The stories we hear about childbirth, either from family, friends and the media effect how we view giving birth. There are so many conflicting thoughts and ideas, sometimes it hard to know what the ‘real’ truth is. What is birth really going to be like? What is the best approach? I thought I had it nailed and sadly, my dreams of a natural birth were shattered.
When I joyfully fell pregnant after years of trying, I adopted the ‘natural is best’ view, loved pregnancy yoga, practiced my breathing, learned hypnobirthing, read tons of books, watched programmes, attended NCT classes and felt grounded and connected with my baby and mother earth throughout. Overall despite a rocky beginning it was a joyful and exciting pregnancy and I awaited the ‘big day’ with interest, and, what I thought was, intelligent and realistic preparation. I was older, mature and realistic and hoped to connect with my body and my son and we would work together to bring him into the world and have a safe, natural birth. After all it’s a natural process right?
There were approximately 700,000 live births in the UK in 2017, which equates to about 1.3 babies born every minute. The first stage of labour can take anything from 2 hours to 2 days and 25% of babies born in the UK are induced, 26.2% are born by cesarean, with 13% of babies born using forceps or ventouse (suction cup). None of these are classed as a ‘natural birth’.
30% of women have an epidural during labour or just after the birth with only 6% not using any pain relief at all and just 2.4% of babies are born at home.
I hoped to be one of the 2.4% (at the time I didn’t realise the figures were against me!). I wanted birth to be natural, private and as quiet and intimate as I could make it. I didn’t want birth to be over medicalised if at all possible. But if that was going to happen, I felt I was prepared. My NCT class had been helpful with a balanced emphasis between natural and medical choices.
I bought the birth pool, a ball to bounce on and had hired a tens machine. Although I, in no way, expected it to be easy or pain free, I trusted my body and wanted the safety and sense of control being at home bought me.
Women give birth in fields, I said to myself! They’ve been doing it for centuries, it’s a natural process, my body is designed to open up, I should be able to do this the natural way. Plus I’m a hypnotherapist, I can put myself into a deeply relaxed trance. I can do this!
A few words about our bodies, that I have thought about since. Every resource a woman has, both physically and mentally is often pushed to the limit during labour. Evolution, in developing a skull large enough the hold the human brain, and also a pelvis narrow enough to enable us to walk upright has resulted in some physical adjustment and sacrifice for the modern human female. That sacrifice is easy birthing. For most of us its not a walk in the park, and for most of it does not happen without some kind of medical intervention. Even though a birth happens 1.3 times every minute, that doesn’t mean that the process is always easy or natural.
Of those mums who have interventions 9% (6,300) will stay in hospital for five or more days with 37% (259,000) staying in hospital for one to two days.
I was one of the 37% who had to stay in after an emergency transfer to hospital, 48 hours of an agonising back to back labour, several shifts of stranger midwives I’d never met before, waiting for hours for an epidural, a syntocin drip, a botched episiotomy, ventouse delivery, postpartum haemorrhage, severe shock and vomiting and a blood transfusion which left me initially unable to breastfeed. That final part was heart breaking, to watch a midwife feed my prefect new born son formula when I was too weak to even hold, let alone feed him felt like complete ‘failure’. After everything that had happened it was the saddest moment.
I left hospital after the transfusion shattered and deeply traumatised, desperate to get my son to latch on the breast feeling utterly alone, unsupported and exhausted. When I tried to talk to friends, I found myself either gaslight ‘my friend had a far worse time than you, and she’s fine, you need to move on!’ or putting on an act of ‘being okay’, the birth hadn’t been perfect but ‘hey, I survived!’ and ‘my son is wonderful’. What I needed was help, reassurance, to be acknowledged and some guidance about how to process what happened. It felt like there was nowhere to turn to get help to express how bad it had been for me and to talk about this deep sense of shock and failure I was feeling.
It was only when I reached out to compassionate therapy colleagues some months later that I allowed myself to process the full extent of how deeply the birth had affected me. I then went on a slow and gentle journey of healing and restoration using a combined approach of effective talk and body based trauma release techniques.
It is now my mission to be that person to turn to for new mums, so that the trauma does not haunt and hurt them any longer. It is possible to recover from traumatic events and to let go of the feelings of fear and failure and to make intelligent choices about another pregnancy. So many of the women I work with now, desperately want to expand their family but are terrified of another birth. You can contact me HERE.
With the Royal College of Midwives calculating that the number of births and the age profile of pregnant women rising, NHS in England is short of approximately 3,500 full time midwives to care for our labouring and vulnerable new mums. This concerns me as 3 in 10 women in the UK develop postnatal depression symptoms in the year following birth. With a growing body of scientific evidence showing us that trauma is a strong causal indicator for depression, who will be there on the front line to notice this and care?
Kate Munden – Ending the isolation of birth trauma, one woman at a time.