Dancing was my favourite thing. Pre-babies I loved to be out dancing, to be totally free, to inhabit my body in a way that I didn’t care about what was happening outside of myself.
Then at the birth of my son that part of me left my body.
I had curated the most ‘perfect’ birth. I had the candles, the birth pool, the affirmations but baby boy was getting near three weeks ‘overdue’ and the pressure was on. At twenty-one days post due date I had an unplanned and unwanted emergency c-section. It was a traumatic experience on many levels: physically, mentally and emotionally. I had been told by one registrar (after encountering a sea of different people every day) that my baby was going to die because I was so overdue. At that point all was actually fine with baby and with me but it frightened me enough to finally consent to induction, which didn’t work. After two failed attempts at induction the baby’s heart rate had dropped and, terrified, I was on the operating table.
The cesarean itself was actually ok, I mean, it wasn’t at all what I wanted but I was going with it and just wanted to get the baby out safely. Afterwards however when taken to the recovery room I had some kind of reaction where the upper part of my body became numb and I felt like the numbness was closing in on me – up my neck around my face and into my mouth. After the stress and fast pace of getting baby out, I thought I was dying and I remember saying to my partner, as if they were my parting words, to ‘look after the baby’ as the panicked midwife fetched for back up and the anesthetist’s face hovered above me.
They didn’t work out exactly what happened and I recovered from it quickly but the trauma of my whole birth experience stayed with me. I developed PTSD and Perinatal Anxiety but didn’t know this for a long time afterwards and had diagnosed myself before I sought professional support for what I was going through.
Birth Trauma can manifest in many forms and comes down to what the birthing woman considered to be traumatic. For me it was being deemed too ‘late’ and therefore problematic to the system. It was in the language that was used when professionals spoke to me – particularly being told that my baby was going to die when the risk of it at that time, although considered to be doubled that of a person birthing a 42 weeks, was actually still small. It was the basic loss of my dream birth and feeling that my body was broken and that I had failed in being able to birth my baby (I was told that if I believed I could I would, right?). And it was in the physical reaction, whatever it was, after the birth that I believe particularly sealed the PTSD deal, inviting hypervigilance and hardcore anxiety into my first few days, months and the first two years of my son’s life/my new role as a mother.
A manifestation of the PTSD in my daily life was not being able to tolerate loud sounds, which included my baby’s cry, or too many sounds happening at once. I also couldn’t listen to music anymore, let alone dance. It filled up my head and made me confused and overwhelmed. Whenever my partner wanted to put a record on or play music in the kitchen like we often used to I would either say no or pretty much had to leave the space without really explaining to him why. I also didn’t feel like dancing. My relationship with my body had changed but fundamentally I couldn’t find the joy in listening to music, something had changed inside of me.
When I became (half) ready for baby no.2, after eighteen months of ‘never again’ (a long journey), I became pregnant and started going to a Pregnancy Yoga class. I welcomed how the gentle movements and mindful ‘being with baby’ started to bring me back into my body, a place I felt I had not been for a long time. As due date approached I made playlists and found myself joyfully dancing with my bump in anticipation of my hopefully positive imminent birth.
Baby girl’s birth turned out to be like a distant echo of my son’s. Not as traumatic, though some pretty tough moments. Interestingly (though still early days at time of writing to fully reflect) it seemed to exist within the story of my first birth. She was nineteen days ‘overdue’ and in the end, despite fervently trying to prove that I ‘could do it’ (candles, birth pool, affirmations – ended up not using any) she came via cesarean. This time however I think I was better prepared and the birth, although not what I had hoped for, was on my terms.
Eleven weeks later and it’s Birth Trauma Awareness Week in the UK. I am downstairs with my toddler and baby and I decide to put a record on. It’s Blue by Joni Mitchell, a record when heard that catapults me straight back to a time before babies, to the exciting university years when I was full of energy and ideas, energised about making art and learning things about the world. A record which also maps for me the first few months with my partner, having borrowed it from the university library at the same time we started our relationship. As I place the needle on the vinyl my son begins to dance. He pulls me towards the rug, his dance floor, and holding the baby I begin to dance with him. I am hit by the memories stored within the music and by the absolute joy to be dancing with my two children. I am aware that I am within my body again, dancing. I realise that after the trauma, the blurriness, the anxiety, that when there is happiness it is so much sweeter and I am grateful.