Thursday, 13 April 2017

My Birth Experience and PTSD

I tried to think of a witty title to go with this piece, but ultimately decided to go with a straight forward approach. Writing it makes me cringe a little; it's awfully personal, and really awkward, but not writing it is perhaps worse.

I had a complicated pregnancy. With a background of blood clots and a heart condition, I was already at moderate risk when I began my journey with little Eric. I was quickly escalated to high risk when he started having episodes of reduced fetal movement. Eventually, this would lead to a scan that would indicate that his growth was not progressing, and that he'd have to be delivered, fast. So it was decided that I'd have an induction.

Now before I go into some of the details of this story, I'd like to clarify that this is not just my perspective. This is the perspective shared by the hospital as well, who have, to their credit, admitted wrong doing in so much as they can without opening themselves up for a lawsuit. I gave birth at a local hospital, which is currently under review for issues in handling high risk patients safely in accordance to their risk category.

What should have happened, it later came to light, was that when Eric stopped growing, due to my risk category, a C section should have been ordered immediately. I was too high risk for an induction.

However I was given an induction. But during the induction, I should still have been listed as high risk, and instead what happened was midwife led care. This would be ideal for those in low risk scenarios, but I should have had a doctor watching me regularly.

As a result, I went through my labour and delivery without adequate pain relief, without a heart monitor (even while my condition flared), and without appropriate review. My delivery ended after three and a half days of labour with an emergency C section. And then the risk profile of my child was inadequately addressed, and as a result he struggled to feed for several days without intervention.

That's the gist of what happened, without going into a great amount of detail. I don't want to write out a huge amount of specifics, because the story has left me raw. I want to talk a little bit about PTSD.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is largely something we think about when we hear about victims of war and natural disasters. It's not something we contemplate for something as common as childbirth (or if you have before, I salute you). That's one of the main reasons I'm writing this; there isn't enough visibility for this sort of situation, and it needs to be talked about. I'm not a huge fan of list style articles, but in this case, I want to make note of a few things that are important to me as a woman with PTSD after birth, and which hopefully will help you think about the women in your life who have given birth, and what they may be experiencing.

1) I wish people would stop denying my trauma. One of the things I hear most often is "well your baby is here and he's healthy and that's the main thing." I think this is said out of shock, because someone has asked me how we are getting on and how my labour was, and I've answered honestly (grinning and saying it was all great hurts me to my core). The issue here is that I know that Eric is healthy. I am overjoyed that my baby is healthy; I had to face the possibility of losing him when I found out he wasn't growing, and again when my concerns weren't being listened to during labour, and AGAIN after delivery. But my trauma isn't any less important; it is so, so hard to be a new mum, loving my baby, while dealing with flashbacks that keep me (and my partner) from sleeping. Which leads me to my next point...

2) Don't ask me how I am or how it was unless you are genuinely prepared to handle the answer, and please respect my response if I say I don't want to talk about it right now. I struggle daily with intrusive thoughts, and sometimes talking about my experience brings these to the surface. I don't want to blank out or check out when I'm with my child, so I have to act defensively to ensure that I continue to provide him with a stable situation. This is really one that applies to all people who have given birth; birth experiences are so different, and new mums (and dads) are dealing with so much that asking them how they are without a genuine interest is not only exhausting but also guilt inducing.

The truth is that sometimes I'm doing great. And then sometimes I am shaking and terrified and unable to help myself. I don't want to feel guilty for not having everything be sunshine and joy at this stage in my life.

3) Please don't suggest things that worked for your/your wife's/your friend's very normal pregnancy and delivery. Yoga is not going to fix my situation. Neither is a coffee group. What will help is medication and therapy and a supportive community around me, giving me the space I need to heal safely. The same goes for comparing your situation to mine; unless you really have been through a similar scenario, please don't tell me how I'll be fine because you were; its an inadequate response that denies the validity of my experience.

4) Please don't tell me that things only get worse from here. To be honest, things have only gotten better since I delivered, and that's WITH PTSD. My pregnancy was frightening, my delivery was traumatic, and ultimately, I am so damn happy to have my child right now, and happy about everything that he does, that I'm not interested in your tales of woe about how "the good part is over". It assumes that I had a really good part to start with. I didn't. I will, though; I have a baby who is alive and beautiful and those good times are flowing in every time I'm in control of my situation and he's there.

5) Please respect my and my partner's need for space. This doesn't mean that you can't call us (though please, not after 9pm!) or that you shouldn't invite us out. But understand that we've been through a lot as a family, and we're trying to heal and get into a routine. Often times being with each other feels the best to us at the moment. Don't take unreturned calls and texts personally; I really do appreciate the contact, but I'm not always prepared to respond.

Ok, enough of the lists now (they really do drive me insane!). This is the first time I've managed to write about this, so it's not exactly what I'd like it to be. But it's a start to talking and healing, and so I'm proud of this, If you or someone you know is struggling with PTSD or post natal emotional disorders, please encourage contact with a health visitor or doctor, It is so important to reach out, and to keep reaching out, until someone listens and offers help.

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