Thursday 10 August 2017

Overcoming a difficult birth: 7 things that helped

Timehop has just reminded me that this was my due date last year. A year ago today, I woke up hopeful and went to bed fed up, as many other women do on their due dates (why do we even have due dates? Can’t we have due months or something a little less intense?). When my baby did finally arrive, 17 days after her estimated due date, the birth couldn’t have been further than what I had envisioned. I know, you can’t plan birth. I know, birth is unpredictable. I know. But that doesn’t really make it easier to deal with when birth doesn’t go the way you’d hoped.

I had hoped the birth would go the same way as my first, I was expecting a calm and peaceful home birth surrounded by the people I love most in the world. That’s how Ebony was born (you can read her beautiful lovely home birth story here) and I just assumed it would happen again, but that it would probably happen a little faster the second time. That’s not what happened. I ended up being classified as high-risk after I was diagnosed with severe polyhydramnios at 40+12 and the homebirth I had planned went right out of the window. You can read Ember’s birth story here, here and here. It’s long, but so was the birth, by my standards.

I’m not sure how to classify how I felt about the birth. I’ve heard the term ‘birth disappointment’ but that feels inadequate. Disappointment is missing your train or finding out the cafe have run out of your favourite cake, it’s not comparable to the way you feel after a difficult birth. And ‘birth trauma’ is another term, that one feels a bit more fitting, but I wasn’t ever diagnosed with anything so I don’t want to use the term in case it minimises somebody else’s experience. So there is no word for how I felt, no official term that explains the emotions that haunted me long after the birth.

In the months after the birth, I didn’t feel like I would ever forget how helpless I felt after the birth. I couldn’t see a way that I would ever feel better or move on from it. But, as months passed, I did start to feel better. And now I feel ok. I wanted to write a little post about the things I did to try and overcome the emotions I felt after the birth, in the hope this post might help somebody who is going through what I went through last year (if you are, it’s shit now, but it will get better, I promise). It’s Birth Trauma Awareness Week next week so I should probably have waited until then to post, but it feels fitting to write this one year on from the due date, a date that felt so significant last year. So, here are seven things I did that helped me to cope with the emotions I felt after birth didn’t go to plan. Trauma, disappointment, whatever you want to call it, it’s shit, but I found these things helped:

1. Talking about it
Women who have experienced bad births sometimes feel they shouldn’t talk about it. Society expects you to focus on your new baby, not busy licking your wounds from the birth. But feeling down about the birth doesn’t make you a bad mother. It’s nothing to do with what kind of mother you are. Motherhood isn’t martyrdom, it’s ok to say ‘actually, that was crap and now I feel rubbish’. Plenty of other women are feeling the same way, even if they aren’t vocalising it.

You can’t better by taking those negative emotions and locking them into a box in your mind. That’s not healthy and, at some point, they will inevitably come tumbled out and leave you feeling worse. You need to think and talk through what has happened to allow yourself to process it all and allow you to move on. I spoke to Laurie about how I felt. A lot. Like, I think he was sick of listening to it by the end, though he’d never have let me know that. At some points, it was probably bordering on obsessive and I went over things I wish I’d done differently. I spoke to my friends, I was honest about how I felt and their supportive words helped.

2. But being careful about who I chose to speak to
Birth isn’t an either/or situation. It’s not you vs the baby. Just because one of you is ok, it doesn’t mean the other one shouldn't be. Most women who do try to speak out about bad births are quickly silenced with ‘well, you have a healthy baby and that’s all that matters’, as though you’re saying ‘oh, if only my baby suffered instead of me’. That’s not what women are saying and it’s certainly not what they’re thinking. I would guess that, for the women whose babies are at risk during birth, the personal sacrifice feels more than worth it, but that’s not what happened to me. If your cries for help are met with ‘at the end of the day, you have a healthy baby and that’s all that matters’, find somebody else to talk to. Don’t give up talking, it’s an important part of the healing process, but find a kinder shoulder to lean on. Your feelings are valid.

3. I wrote it all down
I find writing cathartic, it helps me clear my head and gives me space to think. Before I had a blog, I had a little book where I wrote down the things that were playing on my mind. It wasn’t a diary really because I didn’t write in it regularly or about mundane things, it was basically a little book of emotions where I wrote down the things I felt strongly about. Writing my birth story helped, it forced me to sit down and order my thoughts, it gave me the opportunity to ask Laurie about what had happened to fill in the blanks, and it gave me a little bit of closure.

4. I did some research
This might not help you, it probably depends on the kind of person you are. Ember’s birth taught me that I am a person who likes to be in control of what’s happening (I didn’t know this about myself before) and researching after the event helped me to, at least, be in control of my thoughts. When I was in hospital, I struggled to find much research on severe polyhydramnios, the research I did find didn’t really seem relevant to my situation. In the months after the birth, I read a lot more. I read studies and personal accounts and tried to think about what I would do differently if I relived the birth. That might not be a helpful thing for some people, the maternity assistant who came out to visit me after the birth told me to ‘try not to think about the birth if it’s upsetting you’, but that’s not how my brain works. I knew I was going to end up thinking about it whether I wanted to or not, so focusing on the science behind it helped me to take control of that.

5. I let myself grieve
If you’ve never had a bad birth, this probably sounds ridiculous to you. But birth is a big deal and it can be devastating when it doesn’t meet your expectations. It takes time to heal physically after birth, and I believe the same is true emotionally. I didn’t see the point in pretending I felt ok or forcing myself to put on a brave face, I let myself feel sad when I needed to. I knew I wouldn’t feel sad forever and that the sooner I could exhaust my emotions, the better.

6. I accepted it
It took a long time to stop my brain working out what I should have done differently. It took months for me to be able to think about the birth without crying. It took months to get my head around the fact that the start of Ember’s life was so different to how I had hoped it would be. But, eventually, I did get there. It’s her birth, it’s what happened, there’s nothing I can do to change it. For me, I think the biggest disappointment, aside from how medical it felt, was that Ebony didn’t get to be there. I so wanted her to be a part of it all, but she didn’t get to be. I figured I could keep feeling down about that or I could try and make up for it by providing plenty of opportunities for them to bond now that Ember had arrived, so I put my efforts into that, instead.

7. I had a debrief with a midwife
I did this before we left the hospital, it wasn’t intentional really, I just wanted to read through my notes. But apparently you’re not allowed to do that, so they got the Supervisor of Midwives to come down and talk me through them. We went into a quiet room and she went through the notes with me, explaining what decisions were made and why which bits were important etc. I didn’t really remember a lot of it, and the memories I did have were jumbled up and blurry even one day after the birth. Talking to the midwife helped a lot. She knew what she was talking about, she was kind and she explained it all to me simply and compassionately. I know I would have felt a million times worse if I hadn’t had the opportunity to talk to her before I was discharged. You can have a debrief at any time, even years after the birth, you just need to get in contact with your health visitor to request a referral for a birth debrief, it’s definitely worth doing if you’re struggling to overcome a negative birth experience.

Please share your own experiences in the comments below, I’d love to hear how you overcame a negative birth experience.

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