Trigger warning: This article discusses childbirth trauma.
Childbirth can be one of the most intense experiences of a woman’s – indeed a couple’s – life. Yet the experience is rarely painted in anything other than broad strokes: the time of arrival, the baby’s gender, name and weight, claims that ‘Mum was a legend’, and so on. When it comes to childbirth, there are so many possible outcomes – outcomes that can leave a mother and her partner feeling anywhere from triumphant to traumatised. But once bub has appeared on the scene, it’s easy to forget what the mother and her partner may have been through in bringing that baby into the world.
A disappointing, or even disturbing, birth experience can come in many forms: perhaps intervention took place; perhaps bub emerged wounded or unwell, or it was you who ended up wounded or unwell; perhaps you and bub were separated when you’d barely had the chance to meet.
So if your baby’s delivery did not go to plan, how do you reconcile your feelings of disappointment? In telling the story here of my first daughter’s birth – which resulted in a major postpartum haemorrhage, some two and half litres in all – I hope to assist others who may be struggling with their feelings about their own child’s delivery.
While pregnant with my first daughter, I had strong ideas about how she would be born. I prepared for an active vaginal delivery with regular exercise, prenatal yoga and birth skills. I would labour mostly in the comfort of my own home, pass on the epidural. I was sure I had this. My imagined ‘worst-case scenario’ was an emergency caesarean delivery. It honestly never crossed my mind that very serious complications might arise.
The labour began – ever so slowly. Twenty-two hours in and at last the contractions were regular, not to mention bloody painful. When we finally arrived at the labour ward I was nine centimetres dilated and screaming. The yoga and birth skills had been long forgotten. I heard a midwife in the background ask, ‘WHO IS THAT?’ Yep, it was me, doing this oh-so-natural thing called childbirth oh-so-smoothly. Let’s just say I wasn’t the poster girl for Zen-like childbirth.
I’ll cut to the chase. (Most of you know how it goes, anyway.) Bub arrived safely; she was indeed beautiful and healthy, and I was a legend, if I may say so myself. But I was also suffering from ever-flowing blood loss. My newborn baby snuggled on my chest, attempted her first feed, as the midwives tried to force my uterus to contract – causing pain that was worse than the labour itself – it was hardly a bonding moment. The haemorrhage continued, and as one litre became two, I became extremely unwell. Alarms sounded; hospital staff came running from everywhere. Someone else’s blood was pumped into my veins. I returned to consciousness to process the news that I was being sent for surgery and they may need to remove my uterus to stop the bleed. As I was wheeled out of the delivery room, I wondered if I would return. I hoped that my husband and daughter would have a good life together if I did not.
Evidently (since I am writing this) I made it out of surgery, alive, and complete with uterus, a ‘sticky placenta’ the cause of the bleed. I was returned to my baby and husband. And although the three of us began our good life together, I could not forget what had happened.
Several years on, and now a family of four, I have overcome my less-than-triumphant birth experience. Essential for me has been therapy with a wonderful, insightful psychologist. A part of that therapy has been to write about the birth – initially a raw, upsetting piece, for my eyes only. And at some point through the process of reflecting on what happened the day my daughter was born, I realised my feelings of anguish, and anger too, had subsided. But before I pack the whole thing away into a corner of my mind, I wondered, could sharing my experience here help others who might also have regrets about their child’s delivery?
As confronting a subject as it may be, I wish that birth trauma received more attention in the media and in our conversations with others. I wish all women received more support in the early months of their child’s life, but in particular those who have suffered trauma at birth. If you feel you are struggling with coming to terms with a birth experience, I encourage you to speak to your local early childhood nurse or GP.
More from Ginny Grant:
No Judgements, please
Riding the Merry go Round
When is enough, enough?
Friends, Near or Far
My ( Child’s) Kitchen Rules