Childbirth Trauma - Recovery

Content Warning: This article contains a recount of a traumatic birth which may trigger some people. 

Research has long held that redheads need more anaesthetic than individuals who don’t have red hair. It is also widely known that surgeons dread operating on redheads and given my own experience, I absolutely understand why.

I am the mother of six children, all born via C-Section. It was deemed necessary that I should birth by caesarean given the size of my pelvis on X Ray, this was back in the day when X-rays were taken to determine a woman’s suitability for natural childbirth if she was past her due date.

C-section number five was by far one of the biggest tests of my life. My consultant anaesthetist failed to show up and was replaced by an anaesthetic resident in training. The spinal anaesthetic was commenced and on initial testing all of my abdomen appeared to be numb.

However as soon as the scalpel made the first cut into my body
I felt it, every stretch made, every pull I knew it wasn’t right, this had not happened with my previous 4 C-sections. Panicked, I looked to the anaesthetist for help and whilst he looked concerned, he offered no solution. 

I was wide awake and all, but one segment of my abdomen was numbed by the spinal anaesthetic. My midwife and theatre nurse alerted the obstetricians, but they needed to continue with the surgery, I remember trying to kick them away but with no success. 

I realised in that moment there was no help coming for me and I had to take control myself. I squeezed my husband’s hand so tight he said I nearly cut his skin with my fingernails. I closed my eyes and prayed for help and then went into a deep meditative state. During that time two powerful scenes of human resilience came to me and gave me courage to endure the rest of the surgery. In one scene I saw a battlefield with slain soldiers in a field staying alive till they were rescued and the other was a scene from a scripture which resonated with me and gave me hope. I knew then I could get through the pain, and I did. To this day, I still have no memory of seeing my baby after he was born and before he was transferred to the nursery.

Ten days after baby 5 was born I was home and was a full time Mum to five kids under the age of 8. I functioned well, everyone in the household was happy and healthy. I rarely thought about my traumatic experience in the operating theatre.

Until the day I was triggered, that’s the thing I soon learnt about a trigger, it sneaks up on you, you can’t control it, maybe you don’t even know it’ll hit you until it does, until it’s too late and your mind is trapped in a toxic cycle of anxiety and anger where everything is magnified.

The trigger happened about three months after my ‘incomplete’ anaesthetic. At the time, I had been reading a newspaper article written by a woman who experienced a similar surgery trauma to myself. She recounted  “when the scalpel cut through her, it felt like a hot knife cutting through butter” that was it, I resonated with that sensation and suddenly all the emotions and memory flooded back to me, my life fell apart and the PTSD symptoms became very debilitating. 

I felt scattered, my memory started failing me, I had little ability to concentrate, I was hyper anxious and absolutely everything became amplified in my mind. I couldn’t sleep, during the night I’d tip-toe around the pitch-black house and sneak into my children’s bedrooms holding my hand near their noses to make sure they were still breathing. I became hyper vigilant and hyper-anxious and I was making weekly visits to the family Dr with another ‘sick’ child. At the time I was needing dental work, however my dentist was unable to deaden my gum despite several attempts due to a mental block my brain had created though trauma. 

An intuitive friend was quick to identify something was amiss. She noticed my constant state of anxiety and need for support. Every Tuesday afternoon she would come to my house with her boys for a play date with mine and insisted I take some time out. This allowed me the time to get things into perspective and begin the recovery journey. I read books, I slept, I reflected, and I sought counselling and therapy from a holistic GP. The doctor I saw offered counselling as well as acupuncture and hypnosis. Two sessions of hypnotherapy enabled me to revisit the operating theatre and trauma of the birth visualising it on a screen in front of me, only this time I could turn the pain down with a dial. This was a turning point in my recovery, the memories were dimmed, and I felt order returning to my life and interestingly, my gum responded to the anaesthetic the very next visit to the dentist.

I had experienced unbearable pain, but I had found the strength to survive.

I know my experience of traumatic childbirth has positively impacted on my midwifery practise. My antennae alert me when caring for women who have experienced traumatic births or events. My empathy and compassion influence, my ability to connect, and make referrals to assist their recovery.

Recognition of the reality of childbirth trauma, early symptom identification and referral to specialised trauma specialists is vital to promote healing and recovery for women who have experienced childbirth trauma.

If you or anyone you now have experienced childbirth trauma or traumatic events, help is available, visit one of the websites below for contact details.

 

AUSTRALIA:  https://www.panda.org.au in 

UK:  https://www.birthtraumaassociation.org.uk/ 

USA:  http://pattch.org/ 

These organisations provide education and resources to help one recover from the impact of childbirth trauma on women and their families.