Never being part of the natural ‘birth’ club: Cesareans, Birth Trauma and PTSD

Let’s get a few things out of the way first, before we get going. We are grateful.
Grateful we have a son. I am grateful I was able to conceive, I am grateful we had a healthy baby. I am grateful that my son and I lived to tell the tale of my first birth ‘experience’. I am grateful I am now in the position to have another child. We are beyond lucky, grateful. And a baby is a baby is a baby.

An ‘in the nutshell’ look at my first birth experience: Forty Two weeks, Induced, Three days of waiting & labour, severe sickness, diamorphine, epidural, three shift changes of midwife, 10cm, two hours straight of pushing, epidural runs out, baby turns back to back, absolute agony where I no longer cared if I lived or died, theatre, forceps, failed forceps and emergency cesarean.

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Photo Credit: birthphotographers.com Facebook Page
2015 Image of the Year by Nichole Hanna Photography.
Link provided

After an emergency cesarean, during your next pregnancy, you are asked how you feel about your next birth. The midwives will discuss with you the various implications, risks, elements of opting for a VBAC (Vaginal Birth after cesarean) and a planned cesarean.

I have been quite adamant that I would not go through what happened to me the first time again. Almost aggressive in my stance on this (particularly hard for me as I find it hard to say what I want and find it hard to say no / big people pleaser complex). I ‘feel’ that they (the hospital/ nurses/ midwives) do not want you to have a planned cesarean. This may not be the case … but it’s just the vibe I get. So I am pleased I have stuck to my guns and all my notes read “wants a planned cesarean”.

So why is it that I can barely get through a sentence about this without breaking down in tears about the subject?

Because what if my choice is the wrong choice?

What if I am closing myself off from the possibility of experiencing giving birth?

It’s almost too ridiculous to type (none of my friends, who have been through natural labour have said “Steph! You simply MUST experience it!) but there’s a part of me that feels like I will never be part of the club. I missed out on giving birth – the way we are designed to give birth.

Ridiculous – yes. I know.

My emergency cesarean was not a nice experience, it affected my partner badly too, and I feel it severely damaged my ‘bond’ with my son. He wasn’t handed to me for what seemed like an age. He was over in the corner. I couldn’t see him. I didn’t hold him. My partner walked over and showed him to me briefly before he was taken off to be weighed and I think put in a blanket (I can’t even remember).

My plan was a water birth.

I see photos, these beautiful photos of babies being held straight away by the relieved and ecstatic mother in the pools or in the bed – and I can’t help but envy that. I want to feel that bond.

After talking about my first birth experience in tears repeatedly to my midwife – she mentioned Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and The Birth Trauma Association.

We were so relieved to have our child and to be alive – it never occurred to me that I was in any way scarred by my experience – other than the psychical scar at the bottom of my stomach.

But I’m scared. And that’s the truth of it. Scared of making my decision – and scared of the decision in itself.

Will I always regret not giving myself the chance to experience it? Will I never feel as though I am in the club?

“The most important factor is getting your baby safely in your arms, it doesn’t make you any less of a woman.” The amazing words of my beautiful best friend.

After the comments made about IVF last week and thinking about all the ways we now have to bring children into the world I am reminded that – a baby is a baby is a baby.

And in much the same way, a birth is a birth is a birth.

I just need to believe it and to reconcile my decision to myself.

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Your window to ‘run away’ has passed – My Elective Cesarean

In the future, when I look back on my elective cesarean I will remember the times we laughed, the moments of naturally occurring comedy during such a serious procedure; I will remember the human beings behind the scrubs and hearing my little boy cry for the very first time.

When I think about my planned cesarean I will remember my partner’s face as he saw my son being lifted into life and the warmth of so many hands supporting me through it all. I will remember “Can’t take my eyes off you” by Frankie Valli playing on the radio and my new son’s furious furrowed face pressed up against mine extinguishing any fear or anxiety.

