For many, the birthing experience is a positive, joyous occasion, but this isn’t always the case. In fact, up to 1 in 3 women who give birth experience birth trauma – physical or psychological. You’re not alone in how you may be feeling and support is available.
When you think of birth trauma, you tend to associate it with lights and sirens, rushing through hospital hallways with doctors and nurses yelling ‘STAT!’. However, in my experience, my birth trauma was much less eventful. At least that’s how I saw it until years later, when I realised that my baby born via emergency C-Section at 33.4weeks was in fact traumatic.
My baby boy, who is now 8 years old and thriving, decided that he’d had enough time in the womb while my husband and I were on our babymoon. Literally, 2-hours after checking into our lovely cottage B&B, he karate kicked and burst my waters. And when I say he burst my waters, it felt like the floodgates had been opened. I am not proud to say that my amniotic fluid well and truly ruined a lovely rug and that I stole a few towels to sit on while we drove to the hospital.
When I rang my hospital’s delivery suite, they told me to head straight in to see our obstetrician. During this high speed not so scenic drive, I’d started to have contractions meaning my labour had begun.
It was only when I got to the delivery suite that it had hit me that I might be having my baby that night. Although the midwives and my obstetrician didn’t let on, having a preemie baby was obviously not ideal for bub’s health. I was pretty chilled at this point, there didn’t seem to be much to worry about, I was going to meet my baby and that was exciting!
Because of his prematurity and possibly underdevelopment of his lungs they managed to stop the labour (who knew that was even possible!) to load me up on anti-biotics and steroids. After that it was very anti-climactic. The labour had stopped, the urgency had stopped and my baby seemed to be back to chilling in his comfy home. I lost time at this point, I couldn’t tell you if it had been 1 or 2 days. This is possibly because I was stuck on a hospital bed, possibly because of the meds I had been hooked up on, but a very high possibility is that my body was experiencing trauma so to deal with the fact that my baby was coming 6 weeks early, everything blurred.
The next thing I remember is that we had waited long enough and I didn’t have much amniotic fluid left so it was time to deliver. However, because baby wasn’t in an engaged position and was still lying across my belly rather than vertically, we had to go with a C-Section delivery. They called this an emergency C-Section, although after sitting around for so long it didn’t feel like it.
The C-Section was the fastest part of this whole experience. Soon after I was shown my tiny son, he was whisked away to be put in an incubator and taken to the Special Care Nursery. This is a step down from the newborn ICU, as I learned, it was a good thing.
I was left on my own on the operating table as my husband went with the baby and I was stitched up. This part is also blurry. I remember being wheeled to my room after recovery. I remember being alone, unable to move my legs and feeling so unsure of what had happened; how my baby was or where he was for that matter. I was alone.
At some point during the day a nurse kindly offered to get a wardsman to wheel my bed to the Special Care Nursery to see my new baby. My husband had been with him the whole time but not been able to hold him. I was only allowed to hold him for a short time because too much stimulation would use up the energy he needed to recover and grow. It was another 3 days before my husband was to have his first cuddle with baby.
I was back in my room that night and was instructed to try and hand express colostrum for baby. My milk hadn’t come in. The tiny droplets that I forced out felt so insignificant. It wasn’t much of an option that we had to mix-feed. I already felt like I was letting my baby down, but every 3 hours I made my way to the special care nursery to attempt to breastfeed.
We were told that our baby needed time to grow. He needed to stay in hospital for at least another 4 weeks. I was told I would be discharged a day or two later.
Going home while your baby stays hooked up to machines felt so unnatural. I was a blubbering mess that whole day. The beautiful nursing staff told me to go home and rest and I was welcome to come back as much as I wanted and he was in good hands.
For the next 3 and a half weeks, despite not having medical clearance to drive, I went back and forth from home to the hospital to see and feed my tiny boy. Not to mention that I was also expressing breastmilk to keep up with his demand, which I was not meeting by a long shot.
I was tired, mentally, physically and was going through the motions not being sure of what I was doing really. But time went on.
Slowly but surely, he came off one, then another then another machine. By 3 weeks the nurses were recommending that he go home. It was up to the paediatrician who kept him there for an extra 4 days, just to be sure.
When we went home, I felt unprepared. We went from having a full staff of nurses to just me and my husband. But day by day we survived.
Those months were so surreal and uncertain. It’s only now that I can identify that what I went through was birth trauma. This is with the help of my psychologist that has been with me for years, helping me come to terms with what happened, and deal with the repercussions of going through something like that alone.
ForWhen is a service that I wish had been available for me and other mothers back then and I’m so grateful that there is a service that can offer support to those of us who are struggling, are feeling unsure or just need something that is qualified to give advice to tell us it’s okay and help find our way again.
Birth trauma comes in different forms, mine was slow and somewhat calculated, it was safe but it still scarred me for life. If you feel like you’re experiencing anything like this at all I urge you to call the ForWhen careline.
It’s important to remember you’re not alone in how you may be feeling. The sooner you seek professional help, the sooner you can start your journey to recovery. The below organisations are a great place to start for support: