I had a shit birth. Here’s six reasons why I really want others to know.

I had an awful birth experience. But I didn’t die. My baby didn’t die. In fact, she is thriving – the brightest, happiest little ray of sunshine you ever did meet. And, almost two years on, here I am, getting the help I need. We all lived to tell the tale. So why does that tale even need to be told any more?

  1. Because birth is not always a positive experience. And being honest about that should not be something that women are made to feel shame or guilt over. Expressing natural feelings of sadness or angry about a difficult birth doesn’t mean that a new mother is ungrateful for a healthy baby, the opportunity for motherhood, or anything else.
  2. Because silencing anyone who has lived through trauma is not okay. I was utterly shellshocked by my experience, but I didn’t feel able to talk to anyone about it without downplaying it, because I didn’t want to be ‘too negative’. With a new baby, you are expected to give smiling introductions to eager friends and family. Not be a tearful wreck. I self-silenced on my feelings, because I felt the implicit judgement and silent comparisons of friends, family and strangers when I gave the basic stats and details everyone asks for. “Ooh, it sounds like my birth…” (…but I’m fine so…?). “My labour was much longer/shorter…” (…you’re lucky).”Well at least you have a healthy baby…” (…get over yourself and stop whining). If someone has been in a car crash, or escaped their burning house in the middle of the night, they are received with open ears and arms. We are horrified and want to help. But birth is such a commonplace event, and one which evokes so much for others, there simply isn’t the same space for a new mother to express what she’s been through with honesty, and not feel judgement or comparison.  And when a traumatic experience is compounded by feelings of shame and guilt, because there is no space for open discussion, it only leads to isolation.
  3. Because it affects more women than we think. An estimated 30% of women who give birth are likely to end up on the spectrum of birth trauma, whether they recognise and report it or not. And it isn’t just after extreme cases where the mother or baby was at risk of dying. It is also happens for those who have experienced intervention which felt violating, and those who were not treated with appropriate levels of care, dignity and respect by the medical staff. Sadly, because women are shamed into silence over experiencing anything less than a perfect birth, or don’t know enough about birth trauma, they often feel the impact of a traumatic birth silently. Going without treatment, they feel the negative impacts of their experience way longer than is necessary. But knowledge is power. If you know about it, and you end up as the one in three on the spectrum of birth trauma, you will know you are not alone. You will not experience the isolation of being shamed into silence, because ‘a healthy baby’ was not enough for you.
  4. Because sadly, many cases of birth trauma are preventable. It is as much how the experience is felt by the mother, as it is the circumstances around the birth, that can result in trauma. This means two births which are both regarded as ‘normal’ in the hospital notes might have different impacts on the women experiencing them. Why? Because dignity, respect and empathy are critical to birth being an empowering transition into motherhood, as opposed to a frightening and threatening one. In what other situation do we expect a woman to lie in a submissive position, frightened and in pain, exposing her genitals to be inspected and touched by strangers for hours at a time? Why are labouring women empowered in their antenatal classes, but expected to ‘leave their dignity at the door’? If intervention is required, unless proper care is taken to ensure the woman is respected throughout, this can at best result in feelings of failure, and at worst feel as violating as rape. It doesn’t have to be this way though. Of course, no doctor can control the twists and turns of a birth. But everyone present can make the birthing room a place of dignity and respect. Perfectly put by a fellow mother, “the only things that could have given me a positive experience were free: eye contact, a hand to hold, warm words of support”.
  5. Because the ripples of trauma go further than you imagine. PTSD following birth trauma can deeply impact vulnerable new mothers and their families for years, as I talk more about here. This includes the impact on newborn babies, our next generation, whose most critical period of development is under the care of a primary caregiver who is debilitated under the stress of mental illness. Try making organic pear puree when there is a bear growling in the room. That’s what hypervigilance feels like. The threat feels so real, how could you possibly do anything other than feel fear and panic, and succomb to the body’s fight, flight or freeze responses? The triggers are many and they are everywhere. A letter for a smear test, a shadow flickering past the window when you’re alone in the house at night. Shouting. The baby crying. It can all trigger symptoms – feelings of fear and threat – reducing a mother’s ability to parent well. And with such limited attention given to the impact of birth trauma on mothers, the long term effects on the baby are, of course, largely unknown.
  6. Because if you know what the symptoms of birth trauma are, you can advocate for the right help. The after effects of trauma are really treatable, but they require a totally different set of solutions to post-natal depression or anxiety. Worse, some treatment options for depression can further damage a person who actually has trauma symptoms. Many of the symptoms of PTSD are similar to those seen in more familiar post-natal mental health issues, so it is easy for doctors to misdiagnose. I was the perfect example of that. I was told at my six week check, by a very empathetic and kind doctor, that I “could well be displaying symptoms of anxiety”. But it just didn’t feel like that to me. I knew something wasn’t right, I couldn’t sleep, I was constantly in fear that my new baby would die if I stopped watching her sleep or listening for her breathing, I had pins and needles in my hands and feet, sometimes stretching up my arms and down my legs. I couldn’t get enough air into my body when I tried to breath, even sitting ‘at rest’ on my bed. It wasn’t just the iron deficiency I was diagnosed with. But without knowing what else it could be, I just went away and struggled on quietly, thinking this must just be what being a new mother feels like. It wasn’t. It was hypervigilance, a common symptom seen with post traumatic stress where the body feels like it is constantly in danger and under attack. If I had known to question the misdiagnosis of anxiety, or if the doctor knew how prevalent birth trauma was and what appropriate treatment looked like, we both might have been quicker to recognise hypervigilance for what it was and seek appropriate treatment in the form of EMDR. Sadly, it took my symptoms to build up to a full breakdown six months later for me to get signposted to the right place for help.

So here I am, still talking about this. Because if I could change anything for mothers-to-be, it would be for more people to know about birth trauma. Hospital professionals, like doctors and midwives, so that it is less likely to even happen in the first place. Parents-to-be, so that they are more prepared for it, and can seek appropriate treatment quicker. GPs and post-natal support people, so they can be on the look out for it and support new families to get the help they need. And everyone who is the friend or family of a new parent, so they can better listen, empathise and understand.

Please, let’s break the taboo, stop the shaming and new mothers having to suffer in silence. It has gone on too long, and the impacts are too far reaching for us to ignore it any longer.

If you have been triggered by anything in this post and you want to seek help, you can find some links here that might signpost you towards the right support. If you’ve found this post useful and want updates when there are more, you can like my Facebook page or connect with me on Twitter @mummy_truths

108 thoughts on “I had a shit birth. Here’s six reasons why I really want others to know.

  1. I haven’t read all the paragraphs you have written, mainly because I could probably guess all of them and more, and because it distrssses me that much that in this day and age women are still having traumatic births, I am a midwife and I thought at the time that my births were ok, they weren’t shit births but having worked as an independent midwife and be honoured to support many mums at home births I realised that my births were not the best they could have been. I don’t have any birth trauma memories, my traumatic memories are of the postnatal depression I suffered and my health visitor telling me that my longing to bond with my baby would work out ok in the end, it took many more years than I care to discuss. I am hoping to become a team member in a homebirth team where we can care for women with absolute continuity to reduce the shit births that women experience.

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  2. Powerful piece, totally support your honesty and courage in ‘telling it like it is!’ over birth trauma. I agree we need to break the taboo over talking about birth trauma and challenge the (persistent…) myth ‘all that matters is a healthy baby!’ Thanks for the post.

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  3. I’m a midwife and wondering what your thoughts are on how helpful a birth trauma support group might be? We have a lot of groups for positive birth discussion but I thought maybe a group where women can openly talk about their experiences in a safe environment might help

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    1. I think it would be immensely helpful Samantha. There are such waiting lists and hoops to jump through for professional counseling, a safe forum for trauma discussion is a great starting point for a new mum needing to process her experience. There is an online birth trauma group that supports women worldwide to share their experiences and support one another – a closed Facebook group managed by the Birth Trauma Association. You can find out how to access it on the links page. But I also think face-to-face groups could be beneficial if well facilitated so mothers felt safe.

