Originally posted August 6, 2018.
Part One: Recovering from birth trauma
Betty was feeling very down, anxious and disconnected. She had given birth to her third child just twelve weeks ago! Her new baby was a joy. He was beautiful and perfect. And so much work as well! Betty had never missed sleep so much in her life! He was her second baby, her first son. She thought she should feel very happy. But she just felt empty. There was so much work to do, so much laundry and so much responsibility! She was crying often and felt distant from her family: her baby, her other child and her husband.
She felt happiness sometimes, but often felt removed from her life, like she was standing outside her body. Her husband researched some therapists she could try to see close to her home. At the urging of her husband and her mother, she called three and settled on someone who was trained in perinatal mood disorders and trauma therapies.
Betty has what she thinks was a traumatic birth experience, but she just wasn’t sure. She was relieved to be at the therapist’s office. One there, in bits and pieces, she recounted the story of her second child’s birth. Her therapist listened carefully to her story, asking questions to clarify, but mostly listening the human and medical drama that unfolded surrounding her second birth. She had a traumatic, actually a near death experience (NDE) during childbirth.
Betty had prepared for both her first and second births by going to a childbirth educator who practiced birth hypnosis and made personalized recordings. Betty liked the recordings and found them to be relaxing during pregnancy and productive during birth. She had alot of practice with suggestive relaxation as her second pregnancy progressed and she felt excited about being mom again.
Betty gave birth naturally in the birth center part of a hospital. She felt confident, proud and excited that she had given birth once again naturally, without pain medication.
She was feeling tired. She remembers holding her baby next to her and feeling his warmth and his beginning to suckle. She was happy to be breastfeeding again! She felt happy, exhausted and warm. A nurse came and wrapped him up and placed him in a bassinet in her room, as the family was rooming in.
Betty was fitfully napping when a nurse came by to check up on her. Betty felt sort of warm and squishy but didn’t think much of it. When she sat up in bed, she felt strangely warm and maybe even wet, she wasn’t sure. The nurse looked at her, noticed how pale she was, pulled back the sheets and was shocked to see Betty sitting in a pool of blood.
The nurse moved quickly.
Suddenly, other nurses quickly came into the room and they began pushing on her stomach, hard. Betty was in pain and terrified and didn’t understand why the nurses kept pushing on her stomach. It hurt so much! Oxygen was pushed into her nose quickly as she was feeling more and more faint. Her midwife was suddenly there, and more medical personnel came rushing in. The room was filled with medical people. Doctors for her and doctors for the baby. There was a flurry of activity as they discussed what needed to be done among themselves. One nurse positioned herself by Betty’s head and talked to her in a low voice, comforting her. There was alot of noise and discussion and some loud talking. Betty was asked to sign a consent and was rushed off to surgery.
Pre-surgery there was a flurry of activity, as the anesthesiologist readied her for surgery. Betty said she experienced an out of body experience, and felt like she was watching herself and the others from the ceiling of the room. Then, she suddenly was waking up from the anesthesia and it seemed like only two minutes went by. Everything looked white and felt cold. Betty said she felt afraid and exhausted, but was happy to notice she was alive. She feel back asleep and woke up again in the critical care unit. She had tubes coming out of her and some sort of socks on both of her legs that pumped her legs tightly so clots wouldn’t form.
As the drugs wore off, she started shaking and was very cold. She felt very weak. Due to the amount of blood she had lost, she was getting blood transfusions, which burned her veins and was also very, very cold. She was in the critical care unit for 3 days, in and out of consciousness. She remembers her husband and her mother and how worried she looked.
The surgeon came and told her her uterus had begun to bleed for an unknown reason. The surgical team tried to stop the bleeding but despite their best efforts, they couldn’t stop the bleeding, so they made the decision to do an emergency hysterectomy. Betty was in shock. She had planned to have more children.
The medical team at the hospital provided wonderful care. Her midwife, and the doctor the midwife worked with, the surgeon, the nurses all were attentive and caring. Betty knew they saved her life. She felt so many things. Most of all, she felt numb and confused and also angry and sad.
While she was in recovery and critical care, she wondered about her baby. She alternated between longing to see him and being too tired to think about him. But she had normal, strong, instinctual maternal feelings of needing to be with her baby. These feelings sometimes morphed into a panic as she wanted to see him so badly it hurt. But then, she also felt like she was just too tired to care for him. She felt frustrated, inadequate and concerned all at once. She cried silently often. Her milk started to come in, but she couldn’t nurse him as she was so weak. She wanted to be with her baby but had to push these feelings aside as she knew logically this wasn’t possible. And then she was so tired and unable to cope. It was a constant dual focus and an internal struggle; between her pain and her logic, and the motherly need to see him. The nurses and her husband assured her that her baby was well cared for and being held often in the hospital’s nursery. Her husband and her mother stayed with the baby as much as possible, but they also had to care for her other child.
Betty was young and strong and was on the way to physical recovery. She was released from the hospital. Because of the surgery, her mother gave her the gift of a postpartum doula to help with the baby, her other child and with some cooking. Th postpartum doula was very important to her recovery as she needed some more time to physically recuperate from major surgery. And she had to pick up the pieces and get back into her life, but her body felt different than before. She felt vulnerable in a way she hadn’t felt before. She felt older. She felt tired, depressed and empty and at the same time, happy to have her new baby. Sh felt regret for the loss of her uterus, and grateful for her life. She didn’t understand what needed to be done to adjust to life knowing she couldn’t have another child, nor how to heal emotionally and physically. Re-engaging actively in life seemed like a long time away.
Betty was glad to try counseling, but she was afraid that it really wouldn’t help. She had heard of EMDR and Somatic Experiencing®, two mindbody therapies used to treat trauma, and had chosen her therapist because she was trained in these modalities. On one hand, Betty felt like it wasn’t possible that she could really be helped. She really didn’t want to constantly re-gurgitate her story and feel re-traumatized. On the other hand, Betty was hopeful these modalities would be able to help her.
Part One: Recovering from birth trauma
Here are some books and activities that you many want to explore in your healing journey.