Recently Mumsnet launched their Aftercare Not Afterthought campaign, focusing on the need for improvements in postnatal care for women in England. Regular readers will know that campaigning for improvements to maternity services has long been my passion, and hopefully you also know that it has never been about attacking health care workers. Please understand that. It is about making changes, making improvements and inspiring better conditions for all. For women and families. For midwives. For babies. The Mumsnet campaign is important because it looks at an area many of us tend to gloss over when it comes to the business of having a baby. Pregnancy and birth are, of course, central to maternity services, but lets not forget that what happens in the first few days after birth is critical when it comes to maternal mental health and wellbeing, This is my story. This is why we need #betterpostnatalcare.
He was born at 6.45 on a frosty December evening, just six minutes after the surgeon put his knife to my skin. He was taken away, forced to breathe and urged to scream. He was cleaned, he was dressed, he was wrapped in a blanket. When I woke up, he was in his father’s arms and a complete stranger to me. This was surely NOT the baby I had carried for 41 weeks and 2 days. This was NOT the baby I had felt kick and roll and turn through all those weeks. This was NOT what I had imagined at all. And yet it was my reality.
I was taken to recovery where I was asked to sign a consent forgiving doctors permission to slice into my body to save my baby. I was told to hold him, to feed him, to try and wake up because I had a baby to take care of. An hour or so later I was taken back to the ward, where my husband was sent home and then, as the other ladies began to settle down for the night, I was all alone.
Watching my husband leave was agony. It was hospital policy. Visiting hours were over. But I was broken. I couldn’t look at my baby let alone feed him. The sound of his cries felt like nails down a blackboard and the prospect of the long and lonely night ahead made me weep and weep and weep.
Throughout that night my son had episodes of choking. Long periods of crying. Excruciating silences during which I feared he really had died after all. A student midwife took me under her wing and helped as much as she could, but she was obviously very busy and so the night passed slowly and painfully for us all. By morning, it was a relief to have my husband return to my side, even if it was on the hospital’s terms. He took charge then, called a midwife to take out my catheter and requested the bloody sheets be changed at last, despite my having asked already. I felt invisible. Like a burden. Like an absolute failure.
And all the while people were congratulating me. Telling me this was it now. New baby. New responsibilities. Time to get on and smile. Be happy. Be glad. Your baby is alive, all is well.
On day three I was sent home, having already been told that I would not be given any pain relief because I was breastfeeding. Any protests I managed fell on deaf ears. They didn’t care that I was bruised from neck to knees- an angry trail of blue, green and yellow marking it’s territory on my body. They didn’t care that my neck was so stiff from the breathing tube that it hurt to turn my head even a fraction. They didn’t care that my surgery wound was so so sore that each breath in was like a knife to the gut all over again. They didn’t care. Or so I thought.
Maybe they hated sending home a new mum broken, battered, bruised and beaten. Maybe they hated seeing the haunted pain in my eyes, knowing that there was little they could say or do at that point to make it better. Maybe they hated seeing my detachment towards an innocent baby for whom I desperately wanted to feel something, but at the same time would have left behind in that hospital given half the chance. Maybe. They never said.
The first three days as a mum of two will never, ever leave me. I’ve often said that it wasn’t just the birth that traumatised me. My official point of trauma came when I believed my baby was dead; the resulting PTSD was made worse by the poor postnatal care I received. I wonder if you still believe me when I say that this is not about blame?
I really do not blame the staff who cared for me during those three days. I really do not believe they were happy with how it all turned out. I really do not think that there was much else they could do. But I KNOW that there is much that we can do now. We can strive to make changes to our maternity services. We can raise our voices and share our stories and make people listen. Make people understand. Make people want to help. We need changes and we need them now. We need to protect our NHS and help the wonderful staff to make a positive difference to new mums and their families.
Please support the campaign in any way that you can. Tweet @mumsnettowers or me @ghostwritermumm and use the hashtag #betterpostnatalcare. Tell us your story, tell us what you want to do to make changes, tell us what changes you’re already making. This is important. Maternal mental health is important. Our maternity services are important. Let’s protect them and improve them NOW.