Updated: Aug 9, 2019
Here, for Infant Mental Health Awareness Week 2019, Jen shares the story of her recovery from a traumatic birth.
My son Archie was born on the 9th June 2018 a strapping 8lb 3oz. Prior to his birth I had immersed myself in hypnobirthing, pregnancy yoga, positive birth stories, NCT classes - the lot. I went to breastfeeding workshops, watched all the videos, prepared myself for how brutal it would be. I had known even before I was pregnant that induction was not for me. Either I was pushing this baby out myself or I wanted a c-section. It was loosely discussed at my birth plan. If it it came to it I could just ask for what i wanted, right? I never imagined in a million years what my birth would hold for me.
My waters broke at home at 10:45 PM on Thursday 7th June. I'll never forget it. Proper film style, absolutely everywhere. Then I thought, oh, no contractions? I never knew this was a "thing" - no one really talks about premature rupture of membranes!
I went to the hospital and it was confirmed my waters had broken and they told me I had 48 hours to get my labour started. Again, totally new information, never discussed at any antenatal appointments, classes etc. So my husband and I came home and I had some mild very irregular contractions which eventually totally stopped.
24 hours later we returned to the hospital at 11 PM where I was told, not asked, that I was to be induced. I asked why I hadn’t been told that this was why I was asked to come back as I thought I had another 12 hours to get my labour going.
At this point a doctor arrived. My immediate request was for a C section. He said "why would you want to do that? We don't offer that here”. I explained in-depth my reasons that I did not want to be induced. I had written this in my birth plan and chatted at length with my antenatal midwife about my wishes. My request was completely quashed, not even considered. I was so exhausted and vulnerable I just didn't know what to do.
The midwife then offered me a sweep which I accepted. This did start some stronger contractions and she told me I was 2cm dilated. I was sent to the antenatal ward at 1am to await a labour ward bed. I continue to have contractions throughout the night. I kept asking the midwife who was looking after us on several occasions couldn’t I have a C section?
At 6am a midwife in a long green gown came to my bed space and told me I was off to be induced.
When I got to labour ward, it was so clinical. A bed in the middle of the room with stirrups. Where was my birth pool and double bed for post birth? I was told that they were going to start the drip immediately. They completed an internal examination and I was still only 1 to 2 cm dilated. I knew my body was not going to birth my baby naturally. In almost 36 hours I had not progressed. I explained that I didn’t want the drip over and over again, that I wanted to discuss having an elective C section as per my birth plan.
I was asked why I would want major abdominal surgery over the hormone drip. That I was silly for not accepting it without question. I explained that I was clearly not dilating and was worried for my baby. I was told that c section was not an option and the drip was prepared. At this point I told them that I was not having the drip commenced until I had an epidural inserted. In my heart of hearts I knew i was going to end with a c-section so thought it would be the best option.I was asked to use pethidine instead. I explained I did not want pethidine. The told me that the drip needed to be started and my epidural could be placed later. They put a cannula into my arm and the drip commenced. The contractions were instant. At the point they did come to put my epidural in over an hour later they failed 3 times to insert it, finally getting it in on the 4th attempt.
I started to feel very sick around 1 hour after the epidural was put up and asked for some anti-sickness medication. After this I began shivering violently. I couldn't talk through the shaking. This went on for around 2 hours. There were several midwives in and out of the room checking the babies trace including the head midwife and doctors. I was also asked to move position on a very regular basis but people wouldn’t tell me what was going on. I am a nurse with over 10 years experience and although I'm not a midwife I knew something was wrong. I have never felt so vulnerable and out of control.
Suddenly, I had severe impending sense of doom. I turned to my husband and told him to get a midwife. In that moment it were as thought I were outside my body looking at myself. I was laid on an operating table and me and the baby were dying. My husband watched as we slipped away and died. I have never had been so frightened. A midwife came and checked my temperature and realised I was septic with a temperature of 39.5.
I knew at this point that they were going to take me for a C section as when they checked me I was still only 2 cm dilated and the baby was distressed. This was 42 hours after my waters had broken.
I do not remember the birth of my son on Saturday 9th June at 2.25pm. I had so many drugs and was so ill from the infection that to this day I cannot remember seeing him for the first time or holding him. All I remember is shouting “I need to do skin to skin! Please bring him to me!” but he had to be checked and given antibiotics. All I could think was “that's it, the bonding, its ruined”. I will never have those memories but I know I cannot dwell on that.
We were taken to recovery where all I wanted to do was sleep. I have never felt so ill and so exhausted. We had been awake for over 48 hours. My husband dressed our new arrival and did his first nappy change. I managed to feed him but remember very little else of that time.
The next day, Sunday, a midwife asked to see my wound and noted it was very red and I was in a lot of pain. No one then rechecked my wound and on the Monday it was noted that I had cellulitis and needed antibiotics. I was told that I was anaemic but only on the Monday after surgery and that I was given pain relief that wasn’t prescribed.
I was so ill and exhausted and didn't get enough breastfeeding support. Archie was jaundiced and I hadn’t really been able to feed but again this wasn’t picked up until the Monday when my boobs were already ruined and in agony.
We were in hospital for 6 days and discharged with minimal support.
All in all it was incredibly traumatic. I then had to deal with the aftermath of not being able to breastfeed which sent me into a deep depression. I could never have imagined the emotional and physical pain trying to breastfeed and failing every time would bring. I thought I would never bond with my boy. It haunted me day in and day out. I believed that I, his mother, who grew him, could have been anyone to my son, I was nothing to him. I have never felt so numb yet so full of anxiety and sadness at the same time.
However, there is a happy ending to this.
I booked in for a debrief at the hospital after friends who had had traumatic births told me I needed to push for this. When i went I realised that all the things I started to think hadn't really happened actually had. It was affirming and made me realise that the start Archie and I had was not my fault. That I couldn't blame myself.
We saw a midwife 2 weeks post birth who picked up that I was not coping. She signposted me to post natal counselling. At 5 weeks post birth I was diagnosed with birth related PTSD. I had many weeks of counselling. I was so thankful for that service. The GP was also acutely aware of what we had been through and kept an eye on us. Talking is such a key part of the recovery process even though its incredibly painful. They made me see that I cared incredibly deeply for Archie even though I felt like I was terrible mother and he deserved better.
I put a formal complaint into the hospital. Those who know me know I am not a complainer! However, I knew that I didn't want any other women, babies and families to go through what I had been through. I feel so many women don’t know where to start with this. Just put pen to paper. Get help from someone. I have now met with the hospital who have been very open and honest with me about the failings in my case and changes they are making to their services. I feel that was incredibly helpful. I am hoping to sit on their patient ambassador group. A traumatic birth cant be changed but you can drive change so it stops happening.
And as for me and my little boy. Where to even begin. I cried every single day until he was 4.5 months old. I lived in a constant state of anxiety thinking “I just need to keep him alive and well as I’ve failed him to this point”. I saw all these other mothers who seemed to be having a great time. Talking about the rushes of love. I spent so many hours/days/weeks/months of deep heartbreak about not breastfeeding and having no bond. I could not have been more wrong. I wish I could have seen how it would be so I could have been more kind to myself.
Now, 10 months in, we are so close I could never have imagined the feeling. When he sees me he crawls right over for cuddles. When I pick him up from nursery he whizzes over a big smile on his face. When he was first born I didn't want to talk to anyone about him. Now
I am definitely that mum who wants to show everyone photos!
I know that my husband and I are incredibly lucky to have walked out of hospital with our baby. I know our trauma is nothing compared to some families. No matter what - you are not alone. No matter what your birth has been, how deep you feel you are in the pits of darkness. Talk. Talk and cry. Cry until you feel your tears have run out and then cry some more. Look at the good things you do everyday. Don’t just focus on what you THINK you have “failed” at. Have you survived the day? Excellent. You did it.
I think things that helped us with bonding were spending time with mothers who were on my wavelength. Who I could be totally honest with. You build your village. Find people who you feel comfortable with. Those who build you up, listen to you and understand you.
Take time for some self care. For some “you” time. You can't give from an empty cup.
Try and just spend time having some cuddles with your baby or something that makes you feel close to them if you can - maybe a piece of their clothing or a toy. Take photos too if you can so when you look back you can see how far a journey you have had. Just because the birth and breastfeeding didn't go as planned for us it didn't mean nothing was right. Remember that.
Speak to someone about your feelings. Don't be frightened to talk. If someone asks you how you are just answer it truthfully. Be honest with professionals - midwives, health visitors, GPs. The older Archie got the more we got back the more I realised that we had been bonded from the moment he was born. Sometimes it’s impossible to see the wood through the trees. And regardless of the birth you have had, the shock of a newborn is indescribable! You are not alone.