This is possibly quite naive, but I really didn’t know much about traumatic birth experiences and the huge impact they can have on your mental wellbeing. Everyone aspires to have a positive birth experience but I don’t think you realise just how much you invest in those thoughts while you’re pregnant. I thought I wanted a positive birth experience because I didn’t want to be in pain, I wanted to come out saying “it’s not that bad” but really that’s just a small part of it.
I thought I was really good when I was pregnant with Rory “I don’t have a birth plan, I don’t want to be disappointed if it doesn’t go to plan” I told everyone, I was so proud of myself. I was open to whatever needed to happen, I thought. Subconsciously though, I DID have expectations of how I wanted my labour to go. I had hoped for a quick labour, I longed for the first skin to skin contact and I really prayed I didn’t need to have a c-section. I ended up in labour for 39 hours, I couldn’t have skin to skin at first as Rory had to be taken away for health checks and I ended up having a c-section.
Birth trauma is so hard, as no one really ‘gets it’ unless they have been there themselves, it’s hard for them to share sympathy as they just see once you have recovered, you have a healthy and happy baby and that you should be able to move on. In theory, that’s a very simple process but unfortunately, there are a lot of other feelings that can be associated with your labour. For me, I felt disappointed, emotional, down and incredibly guilty about my labour. Mixed with the hormonal imbalance you have after you give birth it led to quite a dark few weeks for me. I’m a pretty ‘tough cookie’ there isn’t much in life that phases me, generally, I always take on a positive outlook but I really struggled with the feelings of my traumatic childbirth. I couldn’t think about it without feeling upset and most of the time I would cry. I had nightmares of being back in theatre or being in theatre trying to support someone else through a cesarian but falling apart.
In hindsight, I think I may have suffered from a touch of post-traumatic stress disorder but I didn’t recognise the signs at all. I felt (and still occasionally feel) like I was overreacting and that I should just be grateful that my boy was born safely, but I had no control over how my mind processed what happened. Almost 11 months later I am in a completely different, more positive place regarding my labour so wanted to share what I learnt and how I got there:
Time is a healer: As with everything, time is going to offer you strength and the power to move forward with this one. That may not be very comforting to you right now if you are very much in that pain, however, just know you won’t feel this bad forever.
Talk about it: This is really important! The more I discussed my labour, the more I found out things that I didn’t previously know or remember. I always felt gutted that I didn’t really react to Rorys birth as I was so out of it, but when I spoke to Rich a few months later he told me I’d actually cried when Rory was first born – I just didn’t remember! That eased my guilt a lot. People will be quick to tell you “but your baby was born safely” or something anecdotal like that which IS just them trying to help but that can be frustrating. I found it easier to say “oh yeah 100% and I am so glad, but I still feel like this” or something like that!
Read your Labour Notes: At my 8-week midwife appointment with my second pregnancy they had my labour notes from my first which they let me read over. This was cathartic for me, it welcomed this amazing sense of relief to read how things had panned out and fill in the gaps from where my memory was so hazy. I had always thought that I ended up having a ceasarian as my epidural had made my labour stop progressing and I needed to be induced, it turned out that Rory had got stuck and was trying to come out at a funny angle. I still think maybe if I hadn’t had an epidural that maybe time may have been more on my side and perhaps Rory could have got into a better position but it just meant that sole reason for my cesarian wasn’t just me.
Join support groups: This really doesn’t have to be anything too formal. I joined a couple of groups on Facebook but it was really nice to talk to likeminded people but most importantly to see that I wasn’t alone on my feelings and that actually they were pretty normal! That was the main thing, how I felt was completely acceptable, justified and normal!
Don’t rule out your GP: If you feel you still have PTSD associated with your childbirth, it may be worth visiting your GP! All too often people will feel too embarrassed to do so, but there is absolutely no shame in your emotions and it is your GPs job to support you. Your mental wellbeing is so important and this really isnt a time to neglect yourself.