Category Archives: birth trauma

A shoulder to cry on

Some time after the toddler was born, I made a promise to him- and to myself- that I would do everything I could with the time I had left to make it all up to him. I needed to let him know that I was deeply, deeply sorry for letting him down when he needed me most. I needed him to know that I was sorry for not being strong enough, for missing that first hour of his life, and for failing to be the mum he needed when he needed it most. He was just a baby. He was barely four months old. He didn’t understand what I was saying and in a way, neither did I. I don’t think I had even begun to accept what had happened during his birth by that point. I certainly wasn’t feeling like a mother to him; I just knew that I was supposed to be feeling it.

Making that promise seemed like the best thing to do and I admit that even today, it weighs heavily on my mind. If  I’m tired, or he’s having a tantrum and my face won’t form a smile… guilt hits me like a bullet then. What about the promise?

When I made that promise I was grieving. Not for a person, but for something… something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.Perhaps I was grieving for that amazing birth I was supposed to have, especially after the first one had gone so wrong? Perhaps I was grieving for that little boy in the delivery room, who’s heart beat fell silent and died in my dreams? Perhaps I was grieving for… for me?

I am not the same person I was before my son was born. In many ways I am a better person. It’s taken me two long years to realise that. In many ways I know so much more about life and love and motherhood. In many ways I can now be that mother I thought I was before he was born. Perhaps I can now stop grieving for that person I was back then and embrace the new me?

These are all things I have been thinking since I left the meeting yesterday. It was the first Manchester Birth Trauma Association meeting and despite being involved in its set-up, I hadn’t actually thought much about how it might affect me. I’d bought a box of tissues, knowing that it could be emotional to talk to people who understand, or even just to talk to people. Caroline bought individual packets of tissues so that we could go home and cry too.

I didn’t cry. But I did think about that promise. I think I’m keeping it. I think I can keep it.

 

I’m glad to have a shoulder to cry on.


Who do you blame for your birth trauma?

This is a question I have asked myself many times and each time I tend to get a different answer, depending on my mood. At first, and on many other occasions since, I blamed the hospital. I must stress here that ‘the hospital’ is not the staff (not all of them anyway) but more the red tape, rules and lack of funds leading to bad decisions and busy midwives. Naturally, I moved on to blaming myself- if I had stamped my foot harder I would’ve got my elective section when it mattered and the whole trauma would not have occurred. But that only leads me back to blaming the hospital because they should’ve  been in a position to offer counselling/ serious thought to the vulnerable pregnant woman.

The more I look at it, the more I am forced to just accept it. Yes, lots of things went wrong, mistakes were made and hearts were broken. I can’t change that. I never made a complaint, believing- wrongly, I am told- that if I was to be awarded compensation, that would only make the problem worse for a hospital that is already struggling to provide adequate care. But then I am told that my complaint could help others… could stop the same thing happening again. Whether it would or not, I think its too late.

I never wanted monetary compensation. I would’ve swapped all the money in the world for some understanding. For an apology. For someone to tell me they cared about what happened. For someone to explain, truthfully, what went wrong. For someone to take away the nightmares and the anxiety and that cold, hard ball of fear that rested in my stomach day in and day out. That would’ve been priceless.

So who do I blame? When I was interviewed by the BBC I stated that I blame the hospital for what happened but what I really meant what I blame the system. The NHS, I suppose. I’m entitled to quality care and I just didn’t get it. Not because anyone was particularly negligent, more because they just couldn’t give it to me.

They were forced to deny me an elective section because they cost a lot of money. They were forced to leave me alone for hours because there was nobody available to help me- it was a Sunday and they didn’t have enough staff on duty. They were forced to send me home with a broken body and no pain relief because budgets would not allow them to do otherwise. Never mind I was in agony…

I never really blamed the midwives- in fact, my interview was part of a Royal College of Midwive’s appeal for more midwives in the NHS. There is a severe shortage and it is affecting people like me, families like mine.

But mistakes were made. For which no apology has been given. For which, no apology has been sought.

Am I right or wrong? Am I now in a position to seek out that apology, or explanation? Next week myself and another birth trauma survivor are hosting the Birth Trauma Association’s first support group in Manchester. Caroline’s story was printed in the Manchester Evening News yesterday and today Deanna Delamotta has written a piece about it. It’s interesting that she chose to comment on the fact that Caroline has never sought compensation for what happened.

