April is Caeserean Awareness Month, a campaign run by The International Cesarean Awareness Network, Inc. (ICAN). Their aim is to provide support for caesarean recovery, and promote Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC). I think this is a great campaign because it gets people talking about caesareans and helps people to realise that they are incredibly difficult to go through. It’s not something most mothers have by choice. And it can be really difficult coming to terms with a traumatic birth.
I wrote a post last year about my experience of having an emergency c-section and other people’s attitudes towards it. I wrote about how some can see it as the easy way out, that women who opt for a c-section are too posh to push and that by having your baby removed from your body that you are not actually giving birth. I know, right? A ridiculous view point to have. And these views often come from people who haven’t had a c-section. Who don’t know what it’s like to be rushed down to theatre, to have a massive needle stuck in their back, to lie there whilst a surgeon cuts you open and rummages around your INSIDES to pull your baby out. They don’t know what it’s like to not be able to move for hours after your surgery, to be hooked up to a drip and have a catheter. They can’t understand what it’s like to not be able to lift your own baby out of its crib because you can’t get off the bed by yourself, to not be able to change a nappy because you can’t stand up for longer than a few minutes, and to struggle to breastfeed because your baby is sitting across that stomach you just had cut open. And all of this is before you have even left the hospital. Before you’ve even attempted the bumpy car ride home, with every dip and sudden turns feeling like your stomach is going to burst open. Before you’ve even had to attempt to walk up the stairs in your house, not being able to carry your newborn over the threshold of their new home because you aren’t allowed to carry their car seat. Before you’ve been confined to the house because you can’t walk longer than a few minutes, can’t push a pram easily and definitely can’t drive for 6 weeks. Had you experienced this, you would not tell someone it was the easy thing to do.
But I’m not going to debate (again) about whether someone else thinks it’s hard, as it really doesn’t matter (plus, they’re WRONG!) No, what I want to talk about is how YOU feel as a mother who has experienced a traumatic birth. And I’m not just talking about c-sections either – any birth can be traumatic, not just those that end up in theatre. The way you feel about your birth is personal to you. You may have had a similar experience to someone else but to you it was a very traumatic time, but someone else might feel that actually it was ok. It doesn’t make your birth any less difficult, and it doesn’t make your feelings any less significant. As I am constantly telling my husband, no-one can tell you how to feel and your feelings can never be wrong as they are what YOU FEEL.
Yes I admit it can sometimes be difficult to actually know how you feel, especially straight after labour. There are so many different hormones running through your body, you are probably in a lot of pain and possibly sleep deprived. Maybe you are even still a big foggy from the pain relief too. All of this can mean that your emotions are running high and you don’t really know how to feel. But if you are still feeling negative towards your birth a long time after it happened, it may be time to get some help in coming to terms with it.
Now, I’d like to say I’m no expert. I have no training on counselling, I have no background in speaking to people about traumatic births. What I do have is personal experience. So everything written here is just my personal experience, and how I think things should have happened. As I said before, no-one can tell you how you are feeling, so in the same way, no-one can tell you have to overcome those feelings. However, this is my experience, and this is what I think worked for me.
Talking. Just talking about my experience has helped me massively. I talk to friends, I talk to strangers, I write about it on my blog, and I read other people’s experiences. Knowing that I’m not the only person to go through this has helped me a lot. And in a strange way ( and also quite selfishly) reading other people’s experiences have made me realise that things could have been a lot worse. That I should be so grateful that I am still here, and my baby is still here, and that are both safe and healthy. But it doesn’t make my fears and struggles any less, or any easier.
I have also recently discovered a service called Birth Reflections. Someone on my facebook baby group mentioned it a while ago, but it’s not something I had ever heard of, so I recently started doing some research to see what I could find out. This included posting on some local mum groups to see if others had used such a service. The feedback was mixed – those who had used it said how helpful and supportive it was, and how it really helped them come to terms with their traumatic labour. However, there were several comments from people who feel a service like this would have helped but they knew nothing about it. For me that is such a shame, and I wonder if NHS cuts are the reason for it. I don’t really know, but what I do know is that writing posts like this get the information out there and hopefully give women the tools to find out for themselves what help they can access.
I think I had a bit of a strange reaction after my labour. I wasn’t particularly bothered by the c-section, I was just pleased the labour was over and I had my boy in my arms. I knew it was going to be tough, and it was, but I just got on with it. I told people that I had enjoyed my labour, and I liked telling people what happened. It was only as time went on, and the more I told my story, the more I realised how difficult it was, and how much could have gone wrong. The more I thought about having another baby (which I wanted to do pretty much as soon as I’d had Alfie!), the more worried and scared I became. The more I listened to other people describe how much they struggled with what happened in their labour, the more I realised I was in denial. For me now, it’s not so much the labour I’ve had that upsets me, it’s the thought of my next labour that frightens the life out of me. We’ve not got plans to have another soon anyway, due other reasons, but as much as I want a baby, there is a bit of me that is petrified.
This is where a service like Birth Reflections comes in. From what I have discovered, when I am pregnant again, I can ask my midwife for a meeting with the aftercare team, which will enable me to meet with a midwife who will go through my notes and explain what happened in my labour. It’s not a counselling service, and won’t necessarily address my own fears or worries, but more of a discussion to see what happened and the reasons for it. It’s not about finding fault, as I truly believe it was no-one’s “fault” my labour went the way it did, but I hope that it will help me make a decision about whether I have a vbac or elective c-section when we do eventually have another baby.
I believe you can also speak to your doctor or health visitor about this service and gaining access to it. If you google birth reflections, you may also find the information on your hospitals website. Sometimes it is called birth afterthoughts.
Experiencing a birth trauma isn’t going to be something that you can just “get over”. Your feelings are not going to change overnight, and it is likely to be an event that stays with you forever. But know you are not alone. Know that you can get help if you want it and need it.
Upon speaking about this, I have discovered so many women out there who have each gone through their own birth trauma and difficulties. There are lots of women out there who’s labours ended up differently to what they expected. So I have decided to start a new guest series called “Love Your Labour”. Contributors will discuss their labours and why they didn’t go to plan, and also speak about what they have done to help them overcome their negative feelings towards their labours. I’ve also asked them to give some advice to others who may be in a similar situation on how to deal with their feelings. I am hoping that this series will show others that they are not alone, and that it is possible to come to terms with a traumatic labour.
Sometimes, you just need a bit of time. Sometimes, you just need someone to talk to. Sometimes, you just need to know that you’re not alone.
Proud to be linking with: