"Birth was supposed to be amazing, exhilarating and wondrous - not for me."
Writing for Birth Trauma Awareness Week, Susanne Remic describes her experience and explains why new mothers need better support.
Posted on: Mon 14-Aug-17 16:50:32
(94 comments )
My son was ripped from my body in a blur of panic and white hot fear. He didn't cry, I'm told. His lip was cut in the hurry to bring him into the world; a common occurrence, I'm told. He was resuscitated, life forced into his lungs before his screams filled the room, I'm told. And while my baby boy was making his grand arrival into the world, I was sleeping. Finally rid of the pain, fear and terror. Finally resting, blissfully unaware that I was a mother once more. Finally quiet, and alone once more.
It wasn't the entrance into the world that I had envisaged for my second born. Birth was supposed to be joyous. Birth was supposed to be happy. Birth was supposed to be amazing, exhilarating and wondrous! Not for me. I was sleeping as he was born. I was sleeping, and I didn’t want to wake up.
The hours after my son was born spiral around in my mind like fragmented pieces of someone else's story. The baby they handed to me was wrapped in a scratchy blue blanket and his skin was scrubbed and pink. He had a name and he was waiting for his first feed. He was waiting for me, but he surely wasn't my baby. I felt nothing. Blank. Empty. Hollow. I felt nothing. And yet, he was my son. He really was. And I was to care for him, whether I liked it or not, and so I switched on to auto pilot and I made myself be his mother.
Those hours on the postnatal ward were mixed. My son's first night was filled with screams (his) and sobs (mine) and yet I saw nobody but a poor, very lovely, student midwife. She helped me to prop the cot up to stop my baby's strangled chokes but she couldn't stay with me and so I spent those hours in between her visits convinced that he was going to die after all. Waiting for the inevitable. On the second night, I wobbled down to the hall for a shower and the relief I felt at leaving him behind was immense.
The first shower after a c-section is always awkward at best, and horrific at worst. Strangely, the cannula in my hand was the focus of my intense frustration and anger, and as the hot water jets struck it like needles I allowed the sobs to take over my body. I don't think I've ever felt more alone than I did right then. I wanted to stay locked in that bathroom but I knew that the pain radiating from every pore of my body would eventually force me back onto the ward.
Eight years is too long to wait. New mums need immediate support and help.
I don't remember speaking to many people. I had visitors, but they were there for the baby and not for me. I didn't want anyone to see me and I couldn't understand why they were trooping in with cards and presents and smiles and hugs. I couldn't understand why they were all celebrating.
The second night on the ward was spent in a haze of pain and tears. This baby wasn't the same as his sister; this one cried a lot and seemed to be in pain. A little ball of red hot anger. The midwives had little time for me, and I was told that every baby had a bad night - this was my turn.
And as the sun began to rise on day three, my two-day-old son and I were discharged from the hospital - much to my surprise. I was nowhere near ready to leave. I was utterly terrified at the thought of having to go home with this baby. I was petrified of being alone with him. I was shaking at the idea of being a real mum to him. Despite the noise, the heat and the bloody sheets, I wanted to stay in the hospital with life suspended for a little while longer. I didn't want to accept that this was it now. This was life. I wanted to escape for longer. Or, failing that, I wanted to leave without my baby.
I actually contemplated walking out of there alone. And I wasn't sure anyone would stop me.
In the end, we were sent home that evening. We stepped out of the hospital and into the cold of December, forced to return to our lives and jumble everything together for a new normal. I was discharged with no pain relief, after being told that there was nothing I could take if I wanted to breastfeed my baby. I didn't want to breastfeed my baby! I'd done it because they told me to, held him to my breast because they said he was hungry. I was going through all the motions but I felt nothing at all.
At home, I stood before the mirror in my bedroom and wept. Who was that woman? A tattoo of bruises snaking from her neck to her knees. Two angry scars slashed across her belly. Weak, broken, battered. I want to hold her and tell her that she's going to be ok, eventually. I want to rage and scream and cry for her. I want to go back and change it all.
But I cannot change anything now. Mistakes were made and I am starting to make peace with that. I am learning that the way I reacted to my son's birth and the early days of his life wasn't abnormal after all. I am accepting of the fact that I was not well. I was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, and I was in need of help. Help that I did not get. And I'm not alone.
Every year, up to 20,000 women go through a traumatic birth experience.* There is so much shame and guilt associated with birth trauma and too often women feel they are weak or abnormal for expressing their feelings. This has to stop! Health care providers need to be able to recognise when a woman is in need of support following her birth experience, and more needs to be done to give women the opportunity to speak out. I also believe that more needs to be done in the postnatal period.
