Facing the Fear: Birth After Trauma Part One

No matter what anyone will tell you, cesarean sections are NOT the easy way out. Yes, they might be the best decision for you but we must remember that everybody is different. Your recovery could be a walk in the park or could be a little similar to mine: a small slice of hell with severe abdominal pain, severe swelling from excessive drugs, months of ‘deflating’, months of poor movement and continuous body-confidence nightmares. One of my biggest fears I will have to face this time around is birth and I’m going to try my best to document the process of pregnancy & birth post-emergency cesarean, step-by-step to help any other mama’s out there – whether it’s your first or fifth!

Now, you non-newbies will know I’ve previously talked about my birth story with Rory, my battle with mental health that followed and the ways I’ve tried to face these many demons in the hope of expanding our family –  well the moment has arrived for me to put my money where my mouth is and face ‘The Fear’. I plan for this to be the first of a few blogs following my journey through consultant-lead care and how I make my birth choices.

This pregnancy started off like every other: you make a midwife appointment and meet somewhere around the 8th/9th week of your pregnancy, you go forth and have a 12-week scan and see your midwife at the 16-week mark too – all textbook and running smoothly but it was here I was reminded that no matter how I look at things, this pregnancy will (most likely) result in childbirth – whichever form that comes in! It was at my 16-week appointment that my midwife (coincidentally the same midwife I had for Rory) asked whether I had thought about a natural or assisted birth this time around. I, of course, panicked and jumped straight in with ‘elective C-section is my preference’. WAS I MAD!? Who would think surgery would be a sensible idea? Why and how had I made this decision in my mind already? I worked out that it all boiled down to wanting a better experience than I had. With that, our first consultant appointment was booked and I was ready to fight my corner.

Let’s start off by saying I am lucky. We saw the consultant last week and it was so much more relaxed and successful than I had played over in my over-active brain. You can hear some real horror stories of consultants telling mamas-to-be that they can’t choose a cesarean birth and trying to put them off but I am fortunate not to be in that boat – PHEW! The meeting was calming and I felt listened to. *Worth noting here that we were seen by the consultant and a midwife*. I went in and was checked over as normal. We listened to the baby’s heartbeat, the midwife had a feel for the position and we sat down with my previous birth notes and went through what the situation was and what my choices are going forward. Did you hear that!? CHOICES! Hurrah, the words I so very longed to hear: ‘Whatever you wish to choose, we will support you in those choices‘. Absolute result! I was handed an A4 4-page leaflet on the benefits and disadvantages of both an elective cesarean or a VBAC (‘vaginal birth after cesarean’ for those not aware of today’s lingo!), which I am yet to divulge into, and sent on my way. Now, here are some FAQ’s the consultant answered for me during our meeting:

  • ‘When do I need to have decided my birth preference by?’
    In your second consultant appointment, which will be booked for around 36 weeks.
  • ‘If I chose one, when will my C-section be scheduled?’
    Between the 39th and 40th week mark allowing the baby to be as ‘cooked’ as possible. This means the chances of your baby having breathing issues or needing NICU attention is minimal.
  • ‘What would happen if I go into labour before this date?’ 
    You can either choose to progress with your labour naturally if you so wish OR you can be brought in for an emergency C-section straight away.
  • ‘If I decide on a VBAC how long will I wait after my due date before induction?’
    You will be induced at 41 weeks and no later.

So as mentioned, following on from an initial appointment, you are given a second appointment around the 36th week of pregnancy – so for us, this is around the 28th of November. This will be crunch time. This is where you should have done all of your research and be able to tell the consultant what it is you want. From here, if you wish to choose an elective you will be advised on a date (or selection of dates) for your baby’s big day – again, as mentioned, this will be around the 39th week of your pregnancy to be sure that the baby is fully cooked and ready to be brought earth-side.

