Life After…Birth Trauma

Many of you will know the background to my and Hugo’s story. Hugo was born by emergency Caesarean section on February 20, 2014. The circumstances of his birth were hugely traumatic because it was literally a life-and-death situation.

The legacy of the trauma of Hugo’s birth has affected me ever since. Flashbacks, a feeling of disconnection, like I am telling a story about something that happened to another woman, not me.

For a long time I thought I was going completely forgotten. Then I was fortunate to find a wonderful community of peer supporters on Twitter, including lovely Laura. These women have had different experiences of pregnancy and birth, but shared very similar difficulties afterwards. It was incredibly reassuring for me to know that I was not alone in my feelings.

In a very strange coincidence, Laura’s son Arthur was born on the same day as Hugo. Fortunately Arthur is now a lively toddler, but his mummy still battles the effects of life after birth trauma, as she describes. I will pass you to Laura to tell her story…

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On 20th February 2014, my son, Arthur George, was born by emergency caesarean section. That much is definitely true.

Almost everything else is up for discussion.

I remember my labour beginning on the 16th. I believe I was told much later that my son was in the occiput posterior position, at an angle so that he was jammed and could not turn.

I laboured in a great deal of pain for days on end and reached 4cm dilation. During that time, I had two shots of pethidine.

Finally, exhausted, I had the epidural, which only worked partially, and the oxytocin drip, which then had to be increased.

My notes, which I have seen only briefly, record my heart rate at 180bpm consistently.

I pushed before I reached full dilation, because I couldn’t not push, then was given the go ahead to push and pushed for another four hours. Then there was a failed forceps delivery, during which I tore badly. Then the spinal block and caesarean, during which the incision tore open and I haemorrhaged, losing about a third of my blood. The transfusion I was promised never materialised. I went home five days later but was readmitted about a week after that with an infection.

To me, it is a familiar story, but it feels like it happened to somebody else.

Life now is certainly different. I am mummy to a lively little boy and I juggle the mundane – the nappies, the Weetabix dried to cement on my kitchen floor – and the profound – that love – much like other mummies up and down the country. It is relentless and I am tired, much like other mummies. 

Unlike other mummies, I carry a deep grief. I grieve for the months that I was on autopilot, consumed by my own trauma, unable to love. I see photographs of my son as a newborn and I do not recognise him. It feels as if I missed that time, as if I were somewhere else, and I can never get it back.

It is mingled with the grief of yearning for another baby and knowing that it would not be the right choice for our family. In my mind, Arthur has a little sister. I see her so clearly. I know her name. I even talk to her sometimes. And sometimes I like to pretend that she will one day be in my belly, then in my arms.

I know pain – physical pain – as a companion in a way that I could not have understood before. Pain was always a temporary inconvenience. Now it is normal, and it is likely to be normal for the rest of my life, so I have learned how to work with it. I can no longer go from lying to sitting in one movement. I roll on to my side to get up in the morning. There are some chairs that I cannot get out of gracefully. One adapts. None of these things are world-changers, and actually I am astonished at my body’s ability to piece itself back together. 

My mental health took a harder hit, I think, though I was nobody’s poster girl for mental health to begin with. This was, in a way, a blessing: when you are used to carrying a heavy load, a few extra pounds are perhaps easier than if you had never lifted anything before.

Still, I know the hypervigilance makes me a nightmare to live with: every moment is a crisis, an emergency, whether it’s something minor or something imaginary or even just a vague, gnawing unease. It is exhausting for me to be terrified so much of the time and it makes me irritable and stressful to be around. 

Then there are the flashbacks. They come without warning and you cannot prepare for them. Imagine having a time machine but the machine is control. It can transport you back whenever, wherever.

I appreciate that this sounds odd; I will give an example. One evening, a few days ago, I was in a rocking chair in my son’s bedroom, with my toddler dozing happily, sprawled across my lap. My body noticed before I did that I was thirsty. (Thirst is a huge trigger for me now, and it’s difficult in this hot weather.) I was tired, and I lay back for a moment. 

Suddenly I am so, so thirsty. The thirst is pain. I am on my back, unable to move. I have forgotten that I am having a baby. I have forgotten even who I am. All I know is the moment I am in, no context, no meaning. And the thirst. I am trying to speak, to ask for water, but there is no saliva in my mouth. Whenever I see a face, I try to plead for water with my eyes, but they don’t hear me. Then I see a face that I recognise – my husband – and he is holding a white plastic hospital cup of water. In that moment, he is Jesus Christ, Buddha and all four of the bloody Beatles rolled into one. He holds the cup to my lips – and it spills, soaking into my hospital gown. It is too awful. He is back, with a brightly-coloured plastic straw in a new cup of water. I manage the smallest sip before the next contraction consumes me and everything rolls away.

