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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Hell is a child friendly caravan park holiday. Part 4. The Grand Finale

We return home and swing open the caravan door to reveal two sights at our feet. One small bin with a dodgy, luminous orange, sweet and sour mess crawling out of the sides and a three time wrapped shady nappy laying next to it. Mother is slumped in the corner with a can of larger and the toddler is careering through the place – unclogged and happy. A pong of sweet and sour shite hangs in the air. Outside the rain is still hammering down as we watch my partner run with the two bags to the bins like a bomb disposal expert.

We all sit, slightly dazed, watching In The Night Garden. While Oopsie Daisy sluts it up, Mother asks about our meal and we relay how amazing it was – to her bitter face, still smarting from the sweet and sour Hell.

Eventually it is time for the toddler to be trapped in his tiny room. Daddy reads him The Tiger who came to tea and we lovingly kiss our son goodnight before wedging two chairs up against his door handle. My partner goes for a walk in the torrential rain to Spar to get us a selection of chocolate bars (which is why I am marrying him) and we watch Father Ted. Every cloud…

The next day I decide to give swimming a miss… and my Father arrives to join in on the festivities. We all go for a drive to the nearest seaside town and the sun is out. It is beautiful – but, of course, it wouldn’t be a holiday in England without the temperature being absolutely arctic. I mean – it was fucking freezing. But still – beautiful.

Back at the caravan and it’s toddler nap time. My partner and I decide to have two hours together and to explore the caravan site. We walk around, without the toddler. We hold hands. Suddenly we are teenagers at the fair. We walk around the arcades. I momentarily think how romantic it would be if he won me an Olaf or a Minion, before remembering that we have more sense than money. As parents, when everything is about our child, our baby on the way, work and cleaning – it’s moments like these that really do feel magical. The tackiness of our surroundings – and the numerous things to snigger at just added to how special it felt.

Time for lunch and my partner rushes back to the caravan to pick up toddler duty so my parents can go to the restaurant we had been to the night before (so Mother, the woman who enjoys haute cuisine, could shake off her Papa Johns and iffy Chinese experiences).

My partner leaves me in the queue for Burger King – which is epic. I have given up on the toddler having any fibre or nutrition this weekend so I decide to introduce him to his Majesty. I order my partner’s special (two burgers) and nuggets for my nugget and something for myself (and the poor baby growing inside me). The angry Scottish teenage server SHOUTS to the entire crowd my entire list of an order, despite me being stood nose to nose with him:

OK THAT’S ONE WHOPPER MEAL! SUPERSIZED. 
AN EXTRA HAMBURGER! LARGE. 
FOUR LARGE FRIES! LARGE. 
A CHICKEN BURGER! SUPERSIZED. 
AND NINE…NUGGETS!!

as very small children all around gaze at me and my distended stomach in awe. I scurry off – back to the caravan.

We watch the toddler feed his nuggets to the Tiger who came to tea and melt.

My parents return and Mother and partner leave their ‘holiday’. My Father and I remain with the toddler to savour the rest of this time off. I decide to brave swimming once more. And it’s a success, this time it is quiet. A lovely woman lends me her child’s arm bands for my toddler and we have a lovely little swim. Ok…ok… this is nice. It would seem, if you can get rid of 98% of the patrons – the holiday ain’t half bad.

Dad and I both give dinner a miss and it’s off to bed we go: toddler trapped in the tiny room, grandpa taking up the whole living room and me in the master bedroom. Cut off from the TV, no Internet, no movies, no books. It really gives you time to think – time to think how shit it is without Netflix.

Toddler decides that the caravan is no longer fun and decides to scream / cry all the way through the night. I get about three hours of sleep.

The next day we put the toddler in various arcade rides as a going home treat. Four out of five of them don’t actually work so we spend our time strapping him into rides and then taking him out of them and getting a member of staff to retrieve our pound coins.

“Are they all broken?” I ask the member of staff.

He just shrugs at me and walks off.

And that sums it up really.

“Dad…take us home. It’s time to go home.”

And that is the best thing about a child friendly caravan holiday – they sure make home look better, in every feasible way. There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home…

 

 

 

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Hell is a child friendly caravan park holiday. Part 3. Soft Play Satanic Pit

We are back in the old caravan; My mother, partner and toddler. I look at how many hours it is until toddler nap time. Quite a few. I put on CBeebies. Mother sits in the corner reading her kindle. Partner sits in the opposite corner watching his iPad. I twiddle my thumbs and wonder why we needed to come to a caravan park to do any of these things.

