Updated: Aug 9, 2019
There is so much stigma around birth trauma and the "women have been giving birth for a millennia, just pull yourself together" mentality. I think there would be a lot less new mums slipping into PND if the bad experiences were normalised and you don't feel like you're a complete failure because you're not having the perfect experience!
For me it was a culmination of a pregnancy scattered with complications, a history of depression and anxiety (which I was completely open about to my midwife, consultant, in fact anyone and everyone!) getting my date for induction and then having to wait on Ante-natal for 2.5 days alone (waiting for a bed on the labour ward and emergencies kept coming in, however my anxiety just kept climbing and climbing! My partner had to go home at night and come back the next day despite other people's partners staying elsewhere on the ward)
When I finally did make it down to labour ward everything happened so quickly...however being rushed off the theatre, high as a kite on gas and air was not on my radar...for whatever reason they left my partner in the labour room as they wheeled me away, someone taking my tshirt off on the journey, someone else removing my necklace with engagement ring on it and all I can remember is screaming for him, my partner, my support, my now in trouble babies father! I was hysterical! I remember screaming at the consultant to get him! It's what has stuck with me, even now 2 years on it haunts me...he should have been with me every step of the way. As it is he came into theatre just in time for our son to arrive and to cut his cord. The scary part of all of that is when we spoke about it afterwards I didn't realise how much that had affected him! He said he felt useless in that moment to see them wheel me away and hear me screaming and there was nothing he could do, so he just started to get my belongings together from in the labour room until he was sent for, he thought that was going to be last time he saw us. Even though he arrived ok into the world that whole experience has been tainted for us both.
The move to postnatal was ok and I had an amazing midwife who spent a good hour with me in the middle of the night trying to help me breast feed. That bit all went ok. Apart from the swelling, extreme haemorrhoids...inability to sit down, lie down or stand up comfortably.
My second trauma happened in those early days at home...the community midwife first visit was ok, due to the trauma of birth my boy was red and puffy with two bloodshot eyes and she said that due to my olive complexion she wasn't worried about jaundice but would come back in a few days anyway. I was trying to breastfeed, incredibly sore in any position I tried to be in and my poor boys face looked scarred from the forceps (this would later fade!) and he was red and swollen. I felt like I had failed him by not being able to get him safely on my own.
He stopped feeding. He started sleeping a lot. I would struggle to wake him to feed. I rang the midwives and told them, they said to get him out in the sun, keep waking him up to feed. So I did. The next day I rang again, saying his bloodshot eyes were clearing and his eyes were as yellow as custard, same advice and my community midwife would be out to visit me as planned the following morning. The following morning I rang again to say he was definitely not right, I knew it wasn't right...looking back I should have been more forthright or taken him to hospital myself, not waited...the midwife arrived at 4pm, agreed he looked slightly jaundice, took a blood sample (after 3 failed attempts, which I now know was because he was so dehydrated!) said she would call me in about an hour after dropping the test off with the results but not to worry.
The phone call I got I will never forget, "get yourself and your son and an overnight bag to hospital immediately they are expecting you" his bilirubin levels were sky high (I can't remember the amount but the paediatrician said it was bordering on dangerous), he was extremely dehydrated and was showing signs of kidney damage. As we walked into the hospital I had 2 doctors, 2 nurses and HCA basically take my son out of my arms and start stripping him off as they walked, putting him in an incubator and under UV lights...my 5 day old son was poorly.
My partner wasn't allowed to stay. I spent that first night, sore, bleeding, curled up on a broken hospital bed crying my heart out staring at my son who I couldn't hold, couldn't comfort, couldn't help. I was 'told off' for repeatedly taking him out of the incubator to soothe him and the paediatrician gave him a dummy. I was expressing (well, trying to!) and topping him up with formula milk to give him maximum time under the UV lights.
I retracted emotionally but I continued to function. I couldn't bond, I was convinced I was going to lose him. So I kept my distance.
I have to say at this point we had an AMAZING Health Care Assistant who looked after us, she was an angel, she snuck me in food when I refused to leave the room to join the meal queue, she produced a make do sleepy-head type thing using towels and a pillow case which seemed to help soothe my tiny poorly boy. She is the reason I didn't completely buckle under the pressure.
After a few days we were allowed home but my journey wasn't over...I spent the next 2 weeks feeding him every 3 hours...breastfeeding for an hour, topping him up with formula and then expressing...I didn't sleep. I became obsessed with his feeding. A different community midwife came to visit and told me to get him back on my breast...I tried to explain that the paediatrician told me to keep topping him up with formula to ensure we was getting x amount every feed...I felt beyond a failure. I had failed. I nearly lost my boy, this tiny helpless human being completely dependant on me and I had failed at being his mother before I had even started.
In the end I had to stop breast feeding...something had to give and it was easier to make sure he was having enough milk using formula, I could sleep, my partner could feed him and suddenly at 3.5 weeks old I finally saw a bit of a light at the end of the tunnel.
Then the colic and silent reflux started but hey, that's another story.
When asked if I will have anymore, I am haunted by my own screams that day and also the inability to bond is still with me...I feel detached from my own son, like I am babysitting him and someone is going go take him away. I do love him, of course I do, he is an incredible almost 2 year old cheeky funny intelligent little version of his daddy! But deep down I know I that I had built an emotional barrier and I don't think it has ever completely gone.
I know against some of the horrific birth stories out there mine is quite trivial but with my history of depression and anxiety it was humongous to me.
I spoke to the midwife and we discussed my birth notes in detail which was helpful to fill in some blanks that the diamorphine caused and help to understand how quickly it all happened. I've spoken to my health visitor about on going support but it's tricky to arrange around child care as there is only me and my partner. I have an anxiety group coming up soon but attendance on that depends on evenings he can be available.
I spent 4 years in my late twenties seeing a private psychotherapist regularly, but it is costly and whilst I am not working it is a low priority but definitely something I would do again.
I wanted to share my story in support of all the mums out there who are feeling like me. It needs to be talked about. Too many mums feel failures before they even start and too many mums slip into PND by not being open about how they feel. There is a stigma around how we should be feeling and how amazing, magical and beautiful the whole experience is supposed to be...even the slightest deviation from that and we clam up, not wanting to be judged or criticised, we just say 'it's fine' and struggle on.