As part of Maternal Mental Health Week, Anna Simpson shares her birth story and describes how she developed Postnatal PTSD after the traumatic delivery of her daughter.
I wanted a natural birth. I wanted as little intervention as possible. I read a hypnobirthing book. I wasn’t anxious and I even felt a bit excited about the birth and to finally meet my little girl. I made sure I told all the medical professionals I encountered this and people were happy for me and encouraging of course! However, when it became clear that my girl was in a breech position with no signs of shifting, things started to change, I was being encouraged to book a caesarean and questioned when I said no. I decided to try and get her turned into the right position by a procedure called External Cephalic Version (EVC).
I thought people would leave me alone and let things happen naturally if she was the right way up.
So the day came, I was 38 weeks pregnant and had taken the day off work to come into hospital for this pretty routine procedure. I didn’t even bring my hospital bag! My mum was with me and my boyfriend was at work but taking a half day to come and spend the afternoon with me after I’d got home. I was feeling a little nervous as I had watched videos on YouTube of the procedure and it looked uncomfortable. However, overall I was looking forward to feeling less under pressure and a little more comfortable, hopefully.
I was hooked up to the foetal heart monitor which was routine and the consultant checked to make sure my girl was ok and ready to start. The steady beeping of the monitor changed quite quickly, it slowed down. I wasn’t too worried as this had happened at previous checkups, however, I could tell from the looks on the faces in the room that this was different. The mood in the room changed and the consultant told me that she wanted to get my baby out now.
That’s when all hell broke loose.
I had a consent form shoved under my nose as nurses frantically pulled my clothes off. My knickers, my bra, my jewellery. It was the most frightening thing I have ever experienced. I felt like I was being attacked. I panicked and everything seemed to close in around me. I started to cry and I could see my mum, pushed to the back of the room, hands to her face, in tears. Before I really knew what was happening, I was in theatre and on the verge of passing out as I wasn’t breathing properly. The anaesthetist couldn’t find a vein for the cannula. My boyfriend burst through the doors as they were giving me an epidural, I felt the numbness spreading up my body.
My baby was born and she was ok. The whole event, from the decision to perform a cesarean to delivery took just 30 minutes. I think this was one of the main reasons it traumatised me, it was so quick and such a shock and I don’t think my brain was able to process any of it.
I spent the next 24 hours in hospital, numb, incapacitated, exhausted, confused and mostly alone. I didn’t know that my boyfriend wouldn’t be able to stay with me.
We got home the following evening, naturally I was very low, anxious and tearful. Everyone put this down to baby blues and to a certain degree this was true. I struggled to breastfeed, I was in a lot of pain from my stomach wound and had a very colicky baby to look after. However, after a few months I knew there was something else going on. I managed to push through the low mood, I bonded with my girl and put on a brave face the majority of the time. I also pushed through the anxiety and forced myself to get dressed and get out of the house.
But whenever my thoughts turned to what happened, either by me just trying to make sense of it all, or others asking me (which happened a lot!) the same fear and panic that I had felt in the delivery room rose in my chest and closed off my throat. I’d either not be able to talk about it at all or just have to sob through the words. It felt uncontrollable, like it was always bubbling away under the surface, I felt fragile and vulnerable. I also felt a bit angry with myself.
I felt guilt, shame, disappointment, weakness, blame… all of it.
Eventually I went to my GP who told me I was experiencing symptoms of PTSD. It finally all made sense to me.
It was almost a year after my baby was born that I actually got my act together and started Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing therapy (EMDR). The therapy was amazing and really helped me. I am so thankful I can now talk and think about what happened without the emotional pain and panic being present.
If anyone feels they may have been traumatised by birth, there are services and therapists out there who can help. It’s sometimes really hard to find the support and you might find that you have to push for it, keep talking to your GP and keep asking for support.
If you are in a similar position please know that you are not alone and it is possible to feel better.
If you would like further information on maternal mental health please visit the Mental Health support page.