I knew I was having a baby, I knew it would involve labour and I knew it would probably leave me quite sore. I didn’t know quite how devastating the experience would be on me emotionally when you are in fact made to feel like a tick box exercise.
I had a good pregnancy on the whole, typical 6-7 weeks of morning sickness, some low blood pressure thrown in the 2nd trimester then a glowing third. It was a long 42 week pregnancy, in which I agreed to an induction. Of all the people I knew to have them actually had fairly straight forward experiences from their tales, so I went into it quite happy that I was finally going to meet my baby.
The day came and I was taken to the induction ward, I was excited. We waited 4 hours in a bay for anything to happen as delivery was very busy that day. A midwife came around 4pm and administered a pessary to try and start the induction process. I remember thinking how little conversation there actually was around this when it happened; it felt just like a part of their routine, their tick box.
Fast forward 16 hours to breakfast time and I am starting to feel some tightening’s. I felt great; I had some breakfast, put on some make up and just happily bounced around on the birthing ball like a space hopper for as long as I could manage it. My waters
went and I finally felt like something was happening.
A few hours in and things were really ramping up. My back was in absolute agony. The tightening’s felt fine around the stomach, but honestly I felt like someone adult sized was kicking me in my lower back. I called the midwife for advice. A stone faced woman came towards my bed, ordered I get onto the bed and performed what was the most agonising vaginal examination.
I screamed out loud, to which, to this day, I remember her rolling her eyes at me followed by the words, ‘You need to calm down ’ in the most bored sounding voice. ‘Run a bath then I want you to think about what pain relief you want’. We just did what we were told.
I sat in this tiny bath attached to the induction ward, when she came in with a folder of pain relief definitions for us to browse through, like we were picking something off a lunch menu. I couldn’t even stomach the thought of anything as I just wanted to focus on my breathing and getting comfortable with this back pain. No advice was given about the back pain still and she
said to, ‘Stay in the bath and relax’. Great.
All I can say is thank goodness 12pm came and it was shift changeover, I just hoped a more compassionate midwife was on her way. In walked the midwife who instigated the pessary.
I just cried, where were all the ones you saw on one born that smiled and rubbed your back? After telling her about my back pain, she decided to give me some pain relief and off she went for about what was 10 to 15 minutes. She walked back in with an injection and said, ‘I’m going to give you something to give you some rest’. Great, but I never questioned it. It was a shot of pethidine. I calmed down pretty quick and managed to get some rest. But what the hell was in this stuff? I wish so much I had asked more questions. I wish my husband had. But we just didn’t know.
The next couple of hours came at a blur; somehow I’d made it to 10cm and was taken to delivery where I was finally met by a midwife who was reassuring, lovely, warm, caring, all the things I needed.
She stayed by my side holding my hand the whole time as my baby was delivered by forceps and a total of 9 people were in the room. All there
with no consent from me and all there to learn what happens in this tick box situation. Post birth for the first couple of hours I felt better and had the loveliest healthcare assistant help me shower and feed me toast and tea. Amazing what oxytocin can do to
blur things for a while!
Then day two comes to back to mind. I’m shaking, I’m paler than a ghost, I can stand up without wanting to pass out. I’m told from my blood tests I’m anaemic from the blood loss at delivery. I get told the amount of blood I lost and what signs to look out for if I see clotting. That morning I went for my first wee and passed a clot the size of an organ. I nearly fainted again at the sight of it; it wasn’t what the tick box said it should be like. I passed it to a midwife, she said, ‘I will take this and examine it’, go back to bed’. And that was the end of it.
No don’t worry, we will make sure you are ok, it’s common after assisted deliveries to bleed this way. Nothing. Not even a bob your head around the door to say, no worries it was all ok! The next day I pleaded to go home. The whole time I was there I was made to feel a burden on everyone. The whole time I was on that postnatal ward not one person came and put their arms on my shoulders and said, ‘it’s been rough, so lets have 5 minutes to chat about what happened’. I am sat typing this and welling up as I think back to just how lonely and terrifying those first two days were and what this now means for my mental health today.
I missed the first 12 weeks emotionally of my sons entrance to the world from trying to process what had happened. I was diagnosed with anxiety and PTSD as a result of this experience. I still suffer panic attacks when I go to hospitals. The smell, the ward signs, the beds, seeing a wheelchair – it just all puts me on edge. I went for a de-brief about this birth a year later. The ward manager and a midwife sat their and read out my notes. Notes all in a language and format I couldn’t access. None it meant anything to me.
I remember asking, ‘why did nobody explain anything to me or my husband? ’To which she ignored me. I remember I asked it again, the ward manager said, ‘we’re sorry’. I don’t know if she meant it. My tick box isn’t the new mother, it’s what was done to the woman before she even began to be a mother. I have to stress this obviously isn’t all obstetric and postnatal wards.
I went on to have the most incredible experience at a different hospital. But it shouldn’t be any. The vulnerability of a new parent from the moment they get that positive test needs to be treated with compassion, an ability to build trust and a knowledge of who to turn to, what to ask and where to go without feeling judged and like a burden. We are only going to build this culture if we begin looking beyond the proformas and talk. Using voices, using language that is personalised and making sure new parents feel safe. It breaks my heart my little boy will be 7 next month and his birthday will always be bittersweet for me and the way it changed me. But what he has brought me in return is an ability to know you can fight for what you love and make things ok, and we’ve fought this together my beautiful boy xxx