This is the story from wonderful Sheryl, who wanted to share her story about her experience of birth trauma to show that the way a woman feels about her birth really matters, and that birth trauma isn’t always obvious.
Please be aware that some stories may trigger difficult memories and emotions so remember your own self care as everyone will be at different stages of healing.
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Birth Trauma: how a ‘normal’ birth isn’t always normal.
Help, help me, oh God help me. Why is no one helping me?
Desperate to ‘escape’ I threw myself around the birthing pool, banging every part of myself. I know this because in the aftermath, once I’d had some coma like sleep in my own bed that night, my wreck of a body felt bruised from head to toe. I’d bumped my head on the taps, my chin on the side of the pool, my arms, my legs and my feet in my attempt to survive the tortuous experience. As well as feeling as though each contraction would rip my body open, I also felt my hips and pelvis pulling down as though my spine was being pulled and stretched. I knew what torture felt like now, and I knew in that moment why people being tortured begged for death. With each building contraction I anticipated the next, wondering how I would survive this. As each got worse than the one before, I accepted in my mind that I must be dying; no one could survive this, least of all me.
No-one was telling me I would survive this- my obvious conclusion was that I wouldn’t. I lost sight of the goal, well more than that really; I’d partially accepted that I wouldn’t be getting a baby at the end. Well, what would be the point, when all I wanted was to die? People talk about the pushing, the crowning, as the ‘worst’ bit. I’d have done that 3 or 4 times over. I pushed as if my life depended on it- because it did, I would die if this pain didn’t stop. Some rational part of me knew that it would stop if I pushed, but no-one was telling me to push. I asked the midwife in desperation, “Why aren’t you telling me to push?” She said, “Push if you want to.” So I did, but only to make it end, only because I thought I would die if I couldn’t make it stop, not because I had the overwhelming urge to push- maybe I wouldn’t have needed so many stitches if I’d been able to wait (to add to the list of things I blame myself for). And when this thing, this tree trunk sized thing, emerged and it was ‘a baby’ (I said), and was placed on my chest I cried. I cried, and I cried and I’d waited so long for my ‘tears of joy’, but that’s not what I got. Not my joy but my relief, my exhaustion, my fear, my pain, my pain, my body breaking physical and mental torture was over. So I cried and cried. After the stitches they let me sleep, coma like but not for long enough. Where was my baby? In the room somewhere, but I didn’t care, I couldn’t care. I fed him at their request. I slept some more, but not for long enough. They wanted me to go home. I could barely speak or walk. We went home.
He’s a baby, just a baby, I know he’s mine, I think I wanted a baby. Now I don’t anymore, I wish we hadn’t decided to have a baby. Why had we thought it was a good idea? This baby next to me, sleeping (at first) while I lay awake unable to sleep because the memories are so vivid and they haunt my every moment. I’m exhausted and I try to sleep but I’m gripped by fear and the physical pain just keeps coming waves, I’m reliving the torture. I fall asleep, I wake up crying. I fall asleep I wake up pushing. I fall asleep I wake up panicking. I’ll never do that again that’s for sure. At this point I think it’s the same for everyone. That everyone feels this gripped by sheer terror, and I feel cheated by the conspiracy that has kept this knowledge from me. I message people I know with children, I cry for them and their pain, I’m so happy they survived this too but why did they go on to have more children? I warn other childless friends and family off, I won’t let them be fooled like I was, “Don’t do it, just don’t ever do it,” and I mean it. I cry for the people whose babies have died; those I know, and those I have never met. How horrifying to go through this without a baby to take home?
I look at my baby. I wish I felt something other than pain when I look at him. I talk about it, over and over. When will the crying stop? The midwives come and go, “You had a normal birth?” They ask me/tell me? I cry. How can this be normal? How can I ever be normal again? How can I complain when I survived and so did my baby? How can I go back and do it again but this time not fail? My failure; to cope with the pain, to get my baby into the right position during pregnancy (he was sideways), to dilate more before getting to hospital (so they didn’t think I was a wimp), to suppress my anxiety (which undoubtedly made everything worse), to breathe the pain away, to provide an amazing experience to all those in attendance, to be flooded with love at the sight of my son (and get my tears joy), to pull myself together just hours after the birth (other people do), to forget the worst of it in days or weeks (like everyone tells me will happen). “Why couldn’t I do it?” I ask myself and others regularly. They say the same, “But you did!”
I hope that one day that will be good enough.
Just a final note to say that I am six months on from the birth and, although I am only just able to write this up, (and it took many months to write it down in the first place), things have got better. I am undergoing CBT to help me deal with the negative thoughts I have attached to the experience, so hopefully one day I can do it (childbirth but hopefully not this actual experience) again. I am also booked into the antenatal Birth Matters clinic at my local hospital to discuss my birthing options next time round. Unfortunately, my experience of having a debrief with the supervisor of midwives was not helpful, and made me question my care, when originally I only blamed myself. I hope to pursue this with the Head of Midwifery.
Finally, I’d like to say that I love my baby! And I always knew that I did, it just took a while to feel like it.
Thank you for reading my story. 10 months on from the birth I would like to add an update to show that recovery is not always linear. Yes, things have got better, CBT has been the main factor in that, helping me, or rather allowing me, to forget the pain that was so pervasive. I also had an amazing meeting with the consultant midwife for normal birth who was the first person in the process to say “sorry, we have failed you” and take just some of that terrible guilt and blame away from me. Accepting my birth experience has been hard, for months and months I wanted someone to change it or go back in time and tell me to never have children. People still tell me it was worth it and I honestly can’t say that I agree. I want my baby but I can’t want how he was born. Despite saying in the 6 month write up above that I love my baby, my journey in that respect has been difficult also. I’m not sure if I wrote it because I felt it or if I wrote it because I worried what others would think if I didn’t, but I do know that it is ok. I still can’t feel the all-encompassing love and I still can’t tell him I love him either in front of other people or without feeling like a liar. I know I’ll get there, and it won’t feel like the journey is over until I do. And one thing I’ve realised that really provides me with at least a vague sense of peace is that ‘I’m doing the very best that I can’, how can I expect more from myself than that?