Jess is a supermama to a beautiful 4-year-old girl, and recently had her second baby, a son. Jess writes about how she excused her feelings following her first birth for a very long time, until she came to realise she had experienced birth trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] and postnatal depression [PND]. Jess bravely went through another pregnancy and found her son’s birth to be a healing experiences. (Trigger warning – birth trauma, PTSD)
Our journey to pregnancy was a long one. We tried for a while and got some tests done which all looked great. A few years later, we returned to a fertility specialist for a second opinion to be told that the original report was incorrectly read and there was an issue with sperm count and mobility. Our doctor identified that IUI (Intra-uterine Insemination) would be best for me. I took all the needles, blood tests and scans and was overjoyed to have fallen pregnant the first time. We were due to go in for a blood test but the day my period was late I secretly bought a pregnancy test and ran out to tell my husband. He was shell-shocked… imagine Ross when Rachel tells him she’s pregnant, that was him. We had prepared ourselves for a long road and were so happy to have it happen first go.
My first trimester was easy by most standards. I was bone shatteringly exhausted but managed to avoid morning sickness luckily only experiencing occasional nausea. We booked in our 12 week scan and were so excited to see all the fingers and toes. It was so amazing and we were beaming with pride. We were then put in a room and a geneticist entered to tell us that our child had a 1 in 4 chance of Down Syndrome. He then asked us if we had considered termination. We didn’t know what to say or think. We just sat there as he spoke like a scientist. He said that we would need further testing and recommended we book in for a chorionic villus sampling [CVS]. We booked in the CVS at another clinic, wanting to distance ourselves from people who were so cold and lacked compassion. The CVS took my breath away but it was quick. The performing doctor told us it would be at least a week before they got our results so we returned home and got ready for the wait. He called two days later, bless him and told us we were in the clear and we were having a girl. It was like he had removed an elephant from my chest, I could breathe knowing that my baby girl was happy and healthy.
My pregnancy continued along healthily; I craved bitter and sour things – I could not get enough of Warheads! As I progressed into the third trimester, my blood pressure started increasing and by 35 weeks I had the pre-eclampsia trifecta – high blood pressure, protein in the urine and swelling. I was diagnosed with hypertension and booked in for induction at 38+4. I remember going in for a check-up and my doctor made the phone call in front of me, booked me and went through the whole process as if I wasn’t in the room. At the time it felt wrong; I hadn’t given any informed consent. We went home and prepared to be induced a few days later.
I arrived at the hospital at 7:30am and I remember the midwife saying “Might as well indoctrinate you – here’s your gown!” I told her I felt really uneasy, that I didn’t want to be induced. She told me to wait for my doctor who came in shortly after and told me the risk was unacceptable and that I needed to be induced. I didn’t feel like there was any choice although everything was telling me this was wrong however I trusted her and so began my day. I got the gel at 8am and again at 8pm after no progression. By 10pm I started getting cramps and by about 3am it became unbearable and I woke my husband so we could go for a walk. The midwife offered to run me a warm bath and as I got in, I finally relaxed. With that relaxation, there was an almighty POP and the pain made my body lurch and scream out. From that second, the contractions were incredibly painful with one every second minute. Despite that I wasn’t progressing and was given Syntocinon which made the pain unmanageable so I had an epidural. By the afternoon, I was 10cm but baby was stuck. I also had no urine output despite having a constant IV of fluid so the decision was made to have an emergency caesarean section. I was told that the hospital didn’t allow skin to skin after the C-section or allow the baby in recovery which was scary and devastating. The C-section went well and my husband bought my baby girl to my face. He was then told to leave with my baby and I was stuck alone in recovery for two hours. It was two of the worst hours – my baby was gone and I couldn’t move. I just laid there waiting to be told I could be reunited while I was given some Endone for the pain that would be coming. I remember being wheeled into my room and my husband saying “Mum’s here!” I have little to no memory of the next couple of days due to the Endone. I would find out years later that I don’t react well to strong pain killers like Endone.
