I thought giving birth would be easy. When I was a young girl, I adored going to school. I suppose I could have been called a bit of geek. I was passionate about sport and would win every race on the athletics team, create and hold records for high jump together with trampolining and cross country running, constantly competing for my school and later county. I was physically sound, I was strong. I found it easy. I thought it was the easiest thing in the world. For some reason I always thought that in the future, giving birth would be a bit like that for me. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t easy at all.
For most women, giving birth is a painful experience. For some, it can be, I have heard, enjoyable. In the sense that they felt they birthed their babies “painlessly”, or for many other reasons personal to them for that matter. I certainly don’t propose to talk for other women here but in talking for myself, It hurt like nothing else had ever hurt me before. Despite practising Hypnobirthing and relaxation techniques, I had utterly and completely underestimated just how much it was going to hurt. It was like someone had just told me the earth was about to be hit by an asteroid and we were all about to be obliterated, there was no where to run from the asteroid and no where to run from the pain. I simply couldn’t run away from myself and you can’t stop the world and get off when an asteroid is on its way. That’s what the pain was like. Inescapable.
I talk about the pain because it was an important aspect of why I felt and still feel so let down by my body during labour. I thought my body was strong, capable. I laboured, drug induced for thirty six hours, in and out of hospital, which resulted in three failed epidurals and then finally an emergency c section under general anaesthetic. A bit like going to a bonfire display and then leaving before the fireworks start.. All that pain, all that time, and I missed the end. How do you come to terms with that? I felt that throughout my pregnancy I had been sold a lie that all women have amazing, mind blowing, beautiful out of this world birth experiences so that I thought I too, would also have this, that I had the right to one. Despite everyone around me post giving birth to my daughter telling me that the main thing was that both of us were alive, well and healthy it, does not change the fact that I had missed the birth of my baby.
During the last few hours of my labour, they noticed a drop in both the baby’s heart beat and mine, discovering that I had a mass infection of the amniotic fluids (Chorioamnionitis) a condition that affects only 1% of women and developed Sepsis, which resulted in both my baby girl and I being pumped full of intravenous antibiotics for five days in hospital. I remember being in recovery attempting to process what had just happened to me, completely unaware of what was to come mentally for me over the next few months. On the day that I was due to be released from hospital I sat up in bed to feed my daughter and my c section wound burst open from the left side. I screamed with fear. It felt as if all my innards were about to fall out and I was terrified to move. I panicked and shouted for the midwife. They called one of the doctors to come and stitch the wound back together. This was done in the same room under a local anaesthetic with my five day old daughter screaming for a feed. As they started to stitch me back together again the rest of the wound burst open. The fear that I felt is hard to describe, it felt like I was sat on a plane that was plummeting to the earth. I felt completely out of control of my own body. My life was in their hands. I was told I was able to go home the next day. Every movement I made at home was a gamble mentally as to wether it would happen again and I would burst open. I sought continuous and constant reassurance and I felt completely traumatised.
The thing is, I ask myself where the PTSD really begins and ends? Was it the unplanned c-section? The surgeon slicing open my abdomen and pulling my daughter from my womb whilst I lay unconscious in an drug induced state whilst a complete stranger (who I never got to meet again until many months later) cut our connection to one another; her cord to me, her life line for nine months? Or the fact that I will have never been witness to my own birth experience, getting the chance to actually live it? The knowledge that I can’t “re-do” that birth experience, or have the opportunity to make it right for myself tortures me.. To have never been the first one to meet her. All of these statements are hard to accept.
It’s been nine months since the birth of my daughter and I’m still suffering with flashbacks of the failed epidural attempts, the anaesthetist’s voice still echoes in my head about how he was ‘going to try again to insert the needle’, and the sound the wound made when it burst open is something I don’t think I will ever forget, a sort of popping noise and then the feeling that followed after of warmth. The blood leaking down the inside of my thighs. I’m meant to just carry on and be normal and look after my baby when I’ve never been a mother before and physically never had surgery or known what it would feel like to recover from such an ordeal. No one tells you that it could and quite often does go wrong or that your experience of giving birth is at least as far from what you think it will be like. Mine certainly was, it is as far away from a drug free, hypnobirthing water pool birth that you can get.
Nine months on and many doctors visits later I am currently seeking some psychological support after recently being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) something I had always associated with soldiers returning from the front line. If I were a Hermit Crab then I have officially been ousted from my shell and all previous notions of my old self. I can’t go back to being who I was before, and this is true to some extent to any new mother but I know I need to find a way to accept what has happened in order to move forwards. I feel that we were so poorly and ultimately I feel that I let myself down, that I failed to some extent to protect her, to be a complete and full woman, that everything was out of my control, that I was not able to give us both the experience I had always dreamed of when I had imagined of birthing my first child. This is terribly painful and I know will take some time to work through. Most days it is simply about the usual routines of “ok, we’re up, it’s breakfast time, then nap time then must get food shop then tidy the house, then perhaps try a baby group and then it’s bath time, feed time, bed.” You don’t have the same selfish personal thinking time to yourself to process things so it sort of gets put to the back burner and each day of coping with any emotion or feeling is difficult because you know you can’t stop for two minutes. Of course, this isn’t healthy and I guess what starts to happen is that you demonstrate behaviour that says “I need help.”
I’m unsure of the numbers, but there must be thousands of women out there that are currently struggling or have struggled with a Birth trauma and are going undiagnosed with birth related PTSD. I wanted to write something to address this in the sense that we need to talk about this openly and encourage both women and men to get help. I wish someone would have asked me sooner or helped me sooner so that I could find out how to help myself. My daughter is a beautiful, thriving young baby and I count my blessings each day, but I need to be healthy in order to be able to look after her. Each day I feel a little stronger in my mind that my experience of giving birth could have happened to any woman, that it’s ok to feel sad about how it went and that blaming myself or feeling inadequate in anyway will not change anything, certainly won’t help me mentally and so I look to the future and in any other potential baby that we might have and try to feel proud of what an incredible, amazing and life affirming thing it is and to have achieved.ABTA, Australasian Birth Trauma Association, birth, Birth Trauma, C-Section, Caesarean Section, Chorioamnionitis, PTSD