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      1. Online groups are tricky and need to be managed vigilantly and sensitively. I’ve spoken in public places about my births, and I don’t know how many times the response has been, “If you had done this instead…” and I have been given advice on what I SHOULD have done differently. This is singularly unhelpful. Not only can I not change the past, it also then heaps guilt on me for whatever it is I didn’t do.

        I have seen many pregnant women seeking to allay their fears on their impending birth after not properly understanding or accepting the trauma of a previous birth, only to be given unsolicited advice from people who know nothing of their medical history. Sharing stories would be wonderful, with advice on how to deal with it from professions – but a forum where others tell you what you did wrong (“You should’ve refused that c-section” or “You should’ve changed hospitals”) makes it a lot worse.

        I would also like to mention that dads often need help too. My second birth was horrendous. We both nearly died. It took me about 12 weeks before I could process it, and over a year before I could philosophically say, “Okay – wow, that was rough.” Three years later, my husband mentioned something to me, and to my horror, I realised he hadn’t dealt with the trauma he felt. It changed him. It scarred him. He didn’t know what had happened after he was removed from the room, and why certain things were done. Dads need support too.

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      2. I totally agree. My experience of the Birth Trauma Association private group is that it is only for people to discuss their own trauma and comment when others share only to show solidarity and empathy. Only when a specific question is asked is it ever responded to, and I have only seen responses by those who have been through something similar (e.g. what type of therapy options have worked for you?) or professionals who are qualified to comment. I guess this is what you would consider a well managed and safe forum.

        I do agree it’s very important to prioritize the safety and care of vulnerable women above anything else.

        I would also agree that partners can be deeply impacted by trauma too. I think I hinted at it in the blog post, but certainly it’s something that deserves real attention in this difficult conversation that I hope more people are opening up to. Thanks for engaging, it’s a really important thing for everyone to be able to do. I wish you the very best on your healing journey.

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    2. Samantha – we’ve been running a birth trauma support group in our home town for 15 years, and it can definitely be helpful – we’ve seen so many women move from despair and feeling pretty much as the writer of this fantastic article has expressed she felt in the early days…to being able to make sense of their experience, and move on, whether to more babies, or just moving back to their families in a better ‘space’. However, it is really important that those facilitating the group have a clear understanding not only of the impact of birth, but also on what a woman needs to be able to process her experience, and how to offer her appropriate support. We have written a book based on our years of running the group, for women to be able to access our support worldwide. It also is designed to support health professionals, and we have received some awesome feedback from midwives, social workers, and psychologists who are using the book not only in their practice, but also finding it supportive in understanding their own experiences of birth. I know some birth workers are now using our book as a basis for birth trauma support groups and workshops in the US, New Zealand and Australia. I hope that Sarah (who owns this blog) is OK with me linking to our book and website here – is that OK, Sarah? The book is called “How to Heal a Bad Birth: making sense, making peace and moving on” and you can find out more about it here : http://howtohealabadbirth.com and our organisation is called Birthtalk.org http://www.birthtalk.org Samantha – I want to encourage you to explore your idea further – you might just enable the women you encounter to be able to not just debrief and share in a safe space, but to feel really ‘heard’ and begin the journey towards healing xx

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  4. Reblogged this on There's no knowing where you might be swept off to and commented:
    I will be completely honest with you. There are tough times when I seriously think about throwing in the towel, coasting for a couple years and kicking back with friends and an icy g&t in one hand, book in another… Oh the sweet relief from responsibility and intense work… It would be bliss. I’m only young, I should be kicking back and relaxing, I say to myself. But then I read something like this, or I get the most heartfelt thank you after a 12 hour labour, or a card signed after spending a week looking after a woman on postnatal ward, and then you remember. You remember that you do this for women, to help people and do your best for every person so that no one feels like they’re just a number (even though you feel pretty proud at being able to remember 5 digit patient numbers really well and ordering them numerically). So there were too, only a short piece from me, I’ll let this magnificent woman say the rest for now.

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  5. Beautifully written. I totally agree with everything you said. I had a very long, difficult labor ending in an unplanned C-section and suffered from PPD for many mothers after. I felt so much pressure to put on a happy face. The worst was when people would say, “All that matters is that you and your baby are healthy.” I wanted to scream and say, “IT’S NOT ALL THAT MATTERS.” Thanks for keeping it real. I admire your honesty.

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    1. Thank you. I think if we can start getting some more honest conversation going about the other side of birth, every new mum will feel less like they have to nod quietly and perform whatever role society currently asks them to. Solidarity to you.

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  6. I really love how you talked about the way we are treated making all the difference. I had a homebirth in which the birth was amazing but my placenta would not detach and had to be removed manually. It was horrible and excruciating. I still lost a lot of blood but thankfully didn’t need a transfusion and was able to recover at home. This was a “traumatic birth,” but it didn’t feel like that to me because I was cared for with dignity and respect by my midwives. I can only imagine what it would have been like under different circumstances.

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  7. What a great article – THIS is the stuff that women need to be hearing and sharing more of. So many women out there are struggling with the aftermath of a traumatic birth experience that they don’t even realise is worthy of being called traumatic (“I had a normal birth, didn’t I? It wasn’t nearly as bad as so-and-sos. I should be grateful, who am I to be complaining when I got a healthy baby?”… This is what most damaged women are thinking or are led to believe). I started a NZ (Hamilton) based birth trauma support organisation called Voice For Parents. We have a closed Facebook group called Birth Trauma Support NZ that Kiwi women can access as a safe space in which to share their birth trauma stories. We also run Birth Trauma Support Workshops and I offer personal birth trauma support. Our website is http://www.voiceforparents.co.nz. Take a look and have a think about whether you’d be open to me sharing this article as a guest blog post, Mummy Truths (sorry, I don;t know your name). Nga mihi, Carla

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    1. Please Carla, more than happy to share, it’s half the reason I wrote it. And I am so pleased to hear about your support network. Amazing. I’ll link it in my links page. The quicker women can get signposted to help, the better.

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  8. All of this- absolutely! Thank you for your authenticity. This was exactly me 11 years ago- and so many of us still. At 2 yrs. pp my cortisol levels were so low and adrenals whacked out that I was diagnosed with chronicle fatigue syndrome + sure I had PPD. I did not have the energy to participate yet was able to be so irritated and angry, exhausted and ashamed. Add the physical demands of a new, big baby post surgery, lack of sleep… Its a sh!t storm in the making and an EMERGENCY SITUATION honestly! … I mostly felt abandoned by the midwives and the ob’s that they didn’t have a “guidebook” or resources, for the first 6 weeks after all, birth is very common….Thank you! I will definitely be sharing this

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    1. Thank you Wendy. It’s so hard to pinpoint what’s going on in the whirlwind of confusion that is birth, and having a newborn, and recovery, and physical injury care, and…..I really do think that if we have more honest conversations about the realities of birth – so much of this can be avoided, or at least picked up, through people’s awareness. Thank you for sharing.

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  9. It’s been 36 years, and much healing later. Thank you for shining light on this truth.
    I often suppress the full expression of my birth trauma story to keep others comfortable and I do appreciate the work you are doing to raise both consciousness surrounding societal pressures, as well as awareness of how birth experiences vary.

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    1. And silence, gosh, doesn’t it eat you up inside? I’m not sure who benefits from it either – it is for the comfort of others but is that because we have been socially conditioned to think that? Are we all just keeping our honest selves hidden from each other to protect others, when actually all we all really want is real human connection? Thank you for taking the time to engage in this really important conversation Carollanne, I’m really grateful.

