Childbirth: Coming to Terms With a Difficult Birth

For some, having a baby can be traumatic – with long-lasting psychological implications. So the NHS are offering birth reflections; inviting new mums to talk through what happened during childbirth. Stacey Oakes tells us why this is so important…

Stacey Oakes, on childbirth

The day I went into hospital to have my baby I vividly remember seeing a poster on the wall advertising a birth reflection session. I also remember thinking ‘why on earth would anyone want to reflect on it’! Once it’s done, it’s done, surely. Now I have had my baby I understand it’s not so black and white and actually there is rather a lot of grey, which needs exploring.

For me, labour was fast. That may sound great but the rapid pace meant that I had absolutely no idea what was going on around me, almost like it was all happening to somebody else. There was no time for questions and even if there had been, I was so totally in the zone I actually wouldn’t have taken the information in anyway.

Ultimately, the outcome was perfect. I had a healthy baby and I had survived but the psychological effect it had was something I wasn’t prepared for. For the first few weeks I couldn’t even imagine wanting to drive past the hospital, let alone return to the scene.

As time has gone on, though, I have begun to feel a little cheated. Like the most important event in my life was clouded in a fog of events that I could barely remember and the only other person I had to rely on for answers was my partner, who was (and still is) slightly traumatised by the whole event.

Calm pregnancy, difficult childbirth

My perfect, peacefully calm pregnancy had ended in a labour that quickly developed into an emergency caesarean section. Not something I had naively ruled out, but something I assumed wouldn’t happen. Fortunately, I have gotten through my 35 years without a single stay in hospital so this type of environment is not a natural one for me. Hospitals give me the same anxiety that I feel whilst taxiing around the runway in an airplane waiting to be thrust into the air at 150mph.

An experienced midwife who had also gone on to train in various forms of counselling conducted the session. These sessions are favoured by women (and men) who have endured devastating events during childbirth so it’s necessary for the midwife to have had adequate training to deal with it.

The midwife, Liz, had already familiarised herself with my notes so knew my back-story. She initially asked me how I felt about my labour and if there were any key areas I wanted to focus on. I explained that it was such a whirlwind of events and that I just wanted clarity on exactly what had happened. I said I had this feeling in the back of my mind that somehow I had failed at giving birth because it had ended in caesarean.

My personal grey areas were that I was never 100% sure on what method of pain relief I had received. Had the decision to go to C-section been encouraged by my vocal requests (AKA Get this F***king baby out of me now) and was there anything I did or didn’t do that could have changed the outcome.

I also would like another child eventually so I felt that if I could have a debrief of this labour and lay it to rest then it would give me a fresh slate for next time. I’d like to enjoy a second pregnancy for what it is and not compare it to the last.

Liz gave me an account of what happened hour-by-hour from the moment I was admitted to the time I was discharged (less than 24 hours later). As she spoke it instantly jogged my memory to the events. There were a few moments I had to reach for my water to distract from the tears welling up. She discussed the decisions that had been made and what the influence behind it was.

She also gave me feedback on notes made about Matilda’s well being during labour, something which unless you ask, I don’t think you get information on. I had never realised that her head was swelling from the repeat pressure on my pelvis and her heart rate had dropped, ultimately this is why it went to C-section, not because I was weak, as I had assumed.

The session also gave me an opportunity to ask her opinions on future labours based on my notes and to also discuss just how the care I receive next time will differ from my first labour considering that I have now had a C-section.

My session lasted around one hour, 15 minute and at no point did I feel rushed or that I couldn’t refer back to an earlier point. We chatted like we were old friends catching up over a cuppa and I was confident that her breakdown of the events were impartial and by no means covering up any information that may cast a shadow over the care I received. She also had an answer for every question rather than fobbing me off with the “I don’t know because I wasn’t there” line that I assumed she might use.

After leaving the session I had a little wander around the corridors of the maternity department to familiarise myself as to where the different wards and delivery suite were. A massive part of my confusion was that I was taken to so many different areas and felt totally disoriented. It was personally very helpful for me to realise exactly where the events had unfolded. Almost like putting a face to the name.

My reflections session had cleared up any confusion I had and was also really empowering. I felt I had the control back over a situation which had been totally out of my hands. Above all, it made me feel super excited to hopefully go through it all again, which is something I never thought I would say. Knowledge really is power.

Birth reflections after a traumatic childbirth

I think if you have had a very traumatic time then birth reflections would be extremely emotional but well worth it, I also think it would be a positive experience even if you have had a text book delivery. All ends of the birthing spectrum would benefit.

Not every hospital provides these sittings but it is something that is beginning to be rolled out. Check with your hospital’s maternity department to see if it’s something they offer and get booked in. I believe they can hold notes on your labour for up to 19 years so even if it wasn’t recent, you can still explore it.

My hospital was the Norfolk and Norwich and you can contact their maternity services to book an appointment. The sessions here are only on a Saturday and you should expect around a four-week wait for an appointment.

How did you find childbirth – was it empowering, wonderful, scary, traumatic – or all of the above? We’d love to hear about your childbirth experiences, please leave a comment below if you’re happy to share them…