This week is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week. This to me seems coincidentally fitting, as 6 years ago this week I was going through the biggest trauma of my life: The birth of my first child. Or, more precisely, the aftermath of this.
When my eldest was born, to say I was traumatised was an understatement. To be honest, after the experience that I had just had, if I had actually been able to move I would have gone and sat in the corner and started rocking in it.
It was horrific.
My pregnancy had been difficult to say the least. SPD, constant lack of movement (cheers for that anterior placenta) and numerous trips to the hospital because of raised blood pressure. Eventually, the blood pressure thing combined with the good old protein in urine situation, led them to book me in for an induction at 39 weeks.
Despite a difficult pregnancy, I have to say I hadn’t really thought too much about the birth. I had no birth plan. I hadn’t thought about the ‘what ifs’. I just assumed I would go in to labour, have a baby and that would be that.
I’ll admit it – I naively
trotted hobbled into the hospital on that Friday morning thinking I would be strolling out later that afternoon with my baby. I was so excited.
24 hours later I was still sat on the ward bouncing on the sodding ball, waiting for the pessary to work. It didn’t. Ever. Fast forwards another 24 hours and I was strapped to a monitor while the midwife broke my waters to get things moving. Although as it turned out, at 39 weeks pregnant with a baby who clearly didn’t feel she was adequately ‘cooked’ yet, things just didn’t want to get moving.
To cut a very long (72 hours to be precise) story short I ended up plugged into the syntocinon drip for nearly 2 days. A drip which was being ramped up in intensity every 30 minutes because ‘we need to get these contractions stronger’ (what the actual f**k- if they get any stronger my body is actually going to explode!) Following this were two failed epidurals and then pethidine, which did nothing except make me hallucinate that my husband was sat next to me eating a bacon roll when I had not been allowed to eat since the whole process began (oh right, no that actually happened).
Then came the news that the baby was in distress and I was taci-somthing (I later found out that I had had a temperature – seriously why do they have to add medical speak to everything?!).
Pretty sharpish we were whipped to theatre, prepped for a c-section and then miracle of all miracles they actually managed to get my daughter out with forceps.
She didn’t cry though. Why isn’t she crying? WHY ISNT SHE CRYING?
She was immediately bundled over to the corner where (it seemed like) 2000 staff were working on her. Eventually one of the doctors called over to tell me that she was fine. Thank god. Although it turned out that actually, I wasn’t.
When I was handed my baby I felt nothing. Not just because I’d had a spinal injection so I couldn’t feel anything from the waist down, no emotionally too I just felt… numb. Where was this rush of love it had read about? That feeling of euphoria? I didn’t feel any of that. In fact, I just felt exhausted.
In the days following the birth we were kept in hospital because of the complications that had happened both in pregnancy and during the birth. Yes I was offered breastfeeding advice. Yes they checked to make sure I was able to walk and use the bathroom. But did anyone check on how I was feeling emotionally? Nope.
I remember coming home from hospital and just feeling so spaced out. Obviously she was my first baby so my whole life had changed. But more than that I just felt… traumatised.
Traumatised about what I had just been through. Was that how birth was supposed to be? Was I normal to feel like this? And above all, had this trauma irreparably damaged the bond between my baby and I?
Well looking back now I can 100% say that no it didn’t. I feel just as close to my first beautiful daughter as I do my second two. However, what I do know is that I will always look back on her birth and remember it as the most scary time of my life. I think I will always be affected by it.
When I fell pregnant 13 months later with my second daughter, I have to say the memories of that first time were still pretty bloody raw. Thinking about the birth filled me with panic and I decided that the only thing for it was to have a C-section- I couldn’t go through all that again.
However, when I was 6 months pregnant, we moved 200 miles down south to West Sussex. Under a different primary care trust, the care that I received was completely different. I was put under a consultant and I was listened to.
My previous birth trauma was discussed and I wasn’t made to feel stupid for being scared this time around.
Most importantly (for me) I was assured that even if I was induced and even if the pessary was unsuccessful then they would not put me on a drip this time. I could at this point opt for a c-section instead.
Luckily with the birth of my second (and third) daughter, the pessary worked and the experience was so completely different. Yes it hurt, (obvs) but I felt so much more in control. And on reflection, maybe that was where most of the trauma stemmed from the first time around?
I’ll never be sure though. But what I do know, is that instead of telling everyone that I was ‘fine’ and assuring myself that the way I was feeling was normal, I wish I’d asked for help. For birth counselling. Because actually;
It’s ok not to be ok.
Birth is the most traumatic experience that most of us will ever put our bodies through. For a first time mum especially, and even more so if it doesn’t go the way you thought it was going to, it can really knock you for six.
So ask for help. Be kind to yourself. Don’t panic if the birth doesn’t go the way you had hoped. And above all, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t feel the way you are ‘supposed’ to feel after giving birth. Because I promise you, you will be finishing of their half chewed up mouthfuls of food in no time. And if that doesn’t show a love like no other, I don’t know what does….