I have brought nothing with me. No books, no magazines, no technical device. I have my iPhone but the super fun part about the caravan is that there is absolutely no internet connection.

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Partner tells me that the Owner’s only Fitness Suite that we handily overlook has free wifi and if you hover about near the door you can get enough wifi to download something to watch or check Facebook. I may be a peasant – but I still have my dignity thanks very much. I refuse to stand outside the gym we aren’t allowed in staring through the window in the pissing down rain, like an abandoned cat, waving an iPhone in the air ; The owners inside, trotting on a treadmill “Look Tarquin! A peasant!”

I settle on doing the washing up. We have a dishwasher at home – so it’s quite a novelty. And I might put on the kettle.

The toddler is in a furious mood and I determine that it is down to constipation. Mother decides to pop to the nearest village to get some toddler laxatives – (sings) Holiday!! Celebrate!!

I see that House-sitter is on ITV. Holiday saved. Thank Christ.

Toddler goes down for a nap (he’s exhausted because he was up half the night) and partner goes for a sleep too. Great. Such fun.

I make a hot cup of tea and a couple of pieces of toast and sit in the corner listening to the heavy pitter patter of torrential rain on the caravan roof. I look out across the park and suddenly feel a surge of happiness, of nostalgia.

It feels like we are on a boat, out at sea. I feel a bit like a child myself. I remember the caravan holidays when I was young – how exciting they were. I feel all warm and snuggly. I sit in the peace and quiet, admiring Goldie Hawn’s figure, drinking a hot cup of tea (a miracle in itself). The toast tastes better than it does at home. Ain’t life great?

Mother bursts through the caravan door, drenched and wind swept, a bottle of laxative in her hand.

As soon as the toddler awakes Mother insists we take advantage of the on site soft play area – as we are allowed in that part. We rush over in the car, as it’s too wet and windy to walk there.

The soft play area is where everyone is sheltering from the rain. And I mean everyone.

There appear to be three members of staff behind the desk – but none of them are supervising the soft play. All around us are signs that read “This soft play is UNSUPERVISED” wonderful. The place is apparently for under eights. This is not the case. If these children are indeed under eight some of them have very interesting metabolisms. A five foot Brian Blessed lookalike is clambering down the tiny slide taking out several babies on her way down. I fear for my own toddler’s life.

There is a ‘baby only’ area at the far left with a wooden sign with a tiger or giraffe on it (I can’t tell which animal as it has been torn in half or eaten) but it still reads “If you’re taller than this, you can’t play”. The sign is about a foot high. Despite this – there are herds of boys stampeding through the area with the beginnings of facial hair on their top lips. One lonely baby sits in the corner, clearly petrified. My toddler pulls himself up onto a large cushion just before it is whipped away from under him by a boy with a can of Strongbow in his hand. (Ok, he didn’t have a can of Strongbow- but he looked like he’d have no problem getting served).

There is a large tunnel that children can crawl through that is not transparent. And a queue to get into it. Every time my toddler waddles into it I hold my breath that he will re-appear at some point, without a bloody nose and a black eye. This is not the sort of soft play where you can sit in the corner with a coffee and watch your kid frolic about. This is the sort of soft play where 99% of the dangers are not soft – and it is seemingly the most stressful experience you will ever have – other than the swimming pool peasant frenzy.

If soft play was designed to be a ‘safe’ area – may I recommend that you stay in the caravan and pop on Cbeebies. Put a few cushions about the place. It’s a better option. And won’t give you severe anxiety and heartburn.

We last less than thirty minutes in this satanic pit.

We are back in the caravan and a plan is made for my partner and I to have a DATE! I pop some laxative in some chocolate milk for the toddler and leave him with his grandmother and we are off. We leave the caravan park and go to a pub in the next village.

The pub is lovely. I have the Surf and Turf which is a Sirloin steak and Scampi. The steak is cooked to perfection. It is juicy and tender. It is absolutely delicious. My partner and I chat and eat our amazing meal – and relax. I feel myself truly relax for the first time since we arrived. THIS is what I needed. This is what holidays are about. I am happy.

We receive a text message from Mother.


Yum.

Back to the old caravan we trot.

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Hell is a child friendly caravan park holiday – Part 2 (The Swim)

The best time to try out that swimming pool we saw in the lovely promotional video is surely when it opens at 9.30am. Right? Because everyone else here will be either in bed, eating at the breakfast buffet, hungover or just out for the day on a jaunty family day out. Right?

