I am fortunate enough to have had the privilege of giving birth twice. I say 'privilege' because I appreciate for some women, getting pregnant and carrying children is not straightforward and I know how extremely lucky and blessed I have been to do this successfully, not just once but twice. Each birth was life affirming for different reasons- my first was a really traumatic undertaking which set the tone for the first 6 months of motherhood. My second was a really healing, euphoric experience and left me on such a high that it has set the tone for the rest of my life!
Sadly, I don't think the tale of my traumatic first birth is a unique one, it involved a heatwave, being very 'overdue', 3 failed sweeps, an induction and a cascade of interventions resulting in an 'emergency' c-section. I have shared my birth story here recently- it is under D for Determined on the website for those who haven't had a chance to catch it yet. It is quite a raw and scrappy account of what happened in the birthing process. Retelling the story was cathartic- it is still hard to talk about out loud so I just don't really. And besides- whenever I tried to tell my story at the time I was told that as long as baby was born healthy then that is all that matters right? That I should be grateful to have them here safe. My experience and my health didn't really seem to matter to anyone so I guess I just kind of stifled my voice.
So my first daughter came out through the 'sun roof' on June 24th 2014. Squealing and covered in blood she was brought round the curtain for me to see.....only I was busy vomiting and crying so really didn't want to see her at that point. Once stitched up and put back together I was taken back up to the room where I tried to hold her. I was delirious with exhaustion and was scared I would drop her so asked for her to be taken away so I could rest. Those first few days were raw, raw emotions and having to hide it for visitors, raw section-scar, raw nipples. It is hard to put into words how broken I felt. I was tearful and weak but kept being told it is normal baby blues and it will pass. My mum came to stay as i could barely walk or get up the stairs for the first 10 days let alone look after a baby. Once my husband went back to work and my mum left I was on my own......my fight or flight instinct kicked in and I found my coping mechanism- treat the baby like a task or series of tasks that need completing to keep them alive. I blocked out my emotions in order to survive. I didn't feel an emotional attachment to her at all really, I just knew I had to keep her alive and look like I was playing the part of the doting mother. I felt meh, grey, my head was foggy. Nothing brought me joy. Whilst this was going on my physical healing process was ongoing- an infection in my scar made the wound pop open so it needed bathing 3 times daily and 'airing' regularly to speed up healing. 6 months it took to close up and the whole thing really took its tole on my already weakened core and back. Would I ever know what it felt like not to be broken again? At this point I really didn't think so.
It never occurred to me that I could have post-natal depression- that was something other people had, I was coping and my child was thriving so it never crossed my mind. I remember the fog lifting at around 6 months post partum.
This is all, of course said in hindsight- my behaviour and feelings just felt like my normal and it wasn't until I was pregnant again with my second child that my mental health really took a pounding. It started gradually, struggling to sleep, struggling with severe back pain and increased irritability. Then anxiety about the birth, what if it goes like the last one did. As the months passed I was having regular severe panic attacks at night. They were frightening and each time I felt like I was going to die. Something had to give. At the start of this pregnancy I made it clear to my midwife that I was having a homebirth and I armed myself with allies to advocate for me in my birth space as I wasn't sure I would be emotionally up to it- I certainly wasn't first time round. I hired a Doula who held space for me to voice my story and enabled me to open up. She suggested that I might have PTSD- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. No, I thought- that is for ex-serviceman, people who have suffered real trauma. When I looked into it further it felt like a weight had been lifted- there was a reason I was feeling this way. I arranged an appointment with the local perinatal team. After further appointments and discussions about the best course of treatment to follow a plan was put in place. However, the treatment was due to overrun into my due-period which I really didn't want. I put it on hold because I was feeling in a better place and didn't want to be facing such traumatic memories during a time when I needed to be feeling emotionally strong. I owned this decision and the perinatal mental health team respected and trusted me enough to cease treatment. I promised I would get further help if needed after the birth.
The stars aligned on 4th October 2016 and my second daughter was born at home on her due date with my midwife in attendance- it definitely felt like someone was looking out for me that day. It wasn't the calm, spiritual waterbirth experience I imagined and planned for- it was fast, furious, even funny and ridiculous at times. But I felt powerful, like a warrior and roared that baby out. The days that followed were blissful- I kept waiting for afterpains, baby blues and utter despair and exhaustion but it just never happened. I was so in love with her, I cuddled and fed her and co-slept with her and let my body heal. I felt like she fixed me. I wanted to do it all over again. I still do. It made me realise just how poorly I was after the birth of my first daughter- did i have post-natal depression? I don't know but I didn't feel well, in fact I didn't feel much at all for those 6 months- mainly just numb. My homebirth experience has shaped my whole outlook on the rest of my life and how I treat my self. This is the difference a birth where you are listened to and respected the whole way through makes- it is not about it going to plan but about feeling in control and treated with respect. These days i treat my body and mind with the respect it deserves. I have discovered getting stupidly sweaty lifting weights and pushing myself physically in the gym and training for events is food for my soul. It's my medicine. These days whenever I feel a blip in my mental health I take it all back to basics- drink more fluid, eat nourishing and nutritious food, get more sleep and exercise hard 3 times a week. It works for me. These are my non-negotiables because for me they all interconnected. I exercise for my mind, my arse just comes along for the ride!