I very recently shared my birth story on my blog, one year on from the event itself, and had someone message me telling me I was lucky as my labour was a 'dream compared to others’. For those of you who don’t know, I ended up being induced a day shy of 37 weeks pregnant because my waters went the day before. This resulted in me needing an assisted delivery with forceps and an epidural – a far cry away from the gas-and-air-only water birth I’d hoped for. As a first time mum who had no previous experience of really being treated in a hospital, I was terrified. What I went through that day led me to have flashbacks for weeks afterwards and think it was all just a normal part of postpartum life.
I should state here that I am by no means qualified in dealing with anxiety or PTSD, but I want to raise awareness of this subject by telling you how I handled the emotions I felt in the first couple of months after having my baby and let you know that it is not uncommon to struggle to come to terms with how your labour went. It may very well take some time for you to realise how you feel about it since there are so many hormones flying around in the early postpartum days. For me, it took around three weeks for the flashbacks to begin. I found myself crying in the shower as I vividly remembered being wheeled through to theatre and lying underneath those bright lights with my midwife telling me to push because I couldn’t feel contractions due to the epidural. For a couple of weeks I honestly thought it was normal to be experiencing this. I’d briefly mentioned it to my partner and my mum who both hushed the conversation I wanted to have by saying “you have a healthy baby” and “you’re both fine now”. It wasn’t until I had a brand new health visitor come to see us when Harris was eight weeks old and she asked “so, how did the birth go for you?” that I realised I had a problem with how my labour went, and that I needed help. Believe it or not, it was the first time someone had actually asked that question and I broke down in tears as I relived what was my difficult delivery. It was then that I realised the flashbacks were not normal, they needed to be spoken about.
My health visitor was so supportive. She gave me some ideas on what I could do to overcome the emotions I had towards it and we put a plan in place to work at getting myself better. I was to start by writing my birth story down on paper and focus on the bits that were featuring in my flashbacks. My health visitor was due to visit me again a couple of weeks later, and it was up to me what I wanted to do with what I had written – whether I share it or shred it. If writing it down hadn’t helped, we would take the next steps to obtain my pregnancy notes and discuss it from there.
So I looked out my pad and pen and I wrote about how I wasn’t scared when my waters went early; that I lasted as long as I could solely on gas and air when I was first induced because I was so desperate to have control and at least have some of the birth I’d hoped for. I then went on to write about how I was terrified when, after an hour of pushing, I was told that I had to be prepped for an epidural and forceps delivery; and that I was devastated I didn’t get that skin-to-skin moment right after Harris was born. I talked about my regret at having no photos of the birth or our first feed. In fact the first pictures were taken once Harris was about three hours old. I think in the end I wrote about five pages of how that day went for me and I cried A LOT.
Thankfully for me, writing it down and then shredding it seemed to do the trick. It didn’t seem as traumatising as my brain was making me think and I was happy to move on with my life and being the best mama I could be. For some though, it’s not as simple. Insomnia, flashbacks, nightmares, avoiding certain people or places, emotional detachment, and feeling angered easily are just some of the symptoms of PTSD. My health visitor commented on how good I was with Harris and that my experience obviously hadn’t tainted the mother and son relationship, but that isn’t the case for all mothers suffering with PTSD.