Healing My Birth Story, by Sandy

by Carla Sargent

It is just wonderful to say that I am now in a really good space about how my daughter’s birth went. It only took about 4 and a half years……

For a long time, I was in that mixed up space where I felt awful about how things had gone, grieved what didn’t happen that I wanted to happen for her, but felt that I had absolutely no right to feel aggrieved, because after all I had a healthy little girl, I hadn’t had any terrible side effects or after effects from her birth, other than how it made me feel. But oh, I felt horrible in my heart, like I had failed her….. and maybe failed myself too….

The first six to nine months after her birth I couldn’t talk about her birth without crying, but eventually I managed to get a handle on it, and eventually I COULD tell my birth story in a matter of fact way, and not tear up. So I figured I was all good. But once in a while, I found I still teared up when I talked about my daughter’s birth, so maybe I wasn’t all good after all. And actually, to be honest, I avoided talking about her birth. I regularly go to Home Birth meetings, even though my daughter’s birth was far from it, and I would bring up tit bits, where appropriate, to help support someone who was helped by hearing a slice of my story, a bit about caesarean, a bit about induction, a bit about things going totally opposite to the birth plan, and how amazing and awesome and stunningly healthy my daughter is, in spite of not passing through the birth canal, of not being gifted my micro biome, of not receiving her cord blood, and being stronger and healthier than my husband and me, so it was more than just her birth that made her strong. But notice, I never sit down and tell my story from start to finish… to anyone…. anytime. And I tell myself that that is because I want to encourage positive birth stories, and hearing my negative one isn’t helping. But I look back now and think actually, when I thought I was protecting pregnant mummas from my story, I think that the first person I was protecting was myself.

Move on four years, and our attempts to have another baby being unsuccessful, I wondered if I am holding on to emotional things from my daughter’s birth that need to be healed and released so that I can be free to conceive our next child. I wonder if I am subconsciously protecting myself from similar pain and maybe that is contributing to our difficulties. So I did two things, to help myself, and both were wonderful. I requested my records form the hospital for the year my daughter was born, and I spent time with a wonderful midwife friend who explained to me what they said. And then I had several session with a fabulous counsellor I know, who helped me look at and reframe what happened when my daughter was born. Both were the best things I could have done.

What did happen, just quickly: I was 39 years old and pregnant with my first child. My due date had passed. I wanted an intervention free physiological birth, in a birthing centre, and had been preparing for that the whole pregnancy. And I was pressured into an induction at 10 days past due date, because I was 39 years old. 

And then what happened? I had synthetically stimulated contractions, which got nastier and nastier as the day went on until I reached a point, about 6 hours later, that I “gave up” and asked for an epidural. It still makes me sad, even though I know that it really had become impossible to manage the four in a row, back to back contractions that were overwhelming me. About 3 hours after that, I was told that I was still no more than 4 cm dilated, and that my daughter’s head was jammed in my pelvis and she was starting to get stressed so a caesarean really was the best idea at that point. I cried, thought about it, and realised that everything we had done wasn’t working, I had been at 4cm for most of the day, so maybe a caesarean was a good idea, even though that was the outcome I most desperately didn’t want, and most feared, during my pregnancy. 

What going through my notes with my midwife friend told me: what had happened according to the medical staff, which is good to compare to what I remember. Because what happened according to me is a bit hazy at times, because I was quite occupied, really…..  That my midwife made some great judgement calls on the day in how she did things during the induction. That they don’t always record everything they are supposed to…. That medical personnel can have a very different point of view than you…. And most importantly, that it was a GREAT decision, at the time I made it, to go for a caesarean. The oxygen levels in my daughter’s cord blood were not looking good at all, and if I had continued to try for a vaginal birth, permanent damage to my daughter might have occurred. That took a huge weight off my shoulders. It changed my whole frame of reference. The induction might not have been necessary, but by golly when we got to the point that they suggested a caesarean, it was a GOOD decision. I did the BEST thing for my baby at that moment and I will from now on forever be thankful for that scar on my belly. I. Did. Good.

Then I made an appointment with a fabulous counsellor… not knowing that she was particularly good at working with trauma. Sometimes people cross your path just when you need them. I went to the first session, expecting to have to go through all the nitty gritty of what happened, and was so relieved when that wasn’t what she needed at all. Because the details of how things happened weren’t actually all that relevant. The only thing that was relevant was HOW IT MADE ME FEEL. Ah, that was such a revelation! Such a breath of fresh air! Someone who listened to how that had made me feel. And acknowledged that how I felt was supremely important. And I discovered that how I felt was betrayed by my midwife’s care in the last week. She had been amazing the whole entire pregnancy up until then, and through the labour, she was great. But the week leading up to the birth, she was on my side, but she didn’t have my back. She wasn’t the one who stood up to “them” and said “No, my client is not interested in being induced, and there are no actual warning signs to indicate an issue, so I see no reason whatsoever to induce her.” That is what I wished she had done for me. Personally I blame our current medical system, which leaves midwives feeling they have to protect themselves and their careers, because they do. And that sucks. And is wrong. But this story is about me, and I felt I was let down by the person who was supposed to have my back at that time. And it felt good, in my counsellor’s office, to tell my imaginary midwife on the chair over there exactly how I felt about it. Swear words and all. Try it! I highly recommend it! 

I also got to realise that how my caesarean was handled, which was probably a text book example of how a caesarean is supposed to be performed, was a crappy deal for a birthing mother to have to go through. It gets a baby out efficiently and effectively. No doubt about it. But there is no heart in it. No heart for the woman that has just had a whole lot of dreams dashed, that feels that the best she could give her baby was not good enough. And that was a big scar that I didn’t realise I carried with me every day. A huge scab to be lifted and healed. It even inspired me to write a poem, called “What I Wished I’d Known I’d Want to Say” which speaks to the surgeon, four years later. I wrote it from my raw, bleeding but healing heart. And I wrote it, hoping someone in the hospital system would read it, and realise what it meant to be on the receiving end of a caesarean section. And make things better. And I wrote it, hoping another mum who had a similar story to mine, a similar ache in her heart to mine, would read it and know that their feelings are valid, and earned, and that is wasn’t good enough and needs to be done better. And that she is not alone.

As it turns out, other reasons mean that we are no longer trying for another baby. I am very grateful, nonetheless, that I have taken these steps towards healing my heart, after my daughter’s birth. What inspired me to try it, didn’t end up happening. But I am forever grateful that I took the steps I did, because my steps are lighter, my blame has shifted off my shoulders, and I am inspired to help make a difference in how birth occurs for all other mums, so that one day, what happened to me will seem like such an archaic way to do things, that we wonder if that really used to happen like that. I can’t wait to see that day