Excerpt from Lady's Hands, Lion's Heart, A Midwife's Saga ~ #42

Carol Leonard's picture

Milan’s Birth, Spring, 1975 (cont.)

Pushing is unbelievably powerful, and I am unbelievably
vocal. I am not prepared for this. Either I really am being that
loud, or it just sounds that way inside my head. The old obstetrics
nurse is pleasantly perched between my legs, snapping her gum.
She gives me a thumbs-up and an ongoing progress report on
the visibility of my child’s head.
“I can see a dime. Yup, now I can see a nickel,” she reports.
“Hell, I can see a quarter!”
I like her. In between straining, I ask her if she can just deliver
my baby right here in the bed. Maybe tell the doctor it was born
too fast to make it to the delivery room. Her face creases with
a huge smile but she shakes her head no. The doctor on call
would have all hell to pay if she failed to wake him up in time.
Especially because it is Dr. Easey.
Dr. Easey! Damn. I hadn’t thought about this. The obstetrics
practice I go to is a group of five men. They are secretly referred
to as “Fifty Fingers” by their women patients. Easey is the doctor
I like the least. I see him as a cold, steely man with mocking,
ice blue eyes. Now, he is the obstetrician on call. Shit, Murphy’s
John sees my momentary distress and attempts to comfort me
by placing a cold washcloth on my forehead. Just at this moment
the strongest bearing-down urge hits my butt. I angrily wing the
washcloth across the room. I tell him not to touch me—as a
matter of fact, to never touch me again, ever. John retreats to
the safety of a chair in the corner of the room to wait it out. He
hides his face in his hands.
An hour and a half later, a lot of Milan’s head is visible; it no
longer retreats between pushes. I can see bald wrinkles. Then
all hell breaks loose. The doctor makes his cameo appearance.
He is grumpy and rumpled with sleep. He takes one look at
my efforts and grunts something unintelligible and turns to
the delivery room to scrub up. Some orderlies appear from
nowhere. They slide my contorting and pushing body onto a
Lady’s Hands, Lion’s Heart 19
high, narrow gurney and rush me down the hall at high speed
to the delivery room.
Once there, I am moved again onto the even higher delivery
table, all the while with a head between my legs. I am made to lie
flat on my back with my legs up in the air in metal braces, like
a June bug stuck helplessly on its back. The table is divided in
half with the lower part removed, so my butt is now suspended
in midair. Because I have had no drugs, I am allowed to watch
the proceedings in a standup mirror. I see myself being painted
from navel to kneecaps with orangey-brown Betadine.
Now Milan’s head really starts to crown. The stretching is
merciless. I feel as if my fragile labial tissues are splintering like
a thousand shards of glass. Nobody is paying any attention; they
are all getting ready to do their assigned jobs. My butt is still
hanging in midair and my poor expanding yoni is burning. I do
the natural thing; I reach down to soothe the fiery skin around
my child’s emerging head.
Dr. Easey sees me do this. He flips out. Totally and irrationally.
He is irate that I have the audacity to touch myself in front of him.
He slaps my hand away. He shouts that I have contaminated his
sterile field! Godammit! He gives orders for me to be restrained,
for my hands to be strapped down. He continues ranting as
though I am a disgusting, wild beast. The nurse ties my hands
securely with leather handcuffs that are built into the table; they
look like the wrist restraints found on electric chairs. I watch as
Dr. Easey cuts a huge midline episiotomy in my vagina. Milan’s
head is born.
It is a miracle! As Milan’s body slides out of me, he kicks me
one last time. The doctor puts him in a clear-plastic warming cart
across the room. I am straining to see what my son looks like.
All I can see is one pudgy leg stretched up, tentatively testing
the air with his toes. How sweet! I want to hold and inspect that
chubby thing.
“Please give me my baby,” I say politely.
20 Carol Leonard
Nobody pays any attention to me, so I say it louder:
“Please give me my baby!”
On the third try I fairly shout for my child. “Give me my damn
They all stop bustling around and stare at me as though I
have postpartum psychosis already. Dr. Easey looks irritated. He
picks up Milan and unceremoniously plops him on my chest.
My hands are still strapped to the table. I struggle to look in
my newborn’s eyes, but I cannot move my arms. I feel someone
tugging angrily at the straps, untying my wrists. I look up into
John’s brown eyes over his surgical mask, which is streaked with
tears. So much emotion in those eyes! With my hands finally
free, I begin touching my baby all over his sweet, fat little body.
I start rubbing the white, creamy vernix into his skin, massaging
him. I smell him, sniffing his neck and behind his ears. I want to
lick him, but I already have the sense that Dr. Easey thinks I am
a borderline fruitcake.
My bald baby is so beautiful, so perfect, even if he does look
a little like Gerald Ford. Milan looks at me and frowns. Then his
eyes focus and he squares me with the most intense, penetrating
gaze, as if to ask, “Who are you?”
This important meeting is cut short by a very rough and
painful delivery of the placenta. I look up in time to see Dr.
Easey yank the placenta into a bucket waiting on the floor by his
feet. When I look in the mirror, I can’t believe my eyes. My poor
yoni has been transformed into something unrecognizable. It is
draped, shaved, stained dark brown, cut, bleeding, and gaping
open. It looks like a Thanksgiving turkey ready to be stuffed
and trussed. This is when the conflicting emotions begin. I am
incredibly high from giving birth, proud that my body is so
strong and wise. I am speechlessly in awe of the process. I have
just done the most powerful thing I will ever experience in my
life, and yet … I am completely pissed.
A growing feeling of anger starts to cloud my euphoria. I feel
Lady’s Hands, Lion’s Heart 21
thwarted that my accomplishment has somehow been belittled,
that I have been strapped down like a lunatic, degraded and
humiliated in this most sacred of times. It is an increasing
uneasiness; at first, it is hard to grasp what is wrong.
Milan weighs in at a whopping nine pounds. Ouch. Must
have been all those nauseating Adelle Davis brewers-yeast-and-wheat-
germ shakes. My little budgie is taken from my arms to go
to the nursery for the high-test newborn exam. Supposedly, he
has to wait there until the morning shift, when the pediatrician
comes to do his rounds. Milan will be thoroughly checked out
during normal business hours. John goes with his son.
Dr. Easey repairs the episiotomy in silence. It seems to me
that he is taking an inordinately long time down there. I wonder
if he’s embroidering his initials. I ask how bad the damage is
and how many stitches are needed. I am trying to make shoptalk
conversation at three o’clock in the morning with someone
who has just cut my vagina to shreds. Surprisingly, Dr. Easey
says his first full sentence of the entire night. He proudly states
that he is doing his trademark “husband’s stitch,” which means
he is putting in a few extra stitches at the top of my perineum
and pulling it tight so I won’t be floppy and stretched out from
having a baby. How thoughtful. He’ll make sure I am good and
tight so there will always be enough friction for my husband.
I am going to be even better than before! Is this guy serious?
I picture my yoni pursed and puckered together with all the
flexibility of a vise grip. For the rest of my life I will have a numb
spot there.
Dr. Easey finishes up his needlework and comes up to
my head. I think, Now he’s going to congratulate me for doing an
outstanding job.
Instead, what he says is, “Some women are meant to be
workers and some women are meant to be breeders. You are
definitely a breeder.”
That does it. The man is a sexist sadist. I need to get out of
here. Fast.
I say to him, “I want to go home.”
Dr. Easey looks stunned for a moment, then gets an imperious
look. “You are aware that hospital policy is that you must stay for
at least five days postpartum for observation? You do understand
this? Comprehend?” he growls. “You absolutely may not leave
against my orders.” He turns abruptly and heads out the door.
“I am outta here!” I yell after him as he disappears down the
The OB night nurse comes back with the orderlies, and they
wheel me down some more beige halls to the beige postpartum
ward. This is a big, open room with about a dozen beds arranged
dormitory style; it is for patients without insurance who are
unable to afford a private room. They get me settled in for the
night; the nurse squeezes my flaccid belly with a vengeance. She
puts a veritable mattress of a sanitary pad on me.
After they leave, I slide out of bed and tentatively try walking.
I feel like I have a bowling ball in my butt. I’m sure I am popping
stitches with every step, but I am famished—and I want my baby.
I shuffle with baby steps down the hall, cringing with each
movement. I am following the sound of my baby crying to the
John looks surprised to see me. He is holding Milan.
I say, “Let’s go.”
The three of us leave in the early morning hours of April 9,
1975. It is written in my medical chart that I left “AMA”—against
medical advice.
This is the beginning of my life’s work.
 ~Carol Leonard, Copyright 2008, Bad Beaver Publishing