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  10. From a Midwife Elder: While Women and Midwives continue to participate in systemisation, medicalisation and pathologisation that interfere in the uniqueness, of a woman’s transitions through her pregnancy, her labour, the birth of her baby and breastfeeding, the same old process of women’s experiences of harm will continue. Professionalisation with institutionalisation has resulted in a loss of warmth, caring, being with and beside each woman for her entire journey. Instead the woman becomes an object, most often confined to a bed who has to be processed as rapidly as possible. She experiences unknown people standing over her, instructing her, performing routine, which often in my opinion are abusive procedures on her body. Imagine a stranger (sometimes several depending on workload and shift changes) walking into your privacy, your space and laying you flat on your back, perform 4 hourly vaginal examinations when you are in the midst of labour one of the most transformative of lifetime events. Routine practices all because ‘they’ need to know the progress of your labour because they are not ‘with’ you, to be privileged to observe all the other informing signs you instinctively share during your progress of labour. Big Medical Business and Enormous Pharmacological Industries have evolved through the loss of women’s knowledge, experience and wisdom as they are rapidly transported into, through and out of private and public hospital systems. Medicine is wealthier, politics controls through unnecessary government involvement; insurance organisations rampantly charge for the practice of experienced, competent and caring midwives. Midwives and Women are exhausted. Women are sent home within 24 to 48 hours well before their breast milk has peaked. Breastfeeding rates fall rapidly in the first week and continue falling resulting in only 14%-15% of Australian babies being fully breastfed at six months. The huge cow’s milk formula companies thrive on these rapidly reducing breastfeeding rates as the health of nation diminishes. Women are sent home with breastfeeding complications. They have not recovered from questionable interventions that delay their ability to experience the wonders of early mothering, some are struggling to walk and hold their baby. Imagine if we returned to all healthy Women having the non-interfering option of being at home with a chosen experienced, competent Midwife and her chosen others for the entire journey. Imagine if we returned to less fear of litigation, reasonably reduced excessive costs of Insurance and returned to seamless professional access to any institution should the need arise. Moreover, imagine the billions of dollars saved, if healthy women were not directed into apathetic non-caring systems where they occupy beds, which are meant for genuinely sick people. Would this change the current waiting times experienced by the sick? Is it Time for a Revolution?

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    1. Jo thank you for reading and for taking the time to comment. I hope by us all talking about our collective experiences we can raise more awareness of this and help others either avoid it or heal from it in future. All the best.

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  11. Sarah – thank you so much for your article – it is fantastic! And just hits the nail on the head. We’ve been running free support groups called “Healing From Birth’ in our hometown for 15 years, and much of what you say echoes what nearly every woman we encounter shares : especially the self-silencing and the feeling of not wanting to be ‘too negative’ about the birth. I know I also experienced that myself, 18 years ago, which then prevented me from understanding what was happening to me, and from receiving appropriate support for a LONG time. One of the points that you make especially is one that we believe is absolutely KEY to understanding why a birth can be traumatic for one woman, and not another. To quote from your article : “It is as much how the experience is felt by the mother, as it is the circumstances around the birth, that can result in trauma. This means two births which are both regarded as ‘normal’ in the hospital notes might have different impacts on the women experiencing them.” We totally agree, and have a quote on our website that says : “What is a bad birth? It is a birth that you can’t let alone. It stays with you – for weeks & months afterwards. It might not look “that bad” to an outsider. It might not look “that bad” to your partner. It may not even look “that bad” to you, but it FELT THAT BAD…and THAT is what matters. It could have been a caesarean or a natural birth. It might have taken 30 hours or 3 hours. A bad birth is defined by the WAY YOU FEEL, not just the EVENTS THAT OCCURRED.” So – thank you for the eloquent way you have expressed your experience, and explained birth trauma in this article, It needs to be said. And shared. S we can continue to raise the awareness of birth trauma, and enable many more women to access appropriate support. We would love to be added to your list of resources, if that was OK. We have our website, that includes information about why birth matters, birth trauma, and stories from women who have had traumatic births and gone on to have empowering and positive experiences : http://www.birthtalk.org We also have a blog called “Birth Trauma Truths: what you need to know on the healing journey”, that has articles offering support and guidance towards healing, such as how to write your birth story after a traumatic birth, and how to cope with birthdays after a traumatic birth, and why birth can be compared to a mid-flight plane emergency. http://birthtraumatruths.wordpress.com We also offer private consultations for women after a traumatic birth, or women planning a subsequent birth after trauma, worldwide viva Skype/Zoom: http://debbygould.wordpress.com/private-consultations/healing-from-traumatic-birth/ Oh, and this is a link to our book – it is based on our experiences facilitating our Healing From Birth meetings, and offers guidance and tools for healing after a traumatic birth, that could be a valuable resource for women and health professionals. It is called How to Heal a Bad Birth: making sense, making peace and moving on and you can read more about it here : http://howtohealabadbirth.com Again, Sarah – thank you SO much for getting the conversation going about this issue, and we support everything you are doing to make birth trauma a topic that is not only discussed…but understood. We also wish you all the best in your own healing journey xx

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    1. Thank you so much – it’s so great that you are out there and helping women to heal. It’s happening to women everywhere so a global network of healers and change-makers is what is needed. Thank you for highlighting your website and book, I’ll be sure to take a look. And thank you for your kind comments too. Healing is a long journey for anyone affected by trauma, but breaking the silence on this is certainly something that is helping me.

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  12. I had a horrible experience not from the nurses but the birth itself…I could have died not once but twice and going through shit like that can affect bonding and all other aspects of being a new mom. I had someone tell me to stop using it as an excuse……I could have punched them in the twat!

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    1. I’m so sorry. You’re totally right, when you’re recovering from the shock of nearly losing your life, of course it can impact the process of bonding and general functioning of being a mother. I can’t believe someone lacked understanding and empathy enough to say that to you! That’s exactly why this needs to be better known. More awareness – less isolation.

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  13. This post describes my entire birth and postpartum experience to a “T.” Your description of the “growling bear” to express hypervigilance is spot-on. I, too, experienced PTSD following the traumatic birth of my daughter. I wondered how – when I was so injured I could hardly walk. so traumatized I couldn’t sleep for weeks on end – how in the world was I supposed to take care of this little baby who depended on me for her every need? Motherhood is overwhelming enough without being silenced and shamed when you speak out about a traumatic birth experience. Thank you for raising awareness of this important issue. Hugs and healing to you!

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    1. Candice I’m so sorry. It sounds like you had a terrible birthing experience. How frightening. I really hope you are recovering now and managing to enjoy precious time with your wonderful baby girl. All the best to you.

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    1. I’m so glad you can relate, although I’m sad for you to have to go through something that means you can. Hope you are well on the way to healing and thank you for taking the time to comment, it’s really validating that this means so much to so many.

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      1. I am SO pleased it inspired you to write your own Kat! I found writing about this very therapeutic. I hope you did too. And the more we voice these struggles, the more people realise they are not alone in them. Hurrah to you!

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  14. Brilliant article – feel like I can relate word for word. I had an horrendous experience of pre eclampsia that occurred after delivery with my third child that left me traumatised – thanks for this X

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to talk about it and to let me know that it is something you relate to. Solidarity to you. Right now over 46,000 people have taken the time to read this post so you are not alone in this. I hope you feel stronger for knowing it. Hugs to you.

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  15. Yes, yes, yes. That was me 17 years, nearly 18 years ago. I fell pregnant naturally after failed IVF and had a fabulous pregnancy, only to have a painful scary start to labour and then not dilating enough and having to have an emergency ceasarian, (still can’t spell that word). I was traumatised and my consultant said later I had PTSD, but nobody really let me talk about it and I felt guilty about not having the perfect birth and the most wonderful experience and not bonding with my baby properly. It’s taken me a long time to get over it all – we are very close now, by the way. However, when birth conversations come up, I have to ask people to change the subject as I get very uncomfortable and start to have anxiety which I have suffered from for many years now.
    Well done for talking about the untalkable. I wish I had been able to do that at the time.

