As we find ourselves in Birth Trauma Awareness Week, it feels only right to share my birth story with you from my eldest child as a way to share my own experience, but also to share some areas of support that I know I have found useful and am therefore share many others will too.
It Can Feel Traumatic, Yet Also Feel Amazing
I remember my best friend saying to me when I was pregnant to “just enjoy labour, as it is truly amazing”. Now of course, I didn’t understand exactly what she meant by that and wondered how you could possibly feel that about labour itself. But then I totally got it: I had that moment when we were in the birthing pool in the labour suite, and I remember just thinking, this is the most incredible experience of my life. Going through this with Adam, as a couple, finding the strength together and sharing this experience was truly magical. My body taking over and doing what it is designed to do, all while being in a setting that felt relaxing and magic with the lights, set up and music really was amazing.
Although a long labour at 30 hours and the ending we hadn’t quite thought about or ‘planned for’ I honestly can’t help but feel great about the whole experience, and felt that I would relive it tomorrow if I could.
A Bold Statement
To say I would relive my labour again is a pretty bold statement isn’t it, and quite honestly, as soon as my baby boy was in my arms I turned to Adam and said “I’m never doing that again.” A feeling I am sure many of us experience. But quite honestly, that newborn bubble in those first 2 weeks were 2 of the best weeks of my life.
Quite honestly, I don’t actually think the trauma of it all really sunk it until after this time. Most likely when the surge of hormones came, we entered the world of sleep deprivation, the reality of people going back to normal and Adam returning to work set in, and also from sharing the story with people when they asked and reliving it so many times in my head.
So I will share every part of my story with you, not just because I love to reminisce and it means so much to me, but also for anybody that would benefit from hearing this right now, because of their own experience. I will share the things that we did to help us to deal with those emotions, as well as some other great support available to you all from others that I have been fortunate enough to work with too.
Where It All Began
It all started at 4am on Wednesday 1st May, I woke up with tummy pains that were feeling pretty intense. I decided to get up as I was actually feeling quite sick. You spend so much of your time towards the end of your pregnancy wondering how you will know when labour is started, and the saying that “you will just know” is so true. I very quickly realised this was the start of everything. I woke Adam up with “I think you need to get up, things are starting to happen”, whilst he thought he was just being woken up with a cup of tea in bed. No darling!
When calling the midwife unit around 5am, they said it sounded like things were happening and to call back when I was contracting 3 in 10minutes and they were lasting 1 min. Adam was quite keen to get the midwives here (little did he know how long this would actually be – we were both rather naive to that). But before they arrived he got organised with everything that we had spoken about in terms of setting up the environment in the nursery. This included my diffuser, soft lighting, candles, as well as the very practical bits such as towels, etc. It sort of felt like he went into an organised panic mode, but he was totally in control and knew what he was doing which just felt amazing. When the first 2 midwives arrived around 7am and I was upstairs using the chest of drawers in our room for support during contractions and walking around in between. All I had in my head was to keep moving and not sit down. I had my hypnobirthing tracks playing and was focused on getting in the zone.
When the next midwives on shift arrived my contractions had actually slowed down, so we agreed that they would go away and we would call them when things were progressing again. Adam and I had a bit of lunch (I was standing to eat my chicken dippers and chips, which I had sent him out for because that’s exactly what i fancied. pregnancy/labour gives you some funny cravings doesn’t it). Things started to feel like they were progressing again.
The contractions were definitely catching my breath and I wasn’t able to speak through them as easy, so we decided it was time to call the midwives back. I think the fingerprints I was leaving in his hand as I was holding it during contractions was his signal to call haha!! That was actually our position for all of my contractions while I was in labour: I would hold his left hand with my left hand, he would rub my back and I would breath through it using my hypnobirthing techniques. I really felt I needed him there and it made the world of difference, I think it was comfort for me actually.
I remember thinking at this point, this is it, we are doing this. Earlier in the day I had been thinking how the day would pan out and imagined our parents coming over that night after we had given birth. How wrong was I going to be!!
