When I was eight years old, I got stuck in a lift in Malta. It was a really old, rusty, shuddering lift with plenty of previous ‘incidents’ under it’s belt, so it really should not have come as any great surprise. I was alone. I’d convinced my parents to let me run up to the hotel room by myself to get something- I don’t remember what- and I’d promised not to use the lift. But I really wanted to use that lift! I really wanted to prove I could do it. I was brave enough. I was prepared. I’d seen my parents jam their fingers on two buttons at once to get the lift to creak and groan it’s way to the next floor. I’d seen them step down carefully, avoiding the inner mechanisms of the lift shaft. I was more than convinced I could do it too, should the lift stop for me. Which I was sure it wouldn’t.
But it did.
Standing alone in that lift, the lights started to flicker a little before pop! All was dim and still. It was daytime, but not inside that lift. An emergency light may have come on at this point, as in my memory the light in the lift was a dull green. I quickly pressed the alarm button, and then two other buttons at the same time, expecting the lift to carry on it’s reluctant journey to the next floor. It didn’t move!
I suppose being eight years old, my perception of this situation was a little out. Immediately, I was terrified. Nobody answered my alarm call. The lift was stifling hot- air conditioning wasn’t on the agenda in Malta in the early 80s. The lift was silent and imposing. The small space around me was growing smaller by the second, and I was all alone. I started to cry, to shout for help. My finger pressed down on the alarm button again and again, but I had no way of knowing if it was even working as all I could hear was an eerie silence. The odd crack or groan from the wires that held the lift, and me, suspended in mid air. Was the lift going to fall? Would the doors open to reveal a gaping black hole of nothing? Would anyone ever come to rescue me?
I was rescued. Eventually. I was lifted to safety by the hotel porter. He wrenched the doors open, reached down and lifted me up onto solid ground once more. I will be forever grateful to him for saving me, for bringing me out of that lift. Out of the lonely isolation of fear and anxiety. Out into the world where everything was ok again.
Fast forward 30 years, and I very rarely take a lift if I can help it. When I do have to go in, I can feel my pulse quicken. My heart starts to hammer in my chest and the fear makes it way up from my toes to my teeth. I was traumatised for years about this incident.
Taking a lift is something that many of us do every single day, without even thinking about it. Without fear. Without incident. But not for me. And perhaps you can understand why, after reading what happened to me in Malta.
Why then, is it so hard for some to understand that I have also been traumatised by my son’s birth? Why is it hard for some to accept that what happened to ME traumatised me? Why is it so hard for some to recognise that changes need to be made in the way that women are treated after birth trauma?
My birth trauma belongs to ME. You will never ever know what it feels like to be me. And just because I was not involved in a typically traumatic situation (such as a car crash) it does not mean that I cannot be left traumatised by it. For the record, I am insanely grateful to the surgeons who cut me open and saved my life. Saved the life of my babies. But I am still traumatised by what happened. It was still a traumatic event in my life, and one that only I will ever really understand.
My c-sections themselves were not traumatic. My surgeons were very competent and I am very proud of the fact that I have been through emergency surgery twice, planned twice, and live to tell the tale. I am proud of my c-section scars. I am proud to be a c-section mum. But I do not think that assuming all women SHOULD feel proud is helpful at all, because if you don’t then what? I do not think that telling women they were not robbed of an experience is helpful. I do not think that dismissing genuine emotions and trauma is helpful.
I DO feel robbed of an experience. Just as I wanted to ride the lift all by myself, I wanted to birth my babies all by myself too. I wanted a water birth first time. I wanted to go into labour fourth time. I wanted to feel my body working with nature to push my own baby into the world. That is why I attempted to do so twice. That is why my planned section with Elsie broke my heart. That is why I grieve for the birth experience I never had.
I am not stupid. I know that grieving for a birth I never had is nothing like grieving for a baby that never made it home. But that does not make my feelings any less valid. I will not be swept under the carpet. i will not be silenced. I will not rest until more people understand birth trauma.
It is not simply ‘being upset’ about a birth experience. It is so much more than that. But ultimately my birth trauma belongs to ME and you will not take that away.
*I’ve been long listed for the Seraphine Mum’s Voice award at the 2016 Tommy’s Awards. If you think I should be shortlisted please email firstname.lastname@example.org with Ghostwritermummy as the subject tittle, plus a few lines on why. Thank you!