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Grieving for birth

After my plans for a homebirth ended in an emergency caesarean section I was, understandably, upset. I was so happy that my baby was here safely in my arms, but at the same time I was mourning the loss of the birth experience I had hoped for.

Be careful with your words

I had the usual comments, from well meaning midwives, about how fantastic it was that we were both safe and healthy, after all isn’t that all that really matters? I have a strong dislike that of that being said to new mums, as if it’s ungrateful to have these feelings about the birth when you have come out of it with a healthy baby. It’s as if the only thing that is important in pregnancy and birth is that everyone comes out of it alive.

I dislike that being said, as obviously mums are glad that their baby is alive and well. That is so blindingly obvious that to actually say it out loud appears to suggests that perhaps she does not care so much about her baby as her experience. Of course that is never the case. The case is that a healthy baby is the minimum that we should hope for and that it’s ok to feel sad about other aspects of the birth.

This suggestion that you should just be happy, no matter what happened stings. It’s a double slap in the face. The first slap is the suggestion that perhaps, somehow, you are selfish or ungrateful for the little miracle you cradle in your arms. The second slap is that your feelings or pain and grief are not respected or validated, your lost hopes and wishes are devalued. That hurts, deeply.

Add into the mix all of the post birth hormones and exhaustion that a new mum will be feeling and those slaps can become a lethal cocktail.

What you said and what I heard

In my case I was told, by someone very close to me, that they were so glad it ended up being a hospital birth. I know it came from a place of love because they were worried that something might go wrong at home, but I couldn’t see that for what it was at the time and I found myself left crying alone in my hospital bed, thinking really damaging thoughts.

I felt that those comments were because they never took the time to tell me how they felt or to ask about my reasons for my choices. Had they done this, then perhaps they would have understood that I was doing, following extensive research, what I felt was in the best interests of my baby. I had looked over all the facts and figures, become familiar with all the statistics, read the research and my choices were extremely well informed. Perhaps they would even have felt better about it, and have encouraged and supported me.

What I heard behind those words was;
I’m so glad that all of your hopes were shattered.
I’m so glad that all your research and preparations were in vain.
I’m so glad that all the work you did to avoid the risks and complications of a repeat cesarean were all for nothing.
I’m so glad you are sitting there uncomfortable with your cannula and catheter.
I’m so glad that you are at increased risk of increased risk of blood clots,
I’m so glad that you are at increased risk of infection of your wound or the lining of the womb.
I’m so glad that you are at increased risk of problems should you want to get pregnant again in the future.
I’m so glad that you are at increased risk of problems in any future pregnancies (which I was acutely aware of following my in depth research during pregnancy including miscarriage, still birth, low-lying placenta and placenta accreta to mention but a few)
I’m so glad that you’ve had to have major abdominal surgery that will take months to heal from.
I’m so glad you have to wear those stockings in case you get a blood clot.
I’m so glad you have to endure blood thinning injections every night, of which you are terrified
I’m so glad that baby is at increased risk of childhood asthma, type 1 diabetes or obesity. I’m so glad you will have to have counseling to help heal the mental and emotional wounds.

Now, most of the risks listed above are statistically unlikely, and had I been planning a Cesarean as my first preference I would have been comforted by the statistics in the same way I had reassured myself that uterine rupture was statistically unlikely during a home birth. However, in this moment they seemed more like certainties, another outcome I had researched and planned to avoid, but was now a reality crashing down around me.

The morning after in all its glamour.

To me, at that time, those words, “You’ve no idea how glad I am it ended up being a hospital birth” were a kick in the teeth, the lowest blow. I had just come out of the birth I had done all I could do to avoid, only to be told they were glad that it had happened to me.

I knew these thoughts weren’t healthy, I knew I had to start healing myself from this pain. Luckily I had planned for this. I had strategies in place to avoid me going back to that dark place I had been for so long after the birth of my first son.

Coming home to reality

Then I’m not sure if it was denial or anger or a mixture of the two, but I couldn’t bare to look at all of my homebirth things when I returned from hospital. They had to go, every time I caught sight of them I was an emotional wreck. Luckily I knew of another homebirthing mum, living only streets away and due anytime so she massively helped by taking away all of the things that were triggering me.

Using my mental health tool kit

The things that I had in place in my birthplan to help me avoid PTSD this time included:

  • Birth Afterthoughts counselling prior to reaching 37 weeks, to ensure I wasn’t bringing past trauma into this birth
  • Planned for least possible medical intervention during labour and birth, only intervene when medically indicated
  • Discussion with Supervisor of Midwives of Home Birth as plan A, but also plan for hospital based plans B,C, D etc and gentle cesarean if necessary
  • Additional scans to avoid another missed breech
  • Additional reassurance of wellbeing of mum and baby close to term and post due dates – Expectant Management

All of these things helped me to know that no matter what happened I was prepared, and would know in my heart that I had done the best that I could for my baby. If it ended in a medicalised birth, then it was because that was just what was meant to be.

My new positive affirmations

When it turned out that that was what happened, I was still grieving despite all of my preparations, but thankfully this time I did not have PTSD. I also had periods of feeling depressed but I did not have depression.

I still needed help to heal and recover from this birth and here is what helped:

  • I was super honest (some might say too honest, but I don’t care as it was what I had to do to make sure I was ok for my 2 children!) with everyone about how I was feeling, my doula, my GP, my health visitor, my husband, my friends.
  • I returned for 2 Birth Afterthoughts and rewind therapy sessions.
  • I, once again, spoke with the amazing Seána from BirthWise to discuss things and how I felt about what had happened.
  • I find writing therapeutic, so doing this has helped me massively.
  • I took photographs of all my notes, as last time having gaps in my memory/knowledge was very difficult for me to come to terms with
  • I had a postnatal doula to help with household chores when they felt too much, but also to talk things over with. We also did an amazing “Reclaiming Birth Ritual” at home with me and baby in the pool. (I feel another blog coming on… watch this space!)
  • I replaced my positive affirmations with ones specific to the birth I had, I still have these up 4 months on, and probably will for a while. I read these daily.
My little daily reminders

Obviously what worked for me might not be the same for anyone else, but I’d say the biggest thing is being open about your feelings, seeking help, and keep doing so until you feel you are settled within yourself.

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