Last week's outrageous news report about "hysterical" women having bad reactions to the Covid vaccine -- little things, like, you know, facial paralysis (!!!) -- and who were not believed until men started having the same reactions sent me back memory lane.
ICYMI: A widely circulated story about this lesser-known but seemingly quite serious side effect of the vaccine included the following gem:
Director of the Infectious Diseases Prevention Unit at Sheba Hospital Prof Galia Rahav told Israel’s public radio Kan on Tuesday that COVID-19 vaccine side effects, which were unknown to Pfizer, were discovered. Rahav said that vaccinated persons have arrived at hospitals with phenomena such as partial face paralysis (Bell’s palsy) and paresthesia -- an abnormal sensation of the skin such as numbness, burning, etc.
“When we noticed this and talked to them [Pfizer], they began receiving reports on this [as well],” Rahav said. “In the beginning they said it’s ‘hysterical women,’ but apparently not because we see it with men as well.”
Right. This doctor -- who is, astonishingly, a woman herself -- freely admitted what so many of us have known for so long. Which is that doctors and other medical professionals have a regular habit of dismissing women. They don't believe us. But if men say it, then, well, that's a whole different thing...
They don't even try to hide this. They don't even express any irony or shame. And by the way -- hysterical women? Like, what CENTURY are we in exactly?
Ah, well, I have so many stories. So. Many. Stories. I'm just going to share one favorite here with you today. The one about the time nobody in the entire hospital believed me when I said I was in labor.
It was July 27th, 1997, and I was a full nine months pregnant with my third child. And by the way, I had a little cold. Late in the evening, I was having contractions. Lots of contractions. Painful contractions. At a certain point, I said to my loving spouse, "I think we should go to the hospital." So at around 9PM, we got a babysitter and off we went to have a baby.
At the hospital, a nurse checked my blood pressure, my temperature, and my cervical dilation and determined that I was not in labor. She told me that I was having contractions not because I was in labor but because I was sick. They were ready to send me home, but I was not ready. I was, you know, having contractions. Painful. Contractions. The nurses said, well, you know, your blood pressure is also high, so we can watch you for a few hours so we can keep you here. "But you are definitely not in labor," the staff insisted.
At around midnight, they sent my husband home. "Go relieve your babysitter," they joked with him. "We'll call you in the morning." I was like, "What? Are you sure?" It felt wrong, but I went along, with mild protest because I was too busy managing my pain. Also, I didn't fully appreciate back then that women needed to talk back to medical staff. I didn't know that at all, actually. Anyway, my husband left, my only support person, and at around 1AM the nurses sent me up to the high-risk pregnancy ward to monitor my blood pressure.
The nurses put me in a room with another woman who was sleeping, but I definitely was NOT sleeping. I was having painful contractions every fifteen minutes. And every fifteen minutes, on the dot, the poor high-risk pregnant woman next to me would say, "SHHH! I'm trying to sleep." I guess I was making noise. I think that's what women do when they are in labor. I felt guilty about making noise, but had few other options.
Finally, at around 3AM, the woman in the room called out to the nurses. "I AM TRYING TO SLEEP!" she yelled. "Can you please tell this woman [meaning me] to stop MAKING SO MUCH NOISE!"
"What can I do?" I replied. "I'm in labor!"
The nurses scoffed. They did not know what to do with someone like me who THINKS she is in labor but obviously, according to them, IS NOT. They put me in a wheelchair and sat me in the hallway to figure out what to do, while I continued to have increasingly difficult and narrowly-spaced contractions.
Finally, at 3:30, they sent me back down to the birthing rooms in the emergency room. (Truth be told, I have no idea where I was. It looked like an emergency room, but who knows.) So I'm sitting there in this wheel chair in the waiting room, waiting for someone to pay attention to me, and I'm alone and having contractions and pacing. I'm there pacing, making noise, and the nurse running the station says to me, "Relax, calm down."
That is when I lost it. I went to the station and I said, as loud as anyone in my condition would have said, "RELAX? HOW CAN I RELAX? I AM IN LABOR!!"
The nurse, looking around embarrassed about the fat American woman making a scene, finally said, "Okay, okay, we'll put you in a room."
So they put me in a room. I lay down on a bed, and they left me alone.
I was totally alone. No longer bothering anyone else. And it was time for me to push. There was nobody there, nobody believed me anyway, so I lay there in the room, completely on my own, and I just did what I had to do. It was just me and my little one. So I started to push.
The midwife, whose name was Bambi and who apparently was famous in Jerusalem at the time, (which I know because when I later told this story to my mother, she said nothing about how I wasn't believed and only wanted to tell me how lucky I was to have a celebrity midwife), anyway, Bambi eventually came in to my room do some chores. She stood there in the corner by the desk, her back to me, getting something or other ready.
And I'm pushing. Lying alone on the bed, pushing.
Suddenly she takes notice.
She looks at me square between my legs and makes a face.
"Is that the head?!" she asks.
What the hell do I know? I can't see the opening from my angle.
This surprising turn of events gets her into motion. Within minutes I have some staff around me doing stuff. I don't know what they did. All I know is, twenty minutes later, my daughter arrived in the world.
Thank God. Healthy and well. Tfu tfu.
And then, we called my husband. And my doctor. They missed the whole thing, of course. My doctor thought it was funny. He sat there stitching me up, me private parts on full display, while chatting with some other doctor, as if I wasn't even in the room. I felt like I wanted to protest, but I was done making a scene for the night.
And my husband, well, he felt really bad. For all these years, the story we told was about how sad he was that he missed the birth. We laugh and cry about it, as if it's a funny birth story.
But it isn't really so funny. At all.
But after I read this article about women being disbelieved, I think that the REAL story is about how an entire OB/GYN staff failed to believe a woman who said she was in labor. I mean, I was having all the signs, and I was telling them, but they knew better.
So, what would I say to my 27-year-old self sitting in the hospital, if I could go back to that moment?
Well, first of all, I would say, don't bother getting a doctor, use a private midwife. I did that six years later with my fourth child, and it was a whole different story.
But if I could go to the young woman in the hospital who was not being believed? I would say to her this:
Keeping saying what you know is true. Say it until they can hear you. Scream it if you have to. Sometimes the only times they can hear you is if you scream at the top of your lungs....
And also, sometimes if you work hard enough, there is a wonderful reward at the end. <3
(Photo below: The Sztokman family circa Jan 1998)