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I am yet to make my ‘final decision’ or even half of it – we do still have 10(ish) weeks to go before I absolutely need to have decided and I am in no rush to put this in concrete. I know it’s going to be a very personal decision and one I am rather unlikely to take anyone’s advice on (in case you were unaware, I can be stubborn!). However, if you are reading this and have had a successful VBAC or a positive elective cesarean second time around, I would LOVE to hear from you. I’m trying to build a much bigger picture and would really like to feel as well informed as possible before I decide. Please head to our contact page if you would like to get in touch!

For the rest of y’all, we will be back soon with more updates!

Love and all,
OCM xo.

Postpartum Mental Health: How Can We Talk About This?

As mental health awareness week comes to a close, I’ve decided to share this rather personal post with you. I’ve always felt rather alone when it came to understanding and talking about my own mental health but with all the media attention surrounding it of late, it still stands that there can never be enough done to highlight the importance of mental health and well-being. Sharing our experiences in the hope of helping others has become a blooming good start.

Having toyed with the idea of sharing this with you all, I once again find myself thinking that if one person reads this and it helps just one person, then it was worth the vulnerability and honesty of sharing my personal journey. I’ve discussed mental health before; wrote myself a letter in March about things I wish I’d known, things I would tell myself, but I always find that no matter what I would tell myself, I come back to my fears and the anxiety-inducing moments that surround the trauma of childbirth which can creep into the corner of even my sunniest days. When the smallest of thing that can set off a wave of panic, sometimes it’s unavoidable to suppress.

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Newly Dazed

24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year; Motherhood in unapologetically all-consuming but motherhood with mental health challenges is nothing like I expected. After writing our birth story last May and writing a letter last March, I’m now revisiting that day with a different set of eyes whilst looking at the journey that got me here today. As I’ve watched our little man start to grow up, my body and mind have changed. Regularly asked about the possibility of ‘Baby Number Two’, there are countless things I need to face and accept before that thought even enters my anxious brain. Looking back at my last month of pregnancy and Rory’s birth, I’ve struggled to accept the way things panned out.

My pregnancy with Rory wasn’t anything out of the ‘ordinary’. In fact, if you have read any of my previous blogs, I’d say I was rather lucky. I discussed my fortune in having no morning sickness or having any other debilitating symptoms or side effects. This lasted right up until I left work on maternity leave. That week magically flicked a switch and changed everything: I developed PUPPP. Pruritic Urticarial Papules and Plaques of Pregnancy is a nasty condition that develops in late pregnancy (and apparently more common in women having baby boys) and left my skin searing. I was itching with blisters and hives all over and burned at every hour of the day and night. Sleep was a thing of the past and doctors’ appointments became every other day, being tested over and over for Obstetric Cholestasis (a liver condition that can sometimes require induction) which luckily always returned negative results. I was exhausted and getting nervous at this point, I entered my final week of pregnancy feeling and thought was prepared. Still walking a mile or so in the afternoons hoping to induce early labour, I was offered a sweep – I need not go into details but DO NOT DO IT… I’m only joking but, in all seriousness, if ever in a position where this is offered: enter this with caution as at the very least it insanely uncomfortable and incredibly invasive. It was just 3 days later that I went into labour and 5 days later that I had an emergency c-section: the scariest eventuality that I was unprepared for. Leaving me swollen, cut and stitched, in agony and barely mobile, I felt couldn’t help but feel traumatised. How on Earth do you prepare for that!? Unwilling to talk about the event in depth or great detail, it became easy to brush the emotional side under the carpet and focus on my physical recovery which became unbearably tough on its own. It took me a good 5 months to realise how I truly felt about Rory’s birth.

Whilst speaking with a health visitor and NHS maternity service worker just last week, I found myself still feeling overpoweringly conscious of what I had been through. Without a doubt, I always find myself referring to how much worse it could have been or how there are women every day who face far worse but for me but I can’t help but linger on the single thing haunting what should be one of my happiest memories: it is the pure fact I was astronomically unprepared for a birth like that. My mind forever replays a scene from one of my favourite films, ‘About Time‘, during these moments. In a scene involving an accident that the main character Tim tries to change, he narrates a quote from a song by Baz Luhrmann called ‘Sunscreen‘: ‘He says worrying about the future is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life will always be things that never crossed your worried mind’ …No matter how hard I try, I’m still the one starring at the equation chewing that gum.

