I wrote this blog post for maternity matters. I am reproducing it here:
Before my traumatic birth with my daughter 17 months ago, nothing really bad had ever happened to me – so my experience with her came as something of a shock. In the days and months afterwards there were many, many tears and grieving for the experience we never had that some women get and dealing with the guilt about not being able to get her out. I started seeing a psychologist when she was a few months old. These sessions were really positive and helped me work out that I wanted an elective section (ELCS) for my next birth. My psychologist wrote me a letter to support my case with this for my new hospital. My psychologist often asked me whether I had flashbacks or difficulty sleeping in; at that point I didn’t really. I am quite resilient and even when my daughter was in NICU I was on autopilot “it will all be fine” mode.
The months passed and most of the time I was absolutely fine but sometimes I would get completely blindsided by something unexpected. For example I was once channel flicking and saw a few minutes of One Born Every minute. The woman on the screen was screaming, almost exactly the same as I had been. I got extremely upset and for days afterwards was having flashbacks to that episode and to my experience. Or sometimes if someone else is telling their birth story I find myself willing them to shut up and getting a bit panicky inside; occasionally I burst into tears.
Things came to a head for me in January this year when I fell pregnant. We had been talking about trying for number two for a while, but had not started officially on the journey of trying to conceive (TTC) (too much Christmas sherry one night). The day after I found out I was pregnant I started bleeding. My main feeling was one of relief- I was so glad that I wasn’t going to have to go through labour again. Unfortunately, the bleeding never got worse but the pain did and I ended up being rushed to hospital. It was an ectopic pregnancy and my tube had ruptured. I lost the embryo and the tube. I was surreally calm throughout the whole procedure. Even the doctors commented on how well I was taking it. I knew it was because I had been so panicked at being pregnant again that in a messed up way it was a relief to lose it – although I have now grieved for that pregnancy and I began counselling again as clearly the birth trauma was still affecting me.
We decided we did definitely want baby number two and I decided to seek out the birth reflections midwife at my new hospital (we had moved areas) and arrange to see her. I made a consultant appointment to get an agreement for an ELCS before getting pregnant again, so I could move forward with TTC in a calm way. I also wrote my birth story for Maternity Matters and that was cathartic. In the midst of these appointments being arranged I discovered I was pregnant again, which is a miracle considering it was first month of trying and I only have one tube. This is my fourth pregnancy (I had a missed miscarriage at 10 weeks before getting pregnant with my daughter).
Getting through the early days of this pregnancy has been incredibly hard. I have found myself not sleeping and having flashbacks to my daughter’s birth as well as the usual worries about miscarriage and morning sickness. In my booking in appointment I became hysterical when asked to talk about my daughter’s birth, I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t really talk about it. My midwife was fantastic and now my notes basically have special case on them which probably translates into “treat the madwoman with kid gloves”!
My birth reflections appointment was brought forward and unfortunately this was the most unhelpful appointment I have ever been to. The lady was very nice but I don’t think she has had much experience with people like me, as she kept saying what I experienced was fairly common and downplayed it a lot. When she hinted that I might not find it easy to get an ELCS this time I again became hysterical and said that I wanted a termination if I couldn’t have an ELCS. I was genuinely shocked when I said that- I meant it at the time but I don’t think it was a course of action I would pursue in reality. It was just the thought of being forced to go through another vaginal birth that made me completely panic.
My consultant appointment was also brought forward. I suspect the “termination” comment reached my consultants ears because she was very reassuring and although they clearly would prefer not to do ELCS, in my case they have agreed due to psychological trauma and it is now written all over my notes. Instantly on hearing that I sobbed with relief and felt like a huge weight had been lifted. Although I am still not sleeping very well that due to bizarre pregnancy dreams rather than flashbacks to my daughter’s birth, and I am so much more relaxed and happy to be pregnant! The hospital are also arranging for me to have some cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) to see if that will help me.
I think the main issue I have around my daughter’s birth is the huge lack of control and support I experienced and having an ELCS this time is a way of regaining that. However, the hospital are also being supportive of me trying for a vaginal birth again and now I feel in control of my options it is something I am exploring, although so many factors would need to be guaranteed (and factors that can’t necessarily be guaranteed in hospital) so I think I am probably too scared.
It amazes me how the PTSD I must have is dormant unless triggered and I guess part of what I need to do is work on either avoiding triggers (tricky!) or responding calmly to them. I do hope that whatever birth I end up having with this one, that it is a healing experience. Maybe then I can put the ghost of the traumatic first birth to bed.