Anyway, I agreed to an examination so we could work out where we were at with things, and they determined I was about 2cm dilated. They said they expect 1/2cm every hour and I remember thinking my god this could go on forever, being fully dilated felt so far away. My legs were getting quite achey from standing the whole morning/afternoon so the midwife suggested that I have a bath. I actually enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. In the prep to labour I had created 2 playlists: A labour chill and labour energy playlist. My thoughts were that I would listen to the chill one and relax, but I actually ended up wanting to put the energy one on. The midwives were quite enjoying listening to the cheese when they came up to listen to baby’s heartbeat!
After I got out the bath I actually felt really good and refreshed, I popped some clothes on instead of getting back in to my pjs and had a little pamper with body lotion (this was another of my anchors, as the smell took me back to a really positive memory: the holiday where we actually fell pregnant.)
Whilst I thought I would spend my time upstairs in the nursery, I hadn’t spent any time up there and after meeting the next set of midwives I decided to stay downstairs, using the back of the sofa for contractions, rocking from side to side with my hips. The midwives had said that the gravity would be great to keep things progressing so I was keen to continue this, but again my legs felt achey and tired after standing on them for so far so I agreed to another examination so we could establish how far I had dilated: I was 5cm.
Let’s Get The Priorities right
Adam was getting rather hungry by this point (it was dinner, so we will let him off) and he had also joked about wanting to watch the football which was on (he’s a Liverpool fan incase you were intrigued), we agreed that if the volume was off then he could have it on. Well what else was there to do? He never actually got to see the end of that match, but I remember him telling me later on it was a good job as they had lost anyway.
After not showing any further progress, there was talk that I was going to have to go in to hospital. However, one of the midwives knew what type of birth we wanted and was determined to help us have it had home so called into the hospital and managed to get them to agree to her breaking my waters at home. She had told them that it was a straight forward labour (which we thought it was at that time). So the great news was that she was given the OK.
I remember thinking at that time that we were just letting things happen and not necessarily taking control. So I suggested to Adam that we stand back a moment and just make sure we were happy with what was happening. We applied what we had learnt from NCT: The BRAIN acronym, to me having my waters broken as this was an intervention I didn’t think I wanted, but after taking ourselves through it we established that it was beneficial to give it a go.
This is where the prep came in handy as we had all of the dust sheets, bed sheets and towels down in the nursery. I then had to be examined 2 hours later, unfortunately, the midwives who had taken us through those last 8 hours had come to the end of their shift. This felt huge at the time to me, because I really felt like I had connected with them and could put a lot my trust in them. It felt pretty disheartening too as they were convinced that they would be delivering our baby. We had taken bets on the weight and sex: They both thought girl and they thought the baby would weigh 6lb 10 or 6lb14oz – how wrong were they! I did say I liked them at that point though haha!! The thought of a 6lb baby when I had been told through my pregnancy that I was growing a fairly big baby.
The Point Where I Felt It Begin To Change
So the 2 hours passed since breaking my waters and I was re-examined. I was still 5cm, I was absolutely gutted as I knew that this meant we would have to go into hospital.
This is the part now that seems a bit of a blur as I am told that the ambulance took 4 hours to arrive, but in my head it doesn’t seem like it was quite that long between the examination and the ambulance. I do remember thinking at the time though, where is this ambulance?
I was getting really tired by this point and incredibly uncomfortable. I ended up being on the floor infront of the sofa for quite a while and the midwives were my support while Adam was getting our bits together to go to the hospital. It was at this point one of the midwives had said that when I got to hospital I would need to have Pethidine. This was one thing we were quite set on not wanting all along, so this sent my mind in to overdrive. But she had said that the rest for a little while was what I needed. It was at point that I thought to myself, I need to take the control back again. My initial thought was that I had just gone 20 hours just breathing, so to then to go straight to pethidine felt like a huge jump so I suggested trying Gas and Air. I was initially scared of trying it as i didn’t want to feel light headed or sick (a feeling I had first thing that morning and didn’t like). Anyway I gave it a go, and after the first few puffs I did feel spaced out but they said that’s normal. Well, after a few me puffs I was sold and my words were (excuse the language) “Why didn’t someone give me this ages ago, this is fucking magic!!” hahahaha!! Whoops!!
