Trigger Warning: Negative Childbirth Story/PTSD
Somehow it’s already been 9 months since Theo made his arrival and I’ve not yet got round to sharing our labour and birth story. Part of that is because we’ve been very busy but it’s also down to the fact that we had a very difficult time of it both during and after his birth.
I’ve found writing this post very difficult and I apologise in advance if it’s rambly or overly long. Part of my ongoing therapy is to write it all down and so I have – albeit with a few tears!
My labour with Lily (our eldest) was a really wonderful, empowering experience – she was born at home and for the most part I laboured alone with my husband as the midwives arrived for our planned home birth about 20 minutes before she was born. I didn’t get any pain relief simply because I was already ten centimetres dilated by the time they arrived. I spent my time moving around freely, using the bath for pain relief and she was born relatively quickly at around 10am after an overnight labour.
This time around I woke up early in the morning with contractions and bleeding. I called my midwife and because of the bleeding, they sent an ambulance to blue-light me into the hospital. I arrived at the hospital and my planned home birth midwife met us there. I was in labour so she transferred me to a beautiful birthing room with a pool. I laboured in the pool, to begin with – the water giving me a lot of pain relief however after some time I was only 3cm dilated and so the home birth midwife needed to go out to attend to another woman in labour. Before she left she gave me some diamorphine to help with the pain as I was in such discomfort and my contractions were very strong.
At that point, my care was transferred over to the labour ward midwives and I was moved into a side room which, frankly, was a room that clearly wasn’t prepped for use and had been used for storage. The bed had no bedding, the Entonox (gas and air) wasn’t hooked up, there was another woman waiting in there to go to the theatre for a cesarean.
I was introduced to my new midwife very briefly – she said she’d be back shortly to check up on me and then disappeared. My next couple of hours were spent throwing up uncontrollably – I was sick all over myself, the bed, the toilet floor and couldn’t stop shaking. My contractions increased in pain as the diamorphine started wearing off.
My cousin who works at the hospital popped in to see us and I was begging her to get me some Entonox as the midwife still hadn’t returned. She couldn’t find the midwife in charge of my care but managed to find another one who set up the gas and air for me to use. My husband Scott kept asking at reception for a midwife to come and check me over and eventually at about 4:30 pm she came and checked my temperature and my blood pressure.
I was trying to articulate that something had changed, that I felt like something was wrong, and that I was in pain, and she was completely dismissive telling me ‘that’s labour’. It was so frustrating trying to communicate with somebody who is supposed to be caring for you but who clearly isn’t interested in what you are trying to say.
At no point after my home-birth midwife left did anybody check on the baby – nobody listened into his heart beat or checked how dilated I was. For hours we were left to ourselves and had our concerns ignored.
I was going in an out of conciousness by 6pm – the pain had got so bad that I felt completely out of it – exactly how I had felt before Lily was born. Scott again asked at the reception for a midwife to be sent round and was told ‘she’ll get round to you, we’re busy’. At around 6:30pm my waters broke and Theo was born onto the bed.
My first view of my beautiful boy was of a baby who was blue and lifeless. He didn’t cry or move and I honestly thought he was gone. I couldn’t move. I just watched as Scott was yelling for help, trying to rub the baby to get him to start breathing. All I could think was that after 7 years of heartbreak I wasn’t going to be taking our baby home. A midwife arrived and sounded an alarm at which point the room filled with people trying to resuscitate our baby. It took them 8 minutes to get him breathing. That was the longest 8 minutes of my life.
They transferred him to an incubator and I made Scott go with them as they moved him to NICU. I didn’t want our little baby to be alone with all of those strangers.
Two midwives stayed with me, helped to clean me up a bit and deliver the placenta. I was in shock, babbling about the birth and wanting to know if my baby was ok. My dad arrived and went to get an update from Scott as I’d not heard anything from him and I was worried.
Eventually, at about 9pm I was able to see my little boy – my dad and best friends borrowed a wheelchair and took me to see him – he was so tiny and covered in tubes which just broke my heart but he was alive and being looked after.
As you can imagine after such a traumatic labour I couldn’t wait to get home but it was a week or so before we were discharged. It was so hard but my mother in law took great care of Lily so that Scott and I could spend our time at the hospital with Theo. I stayed in overnight and Scott would sleep next to his incubator on the NICU and we were doing his feeds every two hours once he came off of the feeding tubes.
Still, now we are having issues with the hospital who seem reluctant to admit that they neglected our care. Part of me doesn’t even want to argue with them about it – I just want to forget about what happened but at the same time I think they need to take responsibility. I was lucky that Scott hadn’t gone to try and chase down our midwife when Theo was born -because the outcome could have been very different. I was lucky that a midwife heard him calling for help as our emergency alarm didn’t work. We were lucky but you shouldn’t have to rely on luck in labour when you are in a place filled with trained medical teams.
The official report says that Theo suffered from distress during labour – there was mention of something called meconium asphxiation which is when a baby in distress poos in the womb and swallows their own poo. That meconium poo then expands within the child’s lungs when they try to take their first breath and essentially suffocates them. He was also treated for a blood infection called sepsis which can kill.
I have Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder (PTSD) from the labour and have nightmares and anxiety because of it. I can’t even bring myself to go past the hospital on the bus as it results in a panic attack. That might sound ridiculous to you but it still causes me such pain every day.
I am so incredibly grateful to my husband, our home-birth team and the team at the NICU who got me through a difficult pregnancy, and horrendous labour and who saved our little boy’s life. And to my dad and my two best friends who stayed with me and comforted me after the midwives left. I am also incredibly grateful that our son has no severe long-term health issues from this – he so easily could have suffered brain damage or other serious issues from his birth. He is a thriving and happy 9-month old who is so loved by everybody who meets him.
I’m undergoing counselling to try and help with my PTSD, and we are continuing to have dialogue with the hospital about what went wrong. We can’t change our labour story but hopefully, by pressurising them, we can ensure that nobody else has to go through the same.
It’s not easy to come to terms with a labour that didn’t go to plan but here are some ways I suggest to help you if you have gone through something similar:
- Look into your local provision of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) – this is specifically designed therapy for trauma and it is helping me
- Relaxation Techniques – meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, reflexology and mindful relaxation can all help you to cope with emotions and stress linked to a traumatic birth
- Take care of yourself – the term ‘self-care’ is bandied about a lot but it really is important. Take time for yourself; a hot bath with bubbles, a cup of your favourite tea and a book can make all the difference
- Write it down. Some people find that writing down their experience can be a real release. I found this very difficult as I write for pleasure so this was difficult from normal for me
- Ask for help! It took me a long time after Theo’s birth to admit that it had affected me more than just in the short-term. First I spoke to my husband, then my GP and then to a friend over a bottle of wine – speaking about my labour is tough but actually, it helps to know that I have people around me who get how I’m feeling
- Speak to the specialists – the Birth Trauma Association have a lot of advice and can help you and your partner