Birth Trauma – my Story
A traumatic birth can happen to anyone. When I fell pregnant with my daughter I was a fit, healthy 29-year-old. I ran my own business as a personal trainer. I always lived an active lifestyle. My pregnancy was straightforward with no complications. When contractions began at 40 weeks I felt confident and ready to give birth. Three days later I was waking up in intensive care, not knowing if my baby was alive or where I was. I will never forget this moment, it shattered me.
I feel that when you become a Mother these days you are thrust into a world with minimal knowledge of what you are doing. And experiencing birth trauma only heightens the intensity of everything that follows.
My Birth – part 1
I want to share my birth story with you in the hope that more people will understand why we need to provide better care and support for women especially postpartum.
I had been having contractions for 26 hours so went to hospital. My contractions were about three minutes apart. Despite having strong regular contractions, I only dilated to 3 cm over this time, so my wonderful team of midwives consulted with the obstetrician on duty.
This was when I learned that my usual obstetrician would not be present for the birth. Continuity of care had been really important to me during my pregnancy – I had opted for a private midwifery practice and obstetrician during pregnancy for this very reason. So this change threw me. I felt confused, powerless, and scared for the very first time in my pregnancy journey. I didn’t have confidence in the locum obstetrician. There was no attempt to build rapport.
But there is no stop button on labour – once it’s on, it’s on. Women in labour are in a particularly vulnerable state.
The obstetrician told me my options were to continue labour with an oxytocin drip and epidural, or a C-Section. My husband and I opted to go for the C-Section, in the hope of avoiding a cascade of interventions.
My Birth – part 2
An hour later I was being wheeled to theatre.
In theatre I was cared for by a kind and brilliant anaesthetist and anaesthetic nurse. They gave me an effective spinal block and told me what I could expect.
After my daughter was born I was helped with skin to skin while they closed my abdomen. The obstetrician told me I had had a minor bleed and lost about a litre of blood, and that this was all ok.
I was told I would meet my husband and daughter after spending 20 minutes in recovery.
Instead, I nearly lost my life.
In recovery I began to drift in and out of consciousness. I remember the anaesthetic team’s growing concerns about my condition. I recall hearing doctors argue about whether I was bleeding internally or not. There was disagreement on whether I should go straight back to theatre or have a CT scan. I was rushed back to theatre after my CT results showed I was actively bleeding out into my abdomen.
The next thing I remember was waking up in an intensive care environment. I was not in the same hospital, I had no idea where I was, or where my baby or husband were.
I was told “your baby isn’t here” which I thought this meant my baby had died. And in that moment, that instant, I shattered into a million pieces.
The ICU team quickly reassured me that my baby was safe and well, and was on her way to me. They tried to answer my questions about what happened, but said my notes were unclear. I later learned that I was airlifted to Canberra hospital and lost so much blood that I had had several blood transfusions on the way to the ICU.
Meeting my Daughter
About six hours after I arrived, a kind midwife brought my daughter to me.
I still struggle with the idea that I was separated from my daughter for as long as I was. Although, I know it would have been much longer if it wasn’t for the incredible work of the midwives.
The midwife stayed with me in ICU, helped me feed my daughter and took some photos of us together before taking her to the neonatal ward. I spent the next three days in bed in the postnatal ward, with increasing nausea, vomiting and pain, just to learn I had further complications from my multiple surgeries.
As a new mum, it’s crushing to hear your baby cry and not be able to attend to them. The midwives were incredibly supportive and kept reminding me that I had been through a lot and things would get better.
I spent a total of nine days in hospital; I felt destroyed.
I held everything together through the labour, birth, caesarean operation, acute blood loss, separation from my daughter and husband, and intensive care unit stay. But I was done.
I went into hospital a happy, healthy 29-year-old woman, ready physically and mentally to birth my daughter, and I came out as a shadow of myself. I felt less than human.
As a small business owner I felt a lot of pressure to get back to work and support my staff and clients. But the mental and physical injuries I sustained dramatically delayed my return.
Due to the pain and restricted movement I could not resume work and normal activities for months. Two and a half years on, I am still under the care of multiple health professionals, trying to manage bouts of crippling pain.
Not being able to care for my daughter in those early hours still affects my mental health. And I still struggle to trust medical practitioners.
In GP appointments, when I have not been able to see my usual doctor, I have filled them in on my recent medical history. They often say, in a matter of fact way, “so you’re the bleeder”
I understand that my case has been assessed and discussed among local clinicians to assist in improving services, but this is how I have been referred to more than once; like there was something wrong with my body that caused this. Every time I hear it, I must remind myself that I was a healthy pregnant woman, that my baby never went into distress.
I sustained an injury, and that,
The events of that day are not my fault
- I want to share my story to make sure that no woman who experiences a traumatic birth feels like it is their fault.
- I want us to be more aware of how birth trauma can affect women over the years to come.
- And I want our health system to acknowledge and support the needs of women and their families post-birth.
Because a traumatic birth can happen to anyone.
Thank you to my dear friend, Zoe Cartwight who assisted me in writing this article.