WE ARE ALL MOTHERS
“As women growing a child inside of us, we spend ten long months impatiently waiting to meet the beautiful human we created and you imagine the perfect moment that you get to meet your child for the first time. Sadly, not every mother gets to experience that “perfect” moment. It doesn’t matter what the situation is, any birth that a mother deems as “traumatic” is traumatic. That’s it end of story. It’s trauma, it hurts in places you didn’t even know it could hurt and above all it’s incredibly stressful.” - Heather G
Back when I first started this project I knew there were certain topics I wanted to open up a dialogue to. One of those topics included birth trauma. I attended Heather’s birth and when she messaged me telling me she wanted to participate in this project I knew in my heart that her story is one people needed to hear. Not only would it help Heather by talking about it, but I know that there are hundreds and thousands of other mothers out there who also have experienced birth trauma, in whatever way that may look and they deserve to know they aren’t alone.
I met with Heather and her son, Dax, early in the morning. Dax had just woken up from his nap and he was all smiles as per usual. We did some photos in the living room and then in Dax’s room and chatted away about how life was going, how her family was doing and how motherhood was. She later sent me her story via email and it brought me to tears.
Below are the words written and expressed by Heather about her sons birth. Some aspects of this story may be a trigger to other women who have experienced traumatic births, so please take heart when you read this. Be respectful and mindful that Heather is sharing an incredibly personal and emotional topic with us and she deserves to be recognized for her bravery and strength.
“For the past seven months that I’ve spent raising my son, very few people have heard the real story about the first week of his life. When I finally got the courage to tell the few people I did tell, beyond our family, I felt anger and hurt. As women growing a child inside of us, we spend ten long months impatiently waiting to meet the beautiful human we created and you imagine the perfect moment that you get to meet your child for the first time. Sadly, not every mother gets to experience that “perfect” moment. It doesn’t matter what the situation is, any birth that a mother deems as “traumatic” is traumatic. That’s it end of story. It’s trauma, it hurts in places you didn’t even know it could hurt and above all it’s incredibly stressful. I soon found that sharing our story soon became a contest, people tried to make their situations sound worse and tried to steal the attention away from the stress and emotion of what we went through and how we felt. That was never okay with me, trauma is trauma and there needs to be more empathy in the world for people that do go through a traumatic birth no matter how big or small. A traumatic birth can be listed as so many different things, it could be complications, an intense labour, and sometimes a mother experiences a moment that she thinks she could be leaving the hospital without her baby, and that mother was me.
I spent the last final months of summer beyond incredibly pregnant and I was so done with the swelling, the water retention, and the heat. I resorted to castor oil a day after my due date, which I said I would NEVER do, but I was done. I needed to meet my baby and it needed to happen now. I just expected that everything was going to be absolutely perfect. I soon learned that my labour ended up being fairly quick and quite intense. It was about 3 in the morning the day of my son’s birth I was told that I was 2 cm and I could stay or go home, I chose to go home only to return two hours later and had already progressed past 6 cm. From there things moved so fast that I almost didn’t know what hit me. The pain from dilating so quickly was starting to be unbearable and I chose to take the epidural, which was my saving grace at this point. From there things were smooth, I was feeling great. By 8am I was fully dilated but his head was still too far back and before I started pushing my doctor decided we should try and use gravity to bring the head down. I was happy, I was laughing I couldn’t wait to meet this beautiful soul I’d been so anxious to meet. Time went on and right before I started pushing, the OB in town came into my room to inform me he was just downstairs and that if I needed anything he would be right up to help and my response was “but we’re not going to need help and everything is going to be just fine.” This remark of mine was just before I learned that the cord was around his neck and that his pulse was dropping with every contraction I had. I was told calmly at one point I was going to have to stop pushing so they could unloop the cord and then I would be able to finish delivering. The pushing started, and it went on, and on, and on. At this point I had no concept of time but I believe the total time I was pushing was 3 hours. It was obvious to me instantly that this head didn’t want to progress smoothly down the birth canal. Nearing close to delivery my epidural wore off, I was in so much pain I couldn’t’ even open my eyes, the doctors