Kelly was a speaker at the National Caesarean Awarenss Day seminar held by Birthtalk in 2006. The following is her powerful presentation from that day.
Hi, I’m Kelly and I wanted to talk to you all today about my experience of moving on after a challenging birth.
I have 2 children, Hudson who is 5 years old and Broderick who is 10 months old. My first birth was very traumatic and moving on after such a traumatic experience takes time and support.
Two important realizations for me that I want to share are:
1. it is ok to feel unhappy about your birth experience, yes even when you have a healthy baby, and
2. you can heal from this, it’s a process of acknowledgement, understanding and education.
My first birth
My path to the birth of my first baby was the most distressing experience of my life – and my husband’s too. 9 hours after my waters broke I was being told that I would soon be induced as ‘nothing was happening’. This advice went against everything we had wanted and written in our ignored birth plan, and the fear that took over me that from moment on made my heart throb in my throat. Although I wasn’t induced, 2 hours later I was having an emergency caesarian for foetal distress. Hudson’s APGAR scores were 9 and 9. I felt distraught and just paralysed. When there is the slightest implication by anyone, that our baby may have been in danger, all rational thinking disappeared for us. I felt that the hospital staff completely took over my birth by using fear. I felt very scared, completely powerless, and utterly crushed. When Hudson was lifted from me and I saw him for the first time, I felt consumed by love for this exquisite little person. But it felt so wrong to have all these other people touching him and looking at him while he screamed and I just couldn’t reach him…I was saying ‘give him to me, give him to me’ in a quiet and anxious but demanding voice. He was wrapped and placed next to my face. I smelt him, I touched him with my lips. I said I love you my baby. And so began this passionate and anxious love we share.
I held Hudson so close to me after he was born that my husband barely got a hug from either of us. I also remember always feeling somewhat threatened by other motherly women holding him. I was desperate to be the one that gave him ALL the love, no-one else could take over, or take him away from me. At first I closed off from my husband, seeing him merely as a busboy for food, chocolate and nappies, but slowly I began to realize that maybe the change in some of my relationships waren’t so much about having a new baby, but about the trauma I had experienced. 2 months after his birth my mum’s friend arrived from Perth for a conference. Denise is a midwife working in the community midwifery program in WA so, as you an imagine, she was openly annoyed and quite cynical about the events of my birth, but I wasn’t quite ready to hear this yet – we were still clinging desperately to the ‘they saved us all’ line, even though I knew it was flawed.
Debriefing and finding validation
It was 2 more months later that I met an amazing women, mother and midwife, Debby Gould from Birthtalk. And over a period of weeks and months, Deb helped me to debrief many times and would just give me little bits of info to chew over, and huge amounts of validation so that I could finally voice what was in my heart – that that birth experience had been traumatic and scary and not how birth should be. When the penny dropped that birth didn’t have to be like that, I felt reborn!! And so began the next part of my journey – to healing.
A journey to healing
Looking back I can see that there were some critical steps that happened to start healing from this traumatic experience. The validation from Deb, Melissa and the other women at Birthtalk was extremely important, having other people understand what I had been through and whole heartedly agree that it was wrong and scary, allowed me to eventually let go of the angry and negative emotions, and create space inside me for the strength and trust in my body and and my carers, and space for information to help me make the right choices next time.
Educating and therefore empowering myself with information : about labour and birth, the body’s amazing ability to birth, different models of care available to pregnant women, and hearing the real stories, no holes barred, of other women’s normal birth experiences all helped me to truly believe that birth could be different for me. This led to a slow but definite return of trust in myself, which was fully realized during the pregnancy and birth of my 2nd baby, Broderick.
So this is birth
My husband and I made informed choices about every step for Brody. We found a gentle midwife who had a strength and a belief in a women’s ability to birth which just radiated from her, and enveloped us. Broderick was born into his father’s arms after 8 hours of labour. My midwife, my husband and my son were all that were present, supporting me, reassuring me, loving me which allowed my mind and body to succumb to the power and ecstasy of birth. Immediately after Broderick’s birth I felt a complete and utter calm and peace. Like I was sitting with my perfect baby, under a magic ray of pure sunshine. My felt beautiful and powerful and womanly. With my bare, bloody, vernixy baby snuggled into my bare breasts, I sat back and though – So this is birth… During the newborn days and weeks, I was filled with pride, love and gratefulness. Proud of my body and mind – how strong I had been to have a VBAC at home, how strong my husband had been to ward off the doubters and support me so completely at the birth. Grateful to my wonderful midwife who I now felt an unbreakable bond with and missed when our visits ended. But most of all I Didn’t feel anxious, and I didn’t feel threatened – I didn’t have baggage. I walked into motherhood this second time free, and whole and strong.
Free and whole and strong
The birth of Brody certainly contributed to healing from Huddy’s birth too. Hudson and I are still passionately in love, but the anxiety and the holding on too tightly has eased off and we both feel confident and ok about separating from each other. I also feel humbled by Hudson. I believe his birth and life have taught me to follow my heart and make informed choices about all aspects of my children’s lives.
The major difference in what I experience with Huddy’s birth and Brody’s birth was in the absence of informed choice with the first time. The system currently set up for birthing women just doesn’t provide the education and choices women need. I certainly wish I had had access to the kind of support and education Birthtalk offers. And within this, the birthing women themselves and their stories to help me on my journey.
What I want women to know
For me, the most important part of the journey and the reason I am sharing this with you is that wherever you are right now in your journey, it is ok to question what happened to you. It is normal to feel anger, or disappointment, or distress after a challenging, unexpected of traumatic birth.
And most importantly, you can heal from this, it is a fluid process. With acknowledgement, validation of what you went through, you can move toward learning how to experience birth in a way that feels safe and right for you.
What I wish for the women here today is that they may have access to the education and support to make informed choices about themselves and their babies in birth. By using Birthtalk you will get the real stories about birth and what you need to prepare you for the kind of experience you want. And to the care givers that have attended today, you are here because you believe that birth is important and it’s impact far reaching for women and their families, and therefore the community. By continuing to openly support women and take every opportunity to provide them with validation and education, you too will ensure that birth is safe and just ‘right’ for every individual woman.
By Kelly Makin