At least you have a healthy baby

At least you have a healthy baby

I read a post the other day from a lady who had wanted a hands off, non medicalised, hands off birth with her twins. She had a meeting with the supervisor of midwives prior to the labour, made sure everything was written down and reiterated everything again when she arrived at the hospital in labour. Yet she was still ‘not allowed’ in the pool she had requested, was told to lie flat on her back for examination and delivery and subjected to scans and monitoring she neither wanted nor needed. The lady felt traumatised, let down, upset and out of control.

And then someone commented that ‘at least she had come away with 2 healthy babies’. And I wanted to burst into tears for her.

Because that is NOT all that matters.

Of course we all want to come away from our labour with a happy, healthy baby. But a happy, healthy mum is also incredibly important. How is that mum going to cope effectively if she doesn’t feel she is happy and healthy? If she feels guilty, broken, out of control and lost?

Because that’s what happens. Too often.

My first birth resulted in a crash section. My labour was medically managed from the second I arrived at the large hospital, following an ambulance transfer from my lovely, local birth centre. My baby was back to back. I was told this would make birth difficult, that I needed to be monitored. I didn’t know any better, but I could see my water birth slipping away. I didn’t know I could refuse the monitors, the examinations. I didn’t know I could tell them how uncomfortable I was lying on my back with my legs in stirrups. I didn’t know I could say NO to ventouse and forceps.

I just didn’t know.

I came round from my anaesthetic to find myself minus bump, minus baby. She was in special care. But she was OK. And for that I was thankful. But is that all that matters?

No.

I didn’t bond with her. The last thing I had heard before being knocked out was a nurse saying ‘We’ve lost the fetal heart rate’. I thought she had died then and there. So I couldn’t believe this baby was mine. I kept waiting for someone to come and take her away, to tell me they had made a mistake, to send me home with empty arms. 

But I took a healthy baby home, and that’s all that matters. Right?

Wrong.

10 years on, this birth still haunts me. I can remember, minute by minute, everything that happened during my labour. I question the decisions that were made for me, and I beat myself up for not being better informed. I feel guilty that I failed my baby, that she had such a traumatic arrival into the world. I sank deep into depression after the birth, and I have never fully recovered from that. My mental health is still unstable now, and I frequently get flashbacks and nightmares where I wake screaming, thinking my baby is dead, thinking I didn’t survive the operation. 

People tell me all the time “At least she’s healthy. At least she’s a happy, bright little girl. That’s all that matters isn’t it?”

Well no. That’s not all that matters. Don’t I matter too? Doesn’t it matter that I am broken, wounded and deeply affected by this? Doesn’t it matter that my poor husband was left alone in a room after I was wheeled off to theatre, with no idea of what was going on? Doesn’t it matter that the first sighting of his daughter was her being resuscitated by a neonatal team? Don’t you think that will always stay with him?

Birth trauma matters. We need to talk about it. We need to let parents know that they matter too.

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29 Comments

  1. May 25, 2016 / 12:39 pm

    I could have written this myself. People say to me ‘well look at him now, you’d never know tommwoukd you!’ And I think that if they saw inside me then they really would know!! We definitely need to shout about our experiences and the effects birth trauma can have on women xx
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    • kate
      May 25, 2016 / 7:36 pm

      Agreed, 100%. Birth trauma needs to be talked about so much more!

  2. May 25, 2016 / 12:46 pm

    How ignorant! I had an unplanned homebirth on my last baby and it was bloody terrifying, I don’t care what anyone says. I woke up in sweats for weeks after it. People need to learn how to keep their mouths shut. Unless they have experienced it their point is no longer valid.

    • kate
      May 25, 2016 / 7:36 pm

      Gosh, you poor thing. I bet that was terrifying! Thank you for commenting.

  3. Michelle
    May 25, 2016 / 12:51 pm

    Actually that is what matters.

    As a mum that had a cat 1 crash c section under general Anaesthetic who also woke not knowing if my baby was alive or not. I completely get that a traumatic birth is devastating.

    I planned and argued for a non medical birth for my second baby. I wanted that text book happy birth that the books promise. I had a supportive midwife and a very practical consultant but I never got that birth either as I went into extreme prem labour. I was blue lighted to a hospital over an hour away. I was monitored. Given drugs I didn’t want and when I finally pushed my tiny boy into the world he wasn’t breathing. He never took a breath. I buried my son.
    That put my trauma birth into perspective!!