When I first opened up to a health visitor about how I felt, I was afraid what she would think of me. Mental health issues are associated with weakness but it takes incredible strength to face such inner battles. As I eased into talking about how I’d been feeling after surgery and how I’d coped with accepting the birth, PTSD was brought up. Always the person to think ‘but I haven’t been to war,’ or ‘I don’t live in a war zone‘, I needed to stop being so naive. PTSD isn’t because of a specific type of trauma and it can arrive and linger in many forms. It can be your memories keeping you awake in a cold sweat leaving you terrified to think too deep into what you’ve been through; It can be the very thought of how close to death you came and how it sends the blood rushing through your body, leaving you light headed and nauseous. It’s every time you see your scars, your stomach churns and the thought of how you wanted it to be makes you angry and somewhat irrational about the most basic of activities. It’s all consuming and something I’m now actively working to get through and I’m ok that it may take some time. Turns out the NHS have a fantastic service available where you can go and see specially trained midwives. They can talk you through what you’ve been through and help you process your feelings or fears surrounding your pregnancy, birth or motherhood. I’ll be taking part in a session in the next month and I’m both curious and anxious but hopeful it will help.

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Walking has become the best way to clear my head

Another side of mental health I find challenging is handling my anxiety. As I’ve become less afraid to admit it, it’s become easier to recognise. Postpartum anxiety is something I’ve talked about, previously in the form of separation anxiety and just like most mental health matters, each can take many forms. For me, it’s been an unexplainable jealousy, an underlying bitterness and twisting in the gut. A strange paranoia and relentless envy. It’s restless nights, toxic social media scrolling, actively avoiding every mirror, shop or car window. It’s taking hours to get dressed, noticing every extra stretch mark, wrinkle, crease or fold. It’s nightmares of what could or could’ve happened, the unimaginable and unthinkable. It’s all-around emotion, tears and upset and it’s also easy to slip into covering it up and hiding it far too often. Once again, it has taken me a while to actively seek help. You don’t always recognise it and you don’t always want to speak to those closest to you or anyone at all then there’s the option of medical help. For me, when I’ve seen GP in the past I have always been handed a ‘self-referral’ leaflet. These are without a doubt the most disheartening handout of information to be given when you’re in a doctor’s office trying to explain yourself after it’s taken weeks or even months to get yourself that far. I’ve learned that the doctors were no help, but when I turned to the health visitors, they appeared to be angels in disguise pointing me towards the NHS service I talked about earlier. It’s little steps to help put the pieces back together, to adjust to a new normal and to accept what has happened and move forward.

Our Little Monkey

Becoming a mother can be the hardest but the most rewarding thing you might ever do but you’ll never be the only one doing it. Avoiding being swallowed up in mental health challenged always comes down to being honest with yourself. Even in your darkest hour, only you can start the process of recovery. No matter how many times you try to suppress or hide how you’re feeling or the way you’re thinking, it will only deteriorate. Take charge of your health – it may be completely out of your comfort zone but try your best to reach out, find local groups or speak to your local maternity services. Opening up can be one of the scariest things you can do and yes, it is sometimes so much easier to lie, to really hide how you feel but sharing your experience can kick-start a very important process that will, first of all, help you feel a damn site less alone. Please, if you’re feeling low, sad, feeling like you are struggling, find someone who can help you in whichever form works for you!

As my title ask ‘how can we talk about this’, I’ve come to think the answer is far simpler than we thought. I believe it lies in empowering one another to speak out, share experiences and challenges. It’s guiding each other through difficult times and becoming a support network. We as women, as friends, family, colleagues could and should be supporting each other whatever the cause or type of mental health issue it is. Support is priceless.

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I hope, if you’re looking for help and need assistance, the links below help point you in the right direction and help you start your journey

As always, thank you for reading

Loves to all,

OCM xoxo

His Grand Arrival – The Birth Story

As we gently tiptoe across the three week old mark, I finally feel ready to write about my experience of labour and how our precious boy Rory Fitzsimons arrived into the world.

