They should have the right to orchestrate their own birth plan and it should be respected. They should be able to choose where they want to give birth and allowed appropriate care. This is not a fairy tale. This is normal everywhere else in the world. This is democracy. What we are experiencing in the Czech Republic is the good old communism with a cheap mask which has the word democracy painted on its chipped exterior. You can’t fool me. All you do is disgust me. Seriously, what has really changed since the 80’s when husbands were not allowed in the Labor & Delivery rooms? Now dads can attend births, but that’s the only step forward. The doctors and staff still speak to laboring women in an arrogant, disrespectful and abusive manner. Laboring women and their babies are still being treated like animals who don’t deserve privacy, respect and decision power over their own bodies and their own experiences.

Czech doctors and politicians like to tell the public empty lies unsupported by research. They try to tell us we are stupid if we choose to birth outside of the hospital. They try to scare us by telling us it’s unsafe, we are murderers of our own babies and we are doing something that’s not legal. And let me tell you the Czech law is so backwards! According the the European standard and the WHO each woman has the right to decide where she wants to give birth. But in the Czech Republic this is rather problematic since midwives are not allowed to have proper licenses to attend home births. Hence the politicians are making home births unsafe. There is nothing unsafe about a home birth if the mother is experiencing a normal and healthy pregnancy and both her and her baby are being carefully monitored prenatally and during labor and birth by a skilled professional midwife. Healthy moms and healthy babies do not belong to hospitals.

What should be done is a much needed legislative reform allowing home birth midwives to get certified and attend home births. Another thing that needs to change is the way doctors and nurses deal with pregnant women and their babies. And last but not least, these awful, cold, sterile, non-private birthing stalls must be replaced by private birthing suites where women could labor and give birth in comfort.

birthing stalls czech hospital birth

Birthing stalls (yes, STALLS) in one of the better Czech hospitals

(notice the separation panels do not go all the way to the ceiling – I hate when public bathrooms have this kind of separation and wouldn’t be able to do anything more private than peeing in such environment)

birthing stall czech hospital birth

Inside a Czech birthing stall

… looks comfortable, serene and peaceful, exactly as the room I pictured giving birth in … NOT (still wondering why so many women can’t dilate in rooms like these?)

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

We need less of that ^^^ and more of this:

St Luke's Roosevelt Birthing Center

Beautiful labor & delivery room at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital’s Birthing Center

This is how all hospital Labor & Delivery rooms should look like!

The mother then ends her birth story with those words:

A friend of mine says we should welcome our babies as guests, that we should be respectful, not possessive, because they were entrusted to us for just a short period of time. My husband and I often wonder how would our guests feel if we welcomed them with a punch in their stomach, if we stuck tubes into their noses, yelled at them and sprayed them with water, closed them into a box for a day and night and then asked “So how do you like it here?”

If we commit sins on our children when they are powerless and dependent on us, how can we expect them to treat us when we are powerless and dependent on them? If we prepare such a heartless welcoming for them, what kind of “goodbye” are they going to prepare for us? I leave this up to you…

I know I don’t want to leave this world surrounded by sterile gloves & beeping machines, desperately searching for a familiar face… I want to be surrounded by the people I love, I want to be held, I want to feel loved. Isn’t this all our babies want from us?

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