For so many women who have been through a traumatic birth (and its estimated that around 7,000 women in the UK feel traumatised by birth each year) it is hardly ever about the money. It is always about being listened to. Somebody accepting that mistakes were made and things need to be done differently again. It’s about hospitals improving their care for other women.

So who do I blame? I blame the hospital for the things they did wrong. I blame myself for not standing firm and insisting on the birth I wanted. I blame the consultant for not recognising I needed support when I asked for a c-section. I blame the hospital for changing the surgery dates and not explaining why. I blame the midwives for not listening to me, or taking me seriously. I blame the hospital for cutting budgets which meant I was discharged too early and with no pain relief after labouring and enduring a horrific c-section.  Mostly, I blame fate. Childbirth is such a tricky thing you see. Nobody can predict what will happen. And what will be, will be.

 

 

 

* If you are local to Manchester and would like to come along to the Birth Trauma Association’s support group, our first meeting is taking place next week, Wed 25th April at 3.30-5 pm. Location: Pannone Solicitors Manchester 123 Deansgate, Manchester M3 2BU


Is anybody listening?

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It was like screaming into an abyss. It was like breathing deep into my lungs and clawing up the loudest, longest, most primal scream known to man. It was like doing all that, with the volume on mute. They couldn’t hear me. They weren’t listening to me.

I read something recently which pointed out the fact that women felt 100% more empowered during childbirth if they felt they were being listened to. If someone had  spent the time to sit down and listen. Not just nod and say uh-huh, uh-huh…

Listen to me. Hear me when I say I am scared. Do something when my wishes are being ignored or my body is being violated. Help me.

I listened. I heard them when they said childbirth was unpredictable, that nobody knew this would happen. I listened and I accept this. But I was still screaming in silence.

I wonder if anybody actually sat down afterwards to discuss what had happened? Did they listen to each other? Did they read back their notes and wonder if there was anything they could’ve done differently? Did they wish they had been somewhere else? In a room with a lady who knew what she was doing and a baby who wasn’t struggling and a team who were listening? Did they wish they had been on a different shift? One that didn’t have a lifeless body and a screaming void filled with fear?

Is anybody listening?


A healing birth?

I planned it in so much more detail than my first. Perhaps that was where I went wrong back then? Perhaps my ignorant self-belief that I could do it was where Mother Nature decided to deal me a different hand? I still believe that if I hadn’t been induced, if I’d had more faith in myself, if I’d been better educated, if I’d been more positive… maybe I would’ve had that waterbirth first time around and maybe the next birth would’ve been different too.

The toddler’s taught me nothing if he hasn’t taught me how pointless it is to look back with ‘what if’s’. These days I’m more of a believer in ‘what will be, will be’ and that everything happens for a reason. Perhaps my son’s birth and all the rubbish that came with it was actually the beginning of something much more wonderful for me?

Would I have planned the baby’s arrival so well if the birth trauma had not happened? No. I know that.

So, I planned. As much as you can plan for a life changing event. And my daughter was born safely. I cried. But they were happy tears. They sprang to my eyes when I heard her cry, the sign of her life, the start of something new. I cried again later, in secret. I cried for my son. I cried because I was feeling something so familiar, so powerful and so poignant by its absence last time.

I was happy.

I was holding my baby daughter and looking at her face and I mean really looking. I was thinking about how I’d been in a hospital bed two years previously with the weight of a baby in my arms meaning nothing and looking at a scrunched up face feeling nothing and I was thinking how that wasn’t his fault and perhaps it wasn’t even my fault either? I was thinking how unfair it was for him and how much I wanted to hug him and to say sorry and to turn back the clock to feel like that then too.

But like I said, you can’t spend your life thinking ‘what if’ and you certainly can’t turn the clock back.

The baby’s calm birth has made me realise. I think it was a healing birth.

I think that every time I see my children interact, I’ve done something special. I’ve done something right. I’m even starting to think that it wasn’t me who did much wrong to begin with.

Is there such a thing as a healing birth? Seven weeks ago I would’ve screamed YES from the rooftops. Today, I’m biding my time, hedging my bets and waiting a while. I think there is such a thing as a healing birth, but I think it takes time. I think I will let you know.


