Wednesday 19 October 2016

Sharing Bad Birth Stories

I recently gave birth to my second child and wrote about the experience on this blog. I wrote about it really as a form of therapy. I needed to process what had happened. When you go through something like that, it’s very hard to make sense of how you feel about it. Even with my first birth which was calm and lovely, I found that my thoughts were muddled afterwards. I had to write it down to really work out what happened when and why. And I needed to do that this time too, but for different reasons.

I guess I wanted to work through why things had been so different this time. With my first birth, I was low-risk and chose to have a home birth. It was lovely. This time, days before the birth I was classified as high-risk and that meant I gave birth in a hospital. I didn’t want to be in hospital, I didn’t feel safe or able to relax there and I feel that impacted on the birth. But, I also know that it was the safest place for my baby and so it had to be that way. I wanted to have a home birth anyway, but I didn’t feel comfortable being so far away from medical help in case things should go wrong.

In hindsight, I might have made different choices, but it’s too late to think about that now. I wrote my birth story down so that I could get it all straight in my head. I had a debrief at the hospital before I discharged myself and I found that really helpful. I would really strongly recommend a debrief if you feel you have unanswered questions about the birth. Having someone go through my notes with me and explain why things were suggested or decisions made was really useful. I also talked a lot to Laurie about what happened. He had a better idea of timings and details than I did so was able to add to the birth story quite considerably.

I spoke to a couple of friends about how I felt, I suppose using them as makeshift counsellors. And I wrote it down because that’s how I process things. And then I posted it to my blog because I know people were interested in knowing what had happened and because I’d gotten a lot of support from readers during those excruciatingly long final days of pregnancy. I think I also shared it because I didn’t really want to have to keep talking about it. If I could write it down and get it out there, people would know what happened and would be less likely to ask me about it and that has worked really well.

But, was it fair of me to share that experience online? Is it ethical to spout raw emotions about a negative birth experience online? When I was pregnant with my first child, I hated hearing horror stories about birth. Every single person you meet knows somebody who has had a bad birth and they seem to almost relish in telling you the details. I just didn’t want to hear about all of the things that can go wrong during birth. I wanted to hear the positive stories. I want to hear about babies born at home, water births and women who didn’t need pain-relief. I needed to hear those stories because I needed to believe that birth was natural and my body was built to do it.

And guess what? It was. I had my first baby in a hot tub in my living room. I only had gas and air for pain relief and only towards the end of the labour. It was the most beautiful love-filled empowering experience of my life and I felt amazing afterwards. My vagina hurt, of course, but apart from that I felt amazing. I wanted to tell everyone I met about just how amazing birth was and I couldn’t wait to do it again. I was looking forward to another idyllic birth and I couldn’t wait to feel superhuman afterwards.

Only, this time it didn’t happen. But not because birth is scary or terrible, but because I wasn’t having a normal, healthy pregnancy. I was diagnosed with severe polyhydramnios and that forced huge changes to my birth plan. And that’s why I didn’t get the birth I wanted, not because birth is difficult or unnatural. It isn’t. I still think of birth as being an amazing thing, I’m just sad my second pregnancy ended up high-risk.

I think when you’ve had a negative birth experience, it’s very easy to chalk that up to all birth being negative. But it’s simply not true. If this had been my first birth, I probably would have thought the same. I’d just have assumed birth was always like that and I’d have thought of the whole thing very differently. But I didn’t, I had the benefit of experiencing normal birth before and knowing just how different it can be. In a way that made it more difficult because I knew what I was missing. But I think it has helped my emotional recovery because I believe my body is capable of normal birth.

I sometimes think now that I shouldn’t have shared Ember’s birth story online. A couple of friends have described it as traumatic and said it put them off having children, and that makes me feel terrible. I didn’t mean to scare people off birth. If anything, you should be put off developing severe polyhydramnios, but not from giving birth. I really hope that my birth story hasn’t scared pregnant women or made people nervous about giving birth. It wasn’t a normal birth because it ended up not being a normal pregnancy. If it had been, I would have had another lovely homebirth and I would have had a much more empowering story to tell.

And though this birth didn’t feel empowering at the time (I hated being in hospital so much), I am pretty proud of how I handled it all. It’s not easy to go from being low-risk to suddenly being high-risk and discovering you aren’t going to get the birth you wanted. I cried a lot, but I still managed to fight my corner and avoid induction and the associated potential cascade of interventions. I wasn’t able to control every aspect of the birth, but I did the best I could at the time. And seven weeks later I have already completely forgotten about the bad bits of the birth. Now, when I look back, I can only think how well I did to push for as natural birth as I could get and how unbelievable it was that I managed to give birth naturally when I felt so worried that might not happen.

It’s easy to feel strong and powerful after a blissful home birth. It’s a whole other thing to feel proud of yourself after a less picturesque birth experience. This time I really feel like I’ve earned that pride.

And if reading Ember’s birth story made you feel worried about birth, I’m really sorry. I was high-risk and that moved the goalposts. I wouldn’t want to go through another high-risk birth because I’m not a fan of hospitals, but I would happily give birth at home every month for the rest of my life because it was amazing. You can read my positive birth story here.

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