I had never given much thought to birth trauma or the importance of empowerment, and I never would have imagined that one day I would be an advocate. But from my own experience of giving birth, I’ve come to realise there is a woeful lack of education for women around the realities of birth, and a serious need for change.
My daughter Seren was born two and a half years ago, and yet, I still feel the impact of the pregnancy and labour. The truth is that PTSD and birth trauma is very, very common. Labour can last hours, even days, but the physical and psychological effects can last much longer.
My pregnancy was pretty normal except for a few minor complications, though I was very poorly throughout. Towards the end, by pure accident, I tested positive for Group B Strep infection. At the time, I didn’t know what that meant, I’d never heard of the infection, and I didn’t know about the effects it can have on newborn babies, or the risks involved. I was told not to worry, that the hospital would take care of everything. Perhaps I was naïve, or just blissfully ignorant, but I most definitely was not prepared for birth, and the events that would unfold.
There is a culture of not wanting to frighten pregnant women – and it’s a concept I understand. However, the truth is women cannot possibly be in control of their birthing experience if they are not educated and aware. Without preparation, it can be extremely overwhelming when things go wrong – and often, they can. Labours rarely go to plan, and in reality, a simple, well-planned labour is rare. Education is key.
Unfortunately, at the time of my pregnancy and labour, I did not have education and confidence. I was induced two weeks past my due date, and we would later find out that I was hypersensitive to the hormones used. This meant labour was very intense, with few breaks between contractions. I was in almost constant agony for hours. By the time it came to push, I was exhausted.
I didn’t get much in the form of relief throughout the labour, which seems cruel. I was offered Pethidine, which I reacted badly to. I recall laying lifeless, feeling paralysed, trying desperately to call for help. I could hear comments about how peaceful I looked, but on the inside, I was screaming.
By the time I was taken to the birthing ward, I was totally unable to cope. I’d felt no relief, and I was in serious pain. I felt like my stomach was going to rip open, and hearing the screams from the labour ward, I remember thinking I couldn’t go on. I remember accepting that this would be the place I would die.
Labour was very hard – so its not surprising that the baby went into distress. I pleaded with my doctor to help me. We had discussed assisted birth in our baby classes, but I wasn’t prepared for the reality. I could feel the doctor cutting at my skin with surgical scissors. I remember feeling defeated and totally terrified, seeing blood, feeling the tears and feeling like I could pass out. I can still feel the scar almost three years later.
When the doctors finally handed me the baby, I cried. But I wasn’t joyful, I was relieved. So relieved that finally the ordeal was over.
The days that followed were harrowing. My partner was not allowed to stay with us at night, and I felt alone and abandoned. I began showing signs of post-natal depression and PTSD. I would have panic attacks, and struggle to breathe. When I finally slept, several days after the birth, I would dream about the experience, and I would wake up screaming for help, lunging out for comfort and crying. At the time, I felt like the only person in the world who felt like this. And the hospital offered no support.
A few days later, the baby got very sick. She had caught an infection, and I knew it was from me. We weren’t given the correct antibiotics for the GBS infection, and so, the baby was now poorly. I blamed myself and wondered if my partner blamed me too. She required regular antibiotics and was given an IV. The needle looked so big in her tiny hand. She underwent many tests and procedures to determine what was wrong. The sound of her screams and cries throughout the lumbar punctures still haunt me to this day.
Thankfully, her condition improved but when we finally left the hospital, we felt changed, and broken.
I now share my experience to create awareness, and I really urge women to educate themselves throughout their pregnancy experience. The key to being in control and feeling empowered is education.