And then I am back and it is sixteen months later and the baby is here, grown tall and fair and fast asleep on me. I am in a warm, dimly lit room – his bedroom. I tell myself things – the date, my age – to remind me of the present. The past is gone. I am shaking a little, but it is time to put my little boy down in his cot, to go downstairs and tidy his toys, to eat dinner and live the rest of this day.

That’s all any of us can do, in the end. I call it ‘the assault of memory’, the way I relive parts of the labour, birth and postnatal period over and over. But I know that I am fortunate to be alive. I am so fortunate to have Arthur, who is everything and more. I hope that I can forge meaning from my birth experience and one day help others.

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If you are interested in maternity services, you may be interested in joining the Maternity Experience community.

Got a Life After…story to share? Get in touch – headspace-perspective@outlook.com

 

Life After…Losing Robin

This week’s Life After…story comes from the wonderful Rosey. You may know Rosey as the creator of #PNDHour on Twitter, the peer and professional support network that helps women (and men) get through a host of emotional and psychological issues related to pregnancy, birth, and parenting.

Rosey is a mother of three young children, and experienced antenatal and postnatal depression all three times.

A few months ago Rosey confided that she had recently lost a baby who she called Robin and I sent her lots of supportive love and hugs. A couple of weeks ago I discovered the nature of Rosey’s loss, and my supportive love and hugs remained.

Ending a pregnancy can never be an easy decision, especially when it is for reasons beyond your control. I hope you will join me in sharing lots of respect, love and hugs to Rosey for having the bravery to share this beautiful letter to Robin.

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Robin

My dear Robin

Almost a year ago now I had to say goodbye to you, it was without a doubt the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make but just because I chose to say goodbye doesn’t make losing you any easier, a part of my heart went with you but at the same time a part of you has stayed with me.

I can’t stand the words ‘Abortion’ or ‘Termination’ they are such harsh words for such a heartbreaking decision, I lost you it’s that simple. I lost a future son or daughter, I lost experiencing breastfeeding again, I lost loving another child as much as I love your sister and brothers. I lost being a mum again. I lost you.

I wish beyond measure that I didn’t have to say goodbye but it was the kindest thing I could have done for you. If I’d survived being pregnant again I wouldn’t have been a happy mum, I would have struggled to take care of you and siblings because when I become a mum I get the unwanted gift of depression and it takes over me and makes everything really hard and sometimes it makes me suicidal.

Some people don’t understand how anyone can chose to say goodbye to a child but you are with me every day in spirit, guiding me, reassuring me that I’m doing my best, you’re helping me be a better mum, I named you Robin because I didn’t know your gender and now whenever I see a robin I like to think it’s you popping by to say hello and checking up on us all.

You’ve taught me more about compassion and understanding for other women who go through the same thing, it is heartbreaking saying goodbye. I’ve grieved for you, I cried every day for months when I lost you and it took me a long time to realise that it was ok to grieve even though I had ‘chosen’ to say goodbye to you.

I know I made the right chose for you, it was probably the most selfless decision I’ve ever made. I hope I can find the courage to keep telling people about you because I’m not ashamed of you or the choice I made but often mums who make this choice are made to feel like we have done something wrong, that we are bad people but what we are is brave and strong because we chose to say goodbye to a part of us forever even though it hurts our hearts to do so.

Thank you for helping me see life in different ways, although it’s been a tough year since I lost you, I’ve learnt a lot, most of all that I can find strength I didn’t know I had when I felt I had nothing left.

I will always carry you in my heart Robin.

Mummy xxx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life After…The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

Raising awareness of issues affecting premature babies and their families is something I am very passionate about. I am pleased that today’s Life After comes from wonderful Catriona of the brilliant Smallest Things, which is focused on campaigning for babies born too soon. Here, Catriona writes about what happened after her first son was born much earlier than expected, and his stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Thank you, Catriona, for sharing your story and helping shed light on the life of premature babies and their parents.

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I was just six and a half months pregnant (exactly 30 weeks) when my first son was born. I hadn’t got the crib in which he would sleep, no baby grows or snuggly toys and my maternity leave was still weeks away. I wasn’t ready, but he was in a hurry!

My waters had broken at home and I had calmly taken a taxi to the hospital. I was in a state of shock, perhaps also in denial – this couldn’t really be happening, could it?