So I continued to use this until the ambulance arrived. There was actually a lot of commotion going on over the phone in the background around us getting the ambulance, and I remember screaming a little louder and saying to the midwife and Adam that I wasn’t in more pain, I was just screaming to cut out the discussions that I could hear as it was getting me more anxious.
The ambulance arrived, and as I looked out of the front door it felt a million miles away, and it really wasn’t a walk I felt I wanted to do. Almost as soon as I was in, I had the feeling that i wanted to bear down and push, but the midwife and the paramedic were telling me I had to focus on my breathing and I wasn’t ready to push. I remember thinking to myself “Olivia-Rose you cannot be born in this ambulance” (the name we were giving to a girl if we had one) The fact that even entered my head made me convinced that we were having a girl! I followed where we were on the road based on bumps and turns for probably the first 2 miles, and then I don’t really remember much of the rest of the journey other than the Paramedic saying we were just turning in to the hospital.
The next bit was a bit of a blur too, but I just remember them telling me that I needed to keep my legs in so they could get the stretcher through the door and also climbing on to a bed to be examined. I have no recollection of the room or anything else, other than hearing the doctor saying I was 9-10cm dilated. They had said they were setting up a labour suite for us and would I like a birth pool filling, which I said yes to. This was actually something I had said I wouldn’t want during pregnancy. I then remember being wheeled into the labour suite and opening the door and just saying “WOW.” The room was lit with different coloured soft lighting and it just had a real calming feel to it, not at all what I had expected being in a hospital.
Let’s Do This
I climbed in to the pool which immediately felt amazing, and this is where I spent the next few hours. They had said we could put on some music if we’d like to, perhaps something calming but I said to Adam “No, let’s put on some energy”. I wanted to feel energised and have my “lets do this” attitude. So on went the labour energy playlist again. Many songs came on that made me smile and feel good, but the one that seems to really strike emotion when I listen back to them is celine Dion I’m Alive! I can’t listen to that song without crying anymore, it brings with it the most incredible and special memories.
Being in the pool was the most magical time. I remember the feeling of my body just taking over being one of the most amazing feelings ever , it was contracting under its own instruction and I was roaring with that. I apparently made Adam and the midwife laugh by saying “I sound like something off David Attenborough” When they questioned what I meant I replied “I sound like a Rhino” haha!! I was slightly out of it at this point. But it was incredible. I felt like I had fallen asleep while in the pool, I don’t know if i did nod off or if I was just spaced out from the gas and air.
It was at this point that the midwife suggested that we change position and try sitting as that can help things to progress. We also ended up with yet another midwife change: All of these midwives that thought they would be delivering our baby yet had to leave as their shift had ended and we still had no baby.
In the end after 2 hours of pushing I was told that they couldn’t let me push any longer and would need to get advice from the doctor. Again at this point I don’t remember too much else other than the doctor suggesting that we need to look at forceps or ventouse delivery. Once we agreed to this the room filled with people very quickly and everything felt pretty scary for the first time. I remember them calling for a Paediatrician and I felt anxious that everything wasn’t OK with the baby. I kept asking “Is the baby ok?” The rest is quite a blur really until our little one was born.
The doctor had said we will need 3 good pushes and baby will be out, and that I needed to make sure I keeping pushing until he says stop. I was exhausted but knew I had to find this from somewhere. After the last push he told me to blow out of my mouth, and next thing they lifted my baby on to me. (Wow, even writing this now 2 years on sends my heart racing but fills my eyes with tears and my heart with joy) They asked if Adam was telling me the sex, and he said we have a boy. I was absolutely over the moon, I said to Adam “You have your boy, you have a son” I was so delighted. I remember hearing the head midwife and the doctor having a funny argument about where to cut the cord, the light heartenedness was definitely appreciated at this point.
A Wave Of Emotions
But I knew it wasn’t over. They gave me the injection to deliver my placenta, because I had lost a lot of blood, which I felt gutted about as I had wanted to deliver this naturally but knew that it was the right thing to have the injection given the situation. I held our boy for a while talking to him, but then everything felt too much after delivering the Placenta and the doctor starting my stitches, so I had to ask for them to take him.