We arrive at the swimming pool door at 9.15am to see a queue similar in length to the black Friday lines outside Asda. Everyone is champing at the bit, counting down the seconds till 9.30am like race horses at the Grand National. Above our heads a large sign hangs that reads:

Owner’s Only Swim – 8am – 9.30am

Public Swim* – 9.30am – 12.45pm

*For public swim read “Peasant swim”.

I try to explain to the lady behind me several times why we are queuing. She keeps exclaiming to her brood “Well, we should have come at 8!” I try to read her through the sign but she can’t seem to grasp the concept. The kids are crying. My child starts crying from the combined noise of the queueing peasants and the loud arcade machines surrounding us. He is also confused that we are immersed in darkness with flashing lights all around him that should come with a ‘may cause fits’ warning. 

9.29…Tick..tick..tock… 9.30! CHARGE!!!

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The scene is similar to how I imagine the ‘gates opening’ moment at a public execution in Game of Thrones. It is a mad dash to secure ourselves a changing room – though many of the swimmers seem to have come prepared so they can just chuck their tracksuit bottoms off at the side of the pool and leap in.

I find a changing room and wrestle the toddler into a special swimming nappy (that doesn’t come in a big enough size FYI). I try to quell the fear that he might choose this time to do his poo as he seems to have stopped pooing since we arrived at the caravan park. He’s probably too stressed to go! I know I am.

We throw our shit in a locker and enter the pool. Toddler in his mini wet suit, me in a stretched out Next swimming costume complete with my farcically large six month bump.

Mmm.. odd… It doesn’t look as big as it did in the promotional video. Especially with all my fellow peasants bobbing about in it, like a salt water pan over-flowing with gnocchi. Toddler waddles in and is happy enough. We keep moving to find space, like people on The Tube. Every time we find a space we need to move again due to the never ending surplus population.

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A solo man sits in the corner with a look of utter horror and repulsion on his face. I fear he is an ‘owner’ and has been caught in the time transition between owner tranquil spa time and peasant pool frenzy. He missed his portal. I later see him scurrying out of the pool, most probably off to the Owner’s only lounge to tell them all what he’s seen over a good quality expresso. Twat.

There is a ratio of 1 parent to every 6 children and a God awful amount of babies. Every single baby is screaming blue murder at being placed in the cold water. They are not enjoying themselves – at all. The parents don’t seem to care about this – probably thinking the newborns will climatise to the sudden drop in temperature … eventually. I hover 1mm away from toddler who can’t swim a jot and try to protect him from flailing legs, arms and errant floats.

The noise of the place is deafening – a mixture of screams, cries, shrieks and people shouting “Yeeee-Haaaaa!!! Oi!! Pass me the Frisby Tanya!”

Ever so often there is a waft of turd that one can only assume is from several of the new borns shitting themselves as part of a dirty protest against this sort of torture. My hair is now soaking wet and mascara is running down my face as several children have motored past me practising their kicking legs and using their arms as propellers and I have been caught in the wake. I see a large amount of quirky tattoos from nape to ankle on Gentlemen and ladies on the extra large side who have the sort of body confidence I crave. I spend most of my time praying my son will stop opening his mouth and drinking the water as one can only imagine how much urine is swarming around us.

I last about thirty minutes in this absolute Hell.

My partner arrives from his train journey to this ‘holiday” and we all go for breakfast to have another vending machine coffee and take our chances on the full English buffet.

My partner selects his five items – he’s a little disappointed as there are strict rules about the items – meat only for meat and non-meat only for non-meat. He tucks into his black pudding and hash brown, beans and what looks like boiled bacon. I imagine the owners are feasting on Eggs Florentine and Bucks Fizz in their sanctuary.

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I have a yogurt with granola and banana – which is very nice. I also have four pastries (I’m pregnant!) Two of which are edible, the other two – not so much. Partner spends a good amount of time tweezing out two huge splinters from toddler’s hand that he picked up on the badly sanded toilet door.

We all discuss what we can do for the rest of the day. The weather is atrocious. Absolutely freezing and pissing it down. Partner wants to sleep – he’s already knackered – and to watch Game of Thrones on his iPad – that he was clever enough to bring! Bastard. Mother wants to start drinking. And I want to have a shower and scrub away the memories of the swimming pool peasant frenzy.

Back to the old caravan we go.

Join me next time for :

– Unsupervised Soft Play Satanic Pit

– Tea and Toast (the silver lining)

– date night and

– Laxative laughs (How to unclog a toddler in one easy step)