My four pregnancies and births have been so very different. As my oldest sons birthday is today I feel compelled to share my four pregnancy and birth journeys with you, with the intention of reflection and what come from each experience.
My first pregnancy I was constantly in a bubble of pure love and bliss. I fell pregnant one month after my husband and I were married without any effort. I can see we were very blessed and we were grateful we had no challenges conceiving. My pregnancy went along smoothly. I loved everything about it, from my constant body changes to feeling my son dance within. The connection and bond I felt with my growing baby was something I’d never felt before. I couldn’t believe how much I loved this little person, whom I’d never met. My motherly instinct was so powerful and it surprised me how much of a protector I became over my body and growing baby.
My pregnancy flew by uneventful until I reached 29 weeks and went for a routine check-up. It was then I asked the doctor if the hard lump I felt under my ribs was baby’s head or bum. The doctor soon discovered my baby was in the breech position and I was in fact feeling my baby’s head pressing on my ribs. The word caesarean was mentioned and booked “just in case” my baby didn’t turn. Before this I hadn’t even given caesarean any thought. I felt ready to birth vaginally and hadn’t pictured my birth being anything else. It was at this moment, the moment caesarean entered my head I began to fall apart. I felt so out of control, hard when I am a control freak when it comes to my own body and voice. It was at that moment I let myself become a victim and a by stander in my own birth experience.
Being a first time mum I didn’t realise I could use my voice. I didn’t realise I had options. I didn’t realise I could ask questions. I followed what I was told, even though I didn’t like what I was told would happen. I went home the day I discovered my first baby was breech feeling devastated, torn, scared and out of control. I didn’t realise there were things I could have done to try encourage my baby naturally to turn, how would I when nothing was mentioned and I didn’t use my voice to question anything. I didn’t realise I could have explored the option to birth my breech baby vaginally if I chose to.
By feeling as though I had no say or choice in my own birth experience I felt very disempowered. I spent the remainder of my pregnancy scared and not looking forward to my due date, which seemed to be approaching fast. My baby stayed breech and without question I reluctantly agreed to a caesarean at the set date. My baby would be delivered at 39 weeks gestation. I write delivered because that is how I felt at the time. Now when I speak of my son’s birth I do say I birthed him, I admit it took me some years to be able to express his birth in that way though. My experience made me aware how important language is and to give women the space to express their pregnancy and birth in their own words, for it is HER experience, not mine.
The day of my caesarean was (and still is) the most scared I have ever felt in my life. I felt physically ill with worry and had no idea what to expect. I had never had a broken bone, heck, I hadn’t even had a tooth filling in my 25 years of life and now I was going in to have major surgery, getting my body literally cut open to get my baby out. Looking back now I feel the word scared isn’t strong enough for what I remember feeling…… TERRIFIED feels better. I was terrified! I had so much fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of dying, fear of my baby dying, fear of something going wrong and me becoming paralysed, fear of being put under general and missing out on seeing my son straight away. So much fear.
The surgery went as good as it could have, other than having to have 4 (or 6, I can’t remember now) needles in my back before they worked. My baby was born healthy and physically I was ok. On the inside however was a completely different story. Emotionally I was a wreck. My hormones were all over the place and I remember feeling as though I were in a dream, all this was not real…..surely. I felt so out of my body. My strong connection and bond to my baby that I had only just felt minutes before he was placed in my arms was now gone. I felt I had been handed a stranger, not the little soul I had learnt to love and connect with over the past 39 weeks.
I remember staring into his eyes and feeling nothing. It scared me but I was too afraid to speak up, for fear I would be seen as an unfit mother and my baby would be taken away. I didn’t expect to feel nothing while holding my gorgeous newborn. I remember my friend coming to see me in hospital. She was heavily pregnant, ready to birth her own baby soon and I just burst into tears. I wanted so badly to be pregnant again. Here I was holding my baby in my arms, yet mourning my pregnancy. I wanted to go back to my bubble of love and bliss. What I was feeling was anything but love and bliss, or any feeling I assumed I’d have after birth.
