Birth Trauma - Chantelle's Story
Updated: Aug 16, 2021
My old friends sat across from me beaming. I lay in a hospital bed with an ice pack stacked in my pants, battered and very bruised, watching with elation as they cuddled the fruit of my efforts- my one day old first born baby.
“So, what’s it like?” asked my friend. I felt like I was dying to get it out, because I was fairly traumatised and desperate to process it.
“Well. It’s like… Let’s say there’s a brick in your bum. And a midwife comes up to you, in a motherly fashion. She holds your hand and looks you in the eye and says delicately ‘Love. Yes there is a brick in your bum. And it needs to come out. The truth is, if you push really REALLY hard. You can actually crap the brick out.’ And you gawk at her. You say ‘No. No one can crap out a brick. It’s not possible.’ But she tsks you briskly and pats your hand and says ‘Oh yes you can darling. You just have to push really REALLY hard.”
Oh goodness do I shudder at the thought now. That’s not how many experience labour. But for me, with a prolonged second stage and a stuck baby, that’s how I experienced it.
I was only 24 and had no idea what I was doing (does anyone?!) but I went in to the labour word equal parts terrified and hopeful that maybe I could get through this unscathed. Hubby kept me calm (along with about 25000L of laughing gas) right up until second stage. I remember hitting transition and sobbing hysterically but thinking to myself “Actually, this isn’t that bad. If this is what labour is I can totally handle this.”
Then it all got a little prickly. My 3.8kg baby with the giant head (thanks, hubby, that ones your fault) got stuck turning her head the wrong way. But I didn’t know it and the midwives didn’t pick it up. Everyone insisted I just wasn’t trying hard enough and took the gas off me, insisting that was the reason I wasn’t progressing. I look back now and realise how poorly that was handled, and how disempowered I felt. I was so young and thought so little of my perspective that I just accepted that the lack of progress was my fault, for not pushing hard enough.
So, without gas, I pushed as hard as I could even though every ounce of extra push increased my pain tenfold. I discovered later it was because she was simply hitting my perineum and not budging. After an hour and a half an OB was finally called, confirmed she was stuck, gave her a wriggle and told me to keep going. I crumbled. I told him I can’t. I sobbed. I said I was done. I couldn’t even remember what I was doing it for. I was exhausted and in agony. He insisted (and in hindsight I am so grateful) that I try just a little bit longer. “You will not be happy with me if I sweep in with forceps now. You are better off trying for another half an hour and seeing if you can get by without me.” He was right. Not that I knew it, but forceps was a guaranteed episiotomy and a large increase in the risk of a high grade perineal tear.
So I kept going. And finally my little bub started to move. After 2.5 hours I finally delivered her head in to the world. Then I stopped pushing, thinking it was finally over. Only to discover that apparently once you deliver the head you have to deliver the rest of the baby. I was shocked. “What do you mean?! Can’t you just pull her out now?” with much laughter I was told, no, I really need to get the rest of her out myself. “Well fine. But we have to wait for the next contraction now because I can’t do much without it.”
This ensued a couple minutes of the midwives chatting to my hubby, with a head hung out my behind. I think this might be the single most bizzare thing I’ve ever done. And then- the next contraction and voila- a gorgeous little girl was handed in to my arms. I wasn’t thinking about the grade 2 tear, didn’t know about the avulsion tear, or the massive perineal bruising and pain I was feeling.
So, unlike an enormous amount of women, I did not have a medical emergency and the experience of fearing for myself or my baby. But I was absolutely traumatised. I had flashbacks and shakily informed my husband that although I desperately wanted more children, we wouldn’t be able to because there’s no way I could ever do that again.
In the months to come I suffered the continence issues, vulvodynia over the healing scar, intense pain that left me unable to sit on a normal chair. It took to about 9 months before I felt I had recovered enough to try running again, and it was a rough return.
Even 6 years later when I braved a delivery room again for my 4th baby (a vaginal birth after caesarean- having had twins via caesarean 2 years prior) I had those same flashbacks in second stage. I had a really great labour the second time. I was calm and in control. But when second stage hit, all that terror of my first birth came rushing back. I knew enough then to know that no one was coming between me and the gas (hubby had been dutifully informed that limbs would be lost if anyone tried that again). So rather than take the gas during contractions, I took it straight through the second stage and essentially put my self in a gas-induced haze. But it was manageable. Turns out your body can actually push a baby out all on it’s own, even if you’re not actually pushing. Perhaps that will stand as my most bizzare life experience instead- my body completely out of my control screaming a guttural roar and sending a baby flying out in to the world without me even causing it.
That birth left its own scars too. I was in a lot of pain after the birth and drenched in blood, bordering problematic but not quite heavy enough to be concerned about hemmorhage. I developed endometritis and was shunned by the hospital insisting I just had internal haemorrhoids causing my excruciating post-birth pain. It took two weeks to get proper treatment. I developed prolapse. My iron depleted to almost nothing. And that was my positive birth experience! Everyone processes birth differently. Some have what seem like easy experiences, but are totally shaken. Some have horrific experiences and seem to shake it off. All of our experiences are valid. Birth can be a beautiful, amazing miracle and follow all the rules we want it to when we do a hypnobirthing course. It can also be difficult, and leave us with post-birth trauma that takes time to heal and rehabilitate.
I don’t say this flippantly- women are amazing at recovering. You might feel hollow, shelled out and damaged today but you need not always feel that way. You can feel whole and strong again. It can absolutely happen.