Is that really who I am?

Last night I had a real ‘is that really who I am?’ moment. Today I’ve apologised for being that mum. I never wanted to be that mum. I never knew I was that mum. I hope I’m not that mum again.

Sometimes we look in the mirror and the reflection can shock us; mostly we look in the mirror and see what we want to see instead.

I suppose this is all as clear as mud to you all. I’m not sure I can explain to be honest. I’m not sure I even want to either. I never said I wanted to admit to who that mum really is. I think I’ll try though.

Yesterday I saw something which I found deeply, deeply upsetting. It was a photo of a lady’s precious baby who had passed away following a traumatic birth. I hadn’t expected to see this photo, it was in the ‘wrong place’. I hadn’t wanted to see this photo- it was enough to know that this horrific tragedy had happened. It was enough to offer my thoughts and my condolences. But was it really enough?

Do I really have any right to be so upset? Why did I make this all about me? Why, instead of this poor baby’s face, did I see my own son? Why, when he was upstairs, asleep, breathing, dreaming, living? Why did I feel so surprised to realise I was fighting back the urge to be sick and tears were rolling down my cheeks? Why did I look down at my sleeping newborn, wrapped closely to my chest… why did I think thank goodness that isn’t my baby?


I’m ashamed of myself. I didn’t want to see that picture. I wasn’t prepared to see that picture. That picture is all one mum has left of her son. Is that really who I am? A mum who can’t bear to think of another mum’ s sadness? When I started this blog and met so many other mums who had been through horrific circumstances, I felt that maybe I could offer friendship and support to other women. Tomorrow, I am meeting with a terrific lady to help set up and run a support group in our area, on behalf of the Birth Trauma Association. I really hope that I can indeed offer that friendship and support after all.

Am I really that mum? Maybe. Maybe I’m just like you; maybe it hurts to witness such deep suffering in another human being. Maybe I’m just human.


It wasn’t just the birth…

Yesterday I met my new health visitor and without meaning to, we ended up talking about the toddler’s birth at length. It was the first time I had spoken to a medical professional about what happened without crying, or feeling sick. Afterwards, I even felt a little bit liberated, which made a lovely change from the cold, sinking feeling that usually follows  such conversations.

I think I had my eyes opened a little bit.

It wasn’t just the birth that made it all so traumatic. Talking things through, and comparing the toddler’s early days to the baby’s early days, the differences are stark. In the hospital, I allowed myself a tiny moment of sadness as I looked at my tiny daughter and realised how happy I was to have her. The sadness came with the realisation that I didn’t feel like that last time. And that’s not his fault.

After the traumatic birth of my son, he and I spent a long time crying. I was crying for the anxiety, the horrific reality of what had happened and for the one everlasting moment when I was put to sleep thinking he had died. He was crying… for what?

Surely a birth is just as traumatic for a baby as for a mother? There are no real studies to prove this theory, just lots of documents from well-meaning doctors who are in it to ‘cure’ women like me of their guilt and their trauma. Of course they will say that our babies are traumatised by their deliveries, we are their customers. But my health visitor raised some really good points yesterday.

I was given general anaesthetic as the medics working to save my son and I felt they had no choice. When I came round, I felt lethargic, confused, itchy and sore. What did my 7lb son feel? Is that why he cried so much? And his crying led to my crying, to my feelings of cold detachment, which led to his distress as I couldn’t hold him and didn’t hold him like I should have.

I was discharged from hospital looking like a car crash victim, not a new mum. I was bruised from my chest down to my knees- big, dark purple bruises, angry and raging at what had happened. My neck and throat were stiff and sore from the breathing tube and my c-section scar quickly became infected. It was agony to walk, agony to talk and agony to think. I was discharged one and half days after my son was born WITH NO PAIN RELIEF. This, along with my son’s crying and my  own horrific flashbacks, memories and anxieties, contributed to the trauma.

Weeks on and my son had been diagnosed with reflux. He slept little more than forty minutes at a time day and night, and when he was awake he screamed in pain. By four months I had been told to give up breastfeeding, the one source of mother-son bonding we actually had. This, along with my son’s crying and the sleep deprivation and the pain and the memories and the flashbacks and the horrific reality of it all, contributed to the trauma.

