On the 27th October 2009 at 17:57, my little Noah made his way in to the world in to a brightly lit room, flooded with strangers and with the help of forceps.
Whilst this was a far cry from the birth I had envisioned or was heading towards only a couple of hours before, this was where I ended up...flat on my back, gripped with fear and numb from the waist down, my legs akimbo - like heavy, lifeless planks resting in stirrups with a flurry of action happening all around me and I remember staring up at the stark ceiling and thinking,
‘how the hell have I ended up here'
What I came to learn soon after my first birth was how common this outcome is and actually between 25% and 34% of women report their births as traumatic.
With this astoundingly high statistic, it left me wondering how there are still such misconceptions around the devastating affects birth trauma can have on couples and families.
For me those last hours in labour and in theater stripped me of so much more than the birth I had envisioned - this wasn't about disappointment, but something so much more sinister.
The first days were all consumed with timing feeds and ticking boxes, and the odd poke around between my legs – with little indication of what I should or shouldn't be feeling and very few glimmers of care or compassion.
This casual approach to my vagina and my care was only the start of what was to come – and in hindsight those days were the easy bit...they were only the predecessor for what became years of physical and emotional pain, intrusion, poking, slicing, stitching, being passed from pillar to post with nobody accepting any responsibility and my identity, self-esteem and everything I thought I knew slowly slipping away.
It was the start of a violent storm that crashed within me; I became a captive of fear and seized by distrust.
The physical manifestation of the trauma was the focal point and although that was extremely difficult, it seemed the only tangible evidence that something bad had happened. The rest was invisible to the outside world.
When the midwives visited and I saw the GP, I just didn't fit the typical criteria that something wasn't right; I wasn't obviously depressed or anxious, no one asked me about how I felt about the birth - I was just repeatedly told how lucky I was to have a healthy baby and led to believe that my body had failed me.
Of course I did feel lucky. I had a healthy, beautiful boy who thankfully I fell deeply in love with and I loved being a Mum, but my anxiety was through the roof, I felt rigid and was plagued with flashbacks. I was hyper-vigilant and so fearful of our safety, yet I guess I looked well and no one seemed to pick up on this, despite my attempts to share my feelings.
It's not uncommon that so many parents (including fathers) slip under the radar and don't receive the appropriate support or receive a misdiagnosis of post natal depression.
It's not surprising that the two can be confused with some of the symptoms being the same such as sleep disturbance, panic and anxiety. And they can certainly both exist alongside each other, but whereas PND occurs in the post natal period after a natural shift in hormones, PTSD or post traumatic stress symptoms occur after trauma or perceived trauma during birth.
I hadn't made a link between my symptoms and post traumatic stress for a couple of years. There was so little information when I searched and then like magic I stumbled across the amazing, late Sheila Kitzinger and could suddenly see I recognized myself in so much of what she wrote about.
Sadly so much damage had been done already. Damage that could've been prevented if my experience hadn't been minimised and ignored by professionals.
And I changed.
Yes It’s true – the old me would always have changed, with or without any trauma; becoming a Mother is the most trans-formative experience of your life, but this was so much deeper than that.
My marriage was in its infancy and suddenly my husband was thrust in to a role neither one of us had been prepared for.
He was the only continuity of care. The only way of knowing the progress of my healing.
He became my eyes when I couldn’t bear to look. He helped me face the truth of the damage that had been afflicted upon me and showed me the type of unconditional love that is immeasurable.
He and my family nursed me back to recovery when I needed operations and faced an uncertain fate.
He didn’t leave me when there was so little left in the marriage for him.
He has been kind and patient well beyond the physical recovery because the fact is that even when the pain had dissipated, the psychological damage remained.
But it’s also the path that led me to where I am today.
After the dark came light and my experience led me to wanting to make a difference to couples preparing for birth and beyond.
Everyone's experience of birth is unique and what may result in trauma for one, may not in another, but the experience should never be underestimated.
Unexpected emergencies during birth, premature birth, injury and feeling mistreated or coerced in to making decisions leading to a loss of control are just some of the things that may contribute to birth trauma.
What can you do if you've experienced birth trauma?
There are several options available and when it comes to therapy to relieve the symptoms of PTSD, currently NICE guidelines recommend 8-12 sessions of CBT or EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing) for those who seek help.
Whilst I'm sure there is lots of success in these methods, that’s quite a long time to be re-visiting an event that for most sufferers seeking treatment want to be rid of and have often been waiting for for some time.
As a therapist, I use the 3 Step Rewind technique for birth trauma which is effective in 1-2 sessions, with most participants reporting a complete lifting of the symptoms after this time. It is quick and extremely effective.
The 3 Step Rewind technique gives the opportunity to work ‘content free’ so that it's not necessary to talk about what happened if they don't want to. They simply need to be able to remember it for themselves. There is also no judgement, critique or reframing of what happened if they do want to talk about it.
Can you prevent birth trauma?
Whilst nothing guarantees a couple from experiencing a traumatic birth, understanding your choices, the physiology of birth and getting the education to make informed decisions is so important and goes a long way in preventing trauma.
My personal insight in to the damaging affects of birth trauma undoubtedly is the underpinning of my passion to help couples to prepare for birth and beyond with Hypnobirthing and to heal from difficulties as a therapist either through counselling or to treat trauma with the 3 step rewind technique.
If you can relate to any of this or have experienced birth trauma, get in touch. You can find more details about my work and services here.