What Birth Trauma Means To Me: The Process of Healing

DD Abi Wilcox writes candidly about her own experience of birth trauma and what helped her heal.

I think when we hear the word trauma we always think about the dramatic worse case scenario.

Especially when it comes to birth narratives we think emergency intervention or life threatening moment – which it can be too, of course. But trauma is about how you felt at the time and how it’s left you feeling after. In a birth story, there are so many traumas that can happen because it’s an emotional experience with so many twists and turns -some that we haven’t planned for or expected.

If your birth is a traumatic event or memory for you then it’s traumatic, no matter if someone’s narrative on paper seems ‘more’ traumatic, because it’s all about your feelings and how your brain has processed those moments. 

I’ve had four births and it is hard not to compare. During my first birth I was treated poorly at the hospital, which created moments that were traumatic. However, I felt calm and in control. I processed my narrative at the time and afterwards. Although I can highlight moments I was failed or were scary, I feel at peace with that birth .

My second was a very quick 41 minute labour, ‘born before arrival’ (BBA – means before the arrival of a midwife or other attending health professional – ed) ( I like to say ‘born as intended’ because we don’t always need medical assistance to birth’ )…while everyone thinks how lovely it was to be quick-having a precipitous birth can be traumatic in itself.

We are conditioned to believe the best place to have our baby is surrounded by medical staff and equipment, so an instant worry of ‘what if’ can set in. Everything happens so fast there is no time to feel in control, to process your body or your emotions and then a surreal feeling hits you after. Many precipitous birthers find it hard to process and it’s a different kind  of trauma, especially if they were alone or there was a medical emergency. My accidental home birth gave me power and belief in my body, but I know my partner who caught the baby found it all quite traumatic at the time. Remember those around us can suffer from birth trauma too.

However, my fourth birth I just could not process. I held on to feelings of anger, resentment and hurt towards others, and painfully, towards myself. There were parts of the story I couldn’t speak aloud for a long time and when I finally could, I couldn’t talk with out bursting into tears – the emotions felt so raw and real. I had so many questions that caused lots of emotions to not settle. I relived moments over in my head again and again. Waves of anxiety followed me when hearing similar stories or when talking of my birth.

I felt more knowledgeable and informed for this birth than any of my others – pregnancy and birth is one of my passions and my head was full of facts, information and rights . 

I had planned a homebirth as my 3rd was so so beautiful – my most painful labour, but just the perfect example of how mindset, environment and those around you effect your labour, birth and feelings.

This 4th labour started for me 25 days before I birthed with prodromal labour – as well as frequent strong contractions for hours at a time, it made me feel very ill too. But still feeling positive for my birth, I just told myself my body and baby were prepping, even if it was wearing me out! At midnight on the 25th contractions started and I thought it was just the same cycle I’d been in for the past month. But 3 hours on I knew this was it.

But there were no homebirth midwives available.

Some one was sent though – but I felt like they were never up for a homebirth and were always going to want me in hospital. My baby’s heart rate was low so I was transferred in to check everything was okay. I was made to feel like a patient and forced to go on the bed from my door to the ambulance even though I said I wanted to walk.

Once in hospital, the scan was fine and I discovered he was now engaged. But as I had previously had very quick labours I was worried about the journey home! I was monitored every 20 minutes; they didn’t “allow” me sleep. I found my place of peace and where things would move along was in the bathroom away from the medical setting and professionals.

As my waters were leaking already they tried to persuade me to break my waters. They even  booked me in for the morning for procedures I told them I wouldn’t be having. I questioned them and they didn’t have answers, other than “it’s policy”, and “no one says no”.

I had a team of doulas behind me, one super one, my sister, sending me information to read and who was there for a calming talk when I went for a walk in the sunshine when my anxiety was kicking in. But even so, I felt I had to provide explanations for my decisions. The staff added stress that felt counter productive and although all lovely individuals, not what was I needed in labour – including a painful VE that I finally agreed to.

I was not ‘progressing’ to their standards . All the things I knew about were happening to me and I felt I hadn’t done enough to stop them.  After 17/18 hours of my labour being stalled I decided to brave the journey home. As soon as I stepped into my flat my waters gushed – my mind and body obviously felt more comfortable straight away. I went and meditated for 20 mins in a dark room. And boom, I felt my baby move down.

