When my son was born, the first few days were fairly horrific. I was only going through the motions, pretending to be a parent when inside I was dying. Inside I was crumbling, withering, cracking, splintering. I was simply unable to process what had happened- not difficult since I’d been forcibly (and without my knowledge) sent to sleep through what should have been one of the most amazing events of my life. Instead, almost seven years on and I am still suffering the after effects of this event. In one of my last posts I wrote about being diagnosed with post natal anxiety and possible depression, linking back to my son’s birth and triggered by Elsie’s stressful pregnancy. It’s all a bit of a mess. And the one question I was asked, again and again- and am still asked today- is this: Are you going to make a complaint? I didn’t. I stayed silent.
I don’t know whether this was the right thing to do or not. I’ve written about this before, and I still am unsure about whether or not it would have made any difference. What nags at me is the fact that if I had spoken up, fewer subsequent mistakes may have been made with other women. But if I had spoken up, what would it have been like for me and my family, having to re-live it all again so publicly? Re-living it at all was bad enough, in the dead of night with my loved ones sleeping around me. The thought of doing it in a cold, stark room filled with strangers made me want to shut down completely.
So I didn’t complain. I stayed silent. And in seven years I still have not really spoken about what happened. I’ve written, here and in other places. But I have not been able to talk out loud. That needs to change. That will change as I prepare to speak about my experiences at the Women’s Voices conference in October, and a Birth Trauma conference in December. I will find the strength from somewhere, and I will share my story.
I have also begun counselling, at long last. The theory we’re working with now is that I am not depressed, as I had already suspected, but am suffering with anxiety. And I know I was not like this before my son was born. That is the reality of staying silent? Maybe. I have also requested to meet with the supervisor of midwives at the hospital where my son was born, so that we can read through my birth notes together and attempt to draw a line under the cloud that has followed me all these years. I don’t know if it will work, but I have to try.
And so, this has been my way of muddling through the mess to find a way to emerge on the other side. It is my journey and it takes as long as it takes. But what of other women? What if they feel that staying silent is not an option? That what happened to them is inside, bursting, no- screaming!- to get out? What if what happened needs to be addressed? Needs to be analysed so that other women do not experience the same? So that lessons are learned and improvements are made?
Throughout my involvement with #MatExp I have been keenly aware that improvement to our maternity services is crucial. And so I must do my bit too. Staying silent may not have been the best thing after all. I often receive emails asking for advice on what to do in the aftermath of birth trauma and all I can say is that it is a uniquely personal journey, and only you can determine the best path to take. If you want to make a complaint, have someone on your side. If you’ve suffered birth injury, you may want to contact companies such as First4SeriousInjury for information on how to make a claim to help you with adjustments that need to be made to your life. You might want to employ someone to help you go through your birth notes to try and make sense of what happened to you. You might want to curl into a ball for some time, to process what happened in your own way.
Whichever path you take, know that its ok to take it. Know that its YOUR decision, your path, your journey. But also know that you are definitely not alone. Sadly there are many other women sailing this sea with me. Strong, capable, courageous women. And men. Find an ally. Hold on tight.
Join Maternity Matters and Unfold Your Wings for #BirthTraumaChat every Monday at 8pm.
This is a collaborative post.