When the midwife told me my baby would be born very soon I still remember my words – ‘But I don’t have anything to dress him in’. My first instinct was to care and provide for him. I reached out to him when he was born, but he was whisked away to neonatal intensive care where a machine would breathe for him and an incubator would shield him from the outside world into which he was born so early.

He spent eight long weeks in neonatal care; but for those eight weeks, time and the world seemed to stand still.

Our life became the neonatal unit. The monitors, machines, incubators and tubes. The nurses and doctors, expressing and sterilising. Bottles and boobs, numbers and charts. Eight long weeks and the outside world ceased to exist. Our world was in the hospital fighting and growing.

The relief of ‘making it through’, of finally getting there and making it home was damped by the growing realisation that I was a NICU mum.

It seems strange to write about life after neonatal care, when in reality the journey continues.

I struggled to reconcile what should have been one of the happiest moments of my life, the joy of a new baby, with the reality of trauma, resuscitation, life support machines and emptiness. Pangs of jealousy crept in seeing heavily pregnant women and new baby photos were suddenly everywhere I looked. Sometimes I was consumed with grief and anger at my lost months of pregnancy, the lost time to prepare and the lost time with my baby. For a long time I was haunted by a dull ache on my chest where my baby should have laid his head.

As time went by the anger and grief settled, helped in part by learning that I was not alone in these thoughts; indeed they are common to many women following birth trauma or time spent in NICU. The dull ache on my chest no longer plagues me, although sometimes I wish it did. Instead it has been replaced by something much more unpredictable and invasive – anxiety and post-traumatic stress.

For parents of babies born too soon the slightest cough or cold can cause untold worry. For me, coughs and colds are synonyms with repeat hospital admissions and breathing difficulties; all contributing to vivid flash backs of alarming monitors, breathing tubes and the mechanical rise and fall of tiny chests. This is the untold story of neonatal care and this is how life after NICU can seem for many women. This is why I created and set up the Smallest Things Campaign last year. I didn’t want other mothers like me to happen to stumble across a website in order to discover that the feelings they were experiencing were completely normal and shared by many others. Instead mums should be supported throughout their NICU journey and yes, this means following discharge home.

For me life after NICU isn’t really life after NICU; it is a life-long membership to the Preemie Club, a former NICU mum through and through. I am fiercely proud of my boys, both born early, and am in awe of what I have seen them achieve. Yet even when they are well anxiety and PTSD is always lurking in the background. The journey and life after NICU continues…..

Smallestthings

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Life After…Hyperemesis Gravidarum

Today’s Life After…guest post is from the lovely Jenni, who blogs at Odd Socks and Lollipops. Jenni suffered hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) during her pregnancy. You may remember that Kate Middleton experienced it during her pregnancy with Prince George (although it was often described, wrongly, as ‘bad morning sickness’).

As Jenni describes in her emotive post, HG is much more than that. Jenni’s post is so very important because she describes how debilitating the condition is – and the devastating consequences of not receiving appropriate medical care or support.

Thank you, Jenni for sharing your story – I am sure it will help countless other women.

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It was all very exciting and a bit scary seeing that positive test. We had 9 months to prepare for the biggest change in our lives. I dreamed of 9 months of buying all things baby related, spending hours browsing all those tiny clothes in the shops, planning and decorating the nursery. I envisioned, wandering (waddling) proudly around with an ever growing bump. These dreams lasted all of 2 weeks.

At 6 weeks my nausea started, creeping at first, a meal that I just didn’t fancy, feeling extra travel sick in the car, slowly it got worse. I was actually glad at first; didn’t sickness mean baby was healthy? And it would, of course, pass by 12 weeks, I could handle vague nausea for a few weeks. Piece of cake.

Wrong.

By week 10 I had been in bed for over a week throwing up most of what managed to pass my lips, which was rapidly becoming only sips of water. Everything smelt awful, the house, the outside, my husband. Any movement of the bed and the nausea got worse, most of the time I didn’t even have the strength to make it to the toilet. I gave up trying and lay there with a sick bowl next to me and my pockets filled with small plastic bags when I finally did start making the long journey down the stairs, sitting on each step and waiting, waiting until I know I wasn’t going to throw up – on this step at least, until I eventually reached the bottom and crawled on to the sofa.

I made the marathon trip to the Doctors a few times, sat in the waiting room swaying backwards and forwards, grey, praying I could last without throwing up in the middle of the waiting room. After two sets of medication which had done nothing to ease the nausea or the vomiting, I saw a different Dr who signed me off work for a month with Hyperemesis Gravidarum, told me the meds wouldn’t help so I should stop them and that all I needed was bedrest.

WRONG.

