My Experience with Birth Trauma

I'm sharing my experience of birth trauma to help other people who've suffered feel seen, heard, and less alone. (TW)

I don’t talk about my own experiences of birth in my antenatal and hypnobirthing classes – it’s not about me, and nor should it be.

But with the recent conversations around birth trauma, I want to share my experience, as it has informed my work, my views, and my values. I’ve just focused on the birth itself, and not on the after effects. It’s been over 6 years now, but it’s still difficult to think about in a single blog. This experience led to panic attacks and postpartum depression in the first 6 months of my son’s life. I went on to have an undisturbed, physiological home birth with my second son.

When I was pregnant with my first son, I’d done what I’d thought was enough prep

My husband and I attended the hospital’s hypnobirthing course (it was £50, bargain), and chatted briefly to my midwife about my birth preferences – the birth centre please Miss!

I was due just after Christmas, and we’d arranged to stay in an Air BnB in Ipswich over Christmas. We lived in Kent at the time and thought, “Yeah, we’ll be fine, it’s a week or so until the due date!” (Shows how much I knew about due dates at the time…!)

A pregnant woman holding her large bump
It was juice in the glass, don't worry!

Surprise, surprise, I started having contractions at 4am on the 22nd of December

I genuinely didn’t realise that was what they were at first, because they were all in my lower back. But after a few hours and a friendly reminder from my husband that “well, you are pretty pregnant”, we decided it’d be best to head home. Cue a 2-hour car journey where I felt pretty excited, despite contracting every 5 minutes. We’d called ahead to the hospital, and they said to head straight there. Lovely job.

When we arrived, I was told I needed a vaginal examination (VE) in order to be allowed into the birth centre. There had been a brief mention in the hypnobirthing class that if you didn’t want these done, you didn’t have to. But when I told the midwife I didn’t want to be examined, I was met with a face of shock and confusion, and was told that she’d never heard of someone refusing it. I was told that I could only go into the birth centre if I was dilated enough, so if they couldn’t check then I couldn’t go in, simple as. I assumed I’d got my information wrong and gave in to being examined. No waters breaking yet, but I was told they were ‘bulging’ (“Is that good?” I thought, “It sounds grim”) 3 cm – congrats, I passed the test.

But then my labour stopped

A pregnant woman in a birth centre room, leaning against a birthing ball
The moment things started slowing down

I’d got settled into the room, fully assuming that this was the place in which I’d have my baby, but my contractions had just…disappeared. After another VE, I was told that I was in fact only 2cm dilated, and therefore had to leave the room in case another person needed it. Deflated, and apparently de-dilated, we went home.

Christmas Eve came and went. When I was at home, I was contracting every 3 minutes, for the magic 60 seconds. I couldn’t sleep because of the contractions, and couldn’t eat because I kept vomiting. But each time we went to the hospital, we weren’t allowed to stay:

“Go for a walk around the hospital, up and down the stairs sideways, like a crab.”

“Go home and try some nipple-tweaking to try and get things going.” (Genuine advice, didn’t work.)

“Look, I’ve seen women in labour and you’re clearly not in active labour yet.”

A pregnant woman wearing a Santa hat, in hospital
We tried to keep my festive spirits up...!

Christmas day arrived and all I was hearing was “no room at the inn” (I feel you, Mary)

I hadn’t since my first contraction. I hadn’t eaten. I’d been sick, a lot. Every contraction sent agony through my lower back, and I was left feeling dismissed by the hospital staff. I remember thinking “surely it’s not normal to leave someone for this long, when I clearly need some help”. I was in desperate need of reassurance but was instead met with indifference.

I was getting so pissed off at the whole thing that I made my husband call triage and demand that someone do something. I remember him calmly speaking to the midwife on the phone while I shouted, “It’s been 60 bloody hours!” when, right at that moment, my waters broke. Merry Christmas!

A photograph of a pregnant woman at Christmas, looking sad
Our last-minute Christmas dinner which went uneaten

I went into hospital, where they promptly told me that in fact only half my waters had broken. For fucks sake. I then had 24 hours in which something more needed to happen, or they would induce me because of the risk of infection. Then I was sent home, again.

I remember getting to 80 hours and saying enough is enough.

80 hours of no sleep, no food, intermittent voms and constant contractions. Fuck this.

We went back in to hospital, I walked straight past the birth centre to the delivery suite and basically said “someone, do something, anything, please.” By that stage I would have taken any and all intervention, just because at least then someone would have been paying some attention. I sobbed “thank you” as a midwife broke the rest of my waters and then everything bloody escalated from there.

My contractions intensified 10-fold, but after all that time with no sleep and no food, I had no strength, physical or mental, to go on. I asked for an epidural and finally got some rest. I don’t remember them administering the epidural – I just remember half-collapsing in agony saying that I had nothing left in me, and then waking up a few hours later. That was the most peaceful point in the whole birth.

After the inevitable midwife-shift-changes, I was told that my baby would arrive soon.

I, of course, felt nothing from the waist down, so was relying on them to tell me when I was contracting and would need to attempt to push. But with each push, my son’s heart rate plummeted. The midwife didn’t seem concerned, but my husband, having spent the last few hours staring at the monitor, felt that something wasn’t right. He too, was dismissed in his concerns. “It’s perfectly normal for this stage, don’t worry.”

He really had to demand that they get another opinion. When a doctor came in, he was also concerned by my son’s heartbeat. They carried out a foetal scalp test to see if he was getting enough oxygen. That’s when the proverbial shit hit the fan. Suddenly the calm atmosphere was gone. The lights went on and a load of people came rushing into the room. Forceps were brought out and multiple attempts were made to attach them to my son’s head.

They discovered that my son was back-to-back, with his head to one side, and his hand covering his face

Despite many attempts, none of the doctors were able to get the forceps on, therefore a rush to theatre began. My husband got scrubbed up, I was asked to sign a consent form for something (I genuinely can’t remember what it was for now) at which I promptly vomited all over the floor. It was at this point that my husband told me (many months later, when we could actually talk about it) that this was the scariest point for him.

He said that he suddenly worried that he was going to come out of this with no family left.

Ultimately, one surgeon in theatre managed to get the forceps clamped on my son’s head and he was yanked into the world

My son was born at 10:31pm on Boxing Day.

90 hours after my first contraction.

I have a very short video of him, tightly wrapped up in blankets and hats, being placed on my chest.

My first words to him were, “Oh sweetheart, it’s okay, it’s done now. It’s all over.”

And then I had a newborn to look after. 

A black-and-white image of a newborn baby, and his mother holding his hand

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