The early days with your baby are so vitally important for bonding and establishing links between mother and child. After a traumatic birth it can be hard for women to feel a connection to their baby; it can be harder still to come to terms with being a mother when a baby is born under general anaesthetic. I know now that my reaction was not uncommon. What I needed back then was someone who understood. Someone who was able to spend some time listening to me, explaining what had happened and why. A birth reflections service is all well and good but some women are not able to ask for it. Health care providers need to recognise this and know when to offer additional support.
My son is almost eight years old. Six months ago I was given the official PTSD diagnosis. I've been through CBT therapy to try and find new ways to deal with the trauma of his birth and the early days of his life. Eight years is too long to wait. New mums need immediate support and help. New mums need compassion, kindness and respect. New mums need to know they are believed, they will be listened to and ultimately, they will be supported.
*Birth Trauma Association
Find out more about Birth Trauma Awareness Week and how Mumsnet is campaigning for Better Postnatal Care.
By Susanne Remic
Oh what an ordeal. I am glad you are out of the other side now. So much of what you say is very familiar - I know a bit of where you are coming from. Keep healing and good luck with the campaign.
I am exceptionally lucky, I was diagnosed with ptsd within six months of birth and had completed emdr four months later. The panic attacks, the flashbacks, the dreams all stopped. I had an amazing therapist, a gp who understood me, and a family behind me.
Without eye movement desensitisation reprogramming, I would not have gotten better.
My dd2 (last baby I am ever having) birth was horrific. Blue lighted from one hospital to another 30 mins away.
No gas and air in ambulance, just oxygen. Me bleeding everywhere.
She was eventually born by ventouse and had her cord wrapped around her neck twice.
She didn't cry straight away, so they had to suck mucus from her mouth and nose (I think).
I refused to hold her for a while as I felt so shaky I was worried I would drop her.
She is now 12 and full of attitude
I gave birth twice, both times great experiences, no pain relief, not unbearably long and no stitches afterwards. I was incredibly fortunate and know this is not the experience for everyone.
However, I didn't get off easy as both pregnancies were awful, terrible sickness, a bleed from the placenta with one and I hated every minute.
Message withdrawn at poster's request.
I'm a birth trauma and PTSD survivor too. It took me a long time to bond with minime. We survived AFE, at the time a rare birth event affecting 1/40000 births with a mortality rate of 85%. thankfully in the last 11 years and through education and the work of the AFE foundation in the states, it's dropped to 55% but that's still not great.
I didn't just have the flashbacks and panic and anxiety (which I still have but to a lesser extent thanks to CBT and intensive therapy), I also had survivor guilt. I didn't actually find out for 3 years what had happened because of a catalogue of errors made by my local hospital, but when I did the survivor guilt kicked in.
I feel blessed to have my daughter, but I'm forever angry with what's been taken from me: More children; although it's considered safe to go on and have more now, they didn't tell me what had happened and actually advised us not to have more. Full brain function (I have hypoxic brain damage from the resuscitation and somehow the coma and DIC did something as well but I don't understand it), messed up blood chemistry; also I had a transfusion so I can't give blood any more. Messed up immune system (new autoimmunes and allergies are a common side effect of AFE apparently; I'm now a celiac epi pen carrier)...
BUT WE'RE BOTH ALIVE. I have to cling to that and also somehow not let it bog me down in more guilt also.
It's good to read this, as it helps to put into words some of what I felt, and still feel sometimes.
I can't risk having a debrief/birth reflections session in case someone defensively dismisses what happened to us as I know that, mentally, I wouldn't be able to cope with that. I think I am doing OK dealing with it myself.
I don't know who is telling you this evangelical bullshit about giving birth but it's certainly a relatively recent phenomenon.
I had mine twenty years ago and nobody gave me any flannel about it being a great experience for me.
I was fortunate in having straightforward births but I was prepared for pain at the very least.
Modern day social media has hijacked not only the birth but the whole parenting process.
It's all meant to be so enlightening and enjoyable, instagrammable.
It isn't. Good looking blogs sell advertising, that's about the sum of it.
Awful but who says it's amazing. I knew it wouldn't be and demanded an epidural just as well as the resulting extremely dangerous birth that went horribly wrong and involved my son being dragged out with instruments and cutting practically up to my ears would have been agonising.
Thank God I had thought ahead and demanded an epidural, of course the midwives poo poo'd it as I was only 21 but I insisted.
As it was I felt almost nothing and was able to bond with my baby instead of being traumatised.
I never believed all the hype.