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    1. Debbie, I am so sorry for you experience, and that you never had an opportunity to grieve and process it through talking with others. Guilt is a horrible burden for a mum to bear over something that isn’t theirs to feel guilt over in the first place. I also felt guilt and shame, over my failure to give birth the way I wanted to. One of the reasons that I want some more honest conversation about this, so we don’t set up women to feel failure over the huge range of possible birth experiences they might go through. Thank you for taking the time to share, and to show your support. I really appreciate it.

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  16. I appreciate this article very much. I felt absolutely traumatized by my birth experience which was so confusing because I had a “textbook birth” in the hands of wonderful, caring, skilled midwives at a very supportive birth center. I was in labor for about 10 hours and gave birth to a BIG healthy boy (10lbs 12oz). What felt traumatic to me was the level of pain that I was in for those 10 hours. I had the Foley Bulb the day before and had drunk castor oil at the advice of my midwife as a last ditch effort to start labor on the day of my 42 week induction. I was 43 years old at the time and my midwives felt that 42 weeks was the safe limit of gestation for me. I agreed.
    By the time I drank the castor oil – i was already 4cm from the Foley bulb the day before…so the contractions came on hard and fast and NEVER let up for 10 straight hours. I felt so terrified of the level of pain I was in, I couldn’t really speak the entire time. I felt that if I expressed my pain verbally, I would literally lose my mind. I felt like I would “unwind” or “go to pieces” psychologically. It was terrifying. It felt like the only way to stay psychologically together was to stay silent and withdrawn inside myself and get through it. To my husband to to the midwives, it looked like i was just laboring normally, intensely but I had the experience of being completely alone, with no help, just polite onlookers speaking encouragingly as I fought for my life. I felt like I was drowning or being dragged behind a car and everyone was saying “You are doing great!”. It was a complete mind-f#*k.
    When I came back to the birth center for my first check up after the birth, I started feeling panicky. When my midwife asked how I felt about my birth experience, I actually felt guilty telling her that I was traumatized. She and her team had provided me with such high quality, loving care, it was awkward to tell her that I was returning to therapy to deal with the experience.
    Long way of saying, even if you have a “textbook” birth in a supportive environment with no intervention…it can still feel like a traumatic experience.

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    1. Exactly! I am so glad you are highlighting this. Because it is certainly about how the experience is felt, than what it looks like on paper. You have nothing to feel guilty over at all, and that is the shame of this, I feel. If we knew that birth had the potential to cause trauma, regardless of circumstances, and that there are such widely differing experiences of births that can be experienced positively or negatively, then I think it would really help reduce the stigma attached with openly talking about how birth ‘feels’. And how it felt to you, what you were going through during this incredibly intense time, is the only thing that matters, not how it compares to someone else’s experience. Thank you for sharing.

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    2. That is so like my experience, way back in 1978. After being induced at 42 weeks, the contractions just hit and like you experienced, didn’t stop. There was no rest between them – the pain was just continuous and ever increasing for the best part of 10 hours. Sheer hell until I finally got an epidural. I too went inside myself and couldn’t respond to anyone around me. Kept my eyes shut the whole time and tried to survive it. In some ways I didn’t know how bad it was until I got the epidural and the contrast was overwhelming. I don’t know how much I was traumatised by it though. Despite the exhaustion and pain after the birth, and not being strong enough to even see my baby for 24 hours (probably not necessary and I doubt it would happen now) I wasn’t at all deterred from going back and risking it all over again 3 years later. I guess we all respond to these experiences differently. I was treated very kindly by the postnatal nurses who didn’t attempt to diminish what I’d gone through and how I was coping physically. I was so obviously battered by the experience that probably no-one would have dared to diminish what I’d gone through.

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  17. I was quite surprised to read this article mainly because I had a very traumatic birth but I never felt shamed into not talking about it or ashamed when I did. It was an experience that I shared with my friends and family and most of my friends also had traumatic births too. It seems the underlying tone is that we are made to feel ashamed for talking about this, I have never once felt like this and I do feel this is a personal choice.

    I didn’t expect the birth of my children to be anything but traumatic so was also surprised by point 1, the only positive was having the baby at the end of it.

    It wasn’t until I had my second child that I realised how bad my first labour had been, but I didn’t feel any symptoms of PTSD maybe I was just lucky? But if people do I agree that there should be support networks in place, it is hard enough having a baby.

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    1. Darcy, thank you for taking the time to share. I think this really relates to what Sonomalife was saying above – it’s impossible to compare one birth to another, even in terms of two births that were both 20 hours labours and C-sections, or 2 hour labours and vaginal, two difficult births or two smooth ones. It really is how the birth is experienced by the woman that matters. It is also how the birthing room is ‘held’ by those attending – the midwives, the doctors, your birthing partner. If they are able to support you, ensure dignity, respect, and make sure you are considered the person who is GIVING birth, then this can all help a mother make peace with even the most traumatic labour. I think experiencing trauma, and experiencing something potentially traumatic can be really influenced. I’m so glad you didn’t experience PTSD after your birth, although I am sorry it was so tough.

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  18. Hit the nail on the head. I had an horrendous experience where the crash team was called first for me and then my son before he was born. We spent a week in hospital. I wrote to the CEO as I knew things had gone wrong and I had some recommendations to make and questions to ask. I also felt that less articulate mums, younger mums and busier mums with more than one child wouldn’t have had time or maybe means to do it. But three months later, with all the emotion stripped out if it, I sent in my letter, had a meeting with the head midwife and received an apology. I had a breakdown some two years later, which I now put down to birth trauma not being dealt with and the strain of being back in a stressful corporate job. Too many mums have bad experiences but not enough mums get help or access to it. Yes, there are midwife appts and the 6 or 8 week checkup with your GP but when you are a busy new mum you don’t often realise you’re affected until much later and sometimes not until you’ve had many years to put it into perspective.

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    1. Thank you for sharing this. I am glad you spoke out to the hospital. I also want to do the same, I just haven’t had the chance to do that yet. Perhaps that is something that we need to encourage more of, so that we can see change. Did you get any feedback from that, apart from an apology? Anything to suggest that changes had been made? I hope so.

      It’s all too easy to struggle on for a long time, simply because you have no alternatives but to get on with it, and no outlet to heal, isn’t it? I hope you have managed to get support since. Thanks again for sharing your experience.

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      1. Oh yes, changes were made. I had an induced birth and was basically allergic to the pessary med used which resulted in fast and furious contractions every two minutes for four hours and both my son’s heartrate and my blood pressure rising ‘morbidly high’. Despite this being my only birth experience, I knew it was wrong but nothing could be done to reverse it and my hospital was unable to do anything about the unbearable pain because they were sharing the one and only person able to give an epidural with A&E that day. I suggested they asked women to rate their levels of pain so they could better understand the situation and also recommended that something was in place to recognise women who would be allergic to the induction pessary. It was only when I spoke to the head midwife that he explained I had hyperstimulation – yet, I wasn’t told this at the time, nor did anyone tell me that what was happening was indeed wrong. I wasn’t naive. I didn’t expect a walk in the park. I didn’t have a birth plan that detailed candles and flowers and music. It was v realistic and simply said I would accept any interventions needed to keep my son and I safe. Hmmm. There were further issues after his birth which resulted in both of us being in hospital for a week later. A key failing for me was that NICU led me to believe my son could die – he was in the highest dependency unit for two days with the preemies but he wasn’t premature. NICU and the Maternity ward did not ‘speak’ to each other. I also wasn’t the only mother not to be told about a baby doctor who linked both departments. It was clear there was a lack of communication largely because of an overstretched midwife team which didn’t have the time to provide some very basic information. Many recommendations were made and many implemented. I haven’t had a second child and I often wonder if it was down to an awful experience first time around.

