I’ve spoken before about my feelings about what happened at Joseph’s birth and how it left me traumatised. It was a long road to getting help, but I have just completed my 10th and final CBT session and I’m so happy to report that I now feel totally different about the birth. I actually can’t believe I can sit here and say this, when only a matter of weeks ago I couldn’t tell anyone about the birth without crying.
As I’ve mentioned, my GP wasn’t the most helpful in my search for help and effectively left it in my hands. I contacted two NHS counselling providers who both assessed me over the phone relatively quickly. Both did the GAD-7 Anxiety & PHQ-9 assessments with me. It felt very odd talking about this stuff over the phone with a stranger, but I just really wanted help. The second provider did another assessment with me called the ‘Impact of Events Scale’, which I scored alarmingly high on, so much so that I was surprised the first provider hadn’t done it with me. The questions seemed so accurate of what I was going through and I cried when answering them as I was only realising some of these things for the first time. I was told I was suitable for counselling from both providers, but that the waiting list was long and would likely be 8 weeks for the first provider, and 10-12 for the second one. I was extremely distressed by this, as now I knew I had a problem, but would possibly have to wait 3 months to get any sort of help. After talking with my mum, I decided that private therapy would be better for me and quicker, and my mum found a local therapist who specialises in CBT for pregnant women and new mothers.
My first session with her was a brief 30 minute chat just to see if I felt comfortable talking with her and so she could find out more about how I was feeling. She was very careful not to delve too deep into things as it was such a short time I was meeting with her, but I left there feeling like I was finally going to get some help, and I felt very comfortable opening up to her. I then saw her weekly for an hour each time.
During those first few weeks seeing her, I cried a lot, especially when describing certain aspects of the birth. Through talking with her, it emerged that I felt an enormous amount of guilt about how Joseph was brought into the world and what his first few days were like. I felt guilty that I couldn’t give birth ‘naturally’, guilty that I couldn’t be there for him right after he was born, guilty that I couldn’t enjoy those first few hours and guilty that I couldn’t breastfeed him. I felt guilty most of all for the nurses taking him away for a few hours on his first night as I was completely exhausted and couldn’t even get up to feed or change him as I was in so much pain. I felt like such a bad mother and no matter how many people told me I wasn’t, or that I had just been through a lot, it didn’t change how awful I felt about it. When I got home after the session where I realised all this I sobbed my heart out and wrote an apology to Joseph, but even just reading it back made me cry even more.
The other thing that came to light was that I had been utterly convinced when I was losing blood and consciousness that I was going to die. This may sound dramatic, and in fact, someone actually laughed at me when I was telling them this once, which didn’t help, but I get how it sounds. But unless you’ve been through the exact same thing yourself, you have no idea. The threat of death to me in that moment was so real and all I was thinking was that I was never going to see my baby. It’s not hard to see why I was left traumatised by the whole thing.
I spoke to her a lot about the attitude and treatment I had from some of the medical staff in hospital; a lot of the things were minor on their own, but combined with everything else they just compounded my feelings of being unimportant and not listened to.
I hated reliving and talking about these things with her, although in a weird way it was good to have that safe space every week to just say whatever I was feeling. One thing I suffered from was flashbacks whenever I saw or heard something that would remind me of the hospital or the birth. She gave me some techniques to use whenever I felt this happening, and I didn’t always remember to do them, but they did help. One was to use the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique.
The idea is that if you look around the room for the things in the picture above, it ‘grounds’ you and brings you back into the room, and not feeling like ‘oh my god it’s happening again’. It really does work.
She also suggested I kept a notepad next to my bed to jot down any random thoughts that come into my head when I’m trying to sleep. One problem I had was not being able to sleep at night, at one point I couldn’t even lie on my back without imagining the surgeon cutting into me. Other nights my mind was just endlessly racing about unimportant things. She suggested I write down these thoughts as they come into my head, however random they are, and then I could throw the paper away, keep it, never read it again, whatever. The point of it is to get my thoughts out of my head and on to the paper, and it really does work.
She also told me about the 7-11 breathing technique, which is as simple as it sounds. Whenever you are feeling anxious or stressed, breathe in for 7 seconds and out for 11. This helps to calm me down a lot, and it is something I use regularly.
Gradually over the weeks I became aware of a shift in my attitude towards the birth (mentioned in a previous post) – mainly that I was starting to feel angry about what happened rather than sad. I discussed this with my therapist and she agreed with me that it was a good thing and was showing that I was progressing. Oddly, at the same time as this I became aware that I was starting to dread the sessions with her as I would often leave feeling worse than I did at the start, and I was starting to really not like talking about the birth all the time. I told her this and I then suggested I have a break from it for a couple of weeks to see how I felt. Over those few weeks break quite a lot happened; the main thing was that I was confronted with talking with someone who had a scarily similar situation to my own, but, although it upset me, it didn’t knock me off balance the way I thought it would. I realised then that I could actually talk about the birth without getting upset. In fact, I don’t really feel anything when I talk about it now. I’m still upset and angry that it happened, but it has happened, it’s not happening now, it was something that was done to me, was not my fault and is also something that I cannot change. All of these realisations have come from the therapy, from my own hard work, from having this blog, and from time. I’m not saying that I am 100% over what happened, nor will I ever be. And it does worry me that the feelings will come back if we ever decide to have another baby, but I couldn’t feel more different today from the person I was a few months ago. We even drove past the hospital the other day for the first time since the birth and, although I braced myself for the panic, I felt ok. It’s just a building after all. Last week I had my final therapy session. After having the break for a couple of weeks I realised that I don’t need therapy at the moment and I am coping fine on my own. When I left the session I felt liberated and realised that the trauma is now such a small part in how I’m now feeling. It’s still on my mind a lot, but it doesn’t affect me as much as it once did.
I now feel more like myself and it’s so good to finally be able to say that. I don’t know where I would be now had it not been for this therapy. I think all first time mums, whether they have a traumatic birth or not, should have some therapy sessions. It really helps to have this person who you can tell anything to, who justifies how you are feeling and helps you to see things in a different light.
The next step is getting my debrief, which is proving more difficult than it should be as I’ve had to leave it in my GP’s hands, but I am determined to get it as finding out what happened and why it is a major part of this. Hopefully it will be soon and I can start to put this behind me.