It wasn’t just the birth.


Isobel’s story: it’s a girl!

This is a very special post. This is where I take Ghostwritermummy’s reason for being and turn it all upside down. This is the one where I write about a calm, peaceful and positive birth experience. This is where I, finally, know how it feels to be at peace with the birth of my child; finally I know how it feels.

It started with the pre-op. I was nervous, and thankful that Ghostwriterdaddy was at home and able to drive me to the hospital. The drive always stressed me with the traffic and the distance. We discovered that I did not have MRSA (yay!) and that I was second on the list for my section. I agreed to take part in some medical research into pre-eclampsia, which meant that samples would be taken from my placenta and womb following my section. We left feeling like the end of our journey was finally in sight.

On Tuesday night I put the toddler to bed with a heavy heart. The next time I would see him, he would no longer be the baby of the family, and he didn’t even know it. I wanted to take that moment and freeze it forever, to keep him secure in his little world for just a little longer. I wanted time to stand still.

On Wednesday morning I took this picture:

Hard to believe that just three hours later that bump became baby!

We arrived at the hospital at 7.30 and were shown to a small waiting room with another couple. The air was thick with expectation and yet we hardly knew what to expect. Within an hour we had listened to the baby’s heartbeat and had spoken to both the anaesthetist and the surgeon who was to deliver our baby. We had been shown to the ward and told where we could make a hot drink. We were told to expect to meet our baby around lunch time.

What to do now? How to fill the time without contractions to time or backs to rub? How to silence the growing anxiety in the pit of my stomach and to quieten that little voice that tells me what if, what if…

It turned out there was no time for any of that. Our midwife returned within five minutes to tell us that the plans had changed and we had been moved to the top of the list. I was told to get into my gown immediately. We were about to meet our baby!

I have never, ever felt anything like it when I finally walked into the operating theatre. I walked. I was not wheeled in a panic, in pain and fear. I was not broken and shattered and fragile. I was shaking, yes, but through anticipation as much as fear. I was able to take in the stark room, the number of people, the machines and the beeps. I saw my name on the board, second on the list, moved to first. There was a small heart drawn next to my name, a left over from valentine’s day… it ended up being the one thing I felt able to focus on. It helped me breathe calmly, took my eyes away from the numbers and letters swirling before me. Momentarily, my eyes drifted to a chart which rated c-sections, with number 1 being Luka, urgent, and 5 being now, elective… and back to the love heart.

I didn’t like feeling so exposed. There were lots of people in the room with me, sharing in my moment. There were students, researchers, anaesthetists and surgeons. Ghostwriterdaddy was not allowed in just yet and so I was alone with all these people who knew my name. I was alone on the table, growing numb, exposed and lifeless. Back to the love heart.

The curtain went up. Time for the final performance.

The knife was posed. Ghostwriterdaddy finally appeared and it all began.

I was told I was holding my breath. I hadn’t realised. I didn’t- couldn’t- breathe out until I heard it.

Think of the love heart.

A tiny wail. Life.

My own tears sprang out unexpectedly. I didn’t remember feeling like this before. The baby was brought round to us, still covered in goo and blood- we’d never seen our babies like this before- and we were asked:

‘Do you want to see him?’

It’s a boy?!

I’d been convinced it was a girl.

‘No, it’s a girl!’

They took her away. They took samples for research, then stitched me up. The surgeon erased my two wonky scars and gave me a new, clean, straight scar instead. Just like that, all evidence of what went wrong… gone. Back to the love heart once more.

My daughter was brought back, all wrapped in a clean white towel and with a white hat on her head.

Tiny.

Perfect.

Calm.

Beautiful.

In recovery, I was told I could not have skin to skin as my temperature was too low and I risked bringing my daughter’s temperature down too. It didn’t matter. She was here, in my arms. She was silently sleeping in my arms. At last.

It had been a long journey, in all. It had been an emotional journey. It had ended well.

Whilst on the table, I wished more than anything that it hadn’t had to be like that. I hadn’t wanted any of my babies to be born this way. But at the same time, the experience had become something more than being a piece of meat on the table. The experience had been my chance, at last, to feel at peace with childbirth.

Isobel Marcia, born 9.25 am 5lb 15 and perfectly healthy.


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