Updated: Dec 30, 2022
Photo Credit: jenniferreynoldsphotography.ca
*Trigger Warning* Mention of experiences after a traumatic birth and a positive pregnancy experience after trauma.
LIVING WITH TRAUMA
When I gave birth to my first daughter it was September 2020, and deep into the Covid-19 pandemic. My pregnancy was full of fear, and a severe lack of resources and informed consent. As a first time mom I had no idea what to expect and didn’t know what I didn’t know. I did my best to read the right books and educate myself but it simply wasn’t enough. I did what on the outside seemed like all the right things, but nothing could have prepared me for what happened next. My time in the hospital was horrific and I left the experience severely traumatized by the way that I was treated. In the days immediately following the birth, any time I talked about my experience I began to shiver. Talking about my birth trauma created an involuntary physical response in my body!
The early months of my postpartum period were absolute hell. My daughter was barely sleeping, she had a severe tongue and lip tie that made feeding difficult, reflux and colic. And after my experience, I felt like a shell of myself, barely functioning as a human. I was full of rage, and any mention of birth left me triggered and crying in a corner. The lack of sleep contributed to my postpartum anxiety. I was overly protective of my newborn, and feelings that she wasn’t actually my baby had me obsessively comparing her to photos from her birth. I made a recording of myself singing her a song just in case I died unexpectedly. And I had to play happy music while I was in the shower because any time I was left alone with my thoughts, I replayed the events of my birth experience over and over in my head. These are the actions of a traumatized person. I never wanted to have another baby and I never wanted to experience what I had experienced ever again.
My first priority was to get my baby sorted. Her tongue and lip ties were revised by an oral surgeon, reflux was fixed with regular chiropractic visits, we got the colic under control, and after two difficult months of sleep training, had her sleeping 12 hours at night. Once I was able to go back to sleeping 8 hours a night, my anxiety subsided. It took 6 months to get to that point, but I was ready to start to heal.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
The first thing that I did was request my hospital records. I had written down many versions of my birth story, but I had gaps in my memory and had also remembered some of the details out of order. I had a lot of confusion about what had happened.
I then started seeing a counselor and was receiving Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy. EMDR therapy is a treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and it is also very effective for birth trauma. In fact, I only needed four sessions, and I couldn’t believe how well it worked. I was finally feeling like myself again and I had my life back. My hospital records arrived while I was still in therapy and I was able to read them without being triggered by them. With that in hand, I was better able to make sense of the order of events and write out my birth story properly.
The next thing that I did was set up a birth debrief meeting with an RN clinician that I knew and trusted, and who had experience working in a maternity unit. I went over the details of my birth and she explained to me which parts of my experience were in fact “normal” and which were not.
I also did a great deal of research on my own, into what the standards of practice were for the doctors and nurses in my province, as well as national guidelines regarding perinatal care. I was able to identify parts of my experience that were in violation of these standards and guidelines.
In the meantime I took a prenatal class that taught me about the physiological process of labour. I wanted to understand what labour and birth should look like and how interventions interfere with that process. In doing so I was better able to identify what exactly had happened to me and why my birth experience had gone so wrong.
I was very angry about the lack of information I had received, the misinformation and the outright lies. Armed with what I now knew, I spent months writing a very compelling 14 page complaint letter. I submitted complaints to my local health authority, and the regulatory bodies for both the doctors and the nurses.
Then I asked myself a really difficult question. What did I actually want? I had originally wanted to have two children. And I concluded that if I chose not to have more children because of my experience, then I was letting the people who had caused my trauma to make that decision for me. These people, I knew, went home that day and patted themselves on the back for a job well done. These people weren’t even going to remember me or my birth. In fact they were completely oblivious to the impact that they had had on me and my life. I was the one who was going to live with the consequences of all of this.
So, again, I asked myself, what did I actually want? I decided that I indeed still wanted two children. But if I was going to do this again it was going to have to be completely different.
Here is where mindset really comes in:
I made a decision. I stepped into my power. I positioned myself as the one in control. I made it happen. And it was easy!
Don’t get me wrong, it was not without its challenges. But I faced each challenge with that same mindset and moved through them knowing that each challenge meant that my dream birth was just beyond the horizon.
PLANNING AN EMPOWERED PREGNANCY
I attended the Empowered Birth Workshop, taught by Carly Bonderud from empoweringmomsbirth.com. I took her 5 Pillars of Empowered Birth and used them as the framework for planning my pregnancy.
I hired a mindset coach. This was not something I normally would have done, but it turned out to be one of the most important parts of achieving the birth that I would later have. Mindset was the key.
Then I created my pregnancy plan, birth plan and postpartum plan. I was going to do everything differently this time.
For my pregnancy plan I researched every test that was going to be offered. I learned what they were testing for, the best timing for the tests, way of testing and diagnosing. I weighed the risks and benefits for both agreeing to and declining each test. I decided what I wanted to do.
I also researched preventative care options to help me avoid the complications I had in my previous pregnancy. I have chronic hypertension and had postpartum preeclampsia with my first baby. In my second pregnancy I was also diagnosed with gestational diabetes. I used my pregnancy plan to successfully avoid preeclampsia and was able to keep my GD diet controlled.
For my birth plan I imagined the way I wanted my birth to go and then wrote that down. I knew what I wanted and what I wanted to avoid. I wrote out my birth plan and then I made contingencies for the things that were most likely to come up. My birth plan went through many versions over the coming months.
For my postpartum plan I decided that I was going to pamper myself and prioritize my healing. My first birth was via cesarean section and so there was a very real possibility that would happen again. I wanted to be prepared this time.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF EXPERIENCE
Armed with my image of the birth I wanted and my birth plan in hand I set out to find the right care provider. I applied to every single midwife practice there was. Everyone was full and no one could take me on as a client. Then I applied to the local group of obstetric family physicians. I explained on my intake form that my previous birth had been traumatic and I requested to be assigned to either of two doctors who had been recommended to me.
Then I received a phone call and it was a doctor who I had never heard of before. He explained that he was the practice partner of the doctor I had been referred to. He had read my intake form and he was calling to ask me if he could be my doctor. Throughout the conversation he was facilitating informed consent, and so I agreed. I had just manifested my right care provider.
The next several months involved a lot more learning and a lot of negotiating, but I came up with a final birth plan with which my doctor was comfortable and which did not in any way compromise my values or my vision of what I wanted.
I had already hired my doula. I chose her because I knew that she was going to be able to hold space for me and would protect my birth experience. She also offered postpartum care and that was part of my plan for afterwards.
My doctor did not disappoint. He facilitated informed consent for each decision I had to make. And he even advocated on my behalf with his colleagues and the hospital at which I was planning to give birth.
The pregnancy was not without challenges, but I met each one head on, always keeping my dream birth in mind. And, when you read my birth story, you are not going to believe your eyes!
But that is a story for another day.
In the meantime, if you are interested in learning more about the 5 Pillars of Empowered Birth you can read about them at empoweringmomsbirth.com/book.
My hope is that other pregnant people will be inspired by my story, step into their power and have an empowered birth experience.
This is the first part of a two part story. To read the second part go to How I Used Mindset To Get My Dream Birth