couldn’t even lift my leg without the pain making me vomit and It was clear that I was hitting my wall. Luckily, there was an anesthesiologist available to push another round of epidural because at that point I think everyone knew I was approaching a c-section even though no one said it out loud. I gathered every last ounce of strength that I still had left and with my partner at my head giving me the last bit of extra strength I needed he was crowning, but then I went almost 6 minutes without feeling a contraction. The next push did it, head came out, cord was removed and then the rest of that 8lb 7ox boy followed right behind. I was relieved it was over, until the doctors laid a limp blue baby on my tummy and my whole world fell apart and stopped right then and there. Only seconds went by before the doctors called code blue and the room filled and filled with hospital staff and they had to move my bed into the middle of the room to make way for everyone to access the baby. I remember 2 people in the room. 2 people in the room out of about 30 as I was sobbing and trying to look over and I just remember saying “he has to be okay, he has to be okay.” Those minutes that all the doctors and nurses worked on my baby I didn’t even realize that another doctor had delivered my placenta and I was still just trying to reach across the room with one amazing human being who stopped doing her one job to keep me focused. They kept telling me that he was going to be okay, but he wasn’t crying he wasn’t screaming, in my eyes he wasn’t okay. 4 minutes of infant resuscitation will forever be the longest 4 minutes I’ve ever experienced in my entire life. There isn’t enough words to describe the pain and the emotions that one feels during this time. By the time I finally had my boy back on my chest I was scared to hold him, I couldn’t be happy he had arrived. I laid there stunned with all emotion lost when I got to look into those beautiful blue eyes for the first time.
Due to the experience we had just went through as a family. Our parents and my step-children outside the room watching the doctors and nurses flood into the room while slamming the crash cart into the wall upon entering the room is something no person whether a loved one, a sibling, or a mother should ever have to experience. We didn’t’ want to announce the birth immediately because we were worried and wanted to make sure everything was okay before introducing Daxin Thomas into this world. Next came the troubles of living in a small town. People already had started talking, the assumption was there that I had had the baby and the messages started flooding in and so did the rumors. For the next two days that we spent in the hospital in town, on top of all the doctors coming in, above average vital checks, many blood tests, and leads being connected to my brand new baby because his resting heart rate was too low, I also had to deal with the bullshit of being in a small town. There were people visiting and over-hearing conversations they shouldn’t be. There were many, many phone calls down to the neo-natal unit at children’s hospital. The first night I was scared to sleep because I didn’t want to take my eyes of my beautiful son. That newborn bliss didn’t exist in my world at this point.
After two days in the hospital, after hearing about a conversation to potentially go home the decision was made that we would be flying out to a NICU. I went from thinking I was going home so my fur babies could meet our new bundle and our family could be all together to flying over my house in an air ambulance and recognizing the gazebo on our deck from in the sky – and I finally cried. Cried real tears not just sobs and for a brief moment I hated that this is what my birth experience was.
Upon arrival at the NICU I could immediately tell that this was the best place for us to be. The nurses and the doctors were already so amazing to us and I felt much safer about the situation that we were in. It was at that time that I learned there was a couple times that he forgot to breathe, which in medical terms is desaturation. No one in Powell River informed me of this which made things even scarier and for a couple hours it only got worse. While attempting to feed he desaturated again and the nurse had to rip his latch and rub his sternum so he would breathe and there I was holding a grey baby in my arms for only a matter of seconds and it will always be a couple of seconds I’ll never forget. I sat in the isolated NICU room with my new son watching his monitors repeatedly go into alarm because either his heart rate or oxygen levels were too low and I couldn’t help but to feel the tears rolling from my eyes as I waited in desperation for my fiancé to arrive after taking the ferry. There were chest x-rays, the pinning down of a 48 hour old baby to get good images and it just looked painful for him and I was so sad. I just wanted to meet him, I didn’t’ want any of this to happen and worstly we had no idea why it had happened. An investigation had started into the trauma of his birth and after many tests on his current condition it was apparent to the doctors that his body was stressed out from his birth and resuscitation and that’s why his resting heart rate was so low.
