It’s a privilege to welcome Aimee who shares her experience of birth trauma on the blog.
A reflection on birth trauma – ignorance was not bliss; it was a bat around my anxiety provoked head. By Aimee Barrett
My eldest little boy turns 6 this week. He is my favourite human being (Jack, sort your sleep out then you’ll soon be up there with your brother..!). His big eyes and pouty lips make him actually beautiful to look at, he lets out a filthy laugh and most importantly, is the most loving child I know.
I must be doing something right amongst the times I believe I’m doing it all wrong. But I’ve not always been in love with my boy. It kills me to admit, but the first twelve weeks of his life were like some sort of outer body experience where someone handed me a ball of baby and expected me to know what I was doing. I didn’t have a sodding clue. I didn’t know what to feel, why I didn’t really like being a new parent, why everyone else with babies just ‘got it’, why every time he cried I just wanted to run out of the door. It was only when I was smacked in the face with a pack of beta blockers and a referral to a counsellor did I realise I was suffering postnatal anxiety. With that label slapped on my back, it still didn’t help the lack of sleep, feeling totally alone and like I’d done something wrong. What prompted this? Birth trauma. Was it something I even thought was a thing?
Not at all.
When you are expecting, you will think about birth at some stage. You know it’s going to come out one of two ways, you know your bits will take a bit of a beating, you won’t be able to drive for a while when you have a section, but actually, that’s where my thoughts around birth stopped. When I found out I was pregnant with my first boy, I was lucky enough to share it with one of my best friends and my sister. We often moaned about heartburn, itching skin and dodgy hips, but I can’t recall any conversations about birth preparation. My sister was a second timer so I thought she obviously knew what she was doing. My friend was just like me, a bit in shock we were cloning versions of ourselves, but still carried on to plan nights out for when we were out of pregnancy jail. I just kind of went along with watching a few One Borns, oh, and attending a really shit antenatal class somewhere out in the middle of Keighley that never actually mentioned anything about the different paths of birth. I just shrugged it off and hoped for the best.
3am up on the post natal ward and I am lying flat on my back with my baby in the nursery, the local anaesthetic is wearing off my bits, I’m passing clots and I’m strapped to a heart monitor, because every time I tried to move I thought I would pass out.
Nobody told me about this bit. Why would they, it sounds horrific. But actually I never asked about this bit and my god I wish I had.
I wasn’t ready for what happens after birth. In any shape or form. I was stitched up, anaemic, and couldn’t process any stage of labour or birth as I had been topped up to my eyeballs with pethidine. I didn’t even know what pethidine was. I don’t even remember giving consent to pethidine.
I went home three days after I went in for my induction, and the first day at home I cried all day long. I hated visitors coming; I hated my husband for going anywhere alone even if it was me who sent him out for more maternity pads, and to my shame at the time, I wasn’t even sure I liked my new baby in that first two weeks.
I hadn’t done skin to skin, I was bottle feeding, I was tired beyond anything I had ever experienced. But I had that with a brave face where I could, because that’s what you have to do, right? I remember trying to make my mum bean on toast and quietly sobbing over the pan. I daren’t ask for help because I was admitting failure.
This haze went on for a good 10 weeks more. I was in and out of the doctors and hospital trying to find a reason for why I felt constantly wired and on edge but so exhausted all in one. The doctor said I ‘wasn’t depressed in the ‘typical sense’. I got put on some beta-blockers and told I had anxiety. Even months on I couldn’t pinpoint what I was so anxious about. Walking around Leeds City Centre would kick off panic attacks. I got them when I was driving. There was no obvious logic to my outbursts of emotion and overwhelm at this point because in that position as a new mum, you just carry on. It took a year to figure out it was all down to birth trauma. I didn’t even know this was a thing until I attended my post natal de-brief at the hospital. I sobbed on my own the whole way through it. I hadn’t coped at all with birth and felt half the woman I was before being a mum. The consultant said sorry. I felt she meant it as there was an understanding that new mums needed more assistance when processing their new bodies and reactions to giving birth.
Zooming forward 6 years, I look at the me then and I don’t beat myself up for not preparing for birth in a better way, actually there wasn’t a great deal pointing to antenatal classes or Hypnobirthing. I was 27, a headstrong teacher absorbed in my job, and I just put the birth out of my mind whilst baby grew and I carried on working. I do wonder though if I had chosen to gain a bit more knowledge about my options, then maybe I could have controlled some of the situations my husband and I ended up in, and plan B birth wasn’t what it ended up being.
I saw a client with her newborn this week in the park that had the plan B birth too. But she said she felt so prepared and could process all of her choices and options. I was so proud of her for gaining the knowledge to help her birth.
So I will stress the saying that knowledge is power. Know your options in your place of birth. Know hospital lingo, know you have done the best by not only baby, but YOU. I’m definitely not as crass to say that if you don’t do a Hypnobirthing course you will end up in the position I did. That really is not always the case. But what I can say is second baby was a different experience entirely when I knew what was going on. The outcome of knowing what was going on second time healed my first experience, and gave me back confidence in myself. That sounds a bit wanky, but actually it is the truth and I would say to anyone who is feeling like birth prep is ‘birthzilla-esque’ or ‘being a diva’, it is so not! It is you being an amazing mum before you even hit the delivery suite.
After getting pregnant again, I knew I couldn’t face another birth this way. So I did a local Hypnobirthing course. I loved it so much I gave up my career of 10 years as a secondary school teacher to help women have a better birth and inspire them to know it doesn’t have to be the way we see it on TV!
…Happy 6th birthday my darling boy. Know you were worth every moment of the journey because the outcome has made me stronger for you and your pesky brother xxx
My Baby Bubble teaches Hypnobirthing courses in Leeds, Bradford and Harrogate. Website address is My Baby Bubble.