Birthing in Baltimore, Part I

As Shannon McGarry was preparing for last week’s post, Pushing Forward Childbirth in America, which examines the US’ approach to maternal healthcare, she asked me about my own experience – specifically if I had given birth in a hospital (yes) and if I had a positive experience (yes).  Her inquiries and more specifically, her post got me thinking … what choices are women making to ensure wellness for themselves and their babies as they start and continue their families? 

English: Major Christine Gundel, 779th Medical...

English: Major Christine Gundel, 779th Medical Group nurse midwife, checks on Monica McCoy, Public Affairs Specialist for Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington D.C. and patient at the Maternal Child Unit at Malcolm Grow Medical Center, before her scheduled cesarean-section. (USAF photo by Tech. Sgt. Suzanne M. Day) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The following are real life accounts of maternal experiences here in Baltimore – illustrating a variety of medical preferences, circumstances and personal choices to ensure the health and safety for themselves and their babies.

*Please note that all names have been changed in order to preserve privacy.


Josie, mother of 1 daughter

On my due date, I woke up at about 6:30 AM to find my water had broken. I went ahead and showered and ate breakfast even though they say to head right to the hospital when your water breaks… I figured I wasn’t having contractions yet, so I was okay for an hour or so. I called the on-call OB and he told me to head to the hospital.

When my husband and I arrived, I was examined to confirm I was in labor. Although they were inconsistent, I was now starting to have some uncomfortable back labor pains.

We checked-in by 9:30 AM – the birthing rooms at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center (GBMC) are really nice; private, large, comfortable. The on-call doctor checked on me and the nursing staff was fantastic.  In addition, my Aunt is a delivery nurse in the high-risk ward at GBMC and she came and checked on me – she also gave the on-call doctor “fair warning” to take good care of me.

My OBGYN practice has six or seven doctors, plus a Certified Nurse Midwife.   Throughout my pregnancy, I visited each of them so I would get to know them before my delivery. I was given their on-call schedule for the week prior to and after my due date so I that would know who to expect when the time came, but of course it all depended on when my baby would decide to make an appearance. They were all wonderful; I liked some more than others, of course, but didn’t mind enough to worry about who would be delivering my baby.

During my pregnancy, I was disappointed to learn that in general, the doctors in my practice are not known for their patience – they had a reputation for being on the eager side when it comes to deciding whether or not to induce labor or perform a cesarean. I expressed my desire to let nature take its course even if it meant going a week or more beyond my due date or being in labor for an extended period of time. My doctors responded only by assuring me they would monitor the health of myself and my baby before making any decisions. Fortunately, we never had to make that decision. I also learned that GBMC is traditional when it comes to labor and delivery (meaning very few alternative options are available, i.e., standing delivery, walking labor, etc.). I had hoped to be a little more mobile during my labor if I desired, but was told I wouldn’t really be able to move from my bed. The excellent nursing staff, however, made sure to help me feel as comfortable as possible with the restrictions.

Sometime in the afternoon, when my contractions still weren’t increasing in frequency or intensity, even after breaking the rest of my water, the doctor decided to give me Pitocin, which induces labor.  Under normal circumstances I may have shied away from this, but I know that without amniotic fluid, they want the baby to be born within 24 hours to minimize risk. As soon as that decision was made, I asked to receive an epidural. I have heard that induced labor is more intense than natural, and it was clear from the discomfort I was already experiencing that I was having back labor. I knew back labor was the one thing I wouldn’t deal with very well.

The rest of the afternoon was fairly “relaxing.” I had a wonderful nurse and was lucky enough to have her with me throughout my birthing process – my arrival at the hospital and birth of my daughter coincided with the beginning and end of her shift. People often have several nurses rotating in and out during their labor, so I really feel blessed to have had the same person with me. I can imagine this would be a benefit of using a Midwife too.

My daughter was born at 6:53 PM. I was only in active “pushing” labor for 45 minutes. I distinctly remember a nurse checking on my progress a little before 6:00 PM and telling me I was only dilated 8 cm.  At the time, I remember feeling increasingly uncomfortable and told her I felt the need to push. She told me I would have to “labor down” for a while since I was only 8 cm. Five minutes later, my doctor came in to do his own examination and I told him that I felt like pushing. He checked and said I was 10 cm, fully effaced, and ready to deliver! It wasn’t that the nurse’s measurement was inaccurate; it’s just that I progressed that quickly!

Overall, it was a fairly easy experience. I would do it the same way next time, but it all depends on the circumstances. If my water hadn’t broken, I believe I may have had a quick, chemical-free delivery since that was my Mom’s experience and since the final “leg” of my delivery was so quick.