When I went home, I was incredibly sad. I remember walking the pram around the block and doubling over as my tears fell from my face. I would wake in the middle of the night and stand at my bathroom sink staring at myself with hatred as I cried and cried. It was MY fault my beautiful birth was taken from me. I allowed myself to be induced. I allowed myself to have a C-section. I didn’t fight; didn’t ask questions. These are the stories I would tell myself. All these things were mulling around in my head and the overwhelming sadness and anger was suffocating at times. But I was sure I didn’t have post-natal depression. I loved my baby; I didn’t connect her to her birth. They were two separate things. My baby and I were a perfect little pair and in the light of day, I looked and for the most part, felt happy. I didn’t tell my husband about how I was feeling because I didn’t think I was feeling any unusual. So I cried every time I was alone! I was a tired new mum… It was normal… right? We moved interstate when she was 6 weeks old and started anew. Things didn’t feel right but I have a knack for burying my feelings and boy, did I bury them.
A couple of years later we revisited a fertility clinic to discuss having another baby. At the clinic, I needed to tell my doctor about my previous birth and I could do was cry. She spent some time with me suggested that I may have Post-Natal Depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. After seeing a couple of doctors and a psychologist, this diagnosis was confirmed. I tried taking anti-depressants and talk therapy but the pain was always there. I could never quite reach it. It took me another year before I could return to the fertility clinic and I had convinced myself that I was fine. My husband recollected the birth as something that was medically necessary but beautiful so I practiced recalling it like he did.
We ended up needing IVF this time and it was a long and rough journey. We had two failed implantations before the third one worked which was incredibly exciting at first but then I was filled with dread. It was going to happen again. Someone was going to come and cut my baby out of me and leave me alone. At the nine week mark, I met my new OBGYN and I let all that out on her. I told her that I thought OBGYNs were just surgeons at heart and all they wanted to do was cut. That she was going to cut this baby out too and I was going to be left to suffer the consequences again. She spoke to me for a while about my fears and reservations. The thing that made me trust her was she said to me “I know all the OBs in Adelaide and I am telling you that I am the best doctor for you”. Her reassurance that she was the best person for me brought us to a place of mutual understanding and throughout my pregnancy I slowly began to trust her. Towards the end of my pregnancy, I would look forward to seeing her and my midwife!
I had a great pregnancy and went into labour naturally on my due date. I progressed from nothing to 10cm in 2 hours and was given an epidural at the 9cm mark. My doctor arrived shortly after to tell me that I wasn’t going to be able to have a vaginal birth as it was structurally impossible. My pelvis was too narrow to fit the baby’s head. She sat with me and ensured that I understood everything that was happening to me and I was taken in for a c section. My baby boy was born and put directly on my chest. He stayed with me in recovery and as I looked at him I could feel myself healing. I was OK to have another C-section and not get my desired VBAC. My OB spoke about it and it was that I went into labour at home, naturally without anyone’s help. I needed to do that on my own and I was so grateful to have that.
My daughter’s birth didn’t hurt to think about anymore, I felt like the elephant had finally been taken off my chest. I didn’t feel all those awful things that I once did. I went into labour on my own and I powered through those contractions with no pain killers like a warrior. I needed to know I could do it and I could. It turned out that it took another birth to heal from my first one.
I still developed PND after the birth of my son but I was prepared for it. I knew the feelings to expect and I have been working with my psychologist. If there was anything I would want to impart, it would be that PND isn’t like the movies. I loved my baby and I loved my life. I was just incredibly sad, the kind of sad that didn’t pass. That suffocated me. But I healed in the end after years of hard work and I can now appreciate the strength it took to be a functioning parent and wife while carrying that burden, and I’m proof that PTSD is not a life sentence.
I hope this has been a helpful read. Please share the love by sending this post to a supermum or supermum-to-be, who might benefit from this article. And I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!
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