That you are experiencing Post Traumatic Stress following a traumatic birth can be hard to admit. First attempts to discuss the topic are often met by stern faces, disapproval and an obvious lack of understanding:
“Your babies are here, safe and sound –
That’s all that matters“.
Is it all that matters? I wish there was more understanding toward women experiencing birth trauma. I wish there was compassion. I wish people would only listen, if they can’t understand or support.
I went into hospital for a routine antenatal appointment on the 20th December, where I was ambushed by doctors who told me that my babies had to come NOW. My local hospital was unable to take me due to a lack of scbu cots, so I was transferred to another hospital hundreds of miles away. I was separated from my support network. I had nothing with me that I felt I needed, I didn’t have my hospital bag, my hypnobirthing CD or my birth plan. My mother was supposed to be there as my birth partner and doula but the hundreds of miles of snow-covered, congested A-roads between us meant I was to face this hospital without her.
When we arrived at the hospital, we were told there was no rush and they would be inducing me the next day. On the 21st December they gave me the pessary and left me to labour alone for the day and over night. A consultant came in and tried to convince me to have an elective c-section as “most twin births end in cesarean section anyway, even if one twin is born vaginally”. I refused this offer about 3 times before they left me to labour alone again. I didn’t see a midwife again until 22nd, when I was given another pessary to keep things moving.
I saw a consultant again on the 23rd who explained that I was to be put on the drip to attempt to speed up labour. Before they put the drip in, they wanted me prepped for theatre, “just in case”. A consultant came around and scanned the babies to make sure they were in a viable position for a vaginal birth, he again tried to convince me to have an elective c-section before the drip was put in. I refused.
I was again left to labour alone for most of the day with no pain relief needed as I was using hypnobirthing and all was going well. When at 6pm I hit transition and said that I felt I would need to push soon, I was told not to push. The room swarmed with various medical staff, midwives, doctors and HCAs. I was asked to come through to theatre to deliver my babies, “just in case”.
I consented to going through to theatre, but once we got there, I was told that I could not birth upright as they knew that I had wanted to. I had to be strapped down to a theatre table as it was a narrow table and they worried about me falling off. They strapped my arms down by my sides and my legs up in stirrups. I wanted to go back through to the delivery room but was told that once I was in theatre, I could not go back. I had wanted my birth filmed – but this was not allowed. I believe the reason they did not allow video footage to be recorded during my birth is because it would implicate them, as evidence of their involvement in the crime that proceeded:
By the time they allowed me to push a whole hour had passed and the urge had subsided. I found it very difficult to push in the position that I was – with my legs in stirrups that held my pelvis pointed upward. After a half hour of pushing, the doctors gave me an episiotomy without telling me they were going to or asking my consent. I asked what they were doing and why it was necessary and got no answer. I screamed at them to stop as they had not given me any anesthetic and the pain was unbearable. I still remember the sound of blunt scissors hacking through cardboard.
At this point I was terrified and was screaming at the doctors to stop, the pain was too much – the midwives tried to force gas and air on me. I know from previous birth experience that I don’t get on with gas and air. It makes me feel sick and clouds my mind. I was asked continually to, “just try it”. I explained that it makes me sick but they condescendingly told me it is the pain that makes me feel sick, not gas and air. I took one suck of gas and air and immediately felt like throwing up. I again started screaming, “I do not want gas and air, I do not want gas and air, take it away!” but they kept holding it to my mouth and telling me to suck on it.
I somehow managed to push my first twin out through all of this and immediately they started sewing me up – again with no anesthetic. Again, I repeatedly asked them what they were doing and screamed at them to stop, and they ignored me and carried on. I believe from the start they intended me to have a cesarean section for the second baby. I can think of no other reason why they would have stitched up the episiotomy before I had birthed the second baby.
The midwife began pushing forcibly on my tummy. I asked her what she was doing and why and she ignored me. I asked her to stop and she ignored me. I screamed at her to stop and I was told, “No, this is a crucial part of twin birth”. The pain from her pushing on my tummy was more excruciating than any other pain I have ever felt, I kept screaming at her to stop, and I was ignored.
Soon after this my placenta detached and I started to hemorrhage so I was given a general anesthetic.
I woke up in recovery, feeling sick to the bottom of my stomach. My baby had been born and I had missed it. I almost felt like there wasn’t really a twin pregnancy at all and it had all been some sort of con – a ploy – I gave birth to my first twin. I felt it, I remember it clearly. I saw her and heard her cry. I even held her for a brief moment before they whisked her off to SCBU, even as they were stitching me up from my unwanted, totally unnecessary episiotomy. Then as what I believe was a direct result of their intervention, they knocked me out for c-section with a general anesthetic and the next thing I knew I was in recovery and I was handed photos of two babies, but I’d only given birth to one. I only remembered giving birth to one.
I have no pictures of my third daughter’s birth. My husband had to leave the room. What was her birth like? I watched a cesarean birth on youtube to find out and ended up crying my heart out. Was she held after birth? Did she wait until I saw her the next day before she had any human contact? Was she ripped from my body, and then left alone in an incubator over night? She wasn’t even in the same incubator as her twin. She went from being inside me and with her sister, to alone with nothing surrounding her. That thought still tortures me.
I tried to talk to my family and husband about the way that I was feeling, and tried posting on an Internet forum for support, but I very quickly learned that birth trauma is a taboo topic. And I began my descent down a very slippery slope to post-traumatic stress disorder. I felt guilty, and the longer it went on, the greater my guilt became. I was afraid to tell anybody what I was going through.
For months after the birth, the experience occupied my thoughts almost constantly – day and night. It was like being pulled apart inside. I felt heart-broken. I experienced flash backs, involuntarily re-living the birth, and I’d torture myself with thinking up new and different ways in which I could have reacted to the situation to prevent the birth going the way that it did. I felt robbed of my natural birth. I felt betrayed by the doctors and midwives under who’s care I had been placed. I felt violated and abused.
More recently I am able to not think about it. I am able to shut the flashbacks out, I am able to push the thoughts from my mind. But when I do allow myself to think on it, or when I am offered unwelcome reminders: Whenever anybody asks about the birth, or when facebook reminds me that on this day in 2009 my facebook status was, “Looking forward to my natural twin hypnohomebirth!”, I break down. I can’t help it. It still hurts me deeply.
I am aware that many people do not agree with the term, “birth rape” and believe there is no way the two could be comparable. I have experienced both. What happened to me during the birth of my twins honestly effects me as deeply and as painfully as the other. I felt just as violated, just as abused. I had all control and any choice about what happened to my body taken from me. My cries of , “Stop! Please stop!” were ignored. My questions about the necessity of these interventions was ignored. I was physically restrained. I was forcibly cut, stitched, fingered, fisted, pushed, grabbed and hurt without my consent and despite my desperate pleas to stop. The long term effects so far prove to be just as painful and debilitating as those of rape. I am suffering PTSD as a result of the violations I was subjected to during the birth of my twins.