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  19. Thank you for writing this blog.
    I had a very difficult pregnancy which resulted in a traumatic birth and a very prem baby (25 weeks & 6 Days). My baby is now 18 years old. I got EMDR only a couple of years ago having had multiple prescriptions for anti depressants, multiple sessions of CBT and counselling. The EMDR really helped but I really could have done with it within the first year of him being born. My mum was shocked that I didn’t get offered any post traumatic counselling at the time and has mentioned it on more than one occasion.
    My other two pregnancies were equally difficult, my daughter was born at home and was a great birth but that only served to rub in the horror of the first one. My last birth was not great as I was ill during the pregnancy, I wanted another home birth and had agreed with the consultant that I could potentially have one. The midwife incharge on the day combined with my mother in law bullied me and my husband into coming into hospital where my husband basically delivered the baby as the midwives were having a cup of tea at the time and didn’t respond to the alarm!
    My sister also two difficult pregnancies and births recently. I hoped it would be better for her.
    All women should be offered counselling and EMDR after their children are born. Even normal births aren’t normal and often are not how the individual woman expects. Partners also should be offered counselling as it can be very traumatic for them too.

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    1. I wish more women knew about the potential for trauma too, and things like EMDR. As you say, the sooner effective treatment like this can be accessed the better all round. Thank you so much for sharing your experience.

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  20. Hi, I totally relate. I know I have ptsd, but I don’t see the point in getting the help… my trauma carried on, my son was born May 2016, he was struggling to breathe, for an hour they tried shoving a bottle down his throat, he nearly died after they ignored rds, Pphn, sepsis and a few other things. They over ventilated him making him bleed from his lungs and needed to be transferred to a better hospital. I had to watch as my babies tummy was sewn up, flinching with every stitch because there wasn’t time for pain relief (his arteries were collapsing) the hospital then refused to transfer me with him instead discharging me telling me to make my own way there! I had to take a taxi, carry my own bags (I gave birth alone) the taxi dropped me at the wrong entrance and I had to carry everything and walk round to the right place. I was vulnerable. I was exhausted. I hadn’t eaten. I collapsed in the reception. No one cared. My baby lived against all odds. My local hospital made so many mistakes since nearly killing him several times, overdosing him and prescribing wrong medication. Would you trust them?
    I am now 29 weeks pregnant… I refused to go to that hospital, I have refused to be “cared” for by them… I am scared. When I would tell them I was scared they didn’t care. The answers I got… I can only depend on me. I developed fibromyalgia from not sleeping. Every time I close my eyes I see my son flinching. I pray everyday this baby is healthy… this baby won’t fall into their hands. Sometimes I wonder if I am just paranoid… no justice for my son. I don’t matter, I just want to keep them safe! My son is now 2… I take him to a private doctor, health visitors missed rickets… he is thriving, but I can’t get over what was done to him, to us.

    I won’t say everything it would take too long and hurts too much. I just hope no one else goes through this… though I know they have and will. My sympathies go out to all of you.

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    1. How awful for you Gemma. I have read all of these stories and it’s just heartbreaking. I’m so sorry you received such terrible care. I hope you feel confident and strong in the upcoming few weeks before your second baby is born. Best of luck x

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Gemma, this is horrific. It is totally understandable that you experienced PTSD as a result of such an awful birth experience. I can’t imagine seeing pain inflicted on my newborn in such a way, I am not surprised that it continues to haunt you. I would really encourage you to get some counselling/EMDR support before your next birth, and perhaps if you join the Birth Trauma Asssociation private group on Facebook, other women will be able to talk to you about ways that they worked towards a positive second birth after a traumatic first. I can’t comment on this, I am too scared to consider a second at the moment, but I know a number of mums have been supported to find strategies to help empower them, such as working with professionals who understand what they have been through who can help avoid anything that would contribute to any more trauma being experienced, as far as that is possible. I totally understand how you are scared to trust now. I find it hard to trust anyone except my partner with my daughter. I have totally lost trust in humanity as a result of my birth, so I can see how you would, having had the terrible experience you did. A huge hug to you, and wishing you a really positive pregnancy and birth.

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  21. I completely and utterly agree with this! I remember going out lost both and talking to our new set of mummy friends, including my best friend who was six weeks behind me, and talking about my less than positive birth. All the other mummies immediately dived in saying ‘they’re not all like that’ and that I was being negative. I left feeling self-conscious that I had made others uncomfortable about being honest about my birth. My best friend already knew what I had experienced and it didn’t make her feel more scared, but the other mothers acted as if I was purposefully trying to scaremonger. I know they didn’t mean it that way, but there definitely is an expectation we have to put a positive spin on what necessarily isn’t a positive experience.

    I wrote an honest blogpost (that I found really cathartic but also incredibly emotional to write) about my labour and suddenly had friends on my Facebook coming forward discussing their difficult births. This is something that should definitely be spoken about more and women should be made to feel safe to do so.

    Here’s the post if you’re interested: https://theresmilkvominmybra.wordpress.com/2017/08/07/your-nine-and-a-half-month-lease-is-up-get-out-surviving-46-hours-of-labour/

    Steph x

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    1. It is awful… I spoke to a neonatal nurse who was looking after my son. I asked if she had kids, the reply was not yet. So I asked if she felt more secure and confidant about it (being in the “industry”). I was really shocked by her answer… not in a bad way, but I expected all of them to repeat the mantra “yes the care we give is exceptional” she actually said, “no, because she knows just how much can go wrong!” The honesty was what surprised me. As you say we seem to be in a place where we wrap Every one with cotton wool. That doesn’t help. I want to be prepared for the worst, and when it doesn’t happen I can at least have something to feel good about, but when the worst happens at least I am prepared…. they do however scare monger over things that they say will happen, which you know won’t! The other terrible thing is that they DON’T LISTEN TO YOU. Not as a human individual anyway, they see a number not a person and when you get someone unique like me (intolerant to most medicine etc) I am just an annoyance because I want to be natural (for good reason). They make all pregnant woman inject this stinging fluid to stop blood clots. I refused to take it so they told me the only alternative (that I wasn’t allergic to) was to drink plenty of water and get exercise… why wasn’t that prescribed to begin with?

      Anyway I am now rambling, don’t feel embarrassed or guilty about your experience. We are better people for having them… even if we aren’t the people we were before having them!

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      1. Thanks for sharing. I really hope that this feeling that SO many share of feeling like they weren’t listened to, like they didn’t matter, is not felt by as many new mums in the future. I really hope we can speak out in unison and change things for the better.

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    2. Steph, thank you so much for sharing. I am looking forward to reading this. It is so good that you were brave enough to share, and not be silenced, even after your earlier interactions on the subject. Voicing your experience is not scare-mongering. Nobody should feel silenced. We need all stories about birth to be shared, so that we can have a realistic expectation of what it can look like, and feel like, both the good and the bad. How else can a mother-to-be really prepare herself mentally for any possibility, if she is only allowed to access one positive image of birth? I also found my blog to be cathartic – it was the reason that I wrote it. It’s hard to share something that is so raw and vulnerable isn’t it? But I really do think that we all need to raise our voices if we want things to be different in future. All the best Steph, thank you.

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  22. It is incredibly important to talk about it. 5 years on, I’ve still not written the letter I planned to the hospital. I’m not ready. I’ve told my colleagues, friends, family etc., but I’ve still to confront the hospital about my experience. I put all my trust in the medical professionals. I didn’t need a birth plan other than that, because I knew deciding to give birth in a midwife unit, in a bath, on a chair or whatever was not ever really up to me. My sister recommended I get a presentation scan, which I didn’t do, and I will always wonder if that would have made a difference. My midwife didn’t believe my sister’s babies had head circumferences close to 40 cm (39.5 actually), and fobbed me off with my baby being in the right place and all good to go.