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We were told to arrive at the hospital at 7am and were taken straight to my curtained cocoon opposite the bed I had been in for a week two and a half years ago after my emergency cesarean. My partner and I tried to have a normal conversation about anything but the fact I would be in an operating theatre later that day. We watched Daybreak and Lorraine as I nervously watched the digital clock ticking at a snail’s pace in the corner of the screen. We were told that there was a list of four planned cesareans for that day and there was a small possibility it might not even be that day.

I put on my backless gown (not as glamorous as it sounds) and my partner and I argued about how to do it up. We struggled for ten minutes trying to get the tight support stockings over my chunky calves. I went to the bathroom to remove my make up and stared at my pale face in the mirror. I told myself I would be alright. I decided it probably wouldn’t be today after all.
Back in my little curtained room we heard the words “They’ve just called for Stephanie to be taken up…” My partner and I glanced at each other – terror in my eyes, excitement in his. “They didn’t say my name did they?”

“Yes,” he said, “they did”.

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I started crying on the way down the corridor, into the lift, along the next corridor and in the tiny private waiting room. The anxiety, the guilt, the fear, every single emotion pent up from my last labour experience – all came pouring out of me and it was unstoppable.

The nurse gave me a box of tissues and talked to me calmly. I was introduced to the staff – the head midwife, the anaesthesiologist, and other titles my tears have washed away the memory of. They all passed me tissues, asked me questions I could tell were designed to take my mind off the reality, they all smiled and joked and brought down my racing heart rate.

I explained that the part that was worrying me the most was the ‘needle in the back’ element of the procedure. Obviously I had had two before in my first labour – but things are very different when you’re in so much pain you want any relief. If an emergency cesarean is like getting hit by a bus you never saw coming – an elective one is like getting hit by a bus you knew was coming for nine months – in my opinion, much worse.

The anaesthesiologist asked if I had any requests – I said I didn’t want to know about anything. “Just don’t tell me what you’re doing, just do it. I would rather know nothing.” The ignorance is bliss birth plan was arranged and next thing I knew I was walking into a small room to have what I had been dreading for nine months. They said they would send me the bill for the tissues.

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Here I was told to sit on a bed, my legs over the side, and to lean over a cushion and relax my back. The chances of relaxing anything at this point are about a gazillion trillion to one. My partner sat in front of me wearing scrubs. He looked worried. I just sat and sobbed like a small child.

The idea of this procedure is much worse than the actual thing (it really didn’t hurt that much). It took much longer than usual – probably because I wasn’t relaxing and doing exactly what they said. I nearly passed out and I was nearly sick – I heard the nurse say “she’s looking a bit pale”. I was told to slow my breathing. I concentrated hard.

Then I got pissed off with myself, with my back, with my stupid nerves. There’s nothing like getting angry to take away fear. And we had done it! Suddenly I knew it had worked – and then the words “my arse has gone” made them laugh. I’m pretty lady like in stressful situations.

Slowly the feeling of numbness and heaviness crept up my body and I wasn’t anxious any more. I was wheeled into the operating theatre. They stuck to their words and no one told me what they were doing. My fiancé sat next to me and made me feel better by asking me questions.

One of the ladies was dancing, the radio was on, the surgeon in reply to my “I just wanted to run away” quipped “Your window for running away has passed!” We all laughed. Marvin Gaye played out. No pain or discomfort was felt. I thought about how strange it felt to not be able to feel anything.

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I heard someone say to my fiancé “Do you want to see your son being born?” And watched him stand up to look over the parapet. His face turned from shock to pure joy in a matter of seconds and a loud baby’s cry rocked the near silent room.

Moments later my second son was pressed up against my face. His furious expression staring at mine – disturbed from his happy place. I mentally promised I would make this new place a much happier one for him.

In the recovery room my partner gave me back my engagement ring.

“Do you want me to ask you again?” he said. The nurse looked excited.

