“I have a dream, a song to sing” – ABBA
I cannot help but think of this song when considering to write about my birth story. I have a story inside of me that needs to come out. I don’t think I will ever be fully ready to share all of the traumatic details of my son’s birth, but how else will I heal? I can feel the tightness in my throat as I share this. All the more reason to push forward.
April 29, 2013
The day my baby boy arrived was the most surreal experience. I remember many details up to the moment of arrival and after. The in-between details are a foggy disorientated recollection. My amazing husband, Jamie, was thankfully by my side the whole time. My initial reaction was supreme gratitude toward the nurses for assisting during crucial moments and the helpful attention they provided to us after the arrival of my son. I am also extremely grateful for having a vaginal birth with minimal tearing. I have heard too many severely traumatic birth stories, that on one hand I don’t feel validated to call my own traumatic, but on the other hand, our individual experience matters.
Initially, things began uneventfully. My water broke at home on a Sunday after Jamie cooked us breakfast. I went to the bathroom and there it was. Like usual, nothing you envision or expect. I had read about the gushing experiences. Mine was more of a consistent release. I called my doctor and after a few significant questions, we were on our way to the hospital. My husband and I must have watched too many movies because we were driving faster than necessary, but aren’t we all so naive for our first time experiences with most things?
We arrived safely around noon and began the settling in process. I half expected things to go faster (another naive first-time mother thought). Luckily, the hospital encouraged eating, resting, and walking the floor to get things moving. At about 10-11 PM, we tried to sleep to get our rest in before things significantly progressed. Around midnight, my contractions increased, and I started to wonder how much more I could handle without assistance. I went into this with one birth class under my belt thinking, I will go as long as I can and then ask for help when needed. Contractions became closer together and more painful, so sleep wasn’t possible.
I believe this is the point where I began to have some anxiety due to many unfamiliar feelings and fear of the unknown. I also, even though I had my husband by my side, felt very alone and unsupported. It may not have helped that we were in a dim hospital room with all of the beeping machines hooked up like something could go wrong at any moment. We would periodically get checked on by nurses during their shift, but this was also unsettling, as there were about five shift changes during my labor total, so I had to get used to a new person each time.
I asked for an epidural around 2 AM. I was not dilating quickly enough to their standards, so a vaginal suppository was given to move this step along. I was given sleeping medications to get rest. The epidural did its magic, and I was able to rest from about 2 AM until about 4-5 AM. Around 5 AM is when things began to happen. It appeared I was dilated enough to begin pushing. I began pushing and didn’t stop until my son was born five hours later at 9:06 AM. This is where the disorientated details fade in and out. I have vague memories of pushing, not pushing, and not knowing how or when to push. I was on my back for the majority of my labor, which is where I believe my PTSD began. My body and nervous system felt trapped while under the influence of several medications and experiencing something new from a place of fear.
My saving grace was during the final shift change at 7 AM when a wonderful nurse practitioner at the time came in questioning some of what was going on. I was then able to crouch on the back of the bed, holding the bed to allow gravity to help out. It was at this point that I recall more details. The epidural had worn off by then so I could feel just about everything. I remember the feeling of needing to use the bathroom urgently. I was encouraged by the nurse and my husband to push the hardest that I could even though I was at my most delirious and exhausted state. I was encouraged to feel the baby’s head, anything to get through the last of it. At the end was the huge relief of the baby crowning, his tiny body slipping out, and feeling like everything poured out of me with this birth. I didn’t know it at the time, but I believe that I birthed more than just my baby that day.
My precious baby was placed on my chest skin to skin, and I did for the moment, forget everything.
My hypervigilant personality and PTSD caused things to slowly come back and replay in my mind since. It took me some time to realize that my birth story was traumatic. I have since learned that pushing is typically limited to three hours and then other interventions may be considered.
The fact that I had pushed for about five hours and was completely depleted and exhausted during the most crucial time, was one alarming piece of information that I learned two years after my delivery. I also didn’t have the courage to log into my patient portal to review the details of the hospital visit until about one year ago. I was shocked to see that I had been put on about 15 different medications during the entire process.
A couple of things have lodged into my consciousness. On the day of departure, one of the many good intentioned nurses wished us good luck and said to me “Enjoy this time and don’t come back for a couple of years.” I understand she was well-meaning in saying not to rush, however looking back, it allowed another seed of fear to be planted. Since being unable to conceive a second child to date, I cannot help but think I didn’t even have the option to come back in a couple of years.
Five years is a long time to look back and put the pieces of my experience back together. I have gone through significant health and personal growth since the Spring of 2013, and I wouldn’t change anything since these changes were extremely necessary. I will, however, do it completely differently if I am blessed to have another baby. I have identified feelings of inadequacy due to not being more aware of the birth process and doing more research beforehand. In addition to sorting through unprocessed baggage that I had been holding onto and am still working through, becoming a mother was a huge wake-up call. My son has been my biggest teacher and having him, to begin with, is a miracle in itself that I have struggled to feel worthy of. My feelings of being unable to perform one of the most magical and fundamental aspects of being a woman, to create and bear a child a second time, is something I am still struggling with. I believe this may be an underlying psychosomatic protective mechanism. The shame, sorrow, and utter loneliness that I experienced the first time around are one of the ingrained fears that may be holding me back. Learning to trust myself and my body for possibly the first time in my entire life has been one of the hardest things to do.
One of the most significant things that I have learned is gratefulness for my beautiful, healthy boy, the family that I have had a hand in creating, and for the lessons and strength that this experience has taught me. The events from the past five years have led me down new pathways that I may not have otherwise explored and have given me newfound hope for the future.
“I have a dream, a song to sing, to help me cope with anything.. you can take the future even if you fail. I believe in angels, something good in everything I see.. when I know the time is right for me” – ABBA
If you or your partner need support for a difficult birth experience, you can access our Peer2Peer Support Service via online chat for free at https://www.birthtrauma.org.au/birth-trauma-peer-2-peer-support-program/physical trauma, PTSD, vaginal birth