From there things didn’t get easier. The first night I spent in hospital alone with my baby was a night I will never forget. I was so scared of my baby dying I pushed myself to stay awake watching him all night. I still had a catheter in and couldn’t move from the bed, which made it difficult to get my baby from his crib when he needed me. I relied heavily on the staff which I disliked. Sometime during the night I fell asleep and then woke with a fright and noticed myself lying in a huge puddle of blood. I was so frightened, I thought I was dying. I was so naïve about having a caesarean I never even knew I would still have bleeding after the birth. I assumed they sucked everything up while getting my baby out. Looking back my heart is so broken for myself. After that night I went the rest of my four nights in hospital without any sleep at all. I found myself hallucinating at night and hearing my baby constantly cry, even though I was watching him peacefully sleep.
I found breastfeeding extremely challenging, although I pushed through bleeding and cracked nipples, painful engorgement, blocked ducts and mastitis in an effort to prove myself worthy. In my head, I HAD TO breastfeed because I couldn’t give birth vaginally. I started becoming paranoid thinking the nurses were outside my door speaking about me and how I wasn’t coping. I feared they would take my baby away, I stayed quiet about what was truly going on in my head. Looking back I am sure I developed postnatal depression instantly after my baby was delivered. It wasn’t until I was eight weeks postnatal I was officially diagnosed with postnatal depression, and let me tell you, I actually felt relieved. Relieved that all I was feeling and thinking was in fact not normal and having a diagnosis meant I could start to fix myself.
The first three months of my son’s life are a blur of tears, darkness, guilt and shame. I remember feeling like such a terrible mother, and yet I was scared to share my real thoughts or true feelings with anyone, in fear they would take my baby away. I became so controlling and protective over my son. I found it impossible to leave him out of my sight, even though I yearned for a moment to myself. I remember tyring to breastfeed my son one day and he was crying and wouldn’t latch. I started crying and instantly took it personally. I thought my baby hated me. It didn’t help when I handed my baby over to my husband to recompose myself, I seen my son instantly stop crying. Looking back, it’s no wonder my son would always cry when I held him. I was such a ball of dark emotions with heavy self-doubt and huge anxiety, my poor son would have been feeling it all. Thank goodness for my husband’s reassuring and strong calming nature!
Breastfeeding took us ten long, exhausting weeks before we mastered the skill and could successfully breastfeed without feeling pain and crying. Once we mastered breastfeeding things started to improve and become more enjoyable. My relationship with my son started to grow and flourish and our bond became strong. My guilt slowly eased, as I realised I did everything the best I could, with the knowledge I had at that time. Over the years I have learnt to forgive myself, and love myself, this was not an easy task. Still, 6 years later I have emotions creep up on me around my son’s birth that I think I’ve dealt with, they always take me by surprise. My birth was traumatising. It took me some years before I would use that word to describe my birth. I felt ashamed and silly that my birth had such an impact on my life. Now I know, unfortunately how common it is for women to have a traumatising birth and it is nothing to be ashamed of.
From Bear’s birth experience, I gained and learnt:
· A deeper insight and understanding of myself and my beliefs
· Acceptance, understand and forgiveness towards myself and others
· To use my voice, to trust my intuition, to question authority if I feel the need to
· That I can say NO, that there is always options and that I need to own my choices
· That birth can be traumatic (but it doesn’t have to be)
Getting through this process of reflection and coming to a place of peace in being able to see the positives in my birth experience wasn’t easy. It took a lot of hard work, years of counselling and years of self-forgiveness and reflection. I am grateful that today I can see all the positives that came from my experience. Sure I would do things differently now if given the chance, but I can see I would not be where I am today, had I not made the choices I did at that time. For me it has taken great strength to overcome the trauma of my son’s birth. To be able to look at it now from a place of love is the hardest learning I’ve gone through. I am thirty one years old and it’s taken me this long to understand and choose to see the positive aspects of any situation rather than getting stuck in the darker side of my emotions. I now consciously (and yes, it is still challenging to do and takes time and reflection) choose to see the love in each life experience I am given.
Thank you for reading my story, I hope by sharing my stories they encourage you to reflect on your own birth story through a different lens.