Most days I lost count of the amount of times I vomited. I couldn’t brush my teeth to get rid of the metallic taste which made the nausea worse because the thought of putting anything in my mouth made me sick. Some days I didn’t even go to the loo because there was no fluid – I realise now that I should have probably gone back to the Dr’s but I was too busy surviving each day.

I lay day after day, week after week staring blankly at a muted television not caring what was on an on my worse days hoping I would fall asleep and not wake up. I existed in a world where everything made me sicker – sounds, smells, bright colours, movement. Being awake was torture, only sleep offered brief, disturbed respite and I fell asleep knowing I would have to wake up and live through the hell again tomorrow.

One day I had made the effort to get up and have a shower, with my husband’s help, and I can remember vividly begging him hysterically to promise me that no matter what I would say in the future that we should never get pregnant again, ever. I remember most days wondering if I should carry on (was this a sign that I shouldn’t be a mum?). And most days I wondered if I could carry on – I know that some women feel they have to have terminations due to HG because they cannot cope, especially when they have children to look after and need to work. It was an awful thing to even consider in the darkest corners of your mind, terminating a healthy baby but it does cross your mind…

Finally, after what seemed like years, the vomiting started to happen less often and I could boast going X amount of hours without throwing up.   Then I went 24 hours without vomiting, it felt like such a milestone. At around the 19 week mark my vomiting was only occasional and stayed that way for the rest of my 41 week pregnancy.

The nausea however did not fade, it did not get better, it stayed with me until my daughter, Boo, was born at 41 weeks. The only respite was when I was sleeping, and the second I woke it hit me instantly again. Food tasted wrong and although I wasn’t throwing up it was still an effort to eat, and I could only stomach very few foods. Being nauseous all of the time zapped my strength and I felt exhausted and had to start taking iron tablets, which in turn made my nausea worse.

I had to force myself to eat every two hours otherwise the nausea became overwhelming, and I found it very difficult to function, I had returned to work at this point. The weight I had lost, about 10kg, slowly returned as my pregnancy progressed and my daughter was born healthy – which I am immensely grateful for.

I feel the guilt of taking those tablets even though it was only for a short time (especially after the Dr told me I shouldn’t be taking them). I feel the guilt of failure – feeling like my body had failed me – like I wasn’t up to the task of becoming a mum, a warning that I was doomed to fail from before I really started. These feelings not helped by the constant stream of advice…You are just pregnant not ill … Have you tried ginger (have you tried throwing up ginger?) … It’s all in your head … Morning sickness goes at (insert arbitrary week here)… Go for a walk…

I was essentially left to suffer, and because I had neither the energy nor the presence of mind at the time I didn’t argue or research any other options… this makes me feel angry and upset. There are lots of treatment options for HG, safe treatment options. No woman should be left to suffer. There have been deaths due to HG related complications in the last ten years in the UK. No ginger biscuit is going to solve HG… proper medical treatment is needed not well-meaning, outdated advice.

It’s difficult for me to reconcile what should have been one of the happiest times of my life with the worse experience I have ever gone through. I cannot help but feel angry that I essentially ‘missed out’ on pregnancy, a lot of this anger is directed to Drs who should have given me the correct treatment and towards my own body for letting me down and failing me so miserably.

I have lost count of the amount of times I was told ‘It’s worth it’ whilst I was pregnant. And if I look at it like that, yes it was. Boo is worth it, worth every single second of the nausea and the vomiting.   But I very firmly believe that it wasn’t necessary to pay that price. Boo and I didn’t have to go through this if I had been given the proper treatment.

Once I gave birth the nausea faded and it thankfully became just a memory, one easily forgotten in the whirlwind of newborn baby, sleepless nights, feeding and nappy changes. Sadly, HG has had some lasting effects: my newly developed obsession about hands being completely clean at all times; food if I even think it could be off has to go in the bin, even if there is no reason to think it would be out of date; certain foods I still cannot eat; and catching a sickness bug a couple of months ago was a horribly traumatic experience and caused major panic.

I live with the constant fear. Fear of feeling sick, of being sick and of feeling as helpless and worthless as I did when I was pregnant. There is also the guilt about what damage may have been done to Boo, the grieving for a pregnancy which I never ‘had’ (which sounds silly when I write it down), the jealousy when I hear other ladies are pregnant (which I have been assured is common by other HG survivors but I still feel ashamed to be listening to the green eyed monster). I am also grieving for a baby I will probably never have, a sibling for Boo. I am not sure I am strong enough to go through HG again, I am not sure I would be able to look after myself and Boo.

