Sinead – my experience
I’m not depressed, I’ve experienced depression before and I know that isn’t the problem but I barely sleep and when I do I have nightmares, during the day I have flashbacks to the bright lights of a hospital delivery room, I’m terrified to leave my baby with anyone else, I feel like a failed as a woman and as a mother, but this is my first child and she’s perfect and thriving.
I have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but I’m not a soldier, I wasn’t in a plane crash, my cruise ship didn’t sink. I did something that women do every day, I gave birth.
My beautiful baby was longed for, I spent a few years improving my lifestyle going from morbidly obese to a healthy weight so that I could have a healthy pregnancy and I did, I was very lucky, aside from a minor kidney blip my BP stayed perfect all the way through, she grew as expected, my scans were lovely and we were prepared for the expected arrival on 21st December 2010.
That date came and went and almost 2 weeks later on 3rd January 2011 me and my (incredibly supportive) husband arrived at the hospital with our many bags, peaceful music, electric tealights (lol), cushions, TENS machine and a bucket full of optimism. I knew that the induction was medicalising the process so I wouldn’t get my waterbirth or to use the ‘Bluebell’ suite, but I was determined to enjoy it as much as I could. I had spent many, many evenings listening to my hypnobirthing CDs.
I’m not stupid, I’m a professional person, I knew it was going to hurt like hell but I’m healthy and I’ve got big feet so I genuinely thought I’d be fine. But I wasn’t fine. The induction worked first time but by the time I entered the main stages of labour I was dangerously dehydrated and my BP dropped to 70/30. The baby’s heart trace was all over the place and following transfer from the main ward to the labour suite the trace was lost entirely, I was stripped and prepped for surgery but my husband had been sent home and although I’d called him he hadn’t made it back yet.
I thought my baby was gone. The midwife was very professional and worked efficiently but the student midwife (first day) was grey and looked horrified.
The doctor arrived and was able to get a trace on my baby’s head. I was ecstatic, my BP had stabilised as fluids were pumped in through an IV. I advised the student that she really needed to work on her poker face. My husband arrived. He had missed the first drama but he needn’t think the excitement was over as there was plenty more to come.
The chemicals used in the induction had sped my contractions so they were coming one directly after the other, there was no break time in between and I was only 3cm dilated. I was violently sick, ruining my husband’s shoes in the process. Pethidine did nothing to ease the pain so I asked for the thing that I wanted least…an epidural. I already felt like I’d failed my baby, like we wouldn’t share the magical experience but I couldn’t cope. It was agreed that it would not be topped up as the final stage approached so I could push my baby out.
The rest of the labour is very hazy, I was full of drugs and my body just did what it needed to do. At some point there was a shift change and a new Midwife and Student Midwife arrived. When the time arrived to push I was advised the doctor would be called in because the midwife suspected the baby might struggle. She seemed to produce stirrups out of nowhere ‘just in case’ but she didn’t tell me in case of what. She also didn’t tell me that I might need ‘assistance’ and what form of assistance that might take.
My epidural was more or less at zero and I felt everything, the urge to push was high, when I started I remember her saying the baby was struggling, she said I was doing well and it was so close but I needed assistance. I was told the Doctor was going to cut me but that he would do it on a contraction and I wouldn’t feel it. I did feel it, every millimetre. I didn’t know it but they were using the ventouse to assist the delivery, the next thing I knew she was here, I looked over and could see her, she looked perfect.
She was given a quick rub and placed on my chest while the Doctor stitched me up, all I could feel was searing pain, like I was being burned from the inside. I was told that everything was fine and not to worry. All was OK the baby scored a ten on the APGAR all was fine. She was beautiful but I couldn’t stop crying, I must have appeared overcome with emotion but I was in agony.
My parents paid a brief visit to cuddle the baby and I was due to be moved to the ward with my gorgeous baby girl. First I needed a shower. I complained again to the midwife about the pain. I was told it was normal and not to worry. Then when I went to get up to shower I collapsed and was out for the count. I remember opening my eyes with the student midwife repeating my name and stuff going on, I didn’t know what. I looked at my husband, he was holding our baby but he was grey and he looked terrified.
I was being examined…the searing pain was not normal, I was bleeding on the inside. I had to be packed (lovely expression) and catheterised and was told I would be bed ridden for at least 24 hours.
It transpired that in the time from when the bleed started, either during the delivery or when the doctor had sewn me up (most likely) I had lost so much blood that I required four blood transfusions over the next few days.
I spent 5 days in hospital and what happened next just added to the trauma. My clever baby took to my breast like a duck to water. I was out of it but she fed regularly for long periods of time. By day 3 I had raised the issue of not many dirty nappies several times and that she seemed to be a bit jaundice. My milk had still not come in properly and I was very concerned but I still wasn’t really with it and didn’t know what was right or wrong, this was my first baby.
