Can giving birth be a traumatic event?
As a mother of three children, I know from experience how birthing a child into the world can be a traumatic event. I don’t think we talk about it enough.
My intention in sharing my story is to help you share yours as well. It’s important to talk about your experience and to feel heard, to release some of the emotions and not just store them inside of you.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I read lots of books and watched birth videos. I was supervised by a midwife and followed the recommended schedule of appointments with my partner to be as prepared as possible.
Although we thought we were informed and prepared, it turned out to be a traumatic event, and we were not at all prepared for the way things went.
We planned a home birth with a midwife
We had decided to do a home birth with a birthing pool. We thought that being at home would be the safest and easiest option. Looking back, I wish we had visited the obstetric department at the hospital and seen how convenient, luxurious, and private it was. I also wish I had known how messy birth was, and that we had known about the cleaning up that was required after birth — which you don’t have to do at the hospital!
My water broke at 8 pm while we were watching a movie. I was lying down on the couch and heard a “pop” sound. I stood up, and water started to leak down on my leg onto the floor. We got excited and wondered what the next step was — should we fill up the birthing pool? Call the midwife? We decided to go for a short walk to help the labour progress, and started to monitor the contractions. The contractions were far apart, and we tried to rest that night.
The next morning, we called the midwife, and she came mid-morning. She said I was in active labour, dilated at 3 cm, and would have a baby by dinner time. I now see that this was a mistake that set me up with unrealistic expectations, and from that point on, I kept on looking at the time.
An unplanned visit to the hospital
At midnight the midwife told me that I was fully dilated and told me to start pushing, even though I didn’t feel the urge to push. As I started to push, my cervix kept swelling over the baby’s head and she had to put her hand into my vagina to push the cervix back over the baby’s head. I pushed for three hours without progress.
At 3 am, without any warning, the midwife told us that we had to go to the hospital. After 31 hours of labour, this caught us by surprise. She hadn’t advised us to have a bag ready just in case. I guess we should have known, but . . . we didn’t.
Once we arrived at the hospital, the doctor tried forceps, which was quite traumatizing on its own to see how much force and yanking the doctor used to try to get the baby out. When that didn’t work, we were told that they were going to do an emergency C-section.
My partner had to leave the room while they gave me a spinal, which is a little different than an epidural, but has a similar purpose. The anesthesiologist wasn’t careful or professional and kept trying to puncture me while I was having contractions. At this point, I had been through over 30 hours of labour without any sleep or much rest and I was exhausted. They punctured me over a dozen times before succeeding.
After they finally injected me with a spinal, they rolled me toward the operating room for an emergency C-section. My partner was allowed to be back with me. I remember not being able to feel or move my legs anymore, and crying, telling my partner I was scared while he was holding my hand. Our baby boy was finally born, and we were taken to a recovery room.
Over the next few days at the hospital, I kept complaining about a stiff neck and sore head. I was being told it was muscle pain from birth and that everything would be okay once I recovered. I kept saying that I know my body, and that it didn’t feel like normal muscle pain and stiffness.
I was sent home three days later, and the symptoms didn’t improve. They kept getting worse. I had to wear sunglasses inside the house because light was affecting me. I had a massive headache and couldn’t hold my head upright. When I started asking my husband if he could hear “bird noises” in the house, he decided to take me back to the hospital, where I was told that I was suffering from a spinal fluid leak. They had to take blood from my arm and inject it into my spine in the hope of “sealing” the leak. It magically worked, and I was sent back home to recover again.
This was a difficult adjustment, recovering from this traumatic event while also recovering from the C-section, and learning to look after our first baby.
Understanding Traumatic Birth
I wish the story ended there, but our son suffered a kink in his neck from the forceps, and it took us a while to realize it. He was crying all the time in pain, and we couldn’t understand what was going on.
The first couple of years as a parent were difficult, and I wish that I had had more support to navigate the difficult emotional recovery. Looking back, I wish that someone had talked to me about it, to help me process the event. This is where a counsellor can help you, through talk therapy and somatic processing.
Addressing Traumatic Birth Experiences
With our second son, I managed to have a vaginal birth after the previous C-section, and was only in labour for eight hours. The third time around, at 42 years old, was fantastic! I felt empowered, cared for, supported, and managed to have a vaginal birth without any tears because of the excellent doctor and nurse that were with us.
My partner caught the baby, and our third son came out into the world peacefully without even crying. It was beautiful. We’re feeling blessed and grateful.
I hope that you never have to go through a difficult birth, but if you have, please reach out to me. I’d love to help you. To begin, please schedule a free session with me firstname.lastname@example.org