Its taken 3 years to get to this point. I hope sharing my own birth story helps me turn a corner in my own recovery. I hope it helps others feel they aren't alone, and that their experiences matter. Even if they can't explain them yet, or, like me, it takes a huge amount of emotional turmoil just writing about it. Note my birth story is slightly sanitised from emotion, partly to protect myself from the trauma I will inevitably feel again.
My pregnancy was textbook low risk. I was 27, healthy, and prepared. I was organised, in control, and reassured that everything was fine at every midwife appointment. I have wide hips, my mum always reassured me I'd have no problems pushing a baby out!
Labour didn't happen naturally. After 2 full weeks past my due date, I was taken in to be induced. I hadn't had any braxton Hicks, and no real signs of going into labour.
I was induced using the hormone Gel at 9am. It took a while to work, and I was given a second dose a few hours in. By early evening, my contractions had started, with some ferocity- I went with the flow and assumed the contractions were as they were supposed to be. I moved into a birthing room and assumed active labour, pushing through the pain of my waters breaking under huge pressure, and apologising constantly to the midwifes for the inconvenience.
By early evening I was contracting hard and fast- once every 90 seconds. I was hyper-stimulated. The midwifes spoke of giving me a drug to slow the contractions down but were holding off as it wasn't great for my unborn baby, I was told. I struggled to urinate. By about 9pm I was passing the paper toilet bowl back full of blood. A few hours later I couldn't urinate at all. I was locally catheterised. My mum and aunty arrived at the hospital (perhaps expecting to see a baby after 12 hours) and I didn't want them to leave. I just knew I needed them there.
By midnight my labour had progressed slightly. I was at 4cm dilated, and I was moved into a midwife only unit in line with the birth plan I had created (I wanted a water birth). For the next 5 hours I laboured in a birthing pool, with my husband assisting me on every breath and push. This felt good- and we reached a happy rhythm of labour. I felt in control.
At some point in the early hours of the morning, I developed an overwhelming urge to push hard. I was now on my second set of midwives (new shift). They told me not to push. I was taken out the pool and given four injections in my legs. I don't remember this happening, but my mum does. I was put on a bed, on my side. The baby wasn't in the right position. It was possibly Back to back? They were going to try to move it. I physically couldn't follow their instructions. The pain was too much to lie on one side. I started to feel like the midwives were running out of options. I wasn't dilating further, but each contraction felt like I was slamming into a wall every few minutes. It had now been 22 hours and I was becoming exhausted.
The midwives decided I needed intervention. I was put in a wheelchair and packed off to several floors below. Here, I emotionally broke entirely. Something snapped inside me- I felt out of totally out of control, and out of options. I started to panic about how to get the baby out of me. I felt unsafe. I felt like the midwives didn't know what to do with me anymore. I broke down and sobbed like a child. By 9am the following morning I was moved into another room and put on a bed. Another set of midwives to learn the names of. They noted my husband looked exhausted. They urged him to make a bed in the corner and sleep. He lay there and cried for an hour. This sobered me out of my own weeping and I became strong again to support him. Later on the anaesthetist came to put an epidural in. My exhausted husband wept over my lap whilst the needle went in. I tried to reassure him that things would get better.
My epidural didn't seem to work. I started to lose control entirely. I started uncontrollably shaking. My mum got alarmed. Midwives checked progress of the labour- the examinations became incredibly painful and I remember howling in pain. My aunty pressed something to increase the epidural. Half my body went cold- my mum said again something wasn't right.
Around 10am I started losing consciousness. I could hear myself screaming but I couldn't see anything anymore. Midwives shook me and asked about the pain. I replied I didn't know what they were saying. In moments when I was lucid, I remember seeing lots of people in the room. Doctors were having a heated exchange with midwives over the babys heartbeat. They were trying to attach a doppler. I was taken off the other monitor and the room fell silent.
At some point before midday someone pressed the crash call button. I remember waking on the operating table with lots of people shouting and doing things quickly. My awareness became heightened and I seemed to take everything in from this point for the next hour. Every face in the room- the name of the consultant, where she was at every minute, the way she commanded the room with directions and order. Someone stood over me and asked me to sign a form before they operate. I was totally numb as I'd just had a third epidural. I was shaking uncontrollably and sweating. I desperately tried to sign my name- thinking that might be the last time if I died. I didn't recognise what came out of the pen- this shocked me. I tried so hard to write, and it seemed really important to sign my name if I died. I don't know why.
