I have given birth three times. One hardly felt like a birth at all (5 week preemie, emergency c-section, hardly no labour), it felt more like a blur. The following two felt more like birth experiences, and were also healing experiences to the first one.
Have you heard of that term before? This term, birth trauma, speaks to the many, many women who have experienced some type of trauma in and around the delivery of their baby. The cause can be something small or large, but has to do mostly with what happens to the woman and how she perceives it during the exercise of birthing her baby, which is an action that leaves her in an extremely vulnerable state.
In my own experience, I felt birth trauma just after Spencer was born. He was 5 weeks early (we had planned a home birth with our midwife…) and ended up being an emergency c-section. That experience was in and of itself rushed and very frightening, but I felt that in the decisions that were made, I was informed enough and could give consent to them, which gave me the assurance I needed to feel that I wasn’t being exploited in my vulnerable state. However, trouble arose after I was sewn back up.
When Spencer was removed from my womb, he had trouble breathing. It took minutes for him finally breathe and cry. They held him up briefly for me to see before whisking him away to the nursery for intensive analysis; I barely saw him in my cut-open and drugged up state. Once I was sewn up I was put into the recovery room and I was told that once I could start making my lower limbs move (ex. toes), then I could go to the maternity room. Folks, I lay there for at least an hour making every attempt I could possibly to make my toes wiggle so that I could go see my son. Andy had already gone to keep watch with our little boy. So when I finally experienced success in moving my toes, I alerted the staff and was brought to my room where the nurses took over. And here it was, as I was unable to move myself due to the epidural still wearing off, that I asked if I could be wheeled to my son so that I might be able to see him and be with him for the first time.
My nurse told me no. She told me, in no uncertain terms, that what I really needed was rest first, then I could see my son after I slept. She denied me my son. I felt exploited. I was in no position to be able to help myself – I could hardly move anything except from my arms upward which was not enough to be self-reliant. I was extremely vulnerable, having to rely on others for everything that I needed. But what I needed and most wanted was to be with my son, and this was denied without any thought to its effect. After talking with my midwife and doing research on c-sections, I now know that this is not a good enough reason to deny a mother her right to be with her child. But this was my first baby and I had no idea what to do. I believed, though I was torn apart because of it, that this nurse knew what was best for my baby and I.
With nothing more to do, except Andy bouncing between the nursery and my room with a couple videos and pictures of our son, I ended up falling asleep. For 10-12 hours. There was a great window of opportunity missed in our bonding relationship and it led to, what I believe was, a very rocky breastfeeding relationship which led to us needing to use formula (which is not my first choice, but I am glad it was an option [as opposed to worst-case scenario if it wasn’t: death]). I struggled and struggled with breastfeeding and we created a ‘make-do’ between nursing and bottle-feeding, and eventually he weaned early at 8 months because, ultimately, I didn’t make enough milk for him. Those first hours of contact after birth could have helped to mitigate that trauma if I had been allowed to visit and be in contact with my son. I can’t say they would have prevented all the problems that happened after, but it would have severely lessened their chances of happening. Our long stay at the hospital (6 days – long for a boy who really ended up having no major preemie problems) in part was due to him getting fairly severe jaundice. Again, the severity of it would have been mitigated if I had been able to have close contact with him enough for my body to respond to his presence and produce milk. My milk didn’t come in until a day or two after we arrived home, which means he was trying to do his initial transition into this side of the world on extremely minimal colostrum – hardly enough after about the second day.
Our little jaundiced baby boy. He absolutely hated that eye patch and struggled against it for long periods of time, over and over.
Birth trauma. Have I reconciled with it? Yes. But it has been a long journey marked with the question of ‘why?’ And I struggled to bond with my baby, whom I knew in my mind that I loved very much, but sometimes my heart said ‘would I really have any feelings if, for some reason, he wasn’t here the next day?’ I was conflicted daily with feeling like I didn’t truly care enough for him. I noticeably felt more like a care-taker than a mother; there was a sense of distance in our relationship that I struggled against. It has taken a long time to dis-attach myself from that sense of distance I felt and has taken a lot of work to re-attach myself in relationship to him. While it didn’t prevent me from taking care of him, it did lessen my confidence, lessen my ability to trust myself and my intuition, and place stress in my life that really did not need to be there.
So if you find that you’ve experienced birth trauma, know that you’re not alone. I truly believe it is more common than talked about because it often feels like it’s taboo. The age-old phrase, “Well, as long as the baby is healthy…” is hurtful but prevalent in conversations whenever the topic is attempted to be broached. And that phrase is completely untrue, just like the coined phrase “Sticks and stones…”
So mothers out there – trust yourselves and your intuition. It might be hard to do (our society preaches against it in many ways), but your story has meaning and relevance.
I found myself inspired by the Birth Without Fear website, which is dedicated to women telling their birth stories. These were healing, helpful, and hopeful. I am a part of community of women who can own our experience and share it for the benefit of others. We are strong women building up other women and creating a safe community to share our struggles so that we can be strengthened.