I want to start by praising the NHS and every one who had an involvement in my care at Great Western Hospital in Swindon. The care I received was outstanding and each and everyone of the members of staff I came into contact with seemed to go above and beyond to make my journey and stay at GWH as best as it could be under the circumstances I faced. I find people are all too quick to complain about our health service but are too shy to praise – They saved us and helped us get through a very difficult journey and that I will always be grateful for.

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*PLEASE BE AWARE Some details in this blog may make for distressing reading so please bear this in mind*

It hit 9:45pm on Friday 17th and this wave of pain surged through my lower back forcing me to sit down. As ‘damn what the hell was that’ flew out my mouth, of which my other half reassured me that it was probably pain related to the weight of my bump. Within 10 minutes the pain arrived again – this was no regular back pain. As the pains were irregular and at this point and not unmanageable, I took myself off to bed with a hot wheat bag and put a film on for distraction. Within just 2 hours the pain had intensified and I was keeled over in the bathroom uncontrollably shaking reaching for the phone. By 1:30am I was lying on a bed waiting to be assessed in the delivery suite. With each pulse of my contractions feeling stronger and stronger I was assessed and at 2cm – next move was a 3am referral to the antenatal ward. Clinging on to my phone to press ‘start’ on my contraction counter, I continued to pace the maternity ward for 13 hours until I was finally at 4 cm and ready to be taken through to the delivery suite. Shaking profusely, it had suddenly dawned on me that after growing a baby for 9 months, he could be in my arms within hours – a terrifying but exciting thought!

In the end I decided against having a birth plan however in a moment’s pain I took the plunge and went straight in for the epidural without a second thought. Full of nerves and exhaustion, no one argued with my decision and the boyfriend was my rock and so incredibly supportive throughout. In less than 20 minutes the anaesthetist was explaining the process and the risks whilst I moved to the edge of the bed and hunched over. The epidural was the least painful and most stress-free part of my labour experience which took me completely by surprise – for some reason I had worked myself up into thinking it was going to be painful. At this point I was still in a state and became worked up as the fear of the unknown and complete and utter exhaustion collided. From here on out it was a waiting game. My body was doing its thing, just very very slowly. By 3am and I reached 7 cms and things were still going slow and I was given a hormone drip to speed things up… this didn’t really work too well.

Fast forward to 5:30am – 10cms had finally been reached! The sudden feeling of ‘OMG YES my body is actually doing this all on its own – and I can’t feel a thing!’ had arrived with the words ‘I think you’re ready to start pushing now’. For a split second time stood still. It was like looking at the finish line from a distance and not knowing if you were hurtling towards it or it was getting further away! Unaware of the strain my body was feeling, this continued for 4 hours with a hormone drip. As the sun began shining on Sunday morning I was greeted by my third change of midwife, 2 doctors, my anaesthetist and a surgeon… Yup you guessed – after 4 hours of pushing and getting no further, the word ‘caesarean’ surfaced. I had a tonne of drugs being pumped through my system so wasn’t really 100% sure of what was going on but as the midwife handed the boyfriend his very own pair of blue scrubs I figured that surgery had become my only option. Turns out our little man had turned to be back against my back and there was a chance the cord was now under his arm being squeezed every time a contraction came around – not ideal! Before I knew it I was being wheeled down to theatre and being rubbed with iodine and pumped with more drugs. I was terrified at this stage but these are professionals whose jobs are to deliver babies safely – I had to trust them. I had no preconceived ideas of what a c-section would entail even after watching the NHS ‘Guide To’ video online months back, I honestly naively believed it wouldn’t happen to me. As the room filled with around 8 to 10 people, all with their own individual jobs, my surgery began. Completely petrified as my dear boyfriend coached me through my tears and fears, it barely seemed like 5 minutes before someone commented ‘your baby is about to be born’…

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… And there he was! Perfect, all pink and screaming – the midwives whisked him over to the scales to be weighed and put a knitted hat on his little round head. Our little son was posted down the top of my gown for our first bit of skin to skin. Tears began to stream down my face as I looked across to his daddy with face beaming – our baby had arrived and all safe and sound!  It’s no secret that what people say is true; the moment you lay eyes on your baby you’ll wonder how you ever lived not knowing their face, that one look at them creates this unconditional love. He was 8lb and 3 ounces of beautiful.