I shook, squirmed and wanted to escape for every minute of my emergency C section. The consultant talked of a distended third lobe on my uterus. I leaked a lot of tissue fluid. Everyone looked very relieved to get the baby out. There was a true knot in the umbilical cord. I would later learn the significance of this. I wasn't handed the baby and I didn't really care about the baby at that point, I just thought I was going to die. My husband (who had collapsed in a crying mess in the corridor outside the theatre) didn't want to see the baby. It had taken 27 hours to get the baby out- for 26 hours I pushed and tightened the knot in her chord, restricting her oxygen. She had swollen up and became obstructed due to her poor position. I knocked her unconscious by pushing too hard. Her heart rate plummeted.
My recovery was over a bank holiday weekend. I stayed in hospital for 4 days. I was in a room on my own, but very much left on my own. I didn't know at the time but I was truly traumatised. I was wired on morphine and paced the ward floor with my screaming child all night. My baby went to the Neonatal ward- I barely noticed when she went and came back. I didn't try to feed or change the baby's nappy that first night- I had forgotten how to function. I just held her. I was catheterised and the bag had come off its stand. I couldn't hold the baby and my urine bag, so I dragged it on the floor attached to me for the whole night whilst I paced around. In the morning the floor was covered in blood, the only person who saw was the cleaner. I learned how to empty my own urine bag in the sink. The second night a friend who worked in the hospital held my daughter so I could shower at about 3am. I showered in my hospital socks as I couldn't take them off. I stayed dripping wet until my husband came in the morning and got me out of the wet things.
I asked the midwives several times to assist with breastfeeding. There was no milk, and my large baby was very hungry. I was too weak to persevere, so she went onto formula. I tried to hide the crushing feelings of failure. They would stay for about a year afterwards.
I lied about feeding and nappy changes, I was desperate to get home. I could barely walk. My head was totally foggy on painkillers. I had developed brown skin patches all over my body, and my feet and hands started to swell like balloons. The Fragmin injections overthinned my blood, and I started to bleed from all the injection sites, especially in the shower. It was horrific. I had an emergency Doctors appointment within a day of going home- I had to park outside the door of the surgery and the receptionists watched through the window as I struggled to walk to the door. I had blood tests to check lots of organs to see if they were functioning. I felt utterly broken.
Worst of all was the nightmares and feelings of utter terror that washed over me in the following weeks. I would wake up early and sit on the sofa, reliving every moment in utter horror. I could barely breath and felt like I was strapped to the sofa. My husband would wake me in the night as I was screaming in my sleep.
The following months saw a normal pattern of reliving the birth experience every day. Sometimes new details emerged. I cried if left alone- in the bath or shower, first thing in the morning. It felt like an obsession I couldn't stop. I tried desperately hard to hide my feelings from visiting midwives and health visitors. I thought they would take my baby away if they knew the truth and I was ashamed. I didn't know what I was feeling wasn't 'normal', for a long time.
3 years later, I have sought out many therapies in recognising I probably have PTSD. I don't stick at therapy- its too painful. I no longer think about the birth everyday. Instead, an automatic adrenaline response is triggered sometimes and out of nowhere I cant breath, talk, and I want to escape. I've got about 10 minutes of holding it in before I start crying. I can't stop it, and it happens without having to relive the birth. I avoid baby showers, holding friends babies, talking about friends pregnancies (I know i'll have a nightmare following this, or flashbacks- they are vivid).
I now recognise that I need to focus on my mental health and push through with therapy. I don't know if I will ever have another child- I literally cant think about another birth. I no longer remember what it feels like not to carry around what feels like a PTSD ticking time bomb- never knowing when it might plunge me back. But I am hopeful in taking back control in the future. I hope to prove to myself and others that a traumatic birth doesnt have to stay a burden that you carry forever. I think I'm ready to face the challenge ahead.
What would have made your birth experience better? A scan at 36 weeks may have revealed my baby's position and True Umbilical Cord knot. It also may not have however, but the scan wasn't offered to me as I was considered low risk. Earlier intervention and better communication about what was happening to me.
Better post birth care in hospital.
Better signposting of trauma related conditions by health visitors and midwives in the community. perhaps better spotting of trauma related behaviour? Although I tried to hide it, there must have been some evidence of PTSD related behaviours. If I had filled in a related questionnaire, I would have been spotted as suffering.
More health visitor contact between months 3-9.
Better NHS trauma provision (what was offered on the NHS re-traumatised me and left me googling answers for months)
A more formalised apology by the hospital- I had a half hearted apology for the midwives not noting down the baby's wrong positioning during my labour. I couldn't fault the emergency C section surgeons and team.
Managing expectations for people who like to be in full control. The birth plan was unhelpful. Pre-labour therapy perhaps on managing control impulses.