    I went 2 weeks overdue (as my sister has with all her 3), and I was brought in to be induced. I wasn’t dilated at all, so the induction was very painful. After a few hours I started to contract, and I was given morphine (at their recommendation) to allow me to get some sleep. The next day I spent walking up and down the induction ward corridor to manage the contractions, breathing like I’d been taught, and midwives muttering every time I passed their station muttering “don’t be a hero, take the drugs”. It felt like they were mocking me, when they likely were just trying to help. Not one of them asked me to sit down or examined me. It took a labour ward nurse who had been collecting expectant moms for the labour ward all day to insist they examine me. They discovered I was at 6 cms and in full-blown labour. Labour ward was full, I was waiting for ages – but introduced to gas and air which I thought was the best thing ever – and they decided it must not be the induction drugs working but rather natural labour onset, so they sent me to the empty midwives unit. I had a lovely midwife for 30 minutes, and then her shift was up, and my next midwife came in. She measured, said they’d got it wrong downstairs, I was only at 5 cms and then took my waters. The was meconium in the water. The baby turned, and I went into back to back labour. It can only be described as excruciating. As she didn’t explain right away what had happened, I thought I had done my back in, and got scared. At this point she chooses to tell me this is her first baby she’s delivering on her own (cue my shock, this woman was at least middleaged if not more). She went to get supervisor for help several times. They kept asking what I felt like doing, there was never any direction or a sense of “we are the professionals, do as we say”, which is what I needed. We tried the bath in the room next door, as this wasn’t something I’d planned or wanted to do, I had to go in naked, it didn’t help the pain at all. There was no cushioning in the bath either. I was told I would have to get out as they needed the room, and at this point I was in so much pain I was ready to walk out the door butt naked. It took a lot of convincing to get me to put on a robe. Any touch was painful.

    From this point on, the order of events is hazy, this is what I remember: I hadn’t planned on drugs, as childbirth is a natural thing our bodies are designed for and I’d always been told I had birthing hips (what a load of nonsense!). NCT had done a good job of making me scared of what the drugs would do to my baby too. As the evening and night went on, I became less and less responsive, dealing with the pain was all I could do. At 8 cms, my body wanted to push, and I asked them if I could. I was told no. They put me on several strong drugs, I apparently at one point told them the ants were in the lido. We have no idea what this meant, but I gave some explanation later on, that it may have been my way of saying I thought I was swelling up like my foot did after a mozzie bite in Venice. I refused epidural when it was asked if I felt I wanted one. I kept apologising to the midwife for being her first solo delivery. At one point the baby became distressed and they had to move me to give her better space – it felt like I was being stabbed repeatedly and I made it clear I didn’t want anyone to touch me. Poor hubby got the brunt as he had to help turn me. At 10 cms they asked me to push, and I refused. I told them my body was telling me not to (in fact my body was actively stopping me pushing), that something felt wrong. They kept asking for the push. Later they insisted on an epidural, at this point hubby thought he was going to lose us both, so he asked for a second opinion. The head labour ward nurse came, and did two things: told me to cop on to myself and accept the drugs, and told the midwives off because she could smell ketones all over the room. She brought a doctor in who examined me and said the baby was still too far up, and that they needed to prep me for an emergency C-section. She said this would take a little while, so she would check again, and if the baby had moved down, she would deliver vaginally in the OR. I remember feeling for the first time like I could trust the people around me. It was nearly 48 hours into labour.

    We get to the OR and my hubby is being prepped. I remember a big, cold room with lots of people, I felt like there were 20, but it was probably more like 8. The anaesthetist tried to set an epidural and failed, and then opted for spinal. First attempt failed, as I couldn’t bend enough with the back to back labour pain. I don’t know if there was ever an attempt to turn the baby. He seemed very concerned and I became worried they would cut into me without any drugs, so I asked them for some gas and air, took three big breaths, and then bent (adrenaline from the fear probably helped too) and he managed to get the spinal in on the second attempt. I was strapped to the gurney with my arms out to either side. It was cold. I kept asking for hubby, no one answered. I got more and more worried, finally someone said he was just outside being prepped. That relaxed me and he came in soon after. The doctor examined me again, and the baby hadn’t moved at all in the past hour (how long it all took to prep). The C-section was pretty uneventful, the doctor asked if a student doctor could participate, I agreed, and the baby was out in no time. I remember thinking the scan was wrong, as the genitals were so swollen I thought she was a boy. I also remember seeing her head and thinking: that’s why I couldn’t push! Her head had a circular indentation all the way round, like it had been stuck in a pot that was too small. No idea why, as I have yet to go to the hospital for a debrief. I do know the notes from the midwives unit disappeared from my file at some point during my hospital stay, as we’d looked at them once I was in the ward after delivery, and then when we came home, those pages were missing.

    I got no guidance in the post delivery ward, they took quick looks and said I was doing great. The food and water on offer was limited, so hubby brought me in more. I sat in my own pee and blood for hours (cathether came apart) as they were too busy to change my bed and I wasn’t allowed to get up. I would have insisted, but I was too understanding of the stress they were under (I saw them constantly having to prepare new beds or help those who couldn’t do things for themselves at all). When I went for my NHS scans, the ultrasound technician said there were a lot of babies due at the same time, and she didn’t know how they would manage over the holidays. Naive me though the NHS would take this into consideration when looking at maternity hospital manning….Doctor who came to examine me was surprised they’d removed my bandage so early. My underwear was completely wrong for c-section delivery, it dug into the scar area. The disposable panties from Boots were tiny, even though I bought the big size, I couldn’t wear them. The doctor also made a snide comment: Next time, take the drugs. I felt humiliated and like my version of events was not important.

    When released on day 3 after delivery, I was home for 24 hours. We had been released with a baby with quite some weightloss, and who was slightly jaundiced (no one told us). The midwife who came to see us the next day as not pleasant, she objected to the blinds being closed as the baby was jaundiced (first time we were told!). I was a new mom, our windows were right on the road and people could look straight in, they were closed for feeding only and when I told her the baby had had more than 10% weightloss, but that my milk had just come in overnight, she insisted on weighing her even thought that wasn’t supposed to happen for a week. Weightloss 13%, and we were sent back in to hospital.

    It nearly broke me. They wanted me to formula feed, unless I could pump and feed throughout the night. I knew bf was best, so I said I would pump and feed. A student midwife asked me if the baby fell asleep after feeding, and I said yes, she gave me tips on how to keep her awake till she was full, and what a full baby looked like, she also told me to buzz the midwives every time I fed the baby, so they could observe me doing the right thing (thank you to that girl!). I asked for a place to clean the pumping equipment, I was given no assistance. No one told me I didn’t have to clean it after every pump. So, every 3 hours I fed the baby, then I pumped, then I cleaned the equipment, and then I slept. 1 hour sleep if I was lucky. By the morning my nipples were bleeding and I was losing my milk. I had no help with baby that night. Hubby brought in nipple shields, midwives frowned, but I showed the state of my nipples and she told me to use it sparingly and get lansinoh instead (godsend!). The doctor took bloods and weighed baby, all significantly better than day before (my milk had indeed come in and I’d been told my baby was jaundiced and how to help her feed till full without falling asleep). He wanted to keep us in 1 more day. At this point I told my hubby that I would leave through the window if I had to (ground floor, low window, fully possible to walk out!), I couldn’t spend another night there. No help, not enough food, not enough water, not enough sleep (other people on ward and babies disturbed the 1 hour of possible sleep I could get every 3 hours). He told the doctor that they needed to consider the health of the mother and not just the child. He looked at me, he went to ask the midwives, and although I had annoyed the night midwives, my student midwife had given me the right advice. They said I was doing everything right, and that the baby’s improvement had been achieved by me on my own, so they did not object to my leaving. We were allowed to leave on the condition of an examination of me, and a return the next day to confirm baby still improving. The exam was the first time someone asked me how I was feeling (3rd lovely midwife met, after seeing 20 +).. Next day showed further significant improvement in baby and we were left to get on with our lives. Something I noticed in my time in both wards – the midwives who supported the other moms all came to see moms and babies. Mine never did. Maybe she was as traumatised as I was.