I found this time really hard: I was in a lot of pain and wanted to just hold my baby but couldn’t. The doctor had said that I needed to stay really still so he could do the remainder of my stitches otherwise it would result in surgery, so it was another moment of getting my head together and focusing. It felt like it was taking forever.
Once he had finally finished Adam came and sat next to me, and we realised that we needed to let our parents know that he had been born as Adam had last sent them an update at 6am saying that we are nearly there and it was gone 10am now. But I just felt I wanted half hour to just be the two of us and take it in, so that’s what we did. I felt horrendous, completely out of it, not at all how i wanted to feel.
We ended up calling parents around 11am and sharing the news, and then we slowly started to et ourselves together. The doctor had said I need to move slowly and get up carefully, I felt scared to sit and was so uncomfortable. All I wanted was a shower but I couldn’t face it, and I had a heavy feeling in my chest that I couldn’t shake and ended up feeling for the rest of the day and the following day. I just knew I felt odd!
A Long Few Days
I actually ended up spending a few days in hospital as they weren’t fully happy with my blood test results (perhaps a blog for another time). It definitely felt like the longest few days ever, I was exhausted, I hadn’t eaten properly for days, and everything felt like it was up in limbo. We were told at the beginning of each day that we would be able to go home that day, but they decided they still weren’t happy with the blood tests they took each day.
I was so excited to get home, but once I got home I remembered feeling totally overwhelmed. I had got used to the comfort of a room, and everything being in one bag, and as silly as it sounds, a house with several rooms, stairs, and all the items I needed spread all around it just felt too much. Let’s call that sleep deprivation shall we.
Anyway, the days that followed were totally amazing, and they were days that I would relive again tomorrow if I could.
I don’t actually think it was until a couple of weeks later that Adam and I had the chance to sit down and talk about everything that happened with my labour. To say that was an emotional chat would be an understatement. I think by this point we had time to process it all a little more and that’s when it hit us both. The whole point from which we had to have intervention was an extremely stressful time for Adam, as he felt like an outsider having to watch it all, and see the women he loved go through it all without being able to do anything. I still to this day think that it is something that we do not talk about enough: Just how much our partners go through during the labour/birth. I also had a lot of emotions coming up that I didn’t know how to deal with, such as not being able to have that time initially with my baby because of how I felt, to how everything ended up going, and how we could go from being a straightforward labour to needing to be in hospital and having to have interventions.
Seek The Support You Need
So this is certainly the longest blog I have written to date, and I have tried to share as much of my experience as possible as I know this can really be helpful to so many. But these are the really important parts that I feel I need to share.
Getting some kind of support is absolutely key if you feel you have experienced a traumatic birth. For me, connecting with Adam around our experience was the most important part of all of this. We could be honest and open with each other and provide each other the comfort and support we needed in our own way.
Contacting the hospital and meeting with the team to go through my notes after the birth was also incredibly important. It helped to answer many of my questions about why things went a certain way that day, but it also eased my anxiety around what happened if we decided to have another baby in the future. I would really recommend this, and it is available to anybody who has their baby (I actually think they have to keep your notes for up to 30 years, so even if you don’t feel ready to do this until years down the line, that is fine). This was something that I did not know about until months after having my baby, so I hope if this is new news to you, it is also helpful.
Every Experience Is Valid
So was my birth traumatic compared to many other stories you hear about? Absolutely not. But was it traumatic to me and my partner? Absolutely.
Many think that we should only really feel the “negative” emotions such as sadness, stress, anxiety and worry if we have experienced a medically traumatic birth. Meaning that if we had a seemingly easy, straight forward birth we shouldn’t feel anything but joy, pride and overwhelming happiness.
But, EVERY emotion is valid and EVERY experience matters.
Head over the the podcast episode with the amazing Emma from Serenity Blue as she so beautifully guides us through looking at the emotions that we often experience around our birth, as well as ways that we can begin to process and deal with those emotions.
So until next time,
Sending love, as always.