Trigger Warning: This birth story involves birth related psychological trauma, inverted uterus, haemorrhage and PTSD. If you are triggered by these topics you may wish to skip this blog or read it once you have support available. If you are seeking support for your birth trauma, you may wish to contact our Peer Support Service.
Here is my story that I’d love to share as part of Birth Trauma Awareness Week.
My pregnancy was uneventful, just another “normal” pregnancy. I was extremely fortunate. I hardly suffered from morning sickness. I attended the prenatal and birthing classes at the hospital, which I felt provided me some great resources at the time. I went into pregnancy and birth with the mindset of having no expectations. I didn’t have a birthing plan. I’d never experienced pregnancy and so it felt odd to me to try and plan for something that I felt like I’d have no control over. My birthing plan was to place my trust in and be guided by my medical team when it was time for labour. So I focused on my health during pregnancy. I did all the things; pre-natal pilates, aquamums, I was seeing a naturopath, took all the supplements and I practiced yoga and meditation every week right up until I was induced. I took all the advice and tips provided by the birthing classes very seriously. I hired a TENS machine, purchased all sorts of physio props, practiced my pelvic floor exercises and even slept with a garbage bag underneath my sheets for weeks in case my waters broke. I was doing everything I could to feel prepared and to have a sense of control over a situation that ultimately I knew I would never have control over.
I was 40.5 weeks in May 2016, when I was induced with my first son. I remember a lot of things from that day in May. I remember my last meal before I went into hospital. I remember asking my husband to take the last photo of me pregnant in the birthing suite. I remember feeling the nervous butterflies in my stomach. Because I was afraid. I didn’t really know what to expect. I remember being induced and then going for a walk around the hospital with back pain thinking, this is odd, I feel like I’m getting my period. I remember saying goodbye to my husband, only to go into labour an hour or so later and the nurses having to call him to come back. I was in labour for around six hours. I used all my props and gadgets, I tried my breathing exercises but the pain was so intense that I struggled to regulate my breathing. That was until I made friends with my green whistle. I knew that it wasn’t doing anything for the pain but the sweet sound of the whistle helped me regulate my breath. I felt so out of it, so out of my brain, so out of control. I don’t even remember having an episiotomy. All I remember is being told to stop pushing, even though my body just wanted to keep pushing. I remember our son being born and him being placed on my chest. We had kept his gender a surprise for us to share and that didn’t even seem relevant at the time.
I was just so in awe of this little human being that we had created. I still had to deliver my placenta, something I completely forgot about. I didn’t realise that it hadn’t come out yet. But I wasn’t phased, I’d been through the worst part and this was just the end now. Our baby was here and we could now celebrate together as a family. But in the midst of this moment, I began to feel an immense pain. The burning was so incredibly intense that I couldn’t help but scream. No, this wasn’t right. There was something wrong. A sense of panic began to fill the air in the birthing suite, like a black cloud descending before a storm. I could feel my obstetrician’s fist frantically trying to push my uterus back in, apologising as he desperately tried to reverse the nightmare that was beginning to unfold before his eyes. My uterus had inverted and I was haemorrhaging. The only option was to be rushed to theatre. I had forgotten that I was still holding my son until the midwife gently peeled him off my chest. There would be no opportunity to have that all important bonding moment, to give the first feed that they talk about in birthing classes. There would be no photo in the birthing suite. There would be no calls to family to announce the good news. No one talks about this in birthing classes. I later learned that 1 in 1,200 to 1 in 8,000 deliveries in Australia can result in a uterine inversion, and as it turns out, I’d discover a lot more as time went on.
It would take me a subsequent pregnancy and two and a half years to realise that I was living in a world where my body-mind was so out of alignment. The fogginess, the numbness, the frustration, the feeling of being so out of touch with myself. When I reflect on these years, I feel as though I can only now begin to name some of the feelings that I was experiencing and at times, it is difficult to remember that time of my life. That is the nature of trauma. We naively think that just because we have addressed and healed our physical wounds, that the emotional and psychological ones will not impact our lives to the same degree. Why would we think that by leaving an emotional and psychological wound raw and wide open that it would not fester and poison our whole organism just as a physical wound would?