I had a terrible birth with baby no 3 and was blue lighted in an ambulance after 48hrs of strong contractions and my waters having gone . I was transferred to the consultant led unit as I had went from low risk to high risk as I wasn't progressing . I was then in labour for anothe12 hours and when baby finally arrived I started fitting and both me and baby were taken to intensive care unit and it was found I had sepsis . I was very poorly and critical for 10 days . It was an awful awful experience . I didn't get offered any support at all . However my 4 th baby arrived in lightening speed and we made it to hospital (just) and 4 mins later she was born . I had no pain relief and it was a wonderful experience . When I found out I was pregnant with dc4 I was terrified of the birth . I read Ina may gaskins guide to childbirth and I swear she is what made me have a beautiful natural calm delivery . Her book kept me so calm and made me believe that I could give birth without fear or intervention - I did it
I had a traumatic birth with my first dc and the consultant insisted I had a debrief as soon as I felt ready. Since then I have spoken to so many mothers who went through a similar experience and didn't even know a debrief was an option and were definitely not offered one. It's sad to think that something as simple as a debrief can make a massive difference to dealing with what happened yet so many people aren't aware of its existence.
DS was emergency c-section, I haemorrhaged and we both developed sepsis. After care was hideous - no pain relief, no one noticing that I cried all the time. I didn't sleep except when DH was there as I was convinced DS would die if I did. Requests for help were met with tellings off for taking up the midwives time.
It is only now, nearly 6 years later, that I feel properly recovered, though I fear my mental health will always be more fragile as a result of what happened.
I'm going to sound like a total bitch but I think that most women who believe they had traumatic births need to get a grip.
I gave birth in hospital in a third world country. I gave birth with my hands tied down lying in a puddle of someone else's blood in a room infested with cockroaches and flies. The ''doctor'' did things to me that would have landed her in prison in the U.K.
If you gave birth somewhere clean with qualified staff you have already had a better experience than millions of other women in the world.
Yes you're right firstworldproblems you do indeed sound like an total bitch...
Very sorry for everyone who has had such awful experiences. I can thoroughly recommend a debrief.I was also Very worried my experience would be minimised but it was the best thing I have done for my mh following pnd.
I was thinking recently women are sold such a lie "just think positive, do your breathing and it will be fine". I hate it. I had an awful time and no matter how much positive thinking I did it wouldn't have made a difference. There is a balance between not scaring pregnant women and bullshitting them. Thanks for sharing your story OP, it is so hard to talk about xx
Pfft firstworld I can't believe you went to hospital and had a doctor. What luxury. I just gave birth in my bedroom with no assistance and no pain relief. I don't understand why everyone doesn't do the same.
.........or maybe, just maybe, women's mental and physical health needs in birth are all individual? And some women will react badly to what doesn't faze others? Just a thought.
No-one gave me the idea it would be wonderful, either. I had my children around 20 years ago. The antenatal advice was quite realistic - yes we made birth plans but knew they were just plans. I'm not sure where this "birth is an amazing experience" came from. Certainly never looks like that on the telly, for example.
At the debrief for dc3's birth, the consultant suggested we were lucky as her spinal cord had not been severed or damaged by forceps, like the other debrief he was currently involved with.
My daughter's brain damage and permanent physical disability due to birth injury being the less important of his two cases, I left. I didn't get a lot from our debrief tbh. Just a sense of being staggered that the consultant was so obtuse.
I finally took myself for counselling a good few years later. It did help to stop the flashbacks and stuff, although it is still hard dealing with the professional reports from neonatal experts that arrive periodically as part of the medical negligence case. The most recent one discussed research about asphyxia in monkeys. I'm still not really sure what to do with that. Dd is almost 14. Birth trauma doesn't go away, but you learn to carry on.
Thank you for sharing your story OP and I'm sorry you had to experience that.
Having a debrief was a huge help to me following an EMCS with DS following a long and complicated labour. My concerns weren't dismissed or minimised and I would thoroughly recommend it if people feel ready to go through what happened with their birth.
Unfortunately as PP have said, there's too much pressure on women to have the 'perfect' instagrammable labour where it's all fully made up, filtered and posed to perfection. The reality is far from that and there should be more preparation & facts given at NHS / NCT classes.
One thing I was shocked at was the sickness - nobody warned me that I could be so horribly sick throughout (even during the c section) and when I mentioned it to people afterwards they said 'oh yes, we didn't want to scare you'
I can't risk having a debrief/birth reflections session in case someone defensively dismisses what happened to us as I know that, mentally, I wouldn't be able to cope with that
Sonicboomboom* omg yes this is exactly how I feel
I had a debrief after an ecs, infection, further surgery and Ileus. I found the debrief was a mixed bag...It helped that they admitted there had been mistakes in my care although they tried to defend the mistakes by telling me all the things that could have happened if they hadn't done x,y,z which might have been much worse. They then sent me a letter that's just plain dismissive. I thought I was being sensitive until my CBT counsellor read the letter and told me to lodge an official complaint.
Birth was supposed to be joyous. Birth was supposed to be happy. Birth was supposed to be amazing, exhilarating and wondrous!
firstworldproblems, do you want a medal? I'll look into getting you one.