Today I read an article about rebirth ceremonies and how they can help heal from a difficult birth. This is something I learnt about months after I gave birth and that I feel would have helped me. I considered a water birth at home but my floor was not structurally safe to bear the weight of a filled birthing pool. We had terrible difficulties breastfeeding and one of the first times my daughter ever latched properly was in the bath.
I have pondered the things that helped me over the past 3 years. In no particular order, those are:
- Realising that my labour was not in vain, that even tough I needed a bit of help (how much help and the tools and means used are debatable) for the final push all that hard work at home was OUR time, no one else’s, and it certainly helped her move down the birth canal and helped me stretch and dilate. I see no other explanation as to why two pair of hands turning my daughter’s head followed by forceps could have resulted in no tear whatsoever. That took me over year and it was a lovely realisation.
- Learning at my birth debrief that there was a name to what happened to us, it is called asynclitism. Seeing the drawing of my daughter’s top head with outcentered fontanel on my labour notes. Knowing my body was not broken and I was not a silly woman who did not know how to push a baby out even though I had read all about Fetal Ejection Reflex and breathing the baby out and Ina May Gaskin. Also learning that asynclitism was most likely the reason why I did not get any urge to push in the first place. What a relief. Nature had really made things harder for me (or interventions but same result in the end, I can’t really go back and take the midwife’s hand away from my cervix now).
- That moment when the Consultant told me to « stop pushing, the head is out ». What an immense relief and pride. Not from the pain, the anesthetist had done a grand job of numbing my lower body, but the pride of having overcome the fear of failure and focused enough to push with all my remaining strength to accompany the pull of the forceps. This was option B (Option A was turning the baby’s head manually and make me push but said baby’s head would not stay in place, and option C was the c-section, very convenient, I was all prepped for it, on the operating table in theater).
- Realising that a perfectly normal birth like the one I had imagined does not necessarily comes trauma-free. When I was finally able to talk about what happened, other people’s stories came flooding in, and I realised positivity mostly came from the amount of support and care during and after the birth rather than the mode of birth itself.
- Having experienced my entire labour and felt everything, just like I wanted, and having found it manageable and thrilling. Which in itself participated in my PTSD for a long time, as that transfer to the labour ward and the hours that followed was in such stark contrast to everything I had experienced so far. And I was so very close to meeting my daughter, I could feel my baby heading towards the exit and the midwives exclaiming they could see the head. Afterwards I had so many dreams where I pushed a baby out drug-free and walked away happy (poor baby). That feeling is really something I missed dearly. Probably the reason I asked my husband if the baby in the plastic cot at the maternity was the same one who came out of me. Just to be sure. For the longest time I think I was stuck in that moment where I tried to push my daughter out and tried again, my logical brain trying again and again to find an explanation. That is what required the most grieving for me. I had to let go of the person I was at that point, I had to let go of that moment and accept that was not the way my daughter was born or at least I did not get to feel her exiting my body. My own expulsive efforts were not even recorded in the notes from theater « good descent of baby with contractions », but these pushes are so very significant for me. I participated, I pushed my baby in to the world, you cannot take that away from me. But having got to experience the whole labour bar the expulsion is something that helps me a great deal.
- The absence of judgment from my mother-in-law when I set off to overcome our breastfeeding difficulties despite clearly turning into a mad and depressed women from lack of sleep and intense googling for solutions. The fact that she was always there to listen to me in those early days. That was very validating.
- The young female GP with a toddler picture on her wall who told me that I was allowed to give up breastfeeding and there was no point making myself crazy. I did not give up but those words made me feel so much better, like in all this chaos my wellbeing DID matter.
- The 20 something auxiliary nurse in the maternity ward who always found time for me in her super busy 12 hour shift, always made sure she brought me the breastpump and washed the parts and labelled and stored my milk in the fridge, always with a smile, always found answers to my questions and reassured me I was doing great. I felt like such a failure for not being able to latch this baby onto me (turns out it was the other way around but with hormones buzzing and drugs exiting your system and PPH and no sleep at all after 30 hours in labour your cognitive abilities are declining big time) and having to set my alarm clock to ring every 3 hours day and night, ring the buzzer for the breastpump and someone to feed the baby expressed breastmilk with a cup, having to explain to every new member of staff and every shift my feeding schedule and generally driving myself utterly crazy with sheer exhaustion and frustration. I will never forget what she said to me, watching me express « This is great what you are doing, I would love to do that when I have a baby. So my partner can feed them too. » And bang, I felt normal again. I am grateful beyond words and in fact I don’t think I can describe very well how wonderfully soothing and uplifting her support was to me.
- That moment when the midwife was writing the prescription for formula on day 3 having hooked me onto the breastpump. She lifted her gaze to see how I was doing and said « wow that is a lot of breastmilk for a first time mum and first time with the pump! » and proceeded to tear up the prescription. I was far too weak to object to anything and am so grateful to my body for reacting so well to the pump and producing so much milk under pretty stressful and exhausting circumstances. I still have the picture I took of that 50 ml of golden transition milk I expressed – I was so proud of myself. Knowing that my body did what it was supposed to do after all really helped me immensely.
- The Cognitive Behavioural Therapy sessions and learning self-compassion through them. All the guilt and anger towards myself is GONE. And that was a massive relief. I feel like it has freed up so much energy and creativity.
- Volunteering as Breastfeeding Peer Supporter and getting to come back to the Maternity Ward in a different role. Walking in the same rooms, meeting some of the midwives and nurses who looked after me and chatting with them. The fact that that lovely auxiliary nurse remembered me and she was not the only one really warmed my heart, mind you, my foreign- sounding name might have helped 🙂 Feeling very much in control again and able to talk about my experience and come back there and feeling good about it. Helping mums with their breastfeeding and showing them how to set up the breastpump and discovering with them that their milk was coming in and the expression of joy on their face when they realised next feed would be just breastmilk and no formula and that their bodies were working! Telling them not to worry if their baby was not latching and seeing the hope on their face when I told them my own baby did not latch for more than 2 weeks (2 weeks for heaven’s sake) and was still happily breastfed at 1.
So there we go, while I am writing this I realise the things that helped are all about taking the power back 🙂 It was always there but the key is I felt utterly powerless for a while and I truly believe I did not need to especially not in a situation where there was no real emergency. Food for thought.
(Are you singing Rage Against the Machine in your head right now? I do)