I hadn’t realised the extent of my emotional and psychological wounds. I thought I had “dealt with it pretty well.” Surely, after surviving two and a half years and raising two babies, I was fine. But it wasn’t until I found out about the Australasian Birth Trauma Association (ABTA) and signed up to become a Peer2Peer volunteer, that I began to feel “not quite right.” I became aware of the ABTA support group on Facebook and read about other womens’ stories, about their emotional and psychological struggles that in many cases manifested into PTSD/PND diagnosis.
As I poured over these stories, I started to wonder, what was wrong with me? Surely, after such a horrendous experience I too would have similar symptoms, flash backs, severe anxiety, insomnia and nightmares. However, I had nothing but tears; I could not explain. Looking back now, that nothingness, was everything. It was numbness and the complete dissociation of my body-mind. I just didn’t have the vocabulary to express it. All I knew was that I didn’t feel right in myself. Before commencing the Peer2Peer mentor training, I decided I’d see a hypnotherapist that was recommended to me. I felt I needed to prove to myself that I had dealt with my own birth trauma before taking on such an important role. I wasn’t offered a formal debrief or encouraged to see a counsellor after my birth trauma. As a result, I felt it was something that I didn’t need. The stigma around seeing a psychotherapist or a psychologist had also deterred me from seeking one. I saw my inexplicable bursts of emotion as being normal, putting them down to hormones and motherhood. And yes, it was normal, but not for the reasons that I initially thought. It was a normal response for a person that had been through a traumatic experience.
The hypnotherapist that I saw provided an initial three hour consultation and then performed hypnotherapy as a separate three hour consult. I cried for the duration of the initial consult. I had never opened up to anyone about my life. It was like I had pulled the loose thread on a sweater and as I did, a lifetime of unresolved trauma unravelled. After my hypnotherapy treatment, I felt a lot lighter and happier and I realised that it might be a good time to focus on my own physical and mental wellbeing. So I decided to postpose taking on a role as a Peer2Peer volunteer.
I struggled a lot with managing period pain and symptoms much of my life, I was told by my ob/gyn that after having children they’d probably get better, but I found they just got worse. My iron stores were depleted and my immune system shot. I was prescribed the contraceptive pill by my ob/gyn but I wasn’t keen on taking it because I wanted to understand the root cause of my symptoms and why they were getting worse. No one, it seemed, could provide answers. I returned to my GP who suggested the only other alternatives to help manage my symptoms were to take anti-inflammatory drugs or to have a Mirena IUD inserted, none of which appealed to me. Feeling as though I didn’t have much choice, I decided to take the anti-inflammatory drugs. I hadn’t even finished one course of treatment and ended up with gastritis. I struggled for some months until the gastritis healed. I changed my diet and took a million naturopathic supplements, but the low iron stores and the heavy and painful periods did not improve. I started to notice other symptoms that were also worsening; anal fissures, psoriasis, extreme PMS with angry outbursts and every week or so I’d be sick with a cold or gastro or something else. It was a constant roller coaster of illness and I was tired, physically and emotionally. My body was clearly in a state of stress despite all the yoga and meditation I was doing. I was about to bite the bullet and book myself in to get a Mirena but decided to try a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doctor instead as a last natural alternative. I had nothing to lose.
I’ll admit, in the beginning I was sceptical. I wasn’t sure how TCM would work, but then again, I wasn’t sure how a Mirena would work either. After a few cycles of acupuncture treatment I began to notice a significant improvement in my period symptoms. I could hardly believe the results, but it gave me the strength to take further action and investigate the root cause of my symptoms further. I decided to seek a second opinion from a GP that specialised in women’s health in the hope that they would understand the history of my birth trauma, and I hoped they would be open to alternative treatments such as TCM. I spent hours researching and calling on resources from my pelvic health physiotherapist and my general physiotherapist who’d been following my journey since my birth trauma. I had mapped out my symptoms, collated my medical records, armed myself with knowledge and questions and booked an extended consultation with a women’s specialist GP. I remember sitting in the waiting room, my heart was racing so fast I felt as though it was going to jump out of my chest. It was almost as if my body was trying to tell me to get out of there. My body was right, I should have escaped whilst I had the chance.
