I wipe the dust from the top of the flowery box. It had to happen, the bringing out of the baby photos to groans of embarrassment from my daughter, to the delight of her new boyfriend. The pictures laid out before us don’t tell the story. The story about how traumatic her first few weeks were, or the subsequent struggle with PTSD and getting help.
In the box mixed between baby clothes that held her tiny 4lb frame, the pink tag that was tied by a small piece of string to her incubator in neonatal. I’ve seen this tag many times, but tonight the words cause me to catch my breath, and I feel tears on the brink of falling. Handwritten in black ink is ‘normal delivery’, and I wonder who wrote it, who for a second thought that this was our story.
Normal, my head fills with images of the night she was born and it was anything but normal. Yes I managed to birth her on gas and air, pushing her tiny body from mine, six whole weeks too early because pre-eclampsia was trying to take us as its victim. Yet her cry didn’t pierce the air but instead she was brought to life by the doctors that had taken her from me. As they lifted her above me, I saw her tiny face for seconds before she was gone. My life hanging in the balance too, lights above me in the corridor, a mask on my face to put me to sleep, feeling like I’m falling, losing her, that she was gone forever. Was this what classed as normal?
Days in HDU, poor care on the postnatal ward, 5 weeks in neonatal, this was my journey to bring my daughter home. But my story didn’t end there. Trauma had made its mark, imprinted upon me its legacy. It haunted my nights and made my days feel like walking in thick fog. Everyone around me happy, all that I had endured felt ignored. Physically I was broken, but I was mentally broken too. While over the months my body healed and scars formed, my mind struggled to cope. Hyper-vigilance became my friend, anxiety my daily companion.
Could no one see I was hurting? I have asked this so many times. I became trapped in a cycle, the more my pain was ignored, the more I believed I had no right to feel pain, and the more I sought to hide it. But trauma that is unresolved does not lay quietly. Instead it rears itself up and torments us until we can no longer suppress its power.
So for many years I sought help. Visits to GPs, who with pens poised handed out no hope or explanation. Counsellors who told me to let go of the past, to forget it and move on, because ‘life was for living you know’. To doctors at A&E who whispered in my ear that I was affecting my family, and to sort myself out, it wasn’t fair on them you see. I was passed around, from person to person, from service to service, yet no one ever gave me the chance, the space to talk about what I had experienced.
Ten years I struggled, ten years that I my experience was denied, ignored and I was made to feel weak and the cause of all my problems. Ten years of pain and suffering before I finally got to sit in a psychiatrists office to hear the words ” you have PTSD”, even then to be told there was nothing they could offer me. Yet there is was finally, an answer, an explanation a perinatal mental health condition that was left undiagnosed, untreated and not understood. My healing came from self help, from seeking counselling from trauma specialists, from finding my own way to break free.
I glance again at the pink ticket, I let my fingers drift along the string and the words. I realise that Ive been holding my breath and I let the warm evening air fill my lungs again. I look at my daughter, the light catching her golden hair like it did the night they held her above me. Im so thankful for every moment, every memory that so nearly was taken from us. Her birth was not normal, her birth changed my whole life. I wonder how many along my journey saw this written, and so had no idea of my pain.
Birth Trauma is real, it affects so many, more than we realise. It is estimated that the numbers are around 20.000 a year, but I know there are many more. I wonder how many other women have their difficult births classed as normal, how many other women struggle in silence. I know that those that contact me via Unfold your Wings often feel alone, isolated and don’t know where to turn for help. It is so important that each women is asked about her birth, that she has a safe space to talk, and be heard. On paper her birth may be classed as normal, but this may not be her reality. How she feels about her birth maybe anything but normal, and in the days and weeks that follow this can affect everything. Perinatal mental health affects up to 1 in 5 women, yet the impact of birth on emotional wellbeing is often missed. How many of those who suffer do so because their birth has been traumatic?
Sometimes words written don’t tell us the whole story. This comes from listening with an open heart to hear and sometimes seeing beyond the words.