pregnancy

'I had a 3 day labour and felt really bullied.' After the birth of her son, Amy was traumatised.

As told to Helen Vnuk.

Everyone expects you to be happy if you have a healthy baby. The culture we have is, ‘Oh well, your baby’s fine, you’re fine.’ It’s just so much deeper than that. There are many more levels to birth trauma.

Three years ago, when I was pregnant, I was diagnosed with early-onset hypertension, so my blood pressure was a little bit high and I had some oedema in my legs. That was managed with medication really well.

But the obstetrician and the hospital staff were pushing me to induce at 35 weeks, which is really early. It was a battle between my intuition and my body, and the medical system.

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I am grateful that we have amazing medical care in Australia. But in my experience, I was absolutely terrified, because I was told every day for three weeks, “Your baby will die if you do not induce.” I just said, “He’s fine, I’m fine. It’s being managed with medication. You’re frightening me.”

I finally gave in to being induced at 38 weeks. They had to induce me three times, and my labour after the last induction was three days. I wanted to give birth to him naturally. I was lucky I had my doula there because she was a wonderful advocate.

I did have a vaginal birth, but with so much intervention. My baby was fine, but he was very small. I just felt really bullied. With the changing of midwives every eight hours, it was hard to know who was a safe person. It left me feeling disempowered because they didn’t listen to me and I felt like I wasn’t good enough to be a mother.

Afterwards, I wasn’t discharged onto the ward properly. Somehow they missed me, so a doctor didn’t come to look at my baby or me for three days. If it was really that bad that they thought my baby was going to die, how could they forget about me?

Mamamia’s Executive Editor, Leigh Campbell shares her birth story with Holly Wainwright. Post continues below.

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My poor little baby, George. Because I’d been told, ‘If you don’t do the right thing, he’s going to die,’ I was just convinced something bad was going to happen to him. That only went away around the time he turned two.

I would hardly let George out of my sight. I couldn’t leave him with anybody because I thought, ‘If I leave him, and I do the wrong thing, something’s going to happen to him.’ I didn’t even leave him with his dad.

I wouldn’t drive because I thought I would crash the car and George would die. I didn’t tell anyone that, but that was my underlying thought.

I couldn’t take him to the doctor without having a panic attack, so my partner always had to come with me.

I couldn’t work because I couldn’t leave him. I felt really isolated. It was a bit of a dark space.

Wrapped up with that was the guilt: ‘Well, my baby didn’t die, and there are all these other women that that has happened to.’

When people asked how I was going, I’d just tell them what they wanted to hear: ‘Great! It’s awesome!’ Don’t get me wrong – I did have this overwhelming love for my baby, and I did everything I could to look after him.

I was one of the lucky ones because I didn’t have any physical birth trauma, but the psychological effects of the birth of my little guy were lasting. No one knew, because they weren’t visible.

I couldn’t get on with daily functions. I was not myself at all. I was just irrational. I’d be extremely angry about the tiniest thing. I’d be in tears if I dropped something, or completely beside myself if my partner was home half an hour late.

I thought I was completely alone. I thought I was an alien for so long.

Art helped me. All I’ve really known to get through a rough time is to paint or draw.

birth trauma
"Art helped me." Image: Supplied
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Then, randomly, in a park in Brisbane, I met Amy Dawes, who is the co-founder of the Australasian Birth Trauma Association. A lightbulb went off. I realised, ‘Oh, okay, I’m not this alien. A lot of women are feeling like this. I’m not a weird, ungrateful person.’ Just knowing that there were other people that understood and that I could talk to online, was the best thing.

I went to see a gestalt therapist who told me that I had post-traumatic stress disorder. That therapy helped.

I’m great now. I’m curating an art show, which I never thought I would ever do. Every day is not rainbows and daisies but now I know what it is. I’m working on it. And things are looking so much brighter now, which is really amazing to be able to say.

Brisbane artist Amy Dominey organised the Strength In Motherhood fundraising art show for the Australasian Birth Trauma Association, which was held in Brisbane on November 9.

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