Let's Start at the Beginning
Updated: Apr 18, 2021
Trigger Warning: Birth Trauma
The logical place for me to start this blog is with the birth of my baby. Unfortunately I went through a traumatic birth. I will not go into further detail on this as unfortunately I have had to struggle with the effects of this trauma. Whilst these after effects have eased for me from what they initially were, this is still a very sensitive topic.
But what I do want to talk about is birth trauma itself and the fact that it is not spoken about half as much as it should be. During antenatal classes and antenatal appointments, I never once heard about birth trauma or the support that would be available should you go through it. Perhaps there is logic here, so as not to put fear into expectant mother's. But even after an extremely traumatic experience, where I had multiple healthcare professionals referring to what an awful time I had been through, it was only when asking my midwife on one of my follow-up home visits that she told me about the afterthoughts service.
Afterthoughts services should be available at your hospital. They are not counselling appointments but are an opportunity to go through your hospital notes and the events that happened during your birth. For me it was mostly beneficial, it gave me closure on what I had been through and helped to alleviate some of the immense guilt I was struggling with.
I had guilt that my body had not been able to deliver my baby safely unaided. But going through my medical notes gave explanation and showed me that there was nothing more I could have done. Ultimately, my birth required intervention and for that I am forever grateful that I was in hospital where that emergency care was available for both me and my baby when we needed it. I also think it is important to talk about birth trauma so that attitudes can change and support can improve. I heard a very useful analogy regarding birth trauma, which was to imagine you and your partner were in a dreadful car accident. You went through a real trauma and felt like your lives were in danger. After the accident you were asked whether the car was ok. No one asked how you or your partner were. When you attempted to talk about it, you were told that you must be so happy that the car is ok. That at least the car is ok, that is all that matters.
Initially I said the same. I told everyone baby is ok and that is all that matters. But soon after hearing this multiple times from others, I realised that was not all that matters. Obviously this was the most important thing by a long way, but it certainly was not all that mattered. I was left dealing with flashbacks, on the rare occasion I would be able to sleep with a new-born I would close my eyes and relive my experience. This mattered. My mental health mattered. The well-being of all new mums matters.
Attitudes that birth hurts and is scary, but women just need to deal with it, need to change. If you were to go through another traumatic event - a car accident, being victim of a crime, or suffering an injury - you would be approached with empathy by those around you, people might suggest you have counselling that you take time to recover from your experience. But when it comes to birth new mum's are often approached with the attitude of it's over now, just forget about it, move on. Focus on your baby, You have a family to look after now. This is just wrong.
If you yourself have gone through birth trauma or you would like to just improve your understanding and ability to support others in this situation, I recommend visiting the Birth Trauma Association website. The BTA were a very helpful source of support for me, they have a service where you can speak to somebody and they have published stories from women who have gone through birth trauma which I found incredibly helpful to know that I was not alone.
The other important action to take is to speak to somebody. I am lucky to have the most fantastic family around me. My husband was my rock throughout those first few weeks, and my mum provided me with so much support and encouragement. To end this on a positive note, I have improved. I do not experience the flashbacks half as frequently as I initially did. Every month that passes eases the struggle more and more. So to anyone relating to this post just know - things get better.