The paediatrician came for a routine check and when I was being visited by my inlaws the nursery nurse just walked in and announced in front of them and the entire ward that my baby had lost 10.7% of her body weight.
I was devastated, I had been starving my baby, I had failed, failed to go into labour properly and now failed to nourish my baby. My world tumbled down. The so longed for child who had been born perfect had been starved by the person who was supposed to nourish and protect her.
Looking back it seems obvious that my body wasn’t able to produce anything. I was desperately ill. I had lost a lot of blood and my BP remained very low. My body was fighting to survive and could not make any extras.
We were put on a feeding plan, I was spending hours on the pump and getting virtually nothing and we were ‘topping up’ with formula. Of course it wasn’t really topping up because she wasn’t getting anything from me.
I now had the stigma of choosing not to give my baby the best start in life by using the evil formula.
On my last night in the hospital my very first midwife came to see me. The first to wonder why I was awake at 4am when the baby was asleep. I was able to tell her what had happened and disclose that my brother had been a victim of SIDS and that I couldn’t sleep until someone else was watching my baby. I also told her about my feelings of failure and she explained exactly how ill I was and that I wasn’t to blame. She also explained about the type of assisted delivery I’d had, I still didn’t know although I had asked.
It is only now six months later I am able to fully think about what happened without bursting into tears. Although after writing this I had a terrible night and an horrific nightmare.
I’m lucky, I know this. My baby is healthy and my body has recovered. But I still have nightmares, fewer than before, I still have flashbacks, fewer than before and my heart still aches when I think about how my baby starved for those first three days, even though she’s now a right little porker on the 98th centile!
I have PTSD and my life is permanently changed by my experience. But I’m also a mum now and my life is permanently changed by that. I need to accept these changes and learn to live in my new, changed life. It is hard sometimes but the existence of my baby girl means that my life is so much better than it was before…even with the nightmares and the flashbacks.
Sinead – My symptoms
At last we arrived home, it felt like an eternity had been spent surrounded by the blue walls of the hospital wards. I continued to pump when we got home but I was getting nowhere and by the end of the day I decided that both me and the baby would be better off with a bottle. She was fine, happy to take it and possibly as relieved as me.
The first few months are a bit of a blur, I was still only sleeping when my husband was around to watch the baby. At night I had started to turn the duvet under so I could see over it into the crib, I would hold it in this position all night, my hand cramped up like the claw. After a few weeks I developed tendonitis in my wrist and hand from spending long periods in this position, I later required steroid injections to get it sorted.
During the day different things would flash into my mind. I saw the face of the student midwife on various young women on TV and remembered the feeling that I thought my baby was gone. The smell of toast cooking took me back to the delivery room and the pain that no one would look into. And everywhere was a reminder of the first few days when I tried in vain to feed my baby.
I couldn’t (still can’t) watch anything on TV about birth, the one born every minute series I had enjoyed so much was banished from the Sky plus box and I gave my husband a row when he offered to record the new series. I was filled with jealousy when I heard that a 17 year old relative gave birth a week later on two paracetamol and would ‘happily do it again it was so easy’. She didn’t even want her baby…
Everyone, I mean everyone wanted to know if I was ‘feeding her myself’ so I had to explain my shame to people I hadn’t seen in years. Why do they want to know, I would cry after they left. I put a brave face on it and never scolded anyone so I guess they will go on to ask other new Mums the same question.
Sleeping was awful. The nightmares were just horrific. I wouldn’t dream about what happened, my dreams instead would take the form of the people I loved or cared for being tortured or murdered in front of my eyes and I was helpless I could do nothing. I was often involved in conflict, street battles, hand to hand fighting with terrorists, I even took part in the French Revolution and hid under buildings whilst my comrades were slaughtered…Analyse that! I would wake up sure that I’d lost everyone and was by myself.
The feelings of resentment shocked me. I was so angry with everyone who got to enjoy my baby without having to go through any pain. They had not ‘earned’ the right to cuddle her the way I had. This included my husband and family. I would be filled with jealousy as she snuggled in to sleep in their arms.
I wouldn’t leave her with anyone, she was my responsibility and no one could care for her the way I could.
All of a sudden I was ridiculously risk averse. We didn’t go in the car alone, eventually we had to change cars because I was convinced it wasn’t safe enough for her…expensive thing to obsess about. I was obsessed that the car seat would cause her to stop breathing – for that I would like to thank the midwife who told me (and 15 other pregnant women) about a blue baby in a carseat at an antenatal class!
