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Ignored, threatened, berated: After difficult childbirth experiences, new parents seek healing by speaking up

Moments before her emergency C-section, with the anesthesia flowing, Julie French realized she couldn’t breathe. She tried to communicate what was happening, but medical staff brushed off her panic. She was sure she would die. “I just remember closing my eyes, thinking I was going to code on the table,” she recalled. “And then I woke up being wheeled into the room where my baby was.”

Although the surgery had gone fine, French awoke to a prolonged nightmare. A wet tap — an epidural complication in which spinal fluid leaks out — left her with debilitating headaches unless she was flat on her back. French had always feared that hardware in her spine from an earlier surgery would cause problems with an epidural or anesthesia, but doctors had looked at her X-rays and told her not to worry. Her Boston-area hospital discharged her while she was still in too much pain to get out of bed. At home, she listened to her daughter’s cries, unable to help and overwhelmed by guilt.

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