For his first four days he was connected to leads, we could see what his heart rate and oxygen levels were at on a constant basis, he had an ultrasound done of his brain to check for damage due to the event of being without oxygen for so long and then the time finally had come that we were told we could go home. I got to bath and remove my baby’s leads and dress him for the first time and we were going home. That, was the scariest moment of all. Something that should be exciting and blissful and I was terrified because there wasn’t a computer on him anymore to tell me that his heart was beating fast enough and that he was breathing. I caught myself in a panic many times over the next couple weeks because suddenly I thought he looked funny, or I couldn’t see his chest rising and falling. Seven months later and I still wake up in a panic and have to look over and focus and make sure that I can tell he’s still breathing. For me, that’s the worst part of it. I felt robbed of a beautiful birth and meeting my son for the first time and now I’m in a constant state of panic and anxiety that he’s still not breathing. So many times I’ve had people tell me that their child was blue, or the cord was around their child’s neck and that it’s not a big deal. The reason I’m bearing through my emotions to tell this story is that it IS a big deal, and will always be a big deal to me and my family for the rest of our lives. Why do people feel the need to try and compete on whose traumatic birth was worse, or act like it’s no big deal that this beautiful boy had quite the entrance and a rollercoaster of a first week in this world. It IS a big deal and will always be a big deal and there needs to be more empathy in this world for people that have felt like their heart was ripped out of their chest, or who had the thought that they were leaving the hospital without their baby. Those feelings and the anxiety are still with me on a day to day basis and what makes it the worst is people acting like it’s no big deal. I don’t think that any mother should have to experience something like that whether it’s at birth, weeks, months, or years down the road. Experiences like that change us, they change our perspective and the way we feel about our precious children. I hold him tighter, I hold him longer and multiple times a day he hears “you are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are grey, you’ll never know dear how much I love you, so please don’t take my sunshine away.” On the best days and some of the worst days that song will always tear me up because for 4 minutes I thought my sunshine was taken away.”
Birth Trauma can occur via various different ways. Sometimes it looks like an emergency cesarean section, sometimes it is a procedure done without consent. Other times it is the loss of a child, or a traumatic outcome after birth. Whatever way the trauma occurs, it is crucial to be mindful that when a woman says her birth was traumatic, that we understand and believe that to her, it was traumatic.
Birth trauma has lasting effects on our body, physically, emotionally and psychologically. It can affect us by various different symptoms. A very helpful website Vancouver Birth Trauma lists some symptoms such as:
inability to sleep
delayed/and/or reduced milk production
agitation and hyperarousal
emotional numbing and dissociation
intrusive and upsetting flashbacks of the birth
avoiding reminders of the birth
feeling sad, angry, or helpless about the birth
“Around 30% of women are traumatized during the birth of their child1-4 and between 2% and 6% go on to develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a consequence4-10.” - From Vancouver Birth Trauma This number is huge. Not only is this number largely upsetting, but it is also a number that majorly lacks support. So often our health care providers are unaware, or misdiagnose birth trauma as postpartum depression, and there truly are not enough resources in Powell River, or BC or let alone Canada for this large issue.
If you are a parent who has experienced birth trauma, please be sure to find a safe space to share your thoughts, feelings and emotions. Talking to a counsellor who has experience in dealing with birth trauma can be extremely helpful, especially if you are suffering from PTSD. It is hugely important to start the conversation with your health care provider if you are struggling.
While we are definitely lacking in this specific area for supports in Powell River, here are some resources within our community as well as surrounding areas in BC.
Birth Trauma is a serious issue that we need to have an open dialogue about. It is a largely under discussed topic that deserves more supports put in place. It can have lasting effects on a parents health in various different aspects. Furthermore, if you have experienced birth trauma or are struggling with PTSD, please get help. You are not alone. You are not a failure. You are worthy and you are loved. A huge thank you to Heather for being willing to share this story. Heather you are strong, you are brave, you are a fighter and you are an incredible mother. You are so loved and so many women look up to you.