Birth Trauma awareness week runs from the 19th to the 24th July.
When I first heard the term “Birth Trauma” I didn’t think it applied to me.
After surviving two devastatingly difficult pregnancies I said, in both cases I found the act of actually giving birth relatively ‘easy’, despite both times the induction process taking more than three days, I still found those three days (five with my first) though hell, preferable in comparison to growing and carrying my offspring for nine months.
And I felt because of this, I could hardly refer to the births themselves as traumatic.
This year’s theme for awareness week is connections. I had failed to consider during this dismissal of my own birth trauma, the impact both those pregnancies have had on my connections, both with my children and also my husband, extended family and friends.
To give a little context I’ll explain in short what made both of my pregnancies so difficult. They say you never get two pregnancies the same and whilst of course everything we do is different when you experience it for a second time, mine have been alarmingly similar in their impact. Both pregnancies rendered me disabled and immobile from 16 weeks with Symphis Pubis Dysfunction. Both pregnancies increased migraine attacks from cyclically to 2-3 times a week lasting 3 days and making me sick, and all of this impacted my mental health greatly. At the end of my second pregnancy I developed gestational diabetes and both pregnancies ended up requiring emergency inductions of labour, the first due to preeclampsia and the second because of a severe and sudden breakdown in my mental health.
Reading the above paragraph back I can see that I have indeed suffered an immense amount of trauma relating to pregnancy, right up until and (in reference to my first pregnancy especially) for a long while after, birth.
So have these experiences impacted my connections? There’s not a short answer to that, apart from the obvious being, yes!
During my first pregnancy the mum blogger scene was still relatively new, there were only a handful of women sharing their realities of motherhood and none of them included hating your pregnancy or the impact on prenatal mental health. None of my friends had experienced the same kind of issues I was facing, and as a result I felt increasingly lonely, thus my relationships with friends changed, in some cases fizzled out completely.
I was unable to work because of the SPD and I was becoming more of a recluse with each passing day. My husband (though he wasn’t my husband at that point) has always supported me and he did so during that time too, but I found us being pulled in different directions due to him not being able to understand exactly what I was going through.
I didn’t feel connected to my baby either, and guilt became my overriding emotion.
Maybe I wasn’t cut out for motherhood.
Everyone told me it would be fine as soon as my daughter was born, everything would be ok and all the pain would disappear once I held her in my arms. That wasn’t the case.
When my daughter was born, she had to endure a NICU stay because she was born withdrawing from medication I was prescribed in pregnancy. This meaning the opportunity to bond even less. It’s hard to get close to a baby when you can’t pick them up because they’re encased in a perspex box and covered in wires.
She then came home after discharge and cried for 12 hours a day every day for ten months, and if I’m being perfectly honest, there was very little I liked about motherhood until after my daughter’s first birthday. The guilt I felt over her NICU stay and first year has never fully left me. I used to look at her somedays and a wave of a memory would wash over me reminding of it all. I’d feel such immense guilt I felt she would be better off without me.
I didn’t receive adequate perinatal support during that pregnancy or afterwards, and as a result these feelings leaked their way into my second pregnancy too. With connections thin on the ground again, it took me a long time to find fellow mum friends that were on my level.
Fast forward five years when I’m pregnant again, enduring all of the same complications and even more restrictions. I spent almost 7 months bed bound and had to use crutches and a mobility scooter when leaving the house. I was still taking (albeit a different kind of) medication, and the migraine attacks were back with a vengeance. The impact this time on connections was even harder to overcome because of the pandemic, and being immobile meant I couldn’t do the only things we were allowed to do, drive, go for a walk or pop round to someone’s garden for a cuppa.
My husband found it hard to connect with the baby because once again I found myself in a place where I wasn’t looking forward to having him.
I love being a mum, it’s my life’s biggest achievement but pregnancy has me doubting my abilities and questioning my feelings regularly. As a result my husband often said he found it hard to act excited whilst I was in so much pain. Understandable, but all that did was serve to make me feel even more alone on the journey.
When my son was born I was so relieved to get him out I went into shock. It took me days to feel as though he was even mine.
My mood has greatly been affected by pregnancy and I’ve been known to be very negative but also very emotional. I’ve found people are wary of what they say to me and occasionally avoid me completely, especially at the end of my second pregnancy when my mental health deteriorated so much I was hospitalised – I don’t think anyone knew what to say.
Don’t get me wrong I’ve got some amazing friends but they are fewer these days.
I do have an amazing support in my family and my husband but that doesn’t mean it’s not been hard for all of us.
I think it’s safe to say that birth trauma is firstly, not just related to labour itself but to the whole perinatal period, it’s also suffice to say that connections can be made and lost during times of trauma. Whilst I lost many connections along the way, I made new ones in my amazing hospital midwives and online communities.
Birth for some is beautiful, but it IS traumatic. Many people enjoy pregnancy but hate labour,
I can say hand on heart I hated both, but they both brought me my beautiful children and for that I’ll be forever grateful.
What comes after birth trauma is finding the strength to acknowledge your experience and ask for what you need in terms of support.
After my daughter was born and during my pregnancy with her I didn’t have any support in place. During pregnancy with my son I was proactive and regularly asked for help. Unfortunately it didn’t change my experience at the time, but now he’s here I’m getting the support I need from the relevant teams and I have my family by my side.
Just because someone else may have had it worse doesn’t invalidate your struggle.
Everyone’s trauma response is different but most importantly, valid.
For more of Steph’s honest parenthood content, click here.