Its Birth Trauma Awareness Week. For some that will mean nothing, they will give it a seconds thought and then go about their day and that’s completely fine. In fact that used to be me, and I wish I was still so naïve to it. But for so many others, those words will flow through their bodies, kind of like that same feeling that you might get when something gives you goosebumps. Thinking about my labour give me a coldness that cuts to my inner core. Almost 2 years after, I still think about it daily. Apparently I am one in three women that identify their birth experience as traumatic.
One in three.
I don’t want to scare anyone that may be reading this if they are pregnant or thinking about having a baby. My first two labours would be described as beautiful and even magical. I felt blessed, empowered and strong after both. I felt like I was part of a tribe that dated back to cave women, that this was something that linked us all. And so when it came to having my third, I felt I had “got this”. I had done this twice, I knew what I was doing and I trusted that my body did too. We were made for this right? As women, we were put on this earth to have babies and from when I was a little girl that is all I ever wanted. I think the third time round, I was almost arrogant and waltzed into that hospital expecting more magic and fairy tale endings.
Obviously, things didn’t go plan, my doctors failed me to a degree and I felt disregarded and ignored on that day. I was made to feel weak and unsubstantial in a time I should have been raised up and felt like a warrior. The details of the labour are I suppose insignificant, it felt traumatic and so therefore it was. The power was taken away from me and that’s almost what gets to me the most. It made me blame myself and wonder why I had not spoken up, been louder or been more in touch with myself. It makes me long for a “do-over” which is obviously impossible. I have relived the day in my head time and time again. My husband and I had an argument that morning – maybe I took in that negative energy. I shouted at my kids the day before – maybe this was my karmic punishment. I wanted to go back and change everything about the lead up to it, even what I ordered for breakfast that morning, the drive to the hospital… In my head I just want to change everything about the lead up to my labour. Childbirth (particularly without drugs) is beyond painful but the scars I feel are emotional and psychological and are taking much longer to heal than any physical ones.
Birth trauma is personal and so individual, I don’t think any two stories and feelings are the same and I wish more people would talk about it. But I have also learnt why they don’t. I can’t tell you how many times doctors and even midwives would tell me how lucky I was to have a healthy baby. “Lucky!”. Things like “all’s well that ends well” was a common one too. My first few days in hospital were a blur, I cradled my newborn baby and watched various doctors come in and out and I struggled to even hear what they were saying. I had conversations but I can’t even remember one of them. Part of me felt numb and the other part, raging. I was screaming on the inside but also felt so stuck. I was anxious and confused and sure of nothing in this world. My body had failed me…I had failed me. My older girls would come to the hospital to see me and the baby and I really couldn’t connect with them. To be really honest with you, I knew I was forever changed. That day changed me and I still sometimes wonder if I will ever be the same mentally. Maybe it’s impossible and I should give up trying.. I don’t know.
Maybe I should tell you what I do know..
Mothers need more support. Mothers need to be listened to. Mothers don’t need to be told what they “should” be thankful for. Mothers shouldn’t be told what to feel. Mothers need screening.
Our babies have regular, enforced check ups from the midwives, why don’t we have the same from psychologists? I met every need of my baby but didn’t feel like any of mine were ever met.
We mothers are expected to quickly recover, and “get on with it” but sometimes it is impossible.
The first few weeks and months after having Indie, I was exhausted, and it wasn’t from being up during the night feeding. It was from pretending. I pretended to the outside world that I was okay and to an extent also to myself. I could do it all because that’s what was expected of me. I felt too anxious to drive, so I walked. I felt too anxious to be alone, so I organised coffees with friends. I surrounded myself with noise to drown out the silence I felt inside of me. The world was spinning and so was my brain. I felt angry, bitter and confused. No longer did I feel part of that tribe of strong women, I felt so isolated and lonely.
If you are someone that experienced trauma, try and speak up. Try and push through that barrier within and say something, anything. This is me being brave right now. This is me trying to help YOU. This is me trying to help ME. If you can’t find the words, then read mine.. You are not alone. This is not your fault. It will be okay.
I look at my three daughters and I wonder how I can protect them and help them to almost be the naïve woman I was, the ones that don’t know the longing of infertility, the pain of miscarriage and the silence of birth trauma. I know I can’t. But I do hope that I can help them speak up if they have to, and the only way that will happen is if more of you, more of us, tell our stories. Your story matters.
Vicki Lauren Photography: www.vickilauren.com.au
Panda National Helpline (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia) 1300 726 306
ABTA : The Australasian Birth Trauma Association: www.birthtrauma.org.au/