Within ten minutes of the consultation I was undone. Having to explain what a uterine inversion was to a medical professional and feeling as though I had to justify the severity of my injuries is what undid me. I spent the rest of the consultation feeling numb and traumatised. I felt like my soul had left my body and my nervous system, already working at maximum capacity, was completely overwhelmed. Rushing out of the medical centre, I got into my car and the tears just flowed. Sitting there in the car park, I felt alone and humiliated. Perhaps my experience wasn’t as severe as I had thought? As my shadow of doubt started creeping in, I knew I needed to seek help. I turned to my TCM practitioner to recommend a GP for a third opinion. To say that I was terrified to try again was an understatement, but deep down I knew that I wasn’t going to get any better if I didn’t. It was matter of survival and I’m so glad I persisted, because I don’t think I’d be here writing my story now.
I don’t think the GP that I saw that day understood how much it meant to me to feel as though I was being heard, to be treated like a human being, to be received with kindness and compassion and to have the heart to recognise that I needed more support than I realised. On her recommendation, I began searching for a psychologist or psychotherapist. It was quite overwhelming at times, the stories would start and my self doubt would creep in, but I was determined to find someone that worked specifically with healing birth trauma. At the time, I was reading “The Body Keeps the Score” by psychiatrist, Bessel van der Kolk, a pioneer in the area of post-traumatic stress research. I believe this book made me realise that my body was “keeping the score”. All the symptoms that I was experiencing since my birth trauma aligned with everything that Bessel (as I fondly refer to him) spoke about in his book around PTSD. Whilst to this day I don’t believe I have PTSD (nor do I believe that anyone should be labelled with PTSD), I do believe I sustained a psychological and emotional injury from my experience that wasn’t managed following my birth trauma. Maybe I wouldn’t have suffered as I did, maybe I wouldn’t be writing this story. All I know is that I have done the greatest service to myself and my family by recognising that something wasn’t right within me, seeking to educate myself, and having the courage and conviction to find answers regardless of the kicks and blows that I sustained along the way. It took some time to find a suitably qualified therapist (alarming considering 1 in 3 women experience birth trauma in Australia), but once I did, I mustered the courage to make an appointment.
It has been 11 months since I started seeing a psychotherapist and it has been the best decision I have made. It has been a difficult road, but one that has enabled me to explore and gently peel back layers and layers to rediscover the true essence of myself. I have tried Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE), Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy and parts work. In addition to consistently practicing yoga and meditation, I have opened myself up to many other mindfulness and healing practices such as yoga nidra, reiki, Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP), emotional freedom technique (EFT) and Havening, all of which are now at the ready to be called forth at any time I need. I have learnt what it feels like to inhabit my body again and I have learnt so much about myself that now I am discovering my true calling. I don’t believe that I experienced what I did to stay silent. I am here to share my story and my journey to help support and guide other women and their families. Writing my story has taken me several weeks and cycles of breakdowns, pausing, reflection, sitting in discomfort, digesting, processing and starting again. It has been difficult to re-live the journey I have been on. At times, it has been completely overwhelming, but also healing in so many ways. When I reflect on what I have endured, in the last four years, I honestly can’t believe how much I have grown. Looking back, I remember sitting in the car park of that medical centre thinking “I don’t think I can survive this pain any longer”, but I did, and you can too. That’s the funny thing, when it comes to survival, we think we can’t, but we can because our resilience is so strong, despite the pain, the suffering and the stories that we like to tell ourselves. There is always light in the midst of darkness, even if it seems like it’s just the tiniest little speckle. Processing trauma is as messy as it is beautiful and with the right support and resources there comes the possibility to learn, grow, heal and live again. My journey is far from over. Everyday brings with it a new challenge, but I am ready to welcome them with open arms and an open heart.