Looking at my cesearean from the outside in, you would probably have said it went really well, no reason for trauma. I had a healthy baby at the end of the day, what did I have to be upset about, let alone traumatised?
I came home after 2 days and got on with being a mum. It was hard, I was exhausted, my baby cried all the time, but that was to be expected, wasn’t it?
My husband was amazing. During the 2 weeks he had off from work he basically did everything. He cooked, he cleaned, he fed me, he did the endless washing that was constantly covered in baby sick or worse.
The time came, he went back to work, but I still had a steady stream of visitors. I muddled through, but things were becoming fraught. This baby always cried. I wasn’t ready for that. I mean, I knew babies cried, but this one didn’t seem to stop. The other thing I didn’t expect was my response to the crying. I still can’t really accurately describe it. A huge, overwhelming feeling rushed through my vains. There was nothing I could do to control it. Was it fear, panic, anger even? I have heard from other mothers about their response to their own child’s cry being very different to any other cry they hear. I think that part of it is evolutionary, but I think there was more to it with me. It was, and still is to some extent, all consuming and uncontrollable. It is just an absolutely horrible feeling and it made me turn into a person I did not recognise and one that I don’t like very much.
That cry triggered something in me. My stress levels shot through the roof, the adrenaline course through my vains, I was constantly on high alert. Even still, at 2 years in I find it really difficult to be calm in this situation and rationally assess how I can help him. I just had to do whatever needed to be done to get baby comfortable and stop the crying as quickly as possible. To me each cry was, and still often is, as if it was an emergency situation. My levels of panic are unreal. It’s as if his cries literally cause an ache in me, both physically and mentally. It’s torturous.
He was only ever quiet when breastfeeding, but sometimes he’d need changed so this had to be done at top speed. I’d bark orders at my husband, but he was never fast enough. I’d get angry and snap, it was never good enough. The baby was crying, my panic was rising. It was the most awful feeling. This happened frequently. I was just unable to relax. I felt I was constantly on a rollercoaster, or a battlefield. If I could ever get a moment where I was relaxed, which was extremely rare, I could see that I was being irrational, unfair to my husband, but in that moment when the crying was happening it was totally out of my control.
At 4 weeks old we found out that our baby had allergies and I began my journey into breastfeeding through an elimination diet. This was extremely stressful in itself, but I knew it still didn’t explain this panic or rage that I was feeling most of the time. I knew that lots of mums had even more poorly, more difficult babies, and they coped better than me. That’s when the doubts crept in. Was I just not cut out to be a mum? Would he be better off without me? Would me husband be happier if I wasn’t around barking at him? I went through a really dark time where I was really, really unhappy to the point I was barely functioning.
Eventually I mentioned to my health visitor that I thought may I had postnatal depression. She got me an appointment with the wonderful Birth Afterthoughts service at the hospital where I had given birth. It was only then that it came to light what had really happened to me. I had been suffering, by this stage for 9 months, with Post Traumatic Stress.
During the birth I hadn’t actually been calm, as I had thought. I had been so terrified that I had retreated so far into myself that I had actually detached myself from what was happening to me. It was only then that I really had the realization that I didn’t actually have any real memories of the birth, and in fact I didn’t have many memories of the first few months of my son’s life, at least not any good ones. This was (and is) why I feel this heightened sense of panic in response to my baby’s cries and why my immediate response is driven by adrenaline. My only memories were, and mostly still are, of me being in a state of panic, being upset, struggling.
Slowly some memories began to come back. I looked at the first photo that had been taken by the midwife in theatre when my son had been placed on my chest, only now did I notice the little green cloth clenched tightly in my fist, only now did I remember I had been crying. Just then was the first time I remembered the awful tugging and pulling that had shunted me up and down the operating table and the discomfort it brought which I feared would never end. Before this point I had no memory of the surgery or my son’s birth.
This was my trauma and it was magnified by the fact that for so long it had lay buried inside my unconscious memory. I had been so frightened of the surgery that I had completely shut down. I had shut myself off, distanced myself from experiencing what was actually going on. I was doubly, perhaps even triply traumatised. The layers of the trauma peeled away to expose themselves. The trauma of my fear of surgery, which was never addressed and caused me to retreat. The trauma of the actual surgery itself, which was so much more brutal that the “rummaging in your handbag” sensation I had been told to expect. Lastly the trauma of missing out on the memories of my son’s birth, his first feed, the first few months of his life and the bonding that should have come at that time. Add into that the difficulties of an allergy baby who was unsettled and in pain most of the time and you can understand why this was most certainly not the happiest time of my life. This in itself brought another layer, guilt. I should be so happy. A baby was all I’d ever wanted. I felt like the worst mum in the world.
It has taken a long time to heal that damage and accept that what happened wasn’t my fault. I’ve put a lot of work in and received further counselling and CBT. I now realise that I did the best I could at that time. I was the best mum I could be in the situation I was in.
It wasn’t my fault, but there are things I would do differently if I was in that position again.
As it turns out, just as I began to heal my mind, my body decided that I was ready to give it another go. I have big hopes for a positive experience of birth this time around.
Read more about that in part 4.