    Hubby firmly believes I got PTSD. I never sought help, my 6 week checkup the doctor commented that I seemed to have had a very hard time based on my records, this I confirmed. We tried to do my smear test that was due, but I couldn’t take the pain. It would take 4 years before I dared to book it again. My coping mechanism was to talk about it with anyone and everyone who would listen (other than medical professionals, who I no longer trusted – massive thing for me, as I would trust them implicitly prior to this experience). Talking about this would bring me to tears for 3 years, but eventually I was able to talk about it with only a mild feeling of tears behind the eyes. Today is the first day I have been able to write it all down. I looked at birth trauma websites in the past, but I wasn’t able to write it all down. It was still too fresh. I was also angry for so long at the hospital and the NCT. I want to help them improve, but I don’t know how.

    Sorry for the longwinded comment, if anyone has read it through, thank you (and now I’m blubbering again!).

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    1. I read it… wow. I cry thinking about mine, and I agree I completely lost trust in the “health professionals”.
      I changed hospitals based on qpr reports (basically like a school ofsted) the midwives weren’t happy about it but I told them if they couldn’t transfer me to just write it down as a miscarriage and leave me be.
      I am however a very experienced mother… but i didn’t get the guts to start standing my ground until no.5 baby.
      Now whenever I go to antenatal clinic they are trying to get me to be sterilised! I even had the comment… “so if we had to do a c-section, you wouldn’t consent?”
      Erm I have never had a c-section so why should I even have it in my head that this is a possibility? I have to drive an hour to the new hospital, but I have NEVER gone into spontaneous labour (this being my 7th) so when they try to scare me I do stand my ground about me being stuck somewhere in labour… just doesn’t happen (my membranes can be used for tyres and breaking them is extremely painful, never gone on their own) I have considered running away… not sure if that is classed as sticking my head in the sand! I too share some of your experiences.
      I think because we are so vulnerable comments that were well meant will be taken harder and out of context… make us feel humiliated. When you stop crying over it, let me know… at least then I know when I will stop too!

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      1. Wow, Gemma. It’s inspiring to hear you standing your ground in ways I wouldn’t even be aware I could. I didn’t know about the hospital review system for one. So interesting. Definitely worth spreading the word about. Great that you are such a great advocate for yourself! I hope I am strong enough to take control and feel less fear next time, if that ever happens again.

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    2. Michelle, what a story. And so much I can relate to. I am so glad you felt able to write all of this down and I really hope you find it as cathartic to write as I did. I am so sorry for everything that you have experienced. And I totally understand your lack of trust as a result, this really echoes my own feelings. I find trusting anyone hard, and am certainly ignoring any requests for cervical smears at the like.

      Like you, I really want to be able to use the experience to change things. I hope that we can all work together, raising our voices, to do what we can to be that change. I’d love to hear if you manage to write that letter to the hospital, for example. I want to do the same. I really want us all to support one another however we can to turn a difficult experience into something better for women in future. Hugs and solidarity to you. Sarah

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  23. I don’t know if I was just lucky, but EVERYONE I knew has told me of their horific and scary birth stories, from pre eclampsia; 38 hour back to back labour; terrible damage due to forcep delivery; massive blood loss; labour stopping; infected stiches; fourth degree tearing; umbillical cord round baby’s neck; undiagnosed tranaverse baby which ended up in such an emergency c section that they gave anaesthetic to someone who was allergic to it – both baby and mum ended up in intensive care. By the way all of these ended up with both mun and baby ok.
    I had literally not heard a single positive birth story – it got to the stage where I thought a good birth was not possible – and in a way that made me stop worrying (I think hearing that many dramatic birth stories could sway a person either way). And unbelievably I got a positive birth – I do think it’s because I had heard all these stories – but I do wish someone had just said – do you know what – none of those happened to me – it just hurt like hell because even though I agree everyone should know these things -they should also hear the positive side which I never had!

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    1. I think a lot of woman mourn the labour they didn’t get!

      When you watch one born every minute, you wish to have one straight forward and lovely… and when that doesn’t happen you mourn that loss, even when you have a lovely baby. We can part with and share terrible pregnancy but labour seems the worst… the thing we mourn.

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      1. So true Gemma. It’s so important to be able to grieve too. Although I do think that if society didn’t have an idea of what the perfect birth looked like, we might feel less the need to grieve any birth that is considered less than perfect. Perhaps this could be impacted by better information beforehand on the wide reality of birthing experiences…What do you think?

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      2. @mummy truths… some birth experiences are not natural and should not be experienced… they come about because of lack of care, experience or even over worked care workers (or lack of training).
        Under the cuts of this government I don’t see it improving.
        I think when I see woman, no matter how they delivered, being able to hold their baby, pain free and go home is the ideal birth… no mum should be left sitting on a ward listening to other woman cooing with their babies, while you sit there with an empty cot!
        I don’t personally complain, I tried to turn it into a positive by helping the mums, as someone experienced I was able to help them get their babies to sleep, help them breastfeed, and just chat and help them to feel confident and empowered. I heard many scary stories and feel a great relief that I didn’t go through what some of them went through, even if my baby was somewhere else. Doing that helped me to cope (especially when I couldn’t sit with my baby) otherwise I would have lost my mind. The midwives were busy, so I saw it as helping out… try to turn the negative into a positive… and don’t rely on others to do it for you… you will be waiting forever if you do.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. That is so interesting to hear! And refreshing actually, because it goes against that feeling that if you tell people ‘negative’ birth stories they will be scared. You are right though, I think we need balance. For me I would have appreciated knowing something like, overall, 30% of women have a C-section; 40% an induction; 50% have assisted delivery with forceps/ventouse, etc. And a rare 5% or 10% have a drug-free assistance free birth. I am pulling figures out the air, but you get my point. I think it would help to put it into perspective, the likelihood that your birth could go in various directions and that isn’t a failure if they do, it isn’t your fault, it is just the normal parameters of birth, you know?

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  24. I had a horrid second birth 25 years ago, that still haunts me to this day. I was lucky — I had had postpartum depression after my first birth, and knew that the feelings I had after the second birth were not right. My OB/GYN sent me to see a psychiatrist for treatment, which ultimately included hospitalization for the depression/trauma. PTSD wasn’t recognized back then, but without the treatment I have had, and continue to have, I wouldn’t be here today. I went on to have a third (surprise!) birth, and relayed to my OB/GYN the horrors I felt about my second one, and that I did not want to go through that again. She was fabulous, and set up a planned delivery that could be controlled and monitored better. It was a perfect birth.

    Now, my daughters are having babies. They are fully aware of my three births, good and bad. I’ve made sure they know that giving birth is not at all like the prenatal classes build it up to be. And you can bet, I’m by their side to help advocate for them if things go wrong, and that I watch them closely for signs of depression or trauma.

    Kudos to you for sharing your story, and letting others know that giving birth is not necessarily a Disney movie experience.

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing this experience, and I am glad that you managed to get support even at a the it was even less well recognised than today. Thanks for showing your support too, I really appreciate it.

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  25. My baby turns five in a couple of days. For most of that time I have been asking for help to deal with the trauma of her birth. I’ve been fobbed off with justification for the decisions made, “that’s not my field, you need to talk to a specialist” (but with no advice on how to find one), and of course “the baby’s fine, what are you complaining about”. Because I have suffered depression in the past, medical professionals have assumed that it was “only” PND and haven’t listened when I’ve said this is different. Finally, last week, the practice pharmacist said, “That sounds like PTSD, I can refer you.” We’ll see what happens – but if he can refer me, what was stopping the doctors, midwives, counsellors …?