    So when I had my third child I didn’t make a birth plan. I didn’t place unrealistic expectations on myself or my midwife or my doctors. I educated myself on every possible outcome When the time came I was informed and I trusted those around me to do the best for my baby. She’s now 5 years old and her birth was far from a perfect birth but she’s here and generally healthy.
    I don’t mean to belittle birth trauma because it’s hell, ptsd is hell, pnd is hell but I’d take that hell over the alternative I’ve lived every day of the last nine years.

    • kate
      May 25, 2016 / 1:07 pm

      I am so sorry for your loss, that is something no parent should have to deal with.

      For me, birth trauma has ruined our lives. Obviously, we ARE incredibly grateful to have our healthy children, I wouldn’t change that for the world. BUT, it has changed me as a person, it has changed my husband too. We will never be who we were before that day. I just think it needs to be recognised, there needs to be more help and support available for those who need it. I also believe there should be a whole heap more support for people who have experienced stillbirths, miscarriages and other losses. The after birth care is often lacking.

      • Michelle
        May 25, 2016 / 3:05 pm

        I waited almost 2 years for counselling after my traumatic first birth so I do understand and absolutely agree that there should be more support for mums. I also experienced the hurt of people telling me that ‘how my healthy baby was born didn’t matter’ and was something I would get over (he’s 11 now and if still bothers me) but I now believe that birth trauma must be in perspective.

        • kate
          May 25, 2016 / 7:37 pm

          Absolutely, and thank you so much for sharing your experiences.

  4. May 25, 2016 / 3:02 pm

    wow that is a hard situation. The health and wellbeing of the mother is of paramount importance too x

    • kate
      May 25, 2016 / 7:37 pm

      Absolutely!

  5. May 25, 2016 / 3:53 pm

    I had a horrific birth experience the first time around (I literally almost died) but people kept telling me I had a healthy baby and that was all that mattered- WRONG!

    • kate
      May 25, 2016 / 7:38 pm

      It is very wrong that we are told that’s all that matters. So sorry you had such an awful time. xx

  6. May 25, 2016 / 5:11 pm

    This post is so right! Everyone always says “at least you have a healthy baby, shouldn’t that be the only thing you should be worrying about?” Yes, thats important but the mothers health is just as important as mummy needs to be able to look after the baby. I had an unplanned home birth due to being sent home without being checked and he was born 5 minutes after we got home! Safe to say I put in a complaint to them as anything could have happened!

    • kate
      May 25, 2016 / 7:39 pm

      Of course, we all want a healthy baby, and that matters hugely. But I agree that a mother’s health and wellbeing is just as important.
      How scary that must have been for you.

  7. May 25, 2016 / 5:55 pm

    Oh bless! This post is 100% right. I hate it when people say such things like that don’t think about the person what they went through etc. I am quite lucky to not have gone through a traumatic labour etc. So I really do feel for the mothers who do
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    • kate
      May 25, 2016 / 7:40 pm

      Thank you. I think people just need to think a bit more carefully before they speak. They mean well, but it can be so damaging.

  8. May 25, 2016 / 6:48 pm

    So true and so important to talk about. I suffered a severe bleed and two transfusions with my first and shoulder dystopia with my second and still think about the births most days. I sometimes feel silly worrying about something that I can never change but it still haunts me. I wrote a post that might resonate with you about why giving birth wasn’t the best day of my life. http://www.freefromfarmhouse.co.uk/family/giving-birth-wasnt-best-day-life/

    • kate
      May 25, 2016 / 7:34 pm

      Thank you so much for sharing, off to have a read now!

  9. May 25, 2016 / 9:31 pm

    Couldn’t agree more. I could have written this. Women matter! Their experiences matter. Birth changes you, it stays with you for the rest of your life.

  10. Keri Jones
    May 25, 2016 / 9:57 pm

    I read this post then I scrolled through my emails and found a news article about another bad birth/post birth experience. I’m so glad these stories are being shared. People need to understand it’s not all about the child being well, it’s also about the trauma the parent(s) went through to bring them into the world.

  11. Denise Clifft
    May 25, 2016 / 10:16 pm

    People just seem to think birth trauma is par for the course’ – like it’s an almost expected outcome. No other procedure that is undertaken in a medical setting would be treated with such nonchalance. It’s a travesty and an infringement of human rights. The indignity that some women endure in birth, in the 21st century is barbaric. Radical change to maternity care needs to take place.

