Going back to the hospital where I’d gone through such a traumatic birth brought it all back – the familiarity of the harsh lighting in the corridors; the smell of disinfectant and the unbearable warmth as we trekked round. The only difference was that this time I wasn’t lugging around a huge bump, my stride no longer a slow waddle.
We had waited 3 and half months for this appointment. As it had approached I had become gradually more and more nervous, not knowing what to expect. As always in these situations, I researched to ensure I felt prepared and in control, but there was surprisingly little on the internet that gave me any indication of what would happen – just this short page on the NHS website: https://www.leedsth.nhs.uk/a-z-of-services/leeds-maternity-care/what-we-do/birth-matters-clinic/ which sadly gave very little specific information.
I was referred to Birth Matters after experiencing a birth that was so far removed from my ‘birth plan’ it was laughable. Every time I spoke about my birth I would stop, unable to continue for feeling like I was choking, the lump in my throat so constricting, and blinking away tears furiously. I raised my negative feelings about my birth with healthcare professionals immediately in the days following my birth, and was referred straight away. Despite this, our appointment was given as being 3 and half months away, the delay of which added to my feelings of helplessness and frustration. For me it was important that my husband came with me, as not only did I need his support but I also felt he needed this debrief as much as I did, having admitted to feeling utterly helpless as his wife went through terrifying agony and being left alone with our newborn as I was rushed to surgery.
Knocking on the door of our appointment we were greeted by a friendly midwife, and ushered into comfortable chairs. On a small table was a jug of water, some glasses and a box of tissues. These small tokens of thoughtfulness reassured me straight away that I would be taken seriously. The midwife had clearly taken the time to review our case before we had arrived – she barely had to refer to her notes the whole time we were there. She calmly and sympathetically talked us through our birth timeline – allowing us to interrupt and talk about how we had felt, or little moments we remembered, and to ask questions. One of my fears about the appointment was that I would have my experience belittled as both me and my baby had come out of the birth relatively unharmed, however she fully supported the fact that it had affected me so badly. Several times during the appointment I cried, squeezing my husband’s hand as I struggled to regain control to continue.
The main point I wanted to come away from the appointment with was reassurance that should we choose to have another baby that I would be supported to try and ensure a different outcome, and to have a more positive birth experience next time. This was exactly how I felt as I left, as the midwife explained that Birth Matters is not just a debrief service, but also can support women during a pregnancy who have anxieties about their birth. In our case she suggested that we would be entitled to contact Birth Matters even before we were considering another baby to meet with a specialist consultant and put a plan in place to try to avoid the negative set of events that led to my traumatic birth. At no point were we rushed, and we were in discussions for the best part of an hour. Afterwards, she sent us the official timeline of our birth by email, adding a personal message at the start, and said we could use this email address in the future should we want any more children.
Over 30,000 women a year have a traumatic birth in the UK, although as always with these stats it is probably a lot higher. Services like Birth Matters are incredibly important, and feel like a lifeline after experiencing something that is portrayed as being so positive in a highly negative way. I wanted to share the details of my appointment so that other women searching the internet in the darkness of night, silently crying so as not to wake their new baby, would find comfort in knowing what to expect and that this can be the start of recovering psychologically.
I left our appointment feeling so much lighter. I had been taken seriously, had my experience respected and sympathised with, and been given clear cut medical information for the future that took into account my exact case and circumstances. Talking so honestly with someone who we felt understood us had given us the reassurance and the beginnings of closure we craved.
If you went through a traumatic birth and find that it affects you negatively, please do seek medical assistance and ask for a referral to Birth Matters. You matter.