We went to the bathroom and rang for assistance. But again even though I promised on leaving the hospital, there was no one they could send – I told my partner the script to say… ‘duty of care….you have to provide support…‘ but they were trying to get me to go in.

But I knew my baby was coming right then.

999 was who we were told to ring. But their script for birth is appalling. The receiver told me to lay flat again and again, I refused, but he wouldn’t move on till I shouted at him :

It’s the worse position for birth , I will choose my own f’ing position that’s best for me and my baby I know you have your script but you’ll have to move past it.’

…and so I did find the position that my body was telling me, lent over the toilet. He told us to have a shoelace ready – I told him we wouldn’t-require that either because it’s unsafe and my baby would have optimal cord time. I then powerfully birthed my son into the arms of his daddy just as my mum arrived. It was a messy and beautiful moment welcoming our fourth son – just with his family around. But there was this tinge of stress and anger. The receiver was then repeatedly telling me to breastfeed which I was naturally trying to do , but my baby didn’t want/couldn’t  latch – so I just wanted skin to skin but this voice just kept on telling me what to do ruining the peace I was welcoming my son into, ( it turned out my son had tongue tie and it would be the first of many difficult feeds). Cue a peed-off midwife arriving who’d had to leave her ward!

Once the cord was white I agreed to it being cut as my placenta still hadn’t birthed and my contractions were very painful. Now with my family and new son in another room, I still sat – feeling very alone, emotional & vulnerable on the floor in my blood and waters, my back and hips in a lot of pain. I couldn’t physically change position so the midwife decided to tug at my placenta, which was an awful experience. She did pull it out after several attempts, but this was always the part of my story I’d cry at or not even tell. Having had two losses previous with in that very bathroom, images were triggered from those experiences. I’d wanted to do a placenta print, but I felt pressured for her to take it and dispose of it and not being in a positive mind set, I agreed. 

She rushed a check afterwards once I was helped to the sofa and off she went like I wasn’t important and she had better things to do. Once she left and I’d washed and dressed, sitting in quietness and calm, my mum handed me my fresh baby.

I put my nose to his and said ‘ hello I’m your mummy, I love you’ and I felt the wave of love and peace like I’d finally greeted my son.

Everyone in my birth story brought negativity, stress , worry and I felt like they didn’t want to be there. How people make you feel in these vulnerable moments is crucial. People can make you feel safe and supported or worried and scared! It’s who is around you when you feel out of control and what they do, who’s listening to your wishes as much as it is the physical and visual.

 

Abi greets her newborn son

I could add more detail, words and emotion to my birth narrative but my main feelings were I felt like I was fighting when I should have been been relaxing. I felt uncared for and that there were negative vibes being pushed on what should have been a positive experience and memory. I put a lot of blame and anger on myself and had lots of questions.

Then I booked in with the lovely doula Carla for 3 step rewind and everything started to change and shift . The first session was the first time I told my story and shared my emotions from start to finish. Just that in itself was healing, having someone listen, without having to pause or edit my emotions felt freeing . 

Telling the story this way means you remember parts you’d forgotten, moments pushed back or happy moments overridden by the negatives you clasp onto. Followed by a meditation that stills you and calms you after opening up was just the start of my journey. Each session my negative emotions lowered especially towards myself. The technique is such a peaceful and relaxing way to process trauma and with Carla’s guidance and soft voice it was easy and so comfortable. During Rewind you watching a film of your traumatic story, disassociated as a third person. Then you watch your self on the screen and finally you are guided back into yourself to experience the memory directly. You end with your body switched off and you’re just in your mind in a peaceful and controlled way. 

Each time reliving it, emotions shift, your view point differs. There are still parts of my birth story that I’m not happy with but I no longer blame myself – I saw the warrior I was and the strength I had. I see how amazing my body and baby were and when I look back now I no longer cry when retelling certain parts. I can cope with and process the intensity of my emotions.

What an amazing gift that is from Carla Walsh that will last me a life time – a settled soul.

I now look at the elements that created the negativity, but don’t see the story as a negative. All the special moments and positive emotions are more highlighted than the bad feelings my brain clung onto – the loving and caring faces of my family and the love and support surrounding me is now an image that shines through.

There is always a soft light in a trauma story – a light that can be turned on once you process that trauma.

Abi Wilcox

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