The days I gave birth to my children were not the best of my life.
They were the scariest, most painful, powerless days I have ever experienced.
When people hear you had a difficult birth the most common response is ‘well, they’re worth it’ or ‘at least they are healthy’. It feels as if you are being ungrateful, trivial or melodramatic for finding the experience traumatic.
Yes, of course my children are worth everything to me and I am thankful for them everyday. But that doesn’t make their births any less of an ordeal.
It doesn’t take away the memories of excruciating pain. It doesn’t stop those moments of sheer panic wondering if my daughter would be born alive. It doesn’t delete the slow motion montage of her being given oxygen and waiting desperately for her to cry.
When I was pregnant I wrote a post about making the right birth choice. When you experience a traumatic birth there is no choice, no control, no consultation. Your body is not your own but in the hands of a team of strangers.
I had a difficult birth with J. He became stuck after 3 hours pushing and I ended up with a forceps delivery. I then suffered a severe hemorrhage and needed surgery and two blood transfusions. I missed out on the lovely, natural water birth I dreamt of and my recovery was slow and painful.
I hoped baby A’s birth would be healing in some way. I knew I wouldn’t be allowed a water birth but I was hoping that I could manage no intervention. It was all going well – although very painfully as I had progressed too fast for an epidural – until baby’s head was out.
Then the midwife pressed the emergency button and suddenly the room filled with people. My baby was suffering shoulder dystocia and had become stuck behind my pubic bone. Her umbilical cord was being dangerously compressed and the medical team needed to work quickly to free her by
I couldn’t help my baby and I couldn’t help myself. We were powerless, fragile and our fates were in the hands of others. I felt like my body was being ripped apart and the most intense pain and fear tore through every inch of me.
Those few minutes were the longest of my life.
Finally she was out and rushed away to the paedeatricians. I could hear myself repeatedly saying ‘Is she alright? I want to hold her.’ Instead, I was being painfully prodded and poked to assess my internal damage and stem the bleeding while she was given oxygen.
Eventually the ordeal was over and I was handed my beautiful baby girl. I didn’t cry. I think I was still in too much shock. It wasn’t until later, on the recovery ward after surgery, that I allowed myself to relax and take her in.
My perfect little daughter.
I feel blessed to have two beautiful children. I know some women aren’t as lucky, either through infertility or loss, and I feel thankful for my family each and every day.
But it’s OK to say your children’s births were not the best days of your lives. It’s OK to say it wasn’t a magical experience. It’s OK to admit you are struggling to deal with the experience.
It doesn’t mean you love your children any less. It doesn’t mean you are ungrateful. It doesn’t mean you did anything wrong.
And remember this is just the start. There are many more magical days to come.
Two years later…
I wrote the original post just three weeks after giving birth to my daughter. I was still in shock, trying to process what had happened and struggling to come to terms with it.
I suffered flashbacks, constantly replaying the birth. It fuelled my anxiety around keeping J and A safe with their allergies and I felt constantly on edge and emotional.
I reached out to my health visitor who put me in touch with the local mental health team and I was diagnosed with PTSD. I was given a course of CBT therapy which I didn’t find very helpful but I did feel I was coping better with time.
Then, a few months ago I was running a course at an unrelated hospital. I walked past the maternity ward and immediately felt scared, anxious and out of control. I realised all those feelings of fear, guilt and powerlessness were repressed but not dealt with. Luckily, I talked to my wonderful friend and therapist Chloe Gold and one session of Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) and Neuro Linguistic Processing (NLP) with her has made a massive difference.
I didn’t realise what an effect it was having on every aspect of my life. I still wonder what could have been and I still mourn the lack of positive birth experiences but I feel I have fully addessed my feelings now.
If you have suffered a traumatic birth, or are struggling to deal with your experience, whatever it entailed, don’t be afraid to reach out. Talk to your partner, your GP or the Birth Trauma Association.