baby

Bao hadn't known what to expect from childbirth. But she left the hospital full of shame.

This post deals with postnatal depression and might be triggering for some readers.

I wasn’t exactly looking forward to my baby’s birth, but I didn’t think about it too much. I knew there would be pain, of course, but apart from that we weren’t particularly worried as we trusted that the hospital would know what to do. Looking back, maybe I pushed any negative thoughts