Bad memories...

Bad memories...

TOO MANY WOMEN ARE TRAUMATISED temporarily, if not for the rest of their lives, after giving birth. Sadly, the memory of their children’s births left them feeling disappointed, alienated and in some cases even severely traumatised.

KATHY CLOUD* still carries the legacy of her birth experiences in her heart today. Her first labour, which was induced artificially with a pitocin drip, ended in a caesarean after an epidural went wrong. “Suddenly I had a sharp pain on one side,” she explains, “and then a persistent ache. I could not change position: I was too numb. I was utterly dependent.” When, a couple of hours later, the epidural began to wear off she says she felt as if someone were burying an axe into her back. “I heard someone screaming and didn’t even realize it was me until later. I screamed again and again. I felt like a beetle, stuck on my back, frantically waving my appendages in a futile effort to right myself, to run from danger.” Unsurprisingly, after her emergency caesarean she found herself wishing either the doctor or her partner could have reminded her of the potential problems with epidurals when she’d asked for one. “I would have appreciated that”, she says, realising the epidural had been responsible for both her dangerous drop in blood pressure and also the fever that followed. Kathy’s second labour, which she hoped would be a normal (vaginal) birth, also ended up as another caesarean. The surgeon who performed this second operation discovered a massive amount of scar tissue and an incorrectly positioned bladder which had abnormally adhered to her womb – and expressed disgust at his predecessor’s poor workmanship.

BETH ARMANI also had problems after an epidural went wrong. Throughout her twin pregnancy she’d been told it was the best way forward in case she suddenly needed a caesarean. Her labour, which had also been artificially started (in this case, with a so-called cervical sweep), went well in terms of producing two healthy babies… The problem was actually the mother. “After 24 hours”, Beth explains, “I could barely move. What had happened was that the epidural had not gone in where it should have and they had to do a ‘reversal’, basically by taking some blood from my hand and injecting it in my back. It was the most painful experience I have been through in my whole life.”

CHRISTIE LANSDEN, a mother of four from London, also had a traumatic first experience of birth. After a great deal of unnecessary intervention at her local hospital, she ended up having a caesarean too. She’d wanted a homebirth but her doctor had not been available to continue with the homebirth she’d planned when her waters happened to break on a Saturday. After a membrane sweep and being put on a pitocin drip to get contractions going, she was eventually given a caesarean under general anaesthetic because of suspected fetal distress.

JANE SMITHFIELD, another new mother, has also wound up with a diminished sense of self after having her twins… “In terms of obstetric interventions, I had everything going… monitors on my tummy (for the whole of the 18 hours and most of the previous six days), internals(two or three?), a probe clipped onto Matthew's head, catheters, gas and air – which was a waste of time anyway! – an epidural.” She goes on to say, “I hated every minute of being there. I like to be in control and I hated having no control over my body.

THE AFTERMATH... Sadly, these experiences are by no means unusual. The intense feelings women are left with are far from the ideal of the new mother’s glow. Kathy Cloud says she is coming to terms with her anger and bitterness, even though “They eat at me and paralyze my body, while those I am angry and bitter at go blissfully about their work.” Beth Armani’s problem stemmed partly from her physical problems after the failed epidural. She explains: “I couldn’t hold my babies properly for days and I went through so much emotional trauma I wish I had been strong enough to say “No” to the epidural suggestion, but ... well, who knows what may have happened?” Jane, the mother of twins, says, “It’s difficult to admit to, but I think it was several months before I felt I was bonding with my babies. Perhaps this was because they were in Special Care for several weeks and I couldn’t even pick them up for a couple of days.” Christie Lansden says, “It was not until my daughter’s first birthday that I realised just how much my experience had affected me”. On that day she relived the humiliating, disappointing and painful time of her daughter’s birth.

GETTING A GRIP... What can you do if you’ve had a similar bad experience or if, for other reasons, your experience of giving birth left you feeling disempowered, bitter or angry? There are actually quite a few ways of moving forward, however distant past traumas might be…

One is to become more aware and accepting of your painful feelings by writing a dairy. Writing is something you can do in small snatches of time. Alternatively, if you feel like devoting a couple of hours to making yourself feel better, you might try writing a full account of whatever distressed you. Imagine you’re explaining to someone who really wants to understand.

Meditation is another way forward. Spending a while every now and then simply sitting can be enormously powerful and calming. You don’t need any special techniques; you can meditate with eyes open or closed; you don’t need to focus on anything in particular… Simply be aware and accepting of whatever you’re feeling, both in psychological and physical terms. The more you accept what’s there, however painful, the more likely you are to find some peace.

Finally, you could seek resolution, solace or support from outside. Would it help if you contacted the hospital or your doctor? Could you find some support on the Internet? Is hypnotherapy worth a try? Complementary therapist, Victoria Herbert Micht, recommends crystal healing for all women who’ve had an epidural. She says the anaesthetic, inserted in one of the body’s key chakras, disturbs the energy in the whole body.

Only you yourself can find your own best way forward and obviously your circumstances and your preferences will affect your choices. Christie Lansden healed herself through the births of her other children… three completely natural births made possible with independent midwives! It’s nice to know the dream can become reality.

For some of us, knowing we did and are doing our very best is enough, even though the hurt remains, buried deep within. Not everything goes well in life but sometimes we’re left with interesting consequences. Perhaps we can heal our hearts – and help our daughters avoid similar experiences – simply by being the best mothers we know how to be.

* Names have been changed on this webpage, but you will find that full names are mostly used in the book, Birth: Countdown to Optimal. Note that a companion edition for caregivers is also available, Optimal Birth: What, Why & How.