This post has been brewing in my mind all week. It is Birth Trauma Awareness week, after all. I intended to write it on Monday, but I was overwhelmed just thinking about why I needed to write this, and so I kept putting it off. Waiting for the right words.
I want to stress that women who are dealing with birth trauma have done nothing wrong. They do not regret having their babies, and they are absolutely grateful to have wonderful healthy babies, if they were blessed to leave the hospital at some point with a healthy baby. They do not leave their birth with healthy emotions, and can suffer for weeks, months, years, trying to determine WHAT went wrong and WHY they feel this way.
I want to share with you part of why I have birth trauma and have had to start working through it. I am not ready to share my birth story. I'm not sure if I ever will. But I can share with you some of the feelings that led to me leaving my birth unhappy, frustrated and betrayed.
I was frustrated on our way to the hospital, because our midwife had to transfer my care. We spent 5 months developing a relationship with her- I trusted her and now I was going to have to give birth with a series of virtual strangers. I felt alone and scared.
As things progressed, despite making the best choices we could, we reached a point where the hospital staff acted as though we had little option. A nurse started questioning my decisions, my care, how my midwife had cared for me. In retrospect, I realize I wasn't birthing the way SHE wanted, and she wasn't supportive. Had I realized it then, I would have fired her and asked for a new nurse. After two days of labor, it turns out one doesn't always think clearly.
There were many good moments- we had an amazing doula, I knew the OB who performed my emergency surgery, and we were able to experience labor, something that was very important to me. I was having a beautiful, calm birth and was fully prepared for what I needed to make it to the end.
Instead, I woke up between contractions late in the middle of the 3rd night, to find that the steady heartbeat we had listened to for two days straight had stopped. There were people I never saw again, in my room, running around. They flipped me over and then even though his heart started beating again, it shortly stopped again. And that was it. I had no more decisions. There was no time to even read the clipboard they practically threw at me to sign. No talking to my husband about what we were going to do next. Losing the ability to make decisions for your own body and baby is something that shouldn't be taken lightly.
No one would tell me what was going on. They stripped me naked, and worked around me while I shivered, with my eyes closed. I realize at this point jobs need to be performed efficiently, but SOMEONE could have told me what was happening and why they were doing certain things. I had no control over my body. They had to HOLD ME DOWN to sedate me. I never gave my consent mentally. I remember thinking back later that it must have all just been a bad dream, because it was so horrible. Then I would realize it had really happened, and cry myself to sleep. My husband stayed in the hospital with me each night and held me while I cried each time I woke up.
I felt violated. I became an obstacle to my baby's health, and suddenly I no longer mattered. I remember feeling them cut into me. I woke up without pain medications from a major surgery. And even though I could barely walk when I left the hospital, it felt as though no one cared about me- they only cared about my baby.
When I woke, I wasn't able to see my son right away, and each time I woke for weeks later, I would forget I had given birth and feel so empty because my baby was no longer inside. I felt nothing when I was finally allowed to see my son 18 hours after surgery. I felt nothing when I held him finally almost 36 hours after he was born. I wasn't there when he was born! I seriously questioned whether he was even MY baby- even though he looked like a tiny skinny version of what his father looked like when he was a newborn.
Time spent in NICU isn't really conducive to healing either. It was hard to hold my baby because I was in pain. I was at the mercy of others for even knowledge about my baby's health. You don't even really have a say in the health decisions being made. They wouldn't let me even attempt breastfeeding at first and I had to fiercely advocate for it, just to be allowed one session per day. I'm grateful my guy was a fighter and clearly didn't enjoy being in the hospital anymore than his parents did- He left 5 weeks earlier than they thought he would! But even at home I dealt with feelings of inadequacy and extreme anxiety that something would happen to my son.
Later at my 6 week appointment, the OB who did my follow up chirped the party line "Healthy baby, healthy mama" as though it had all ended well, but in my mind I was anything, but healthy.
I couldn't sleep. I couldn't leave the house, except for very short times and only near people I knew and trusted. No ONE could hold my baby for weeks unless I was right there. I later learned these were signs of postpartum anxiety- something that they DO NOT talk to you about when you leave the hospital. It's all about postpartum depression these days, and you can easily cheat on that "test" they give you before you leave the hospital.
I would sit and cry for hours at night. I would clutch my baby for hours during the day and wonder why I felt this way. Why was I so empty and unhappy? Why couldn't I just get "over" it?
There are so many different things that I went through- fear, concern, loss of choice, abandonment, violation, discrimination of size and age, uncontrolled pain, uncaring hospital staff, complete loss of control.... I still find it hard people don't think birth trauma is a real thing.
I think the hardest part was we had planned and trained for our birth and we KNEW it should have been better. It could have been better.
Tomorrow I'm going to share some of what I have done to start healing, but I want to share with you that it is real, and if you are feeling some of what I did and still do- You are NOT ALONE.
And there IS hope.