“Nah! That’s ok” I said – she didn’t realise he was just being an arse. He left me to go and look after our toddler while I ate my toast and drank my tea.

And I was home with my little family the very next day.

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As I say – when I look back at my birth experience I will remember the wonderful people who helped our son be born, the humans behind the scrubs, Marvin Gaye on the radio and the moments we laughed. Particularly the comment “Your window for running away has passed!”

A great metaphor for a cesarean and indeed, parenthood. Don’t you think?

Conversation with my father a couple of days prior regarding a cesarean

Dad: what time do you have to be there?

Me: 7am

Dad: and what time will (your partner) be home after work?

Me: He won’t be at at work, he will be with me

Dad: With you? To…(horror) watch?

Me: Yes

Dad: But what can he do?

Me: Dad, of course he will be there.

Dad: Yuk. So you’ll be home at what? 11am?

Me: No Dad! It’s not like getting a filling!

Thanks 

Once again my experience at Leeds LGI hospital was faultless.

Every single member of staff  – regardless of their title or job role were so incredibly caring, professional, understanding, accommodating, helpful and above all – human. I received outstanding care with such a personal touch and had an absolutely wonderful experience.  At the most vulnerable time in my life – I have never felt so supported by so many. There aren’t enough words in my vocabulary to express our gratitude and thanks  – they do a tremendous job.

Practical Tips  

A few things I learned that I had no idea about before hand.

1. Don’t bother wearing make up. Don’t worry – I wasn’t made up like a glamour model, I just had some basics on – you have to take it all off before hand.

2. Don’t get your finger nails or toe nails painted (I had no clue about this and had a very embarrassing near miss at a nail salon the day prior to the cesarean) and

3. Make sure you have somewhere safe to put your jewellery.

4. Don’t forget your bloody slippers! Not even I can pull off the surgical stocking and Indian summer flip flop combination!

5. If I can get through it – anyone can.

 

 

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Boil in the bag baby – why being pregnant and a heat wave don’t mix

There are certain things that go together like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong- wine and cheese, shoes and socks, olives and wine, buckets and spades, most things with wine actually – being heavily pregnant and a heatwave… oh no, Wait. Not that one. Come to think of it.

While you are all posting your sodding selfies on Instagram of you soaking up the sun with various summer alcoholic treats – mojitos, cool beers, cider bubbling between ice cubes – I am sitting,  nay squatting, near an open window with an industrial sized fan next to me in an overly stretched maternity vest and marquee like pants, sipping milk in the delicate time zone between dairy delight and curdled turd water. I sweat all the time anyway – but now I just leak, like a rusty Buddha garden water feature.

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Am I summer ready? Ha. I put the ‘beach’ into beached whale. If I wore a bikini I would be arrested. They don’t make a suncream lotion bottle big enough to smother over the hideous gargantuan mass I have become. I can’t reach my toe nails to paint and I will need a team to help me shave my legs. I am only hot in the literal sense!

Could I just go in a paddling pool? Well, first that would require me pumping it up – that would surely make me pass out from exertion. If I managed to pump it up and sit in it I would never be able to get up again and more pressingly, the neighbours will wake up and wonder how they have been transported to the Serengeti.

“Barbara! Come quick, there is an actual Hippopotamus over t’fence in some sort of watering hole! Grab the polaroid.”

And what am I supposed to eat? I crave carbs but I can only just about manage ice cream, milk and prescribed antacid tablets. I may as well crush the tablets up and use them as a sort of hundreds and thousands alternative.

I also have a toddler to look after – but I don’t want your sympathy.

I remember when heat waves would be fun – but those days disappeared as soon as we had a baby and realised it’s basically our job to keep baby cool, out of the sun and in no way exposed to this death star! This continues into toddler-hood where we spend our days trying to force feed them juice, sorbets and squash (despite them having no interest), covering every cm of them with cream or protective clothing and wafting things at them in case they over heat. All the while making sure they aren’t vitamin D deficient for Christ’s sake!