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After living in that new family bubble, the biggest reality check followed the return of feeling in my body: there is no way in hell a c-section is ever the ‘easy option‘. Having read 101 blogs, forums and Q&A’s c-sections always seem to be a taboo subject, there was an unbelievable amount of shame pushed upon women who didn’t give birth naturally – something I just could not get my head around. HOW could surgery be the easy way out!? I can tell you for free it absolutely was not. My recovery felt and still feels nothing short of a million marathons. I was discharged after just 2 days with an extensive list of drugs to take looking completely swollen much like a party balloon. I couldn’t get in and out of chairs or my bed without assistance and couldn’t stand up straight without a 10 minute slow motion stretch. I slept on the sofa for the first 4 nights as lying down caused me too much pain. Every time I tried to do anything physical – walk to the toilet, take a drink, lift Rory to feed – tears streamed down my face. Even eating became a challenge as utter exhaustion has taken control of my body and mind. BUT luckily for me this started to subside after the first week with the help of my incredible family and support system. The boyfriend along with my parents helped bath me, feed me, do the laundry and dishes along with food shopping all whilst I was sofa bound. Cabin fever is the worst when you’re physically in pain and mentally exhausted but I can promise you that if you are going through this right now, that each day gets a little bit better – I promise. Now 23 days on from the birth of Rory, I can get up and out of bed, cook, bath myself and Rory, go for short walks and just about make it around a (small) supermarket shop without any issues. I did struggle when the boyfriend went back to work a week ago but having my own mother just next door working from home, if I ever have any struggles she’s always there for me – something I will  never be able to thank her enough for. Our families have been the best and we can’t thank them enough for all they’ve done for us already.

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It’s no secret that my experience of birth was a difficult and traumatic one and I’m no longer afraid to admit that. All through my pregnancy I had prepared myself for the possibility of a long labour but never as long as 36 hours long or for it to end in emergency surgery. This journey has taught me so much and when looking back at how far we’ve come it’s so easy to get overwhelmed so to finish off my story I want to share with you all five things I have learnt along the road to recovery:

  1. You should never doubt the power of a woman’s body and mind. Even in the toughest of situations, your body will do its job, it will do what it has to do, you will make some of the hardest decisions and you will overcome extreme unexpected situations and you will thrive! Surgery is seriously tough, no matter what it’s for. Give your body some credit for its hard work and look after yourself.
  2. Don’t give yourself a hard time if things don’t go to plan! Life can spring the unexpected on you at any moment and sometimes you have to be brave and embrace it.
  3. Your support system is one of your most valuable things. In your darkest hour having close family or friends is completely invaluable. They will bring you back to earth and hold your hand the entire time.
  4. It’s OK to cry – and yes at absolutely everything. Whether it’s because you can’t reach to tie your shoes or you’re exhausted from breastfeeding just let it all out, no one is going to judge you.
  5. You won’t look like you – but it won’t always be that way. You might not recognise yourself, you won’t fit back into your old clothes straight away and you’ll still be ‘puffy’ for a little while but it’s not permanent, it’s all part of the journey to the new normal.

Now halfway to my 6 week appointment I feel like a totally different person already – something I would never have believed in the days following Rory’s birth. We are slowly finding our way to the new normal and you will too. My best advice is that you just have to be patient and kind to yourself. You’ll be back on track to finding your new normal before you know it. It really won’t be long before you’ll be enjoying your favourite activities again – PROMISE!

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I’m glad I’ve finally been able to share my journey with you. We are totally in love and can’t imagine life without our little Rory! Thank you for coming back for a read!

One Curious Mother x

There were no sources used for today’s post but if you wish to, you can watch the NHS youtube videos at this link – https://www.youtube.com/user/GreatWesternHospital