Justine, mother of 2 daughters

I love my doctor!  She is amazing – laid back and caring. I was induced at 41 weeks with my first daughter, at which point I quickly wanted an epidural.  After 13 hours, my labor was not progressing and I got a fever and the baby had some decels so we opted for a cesarean section.  I was pleased with the overall experience and recovery.  With my second daughter, my doctor let me progress to 40 weeks – when I hadn’t dilated and wasn’t effaced, and the baby hadn’t dropped yet – we opted for a second C-section.  Again, I was happy with the overall experience and recovery! 


Lily, mother of 2 sons

What amazes me: how even the “basics” of giving birth to each of my boys were so different. 

With my oldest son, I was in labor for three days before I had him.  Contractions began on Tuesday evening and he was born on Friday night.  This made the epidural a necessity because I hadn’t slept in days and the epidural gave me about an hour’s nap. Without it, I don’t believe I would have been able to push.

I delivered at Greater Baltimore Medical Center (GBMC) but it wasn’t my doctor’s weekend on call.  I was disappointed because I spent a lot of time picking an OB, and not having her there was upsetting.  Nonetheless, I had an amazing woman who was a midwife in the Ukraine – she became an OB after immigrating to the US.  Having regained some strength from an epidural, as well as a short nap, I pushed for 45 minutes, giving birth to my first son. 

My second son’s birth was as complicated as my first’s was easy-going.  I didn’t have any contractions when my water broke – though it did feel like something was “off.”  My husband and I returned to GBMC and was disappointed again – my doctor was on vacation and I was seen by her Practice Partner, whom I disliked (oh well). 

My contractions didn’t start right away and when they did, they weren’t terribly bad. Everything was moving very slowly. At one point, they couldn’t get the baby’s heart rate, so they attached a monitor to keep an eye on him.  There were some technical challenges – the nurse initially forgot to plug in one of the monitors and then tripped over the cord, which was attached to the baby’s head.  I was beyond distraught at this point. When offered an epidural, I quickly agreed. 

Unfortunately, the challenges didn’t end there.  While receiving an epidural, an error was made and they ended up giving me a spinal by accident. I was numb up to my shoulders in about a half hour and my contractions stopped. The baby’s heart rate exceeded acceptable levels and they told me that if it didn’t return to normal, I would have to have a cesarean section.  This whole time, I only saw the doctor twice – once when the baby’s heart rate spiked and then again when I was wheeled back for my C-section. 

Having a C-section was terrifying – I didn’t know they tie your arms down! – but I was mostly worried about my baby boy!  After he was born, perfectly healthy, they let me hold him briefly before clearing the room because I had a burst blood vessel.

The next thing I know, I woke up in a dark room to the nurses telling me that I needed to feed my new son.  I didn’t know they were going to put me out – and I don’t know how long I was out.  It bothers me to this day.

Nonetheless, I am so grateful for both my boys! 


Linda, mother of 2 daughters 

I have two wonderful little girls, both of which I was lucky enough to give birth to before term! 

With my first daughter, I began dilating at 35 weeks and by the time I was 37 weeks, I was 3 cm and 50 percent effaced.  My doctor tried to induce labor naturally – to no avail until my 38 week appointment.  Going into labor on a Friday was a blessing because my husband was able to finish work before taking two weeks off to be home with me and the baby.  We went to the hospital at 7 PM that evening and by 10 PM, I was 6 cm and opted to have an epidural.  Amazingly, this was the most relaxing time of my entire pregnancy – I was able to sleep, read and watch TV.  At 9:30 AM, it was go-time!  I was so drugged up on my epidural that I had a hard time knowing when to push.  It took 90 minutes and I was seconds away from having an episiotomy.  Thankfully, I did not – my first daughter was born at 10:59 AM.  A few hours later, she was taken to the NICU because I had a fever during birth and they were concerned about an infection.  She was in the NICU for 48 hours, but we were able to take her home when I was released – for which we were very grateful!

My second daughter was a different story.  I began dilating with her at 31 weeks and was put on modified bed rest – not an easy task with a 2 year old at home!  At 37 weeks, my doctor began inducing labor naturally, and it worked the first time – labor was fast and quick!  Having learned from the first time, my appointment was on Friday afternoon and we were at the hospital by 7 PM again, where I elected for an epidural almost immediately.  By 2 AM, my labor intensified; at 2:25 AM, we started pushing and 3 pushes later, my second daughter was born at 2:44 AM.  This time, we opted to leave the hospital after 24 hours, preferring to recuperate at home together. 


How do these stories – as well as others – resonate with your own experience(s)?


More “maternal experiences” here.


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In my role as Project Specialist, I manage numerous virtual trainings and in-person meetings with an excellent track record of organizing and executing seamless events. I am a Wide Angle Youth Media Board Member, a non-profit organization that provides Baltimore youth with media education to their own stories, and serve as the Business Advisory Committee Chair. Read more.