Birth Trauma Without the Trauma

Up until the moment just before Squidge was born and the midwife realised he had the cord wrapped round his neck my labour and his delivery were probably as close to textbook as you can get.

I went into labour at 37 weeks and didn’t realise I was in labour until about two hours before he arrived, I got to 10cm dilated at home with no medical intervention (completely by accident) and I only needed gas and air for the whole delivery. I did end up going to hospital in an ambulance but that was because the combination of Squidge being back to back me being so far along meant that I couldn’t actually sit in the car long enough to drive to the hospital.

I did everything the midwives told me to; I pushed rather than screamed, I stopped pushing while they unwound the cord from Squidge’s neck and I didn’t have to be told to do anything twice.

Everything went smoothly, there were no complications and we later calculated that I probably in labour for about nine hours in total but that I had managed to sleep through five of those. All in all for a first delivery it was very straight forward.

It was also the most traumatic experience of my life.

I had originally been booked to have Squidge by elective c-section at 38 and a half weeks, partly due to having gestational diabetes but mostly because I needed a set date to aim for knowing that on that day I would no longer be pregnant. Not knowing when Squidge would eventually arrive and the possibility of going overdue something I just couldn’t cope with and so the obstetric consultant agreed that an early c-section was in my best interests.

Although I knew there was a chance I could go into labour before the c-section date I was in such a bad place that I didn’t feel able to go to any antenatal classes as that would mean interacting with other mums-to-be. I’d been to several deliveries as a student and as a nurse and I’d learned about the stages of labour so I decided that would be sufficient.

A few days after Squidge was born I was eternally grateful that I hadn’t had a c-section as coping with a new baby was hard enough without the added difficulty of major abdominal surgery and the resulting after effects.

I was also still traumatised by the way in which he had arrived but not for the reasons that most people would think.

I didn’t even know he had the cord around his neck until a few hours later; I didn’t hear the emergency buzzer go off and although Squidge was apparently a funny shade of navy when he was delivered he was handed to me looking very pink and rather cross. He was rather groggy afterwards from being oxygen deprived and narrowly avoided a stay in special care but ultimately he was fine and I knew this.

How do you have a traumatic delivery when there’s been very little in the way of actual trauma to either you or the baby?

I did end up needing a hormone drip to expel a small piece of retained placenta and I needed stitches for grade two tearing but bearing in mind how quickly Squidge arrived and how little I’d done to prepare my body for labour I got off pretty lightly. I never had any issues with the stitches, everything healed nicely and my pelvic floor is still in quite good shape.

I’ve met women who were in labour for days as opposed to hours, who needed dozens of stitches for grade four tears and who ended up with instrumental deliveries or emergency c-sections after being in labour for far longer than me. They had babies with heads temporarily damaged with forceps, who had been oxygen deprived and admitted to the neonatal unit, who had damage to nerves and broken collar bones as a result of becoming stuck.

I had a healthy baby and minimal damage to myself and it seemed as far as anyone else was concerned I should be pleased with how everything went.

When Squidge was about two weeks old I tried to tell my mum how I’d been affected by going into labour and having a natural delivery and although she was kind she was also less than sympathetic. She’d delivered me and my brother in much the same way as I delivered Squidge (apart from the ambulance bit) and while she was understanding with regards to the pain of labour and the resulting damage she told me that I would forget about the pain and that everything would heal in a few weeks.

Ten months on and everything has healed and although I haven’t forgotten the pain time has dimmed the recollection. I know the pain of delivering a back to back baby was the worst I’d ever experienced it isn’t the memory of pain that hides in the back of my mind and appears in my dreams.

It’s the absolute powerlessness that I felt.

I remember that as clearly s I remember the relief when the pain stopped.

I thought I was use to feeling powerless; depression had held me in its iron grip for so long that I had accepted it as part of my life. I still railed and fought against it, taking each good day as a victory but deep down I knew that depression would still be with me in one form or another until the day I died.

Now the memory of labour sits alongside depression and every so often they’ll run their cold fingers down my spine just t make sure I remember they’re still there.