I went for a walk with the baby and the dog every day at mid-day, I knew the fresh air was good for me but everywhere I saw danger and I would feel the panic rising so the walks rarely lasted more than 15 minutes. I was sure someone was going to steal my baby, or my dog, I thought cars would deliberately veer off the road and kill us all. I would get home and cry, then my husband would call and I would feel reassured again. I lived for him walking through the door so I could rest for a couple of hours, but even then the slightest murmur from the baby and I’d be up again.
My relationship with my husband struggled, the damage caused to me was painful for months, there was an infection, I didn’t want anyone near me. I felt like less of a woman, my body had failed me, I didn’t (don’t) feel attractive and I resented him at my very core. I felt like he had let me down by not insisting (when I couldn’t) that I had the birth I wanted but there was nothing he could have done, he had to trust the professionals.
Desperate to get my old life back, I would have gone back to work in a heartbeat, so much so, by the time the baby was two months old I’d already had 2 keep in touch days, I wanted to put my old clothes on and be respected. But my old clothes didn’t fit and I had 7 months left before I could go back. I didn’t want to be away from my baby I just wanted to be normal again.
Then when my baby was about 10 weeks old I was diagnosed with PTSD, it suddenly started to make sense…I was cracking up, but there was a good reason for it!
I don’t know why I got PTSD, I have heard of other women with traumatic births who have come through relatively unscathed. A close friend of mine spent 40 hours in labour before the hospital finally gave her a C section, there were complications which sound awful but she is doing really well and isn’t troubled by what happened. But everyone is different and different things impact on you in different ways.
Sinead – My road to recovery
I am definitely one of the lucky ones. I was diagnosed with PTSD by the Perinatal Response and Management Section (PRAMS) of the NHS trust to which I belong (Abertawe Bro Morgannwg), at the same time I was told I wasn’t alone. PRAMS was about to pilot a support group for mothers with PTSD around birth, my timing couldn’t be better!!
Maybe I should explain what PRAMS is and why it is a vital role that should be fulfilled by every trust. It is a unit which is trained in mental health issues but works specifically with women from pregnancy until their child turns one. It provides counselling and support groups as well as having access to a psychologist and Doctor so that appropriate treatment can be used. It keeps women like me out of mainstream mental health services, reducing the demand on already oversubscribed mental health services.
I first came into contact with PRAMS when I was pregnant. A referral from my doctor for counselling for an eating disorder saw me visiting the mental health team. When I told them I was pregnant they said they could not treat me but that as eating disorders and anxiety disorders are closely linked they referred me to the PRAMS team. I joined the Antenatal group, treating people with anxiety and depression, it helped me put my eating issues on hold through my pregnancy, I knew I needed to be healthy for my baby.
It was in the follow up meeting after the baby was born that we discussed what I had been going through after the birth and the diagnosis was made.
My first PTSD group was both beautiful and horrible. I had not met with other new mums since my baby was born, in fact I’d barely left the house. I had to drive (the old car) alone with the baby in it. I was made to feel welcome and the other ladies shared their stories. The tears started as I listened to them, it sounds cheesy but I really did feel their pain and at last (even though I had been told) I knew I wasn’t alone. I cried a lot over the following 48 hours. I felt so sad for the other mums and I felt guilt that my story wasn’t in anyway as bad as some of theirs, and I was sorry that I had this shadow hanging over what should have been a beautiful time.
Over the course of the next three months I have improved immeasurably. I decided not to take medication, it wasn’t for me but I believe that this is because of the amazing support I was given in my group. Some days I just went to listen, some days I talked and they listened patiently. They understood and they didn’t judge.
Each one a fantastic mother they (we) are all coming to terms in one way or another with a loss. Whilst I am physically capable of having another child, I know that I won’t and I mourn that the option has been taken away from me. I am too frightened to even consider it a possibility and my husband is coming to terms with it too. This too makes me feel guilty as I know deep down he wanted another child and I have taken that away.
I get out a lot more now and I have started to rationalise the dangers that life brings, such as roads and strangers! I am still a bit naughty when it comes to going to things, I cancel at the last minute when anxiety creeps in and I let people down sometimes. I feel guilty about that but I’m working on it and it is happening less frequently. The ladies in my group have been very understanding.
I am starting a ‘normal’ mother and baby group this week, I know my baby benefits from being around other babies so I have to get over my fear and put my hard hat on. My baby loves spending time with the other babies who come with their mums to PTSD group too so when our formal sessions end we are planning to meet regularly to continue to support each other.
I’m also lucky to have a wonderfully supportive husband and a loving, understanding family.
I really feel ‘better’ time is helping and I appreciate the happiness that my baby brings but my experienced has changed me. I am still having a tough time with my confidence and I’d like to say I was healthy but I am having problems with my eating. I am reading a book on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to help with this.
I think this will be a long journey but I’m getting there.