PTSD after labour
I didn’t know quite how devastating the experience would be – Aimee Barrett’s Story
I knew I was having a baby, I knew it would involve labour and I knew it would leave me quite sore. What I didn’t realise was how devastating the experience would be on me. Both emotionally and mentally, it is exhausting when you’re made to feel like a tick box exercise.
I had a good pregnancy on the whole. Of course I had the usual few weeks of morning sickness. 2nd trimester I had low blood pressure followed by a glowing third trimester. It was a long 42 week pregnancy, in which I agreed to an induction. I knew a few people who had opted for this with fairlystraight forward experiences. From their tales I went into it quite happy and confident that I was finally going to meet my baby.
The day came and I headed to the induction ward, feeling 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 was around this. It felt like part of their routine, another tick box exercise.
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 happily bounced around on the birthing ball like a space hopper. My waters went and I finally felt like something was happening.
A few hours in and things were ramping up. My back was in absolute agony. The tightening’s felt fine around the stomach, but I felt like someone adult sized was kicking me in my lower back. I called the midwife for advice. A stoney faced woman came towards me, ordered me onto the bed and performed the most agonising vaginal examination. I screamed out loud, to which she rolled her eyes at me and muttered ‘You need to calm down’ in a bored sounding voice. ‘Run a bath then I want you to think about what pain relief you want’. We did what we were instructed. I sat in this tiny bath when she came in with a folder of pain relief definitions for us to browse through, like we were picking a lunch menu. I couldn’t stomach the thought of anything as I wanted to focus on my breathing and getting comfortable with the back pain. No advice was givenabout 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 hoped for a more compassionate midwife was on her way. In walked the midwife who instigated the pessary. I 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 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 didn’t know.
The next couple of hours came at a blur; somehow I’d made it to 10cm and taken to delivery. I was 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, with 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 who helped me shower and fed me toast and tea. Amazing what oxytocin can do to blur things for a while!
Then day two comes. I’m shaking, I’m paler than a ghost, I can’t 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 almost 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 felt a burden on everyone. During my time on the postnatal ward, nobody came and put their arms on my shoulders and said, ‘It’s been rough, lets have 5 minutes to chat about what happened’.
I am sat writing this and welling up as I think back to 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 emotionallyof my sons entrance to the world from trying to process what had happened. I was diagnosedwith 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 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 of 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.
What I wish could happen
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 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. There should be 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 personalisedand 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 for 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