  12. May 25, 2016 / 11:00 pm

    That really isn’t all that matters. It’s a blessing, but there’s more to it. I had only ever heard horror stories of birth and so before LP was born I researched as much as possible about my rights and what could/couldn’t happen. I think being fully informed makes you more confident in standing up for the birth you want – although you shouldn’t need to defend your choices in that situation x
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  13. May 26, 2016 / 8:52 am

    I have three healthy boys after three very difficult c-sections. In the last, planned csection I pretty much nearly died. I was too out of it to notice, but it was scary stuff. This was a third, planned for, waited for, anticipated, no complications c-section. I had a blood transfusion and ended up up with a horrible post-op infection. But oddly, I was okay with it.
    My second csection resulted in baby in SCBU. My first csection was an ’emergency’ after 38 hours of labour and trying to push a too-big baby out.
    Oddly, I have no real trauma from the last one – despite it being the worst. The after care was awful too – the hospital was extremely short-staffed and because I was third-time-round they concluded I didn’t need as much care because I was now ‘a pro’.
    I desperately wanted a natural birth in all three situations. I feel like I could have. But because I was young, because I didn’t know I could question, because I was scared, I was made to go with their markers, their deadlines, their protocols.
    I think there should be a book which tells women what could be the reality instead of the sugar-coated soft touch phtograph books. First and second time I suffered massive PND and PTSD after birth. Third time and most horrific, not so much I think because (and it’s difficult to pinpoint or say for sure) I knew about what could happen and I felt a bit more in control, a bit older and mainly more able to say no to what I didn’t want. That third time was awful for other reasons this time, but reasons which couldn’t be helped. I felt more in control that third time and I think it made all the difference

  14. May 27, 2016 / 6:52 pm

    Thanks for this. My waters broke but after 24 hours of nothing they were supposed to induce me but wouldn’t because no labour rooms available. So I was in the ward leaking for another day, then 22 hours induction with constant monitoring, as actually very 3cm dilated ending in emergency c-section 3 days after my waters broke. Also failed to ever establish breastfeeding which I found even harder to bear. I felt like after my difficult birth, didn’t I at least deserve an easy ride breastfeeding? Baby thought otherwise and wouldn’t latch. Not quite what I was hoping for. I did get a healthy baby despite the infection risk, but still, makes me worry should we ever have another.

    My birth was actually very well handled by staff, but I’ve had that comment a few times by other people and it makes my experience feel irrelevant .
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  15. May 27, 2016 / 11:06 pm

    When I was pregnant, I wanted a water birth and was quite sad when it didn’t happen. I ended up having an emergency c-section instead!
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  16. Muma
    May 28, 2016 / 2:26 pm

    Bad birth experiences are haunting and something that get carried with us forever and a day.
    When I read the comments “at least you have a healthy baby”, I read it a little differently. I read it as a reminder that some people’s parenting journeys don’t end with them walking away with a baby at all. Some people don’t ever get the positive test, some don’t get to ever hold hands, some don’t get to see a blurry outline on a screen, some go through the utter agony and trauma of giving birth and that is all they will ever have.
    Having been through more than one type of parenting journey none is easier to bare than the other.
    Every persons journey is difficult in different ways and will be carried differently.
    Maybe as more and more of these stories are told, we can find strength and hopefully support for each of our own journeys as well as a voice to hopefully change

  17. Sarah - mud cakes and wine
    August 21, 2016 / 10:42 am

    The birth of my third baby was extremely traumatic and I too have awful flashbacks at how close were both were to not being here today, the only reason we are is I finally put my foot down and said no this is what I want. My close friends asked me yes the baby is well but are you? That meant so much to me. Did they not offer you any counciling or birth stories options to help? Thank you for sharing I am sure so many other families feel the same #sundaybest

  18. August 27, 2016 / 9:53 pm

    This is something I can so relate to Kate. I had a crash section too with my first and am still affected by it now, but people tell me I should be happy that my baby is fine as that’s all that matters. It’s so not. Thanks for linking up to #SundayBest x
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  19. August 28, 2016 / 12:12 am

    Such an important post Kate, and all so very true. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have had 3 birth experiences all go to plan, and I can’t begin to imagine the effects experiences such as yours must have – it’s not ok to brush that off and make mothers think that they’re not allowed to talk about their feelings because they should simply be grateful that their baby is alive…there is so much more to it than that.
    Thank you for joining us at #SundayBest x
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