Enelesn's picture
Submitted by Enelesn on

how people thought that treating a mother in labor like that was OK???
WTF - it pisses me off! Makes me want to be a renegade midwife ;)
I'm glad that things are different now(at least I hope it is everywhere).
I'm so glad you shared!
Your story also makes me SO glad I had my last baby at a birthing center where I was allowed to do what I needed to, whenever I wanted to. I cannot imagine someone smacking my hand away from my own vagina! And the tying down!! UGH, if I could go back in time and shake the shit out of somebody...
Thanks, Carol.

Carol Leonard's picture

Yeah I know! the tying hands down part was an antiquated practice leftover from when women in labor were drugged out of their minds and were actually dangerous--to themselves. these OBs who had been trained that way just hadn't made the quantum leap discovery that women who were NOT drugged didn't need to be "helped" in this manner. unfrickinbelieveable, right?

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Lady's Hands, Lion's Heart, A Midwife's Saga
by Carol Leonard
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dishpan_hands's picture

Thanks so much for this. My baby was born 33 years after yours, also in a hospital. I had a wonderful midwife, and did not have to experience most of what you went through--but it was still a hospital, and I hated it. I remember so clearly looking out the window late at night, unable to recognize anything around me, feeling so alone and frightened, and wishing I was at home. The whole time I was in labor I kept thinking, "This is insane! Why am I at a hospital? I'm not sick!" I wanted to be in my own bed, surrounded by family and friends, as I welcomed my son into the world. Next time I'm getting a renegade midwife and staying home where we'll all be more comfortable!

Creatress's picture
Submitted by Creatress on

Ditto all. I couldn't do home birth last time (my housemates would probably have been less than impressed, and it wasn't a super comfortable place as it was...we were sleeping on an air mattress. I wouldn't want to labor on that!) But I'll never give birth in a hospital again, so help me God. It wasn't a "bad" hospital experience, but it was a hospital experience. I don't want to experience that side of it again.

24/MN. Queer, veg, single, AP mama to DD1.5

25/MN and WA. Queer, veg, single, AP mama to DD2.5.

dahlia's picture
Submitted by dahlia on

I'm sorry that this happened to you.

Thank you for all the work that you've done to help women avoid this fate!

While my hospital birthing experience was no picnic (I'm still a little bitter about it); it was nothing like this. My mom told me what it was like to birth in that time period... In a teaching hospital in slightly crunchy Seattle things were a bit more liberal. They still did take the baby away though, and women like my mom went to the recovery ward.