I try hard not to feel guilty that I am probably not going to give Boo a sibling (even though in my heart of hearts I think she should have a sibling). I quietly grieve for my pregnancy and the baby that never will be. At times I feel ridiculous for feeling like this, selfish even, because I have Boo, she is my world, she should be my focus and nothing else. And I do count my blessings, I have Boo, she is healthy and we have a happy life with my husband and as a stay at home mum which means Boo and I have all the time in the world together.

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Life After…Learning To Be A Mother Without My Mum

This week’s Life After…guest post comes from Suzanne, who blogs at Crumbs on the Carpet. Suzanne’s beautiful post talks about life after the sad death of her mum from cancer, and learning to be a mother herself without her own mum. It is an emotional read. Thank you Suzanne for sharing your story and talking so openly about living with grief.

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November 2014 marked the two year anniversary of the day I lost my brave, wonderful mum to cancer. A day you never really think will happen. But it did. And she was gone. It was a very strange kind of anniversary, if you can call it that – I wasn’t sure whether to do something to acknowledge it, or to shut myself away and wallow in my own grief…instead I chose to just go to work and get on with the day, because I really didn’t know what else to do.

Back in October 2012, when we found out that mum’s cancer had returned and this time it was terminal, the overriding question I had was ‘how long?’.  Of course, no one can ever tell you exactly long but that’s the one thing that was burning in my brain. How long have you got left? How long before you leave me? They said she had an aggressive tumour in the psoas muscle (bottom of the back/hip), which in turn had blocked the function of the kidneys. She had an operation to have stents inserted to support the her kidneys, and they thought they had caught them in time, but just six short weeks later, she was gone.

Suzanne, aged about 7 or 8, with her Mum.

Suzanne, aged about 7 or 8, with her Mum.

I think I started grieving for mum weeks before she passed – I don’t know why, perhaps it was my way of preparing to lose her. We never really spoke about what was coming in detail; she always told us that she had to deal with it in her own way and she was so strong and brave during those last weeks. What she did tell me was that although she didn’t like what was happening, she had made her peace with it and she wasn’t scared. But then that was mum all over; strong, practical and a fighter – when life dealt her a bad hand (and she’d had her fair share of struggles in the past), she dug deep, picked herself up and carried on. I guess in her eyes this was no different.

The weeks after she died were very strange – it was like living a semi-dream state, where your heart feels the awful reality of what’s just happened, but your head carries you on. I had an 18-month-old to think of, I had work to go back to and in a very surreal way, life just goes on. Christmas came and went, and we all went through the motions as a family, not really sure what else to do.

Just eight weeks after she passed, I found out I was pregnant with my youngest son. I have no doubt in my mind that he was a gift from her, the circle of life, one-in-one-out. So the first year of life without her went by in a haze of pregnancy and I gave birth to my beautiful angel baby just 11 months after losing my mum. It was such a bittersweet day and I wish with all my heart that she could have been there.

I thought I’d be a bit of a mess in the weeks after giving birth, hormones flying all over the place and grief rearing its ugly head with a vengeance, but to my surprise, I just got through it. I think I just battened down the hatches and got on with it (sound familiar?), because, quite frankly, what else can you do? Falling apart wasn’t an option.

So here I am, two-and-a-half years later and I think the magnitude of losing mum, having a baby and all of the milestones in-between are starting to sink in. My sense of loss and missing is more acute now than it was in those early days. My heart aches when I think of how much I want to tell her, to share with her and how desperately I wish she could meet her new grandson. I hate the fact that I can’t just pick up the phone and talk to her and ask for advice. I hate the fact that my sons won’t know how wonderful their nana was. And I hate the fact that I can never fully enjoy my own Mother’s Day with the boys, because it’s always tinged with sadness.

Suzanne and her Mum, approx. 2008

Suzanne and her Mum, approx. 2008

Of course there are so many thing that I’m grateful for too; that I got to have her as my mother for 32 years, that she taught me to be the person I am today, that she loved me unconditionally and I grew up knowing I was truly cherished and that I belonged. Something that I will make sure my sons know as they grow up too.

I don’t know if these things get easier, all I do know is that you have to slowly come to terms with living a new kind of normal. Things will never be the same without her in my life, but I have to believe she’s still here, watching over me and making sure everything will be alright. Grief is a strange beast, and often it will creep up and overwhelm you in the blink of an eye. Allowing yourself time to feel the pain and process your loss is important – and I’m only fully realising the extent of this two-and-a-half years on.

I wasn’t even sure whether or not to write this post initially, but I’m glad I did. I guess the point of it is to mark the fact that she lived and died – to talk about her out loud and remember that I still have a mother, she’s just not here right now.

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If you would like to tell your Life After…story, please get in touch – headspace-perspective@outlook.com