Two births. Two very different experiences. My first was traumatic and had a lasting impact on my mental health. It also tainted my second pregnancy with stress and anxiety. As long as Mum and baby are okay it is the norm to glaze over the trauma. But we must talk about this, and the devestating effects it has. No more pushing it under the carpet.
Everyone loves a birth story, right? Whether it is watching One Born Every Minute or devouring birth stories via social media. It seems it is now a, ‘thing’ to share your birth story in an obligatory blog post. When I first started blogging it was my birth story that I began with. I recently shared my latest birth experience and it attracted over 2000 views in a matter of hours.
There is something about a birth story, whether it be good or bad, whereas long as mother and baby are okay, the trauma is sugar-coated and forgotten about by the time you reach the end. It is the secret shame among mothers - birth trauma and the devastating effect it can have, not only physically but mentally, too. You are made to feel as though you cannot really be honest about a traumatic birth, you glaze over details only to relive them on your own later. You should be grateful your baby is here shouldn’t you? No, best not divulge too much as you do not want to scare others. No one wants to hear the gory details. But we should be talking about birth trauma. We should be educating mums in ante-natal classes. After all, if this wasn’t made to be such a shameful secret perhaps we would all be dealing with birth trauma in a more positive and healthy way, rather than pushing it to the back of our minds and leaving it to fester.
The birth of my first son to this day haunts me. The pregnancy was a healthy one and when it came to it, my waters broke and things were standard. His heart rate dropped slightly but he arrived minutes later. After delivering the placenta I then haemorrhaged, and I can vividly remember the nurses pulling out blood clots with their hands. The pain was unbearable and I was passing in and out of consciousness. My partner said afterwards it was one of the worst things he has ever seen in this life. Reliving it over and over is something that contributed to my postpartum diagnosis of PTSD. From this I then developed an infection and regularly passed large blood clots for the next 7 days. This, coupled with the fact my son was diagnosed with a life-threatening heart condition and admitted to NICU. I look back on my first birth and can only use one word to describe it - traumatic.
I missed out on the crucial first moments of his life and it is something that was hard to come to terms with. I passed out and I can remember waking up on the hospital floor surrounded by 10 or so people with alarms going off. I had to have a blood transfusion, and I couldn’t walk properly for two days. I was the weakest I had ever been in my life. After the birth, it is all about the baby.
Even more so when you have a baby in NICU. I tried to repress the experience I had. I never dealt with this properly, nor was I asked or offered any help regarding it. It only takes one smell, a noise and I am instantly transported back, it also had an impact on my partner. When discussing future children, it was always brought up - what if it happens again? We had to come to accept that the birth of my son was one of the worst times of my life.
My second pregnancy was tainted. With worry, anxiety about the birth, and the health of my child. Hours were spent agonising over my first birth experience. Whenever I tried to voice my fear generally I was shut down that it wouldn’t happen again. There were some people who helped me a lot, one midwife who knew the effect the birth had on me, and whenever I came out from seeing her I felt positive. She made notes, and she was the only midwife to ask about my mental health. She actively encouraged hypnobirthing. It seemed to me the trauma of my first birth was never acknowledged, and I realised this is the message we send out as a society as well. So, you had a bad birth? Baby okay? Well then, never mind. We do not talk about it, and we certainly do not actively educate ourselves about the effects of it.
We were deemed a high-risk pregnancy and precautions were put into place by the hospital to avoid a similar experience. It felt like if I had a good birth experience it would make up for the trauma of the first. It would be closure, so I threw myself into trying to achieve this. The pressure I put on myself crippled me and soon turned into depression. I was so fearful of having another traumatic birth I began to regret my decision to have another baby. My second birth was a very unexpected one. I gave birth quickly at home in the bath in less than 50 minutes. When I arrived at the hospital I will forever be grateful to the midwives who looked after me, took time reading my birth plan and notes and could not have been more mindful of what I went through the first-time round.
There are a handful of amazing people actively looking to change the way we see and talk about birth trauma. This is why I am sharing my birth trauma without shame, to talk about the lasting impact it had on my mental health. One that nearly saw me not having any more children. One that took the enjoyment out of my second pregnancy and replaced it with constant fear and flashbacks.
To anyone who has had a traumatic birth, seek help and talk about it. Do not feel ashamed, do not worry you will be judged as ungrateful. Do not put it down to, ‘well it was one of those things’. Share, educate and acknowledge it. We need to be changing the message that birth trauma isn’t shameful and we need to set up a dedicated support system for those that go through it. Hopefully, this Birth Trauma Awareness Week will be the start of this.