That they’ll always be there.

I’ve heard women say that being in labour and delivering a healthy baby made them feel strong and empowered but I felt like a frightened child; not understanding what was happening to me but knowing that my mum wasn’t coming to save me.

I don’t remember large parts of being in established labour, partly I think from the effects of the gas and air and partly because I’ve managed to repress most of it. However, I can still remember feeling as though I was trapped in a waking nightmare in which I was completely alone and no one was able to reach me.

I forgot what it was like not to be in pain.

The gas and air made it difficult for me to open my eyes so most of the time I didn’t know where I was or who was in the room.

Even though the room was full of people – the Northern One, two midwives, a healthcare assistant and a doctor I’ve never felt so completely alone.

The Northern One was there; he was stood right beside me talking to me but I couldn’t find him in amongst the hallucinations and the imagined monsters.

I remember the instant relief from the pain when Squidge was actually delivered and then a few minutes later when the placenta was delivered but instead of being elated as the successful delivery of a healthy baby I just felt afraid.

The only way I could escape was by going to sleep and although that wasn’t remotely difficult I pretended to still be asleep long before I actually was and after I woke up.

Remembering being in labour still causes my heart to race and panic to start bubbling in my stomach.

It’s not an experience I think I can go through again because if there ever is a next time I’ll know exactly what’s coming.

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5 thoughts on “Birth Trauma Without the Trauma

  1. thenthefunbegan says:

    Oh wow. Your experience of labour is so difficult to understand from the outside – it really is a mental health problem though so I’m not sure why your mum wasn’t a bit more understanding about that. I just want to tell you that although I have two children and it was the destiny I always thought I would reach one day, I definitely have days where I think life would have been so much nicer with just one child. There are so many benefits to having an only child. If you really couldn’t bear to go through it again, don’t beat yourself up about it. I really don’t know how much you want another child though but I know that the urge to have a child can be all-encompassing – I just hope you find a way to happiness with whatever comes to be one way or the other. Thanks so much for linking up to #thetruthabout X

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  2. Eärthea says:

    I understand a little bit. I am expecting my first baby and the helplessness is what I am most scared of. I have also struggling with depression, and had some experiences while growing up where I felt helpless, alone, and trapped. Now whenever I start feeling trapped I have flashbacks to those times and will have panic attacks. It is a problem I am having even with pregnancy. I have had a hard pregnancy, and every once in a while I will realize that I will be pregnant for the next 5 months, and I can’t get out. I feel trapped and start hyperventilating. I am lucky to have a husband who understands and will hold me tight and tell me that I am not alone and that he will take care of me.

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  3. Susanne Remic (@Ghostwritermumm) says:

    Oh, I can relate to this. I have never given birth vaginally, but I do know the fear and the pain of being in labour. My first ended in an emergency section and throughout my second pregnancy I was terrified of the same happening again. When I went into labour with my son I was absolutely petrified because, as you say, I knew what was coming. I failed completely, and my son was delivered via csection under GA. My third baby was an elective section, but when I became pregnant with baby 4 I wanted a VBAC. I armed myself with knowledge and built up my confidence to believe in my body and what it was capable of doing. I worked hard to understand the process of childbirth and for me it really helped. I really felt I could do it. Sadly my daughter’s growth restriction meant a csection was the safest way to deliver her so I will always wonder whether I could’ve done it after all. I think that there is much to be said about the thought that a ‘healthy baby is all that matters’- it’s just not true. More support is needed for women like us that are genuinely afraid of childbirth.

    Thank you for sharing your story and for linking up to #MaternityMatters x x x

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  4. anotherbun1 says:

    I understand. Lots of women are traumatised by seemingly straightforward births because they aren’t the births they had prepared themselves for. Just because everything was ‘fine’, doesn’t mean you have to feel ‘fine’ about it. Your feelings are just as valid as any one else who experiences birth trauma, so please don’t feel like you have to minimise your feelings just because your actual birth wasn’t ‘bad’

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