(one year we put him in the fridge! We had no choice)

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Last time I was heavily pregnant in the peak of winter. There was heavy snow and ice on the ground and we were house bound – I thought that was bad! HA. If only I had known the alternative.

Being, as I am, full term pregnant in this heat is beyond worse. Especially as all I can do, as I sit by my fan, is imagine (and see if I go on social media) how much fun everyone else is having while I watch the sun from behind my shaded shield feeling sorry for myself – missing out on the three days a year mother nature gives us a sunny day in the UK.

I have to crawl up and down my stairs about 76 times a day to empty my squashed bladder – this sort of cardio at this stage makes me want to vomit. I also have to put up with constant fanny daggers from my soon to be born son.

The only pro I can see so far is that if you are constantly by an industrial sized fan and you pass any wind – it is immediately dispersed through the air and keeps your cover! #winning

Bring on the winter!

Bring on the birth!

I’ll do it right now, no drugs – get that paddling pool pumped up!

Do not feel any pressure to have an erotic labour

When I was twelve, at the puberty milestone (a stage of growing up, not the local pub) a lady came to our school to talk to us all about tampons.

I can’t remember the speech she gave and as a lady in her thirties now I’m wondering how she stretched it out into a speech but I do remember the boxes of free tampons she handed out.

I couldn’t hold mine as I had all my fingers in my ears, loudly humming the tune to Grange Hill. But I do remember seeing one and being absolutely petrified.

As the lady told us calmly about how to use them I gave her a suspicious stare and told myself there aint no way in Hell anything like that was being inserted anywhere near me. Was she crazy? I felt much the same way when we went on to learn about penises the year after.

So you can imagine how I felt when someone told me where babies come from.

Last week I sat down to watch a lady on ‘This Morning’ talk about how she had an orgasmic erotic labour.

I thought I would hate her. Not my type of woman, I thought. But I didn’t hate her. I listened with interest, munching on my popcorn as Philip Schofield carefully danced around the intimate details of a lady having an orgasm during an erotic labour as though he was casually asking about the new series of Home Fires.

She seemed nice – and it’s lovely that she had such a lovely experience. Good for her.

At the end of the interview Phil asked if every woman had the potential to orgasm during labour (I’m paraphrasing) and the lady remarked on how there was a culture of deep imbedded fear around giving birth – which was the problem.

I’ve heard similar things before – that it’s what our bodies are designed to do, that we should breathe the baby out, that it’s oh so natural – you just need to be calm and at one with yourself.

Why am I writing this? Do I have a point? Well, I just wanted to say to anyone out there who may give birth in the future –

please don’t beat yourself up if you’re not the type of person who can achieve orgasm through giving birth.

Please don’t feel any pressure to make your labour erotic. Some people just aren’t that type of person – and that’s really ok.

I was terrified when I was induced. I was not the type of person to do hypno-birthing (more like hippo birthing in my case). Still now I would rather watch the human centipede part two rather than watch a lady give birth. But I got through it – twice.

There wasn’t a single stage that could have become arousing. I was under fluorescent lights, projectile vomiting, swearing at my partner to get me a bastard epidural in between listening to ‘I’m every woman’ on my iPod. To be honest I find it hard to ‘get in the mood’ under normal conditions, even imagining Michael Buble’s new Christmas album sometimes leaves me cold. It wasn’t sexy – it never was going to be – for me.

I’m not that type of woman. And if you’re not it’s ok.

There’s enough pressure nowadays for us to have a natural birth, to enjoy it, to treasure it, to do it drug free …

I don’t want anyone to feel added pressure to take in an Ann Summers goodie bag and a Barry White CD.

If you can do your labour, as she did, at home, in the dark, with her partner, all mermaid like – I genuinely applaud you – if you just aren’t built that way – I applaud you too.