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    1. I’m so glad you finally landed on the support you need, after fighting for it for so long. Hope this is the start of a much speedier healing journey for you. Just goes to show that better information on birth trauma is needed amongst the medical profession.

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  26. Even though it was over 30 years ago your article really spoke to my experience. I had an induced birth as my son was nearly 2 weeks overdue. The ferocity of the labour and the acute pain really shocked me along with a fairly radical episiotomy and no time for any pain relief other than local anaesthetic. It took over 9 months for the cut to not feel painful but that was not the main issue: I was in a maternity ward for about 6 days during which I had a number of what I would call ‘existential’ dreams. I firstly dreamt that I was my baby, completely vulnerable and unable to control my limbs or my body. Then I dreamt that I was a very old woman on her deathbed looking at my own shrivelled limbs and feeling utterly terrified. Many years later (I’m now a psychotherapist) I see this as an existential crisis ie when you give birth you are faced with issues of life and death that can be truly traumatising in their own right and this is apart from the actual physical and emotional demands of giving birth. Following my son’s birth I then suffered acute anxiety either over his health or mine. I developed what is called globus hystericus which is when the muscles in your throat go into spasm and it feels as if there is a huge lump there and that you could suffocate. I was at the local GP surgery pretty much every week. This went on for 9 months until I consulted a specialist who told me it was a symptom of acute anxiety and that there was nothing physically wrong with me. As I came to understand my symptoms things gradually improved. All through this my love and bond with my baby was never an issue fortunately and did not get compromised by the rest but I know my anxiety did affect him too. This all happened at time when my contemporaries were having home births and seemed to be managing really well. I did feel quite alone and maybe a bit ashamed of my difficulties. These days I work with clients who are sometimes traumatised and I use energy therapy methods for self soothing and letting go of what becomes embodied trauma. I wish these kinds of methods had been offered to me back then. And I hope that the enormity of giving birth can be seen not only in physical or even emotional terms but for the momentus event that it truly is, and that new mothers are given the deep respect and intelligent support they truly deserve.

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing this, Debbie. Super insightful, and very relevant for my personal experience. My first warning signal was physically not being able to breathe, feeling intense pain in my chest and numbness in my limbs and I understand now it was actually acute anxiety. Somehow knowing makes it easier to work with. I also really benefited from energy focused therapy, EFT, and EMDR specifically. I can completely feel how the trapped trauma energy in my body released, in that I physically felt lighter as a result. Thank you for all the work you now do to help others, it is so important.

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  27. Thank you. This really hit home. I struggled with my birthing experience a number of months after we came home with a perfectly healthy and beautiful baby girl. But we were so close to losing her at the very end of the birth that I just couldn’t cope, couldn’t breath even and was left paralyzed with fear. I couldn’t bring myself even to think about the experience so I read stories of people losing their babies to actually guilt myself that I was lucky and that my daughter lived and that I should be grateful. And I just though that’s what your supposed to do. I wish I read this at that time instead.

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    1. Nina, thank you for sharing and for letting me know it resonated with you. It totally sucks that we are guilted into silence if we are lucky enough to have a healthy baby. As if we wouldn’t be grateful for that. You deserve more. You are also important. It is totally understandable that you have struggled, after being so close to losing someone so precious to you. It’s incredibly hard to get over this, I know. I am just finding myself a little bit more able to sleep at night, without the hypervigilance telling me that my daughter won’t be here in the morning. We will get there, but know that you are not alone in this. Hugs.

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  28. I gave birth nearly 34 years ago and although I love my beautiful daughter, I did not remotely have the lovely birth “experience” that I anticipated from my pregnancy classes. My water broke but since contractions didn’t start, they induced labor – which took 18+ hours. The pain was horrific (it felt like someone twisting a broken femur bone on a rhythmic basis) and my holistic doctor said no drugs, so I was forced to tough it out. Unbelievable pain. Totally unprepared for it and angry afterwards that no one warned me. Doctor needed forceps to get my daughter out in time. It was grueling. Afterwards I looked 8 months pregnant for 3-4 weeks (that also was not expected) and I kept wondering why no one told me ahead of time. Oh well… my daughter and I both survived, but I never did THAT again! When I turned 40, a friend sent me a T shirt that said “I’d rather be 40 than Pregnant” and that definitely summed it up. Thanks for talking about this. The nurse at the hospital told me that NO ONE had used ever used their beautiful birthing room that we toured because no one had a “simple” no risk pregnancy. So much for the PR of having babies. Thanks for being real… and if you think you are going to go back to work with your baby, think again. Babies are a FULL TIME job. So make sure your husband can pay the bills and support the family while you take 5 years off to be a mother. Good luck! I’m glad to be sixty-five and this part of life is behind me. I wouldn’t have missed my daughter for the world, but it is not easy street. Talk to your doctor about pain relief options and be prepared for a less than ideal experience. And also be prepared to give up your job and stay home – and enjoy this wonderful new child who adores you! Babies are great. Giving birth not so much!

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  29. Thank you so much. It’s only now, reading this, that I can see I was genuinely traumatised by the birth of my first child 16 years ago.
    The birth experience was not what I had planned or hoped for and was not sympathetically supported by medical staff. The resulting rush to theatre, failed ventouse and eventual forceps delivery was horrifying enough, but reading my medical notes afterwards I discovered that it was recorded that I made no effort to push during delivery. My efforts may have been ineffective, but I did my best!
    I have lived with the guilt and pain of this ever since, without ever really acknowledging that my trauma is remotely valid.
    Although I have since successfully delivered twins (which was a truly wonderful birth experience) I am still haunted by the hyper vigilance to this day and can see now that I need to meet this trauma head on and heal myself.
    Thank you so much for speaking out and giving me a voice and a chance to recover.

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    1. Nic thank you for reaching out and sharing your story. I am so sorry you have had to live with guilt and pain for 16 years, it is unforgivable that society has made you feel like you have to keep the experience inside. I really hope that you can take some time to heal now, you really deserve better. I am SO glad that you have been able to recognise these symptoms because of reading this. It gives me so much courage and resilience to keep speaking out. Sending you hugs and the very best for your healing. Please check out my links page for some resources of where you might be able to seek out help, and if there’s anything I can do to help signpost you, do let me know. Sarah

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  30. I had a traumatic birth even though I attended yoga classes for nearly six months before. During the whole experience I felt ignored, patronised and not listened to. Internal exams where excruciating, they inserted a catheter twice which was equally agonising, they made my husband and another midwife physically pin me down whilst they did an episiotomy and local anistetic. It was horrendous. At one point I felt I physically left my body, I couldn’t talk the next day as I was hoarse from screaming. I was banging my head on a brick wall to numb the pain. I had a 3rd degree tear and a bled heavily afterwards. I didn’t expect an easy ride but this was something else. Afterwards I had no PTSD or other effects apart from a huge feeling that the NHS failed me. Lots of people say “at least you had a healthy baby” well it took me 7 years until I could do this again.

    I wish I had the opportunity to talk over my notes and what happened. If i was in the hospital with any other condition (not giving birth) I’d likely be given much more pain relief and be treated with much more urgency instead of being patted on the head and being told I’m doing well….

    Anyone reading this who is having their first child I’m sorry. Not everyone has such a dramatic time. Go for the pain relief if you can!

    I’m pregnant again and dreading the next birth. Wish me luck….!

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    1. I’m so sorry to hear about your awful experience. Nobody should have to endure that, and you have every right to feel angry and sad. I am not surprised you took your time deciding on whether or not you wanted to do it again. I am sending you all the positive vibes in the world for your next birth. I hope you are able to enjoy at least moments of pregnancy because it’s such a special time to be stripped of by unhappy memories and fear, though I completely understand why. Hugs to you!

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