TRIGGER WARNING… This blog details part of my own obstetric trauma, which may be triggering for anyone who has had their own traumatic experience
Pregnant with my 4th child I found myself incredibly anxious about the upcoming birth.I wasn’t just a bit nervous; I was anxious and frightened in a way I had never been before.I had had 3 births that were quite wonderful. I had never had a fear around birth before, in fact I found the whole experience amazing! Yet here I was having small anxiety attacks about birthing my daughter.
What had happened?
I had had a traumatic miscarriage experience several months before this pregnancy and it changed me.
I had birthed 3 babies without trauma, I had had 2 previous miscarriages without trauma, I practice as a midwife and am even a qualified Childbirth educator and yet…I was SO frightened to give birth to this baby. I was naïve to think that a miscarriage wouldn’t leave someone this traumatised. I knew of birth trauma but surely a miscarriage couldn’t affect me that much. It did! Much like a birth trauma, obstetric trauma can be very powerful. So, I am compelled to share.
I want you to feel seen if you too carry birth or obstetric trauma. You are not alone.
I say my miscarriage was traumatic. I am not even sure I felt that way at the time. I wonder, had I not fallen pregnant again, would I have fully realised my trauma.
I started bleeding at almost 12 weeks. I had miscarried twice before; I was familiar with the process, so I surrendered myself to it. I was readying my children for bed when I suddenly I felt my bleeding get heavier. I told my husband he would need to run out and get maternity pads, while he was gone, I had a scary moment- a moment that has stuck with me: Sitting on my toilet haemorrhaging, feeling too weak to get up, yet trying to clean up the blood on the floor around me in case my children walked in. I didn’t even have the energy to call out to my husband when he arrived home. When he did come up, I said he needed to call my parents to come as I needed to go to the hospital.
Like the good little midwife I am, I was watching my blood loss and calculating it in my head. It was too much! I felt symptomatic too. I was frightened.My head was telling me I would be ok once I got to the hospital. I knew the process of what they would do. My body was operating on a different pathway though. I was haemorrhaging quickly, and it was in survival mode, my body was frightened.
I remember that car trip, sitting on 2 beach towels, bleeding right through everything I was wearing, in a lot of pain as my uterus contracted- desperate to stop the bleeding for me. I was so weak when we arrived, I could barely explain to the nurse what was wrong. In my mind I was now safe, I had help. But my body registered differently, it did not feel safe.
My body felt violated. Speculum, forceps, suction and gauze all searching between my sprawled legs to assess what was happening and help my body complete the miscarriage.My arms felt restrained with Intravenous drips, blood pressure cuffs. Then my fist positioned under my lower back to tilt my pelvis so that they could see my cervix. My mind knew everything that they were doing. I understood, I consented. But my body was very aware that I was being penetrated in a way that I was not comfortable with despite it being necessary to stop the bleeding. I stupidly insisted my husband go to park the car while this assessment took place… why… because I knew how much blood there was, I knew he couldn’t handle a lot of blood, I knew he struggled with seeing me in pain, so I insisted he park the car. I was selling him short; I am sure he would have risen to the support I needed, but we do this don’t we- think of everyone else before ourselves. It was stupid of me to do this because now I felt alone in it. Very kind and efficient Emergency staff at my side but alone from anyone really looking at the woman who was connected to the vagina, the low BP, the racing pulse, the uterus bleeding out.I was scared. Trying to be brave, trying to accept the clinical pathway they were following, but it was awful.
Eventually, we steadied the bleeding.
Eventually, we ended up in theatre to clear my uterus.
Eventually, I had a transfusion.
Eventually, I went home, I recovered, I grieved.
Then, I fell pregnant again. A welcome pregnancy but before long I started to fear the birth. Try as I may to rationalise my thinking, to call upon all my tools to ready my headspace for a beautiful birth, I just could not.A deep seeded fear of anyone or anything coming near that part of my body with or without invitation, equally frightened of bleeding again. To add into the mix, I had a previous bad vaginal tear that I was worried about and I just could not relax my mind into a positive birth experience like I was able to 3 times before.
I had a moment one night, close to my due date where I started having tightening’s in the evening, nothing exciting but worth taking notice of. I found myself begin to panic, really starting to manifest an anxiety attack. I could not shake it. I could not think my way out of it. It was awful and I wasn’t even in labour. It didn’t make sense. The following morning I thought over it and realised that as I was planning my ‘call for reinforcements’ if we needed to run to the hospital during the night, my mind went straight back to how I felt when ‘calling for reinforcements’ a few months back, the night we raced to the hospital as I bled out, waiting for my parents and then dashing off into the night holding my heat pack to my abdomen to ease the pain of the tightening’s, remembering how frightened I was and then everything that followed. I was triggering my trauma.
My brain could try to rationalise it, but my body held that trauma tightly, it remembered, it was stored in the very places in my body that I needed to relax, and I just couldn’t.
Sadly, I know many of you understand this.
Many of you are silently carrying your own obstetric trauma; a birth, miscarriage, haemorrhage, pap smear or pelvic exam.
Maybe no one else knows about it. Because we do that don’t we, not think of our own needs well enough.
If I was with you right now, I would just want to hold you. Hug you, hear you, cry with you.
If you too are trying to plan for birthing a baby when you are holding this trauma in your body…It is hard. I will write a whole blog on my thoughts around this and how I approached my birth. But for now I just wanted to raise awareness, start the discussion.
This is more common than we give attention to, and I am sorry that we have not created a narrative or a pathway for you to move through this better.You and your precious body deserve better than what we have led you to believe by our lack of discussion.I promise you there are good people working in this space. I want you to hope. You can move through this. You can connect again with the magic your body is capable of.
You are not alone.
Support is Available
You are worthy of support. Your story matters. You deserve to feel free of anxiety and connected to your body again.
It is only fitting that I leave you with some options for support.
A great place to start is www.birthtrauma.org.au The website is resource filled and sensitive to your experience, and their instagram page is full of great content and support.
I have a list of other resources around miscarriage and perinatal depression and anxiety as part of my Forever Loved Wall- CLICK HERE. Here you will also find inscriptions from other families dedicated to their lost babies. There is also a link to further content written by me on the experience of miscarriage.
If you have a GP that you trust, and you feel comfortable talking with, they can arrange a mental health pathway for you.
For those local to Blue Mountains health you can also ring the intake line. Call 1300 222 608 and arrange free counselling (I did and it was helpful).
Locals can also utilise the postnatal clinic at Nepean where trauma sensitive midwives can debrief you and support you about atraumatic birth you may have experienced., as service worth considering. Call 47342373 to talk to the Womens and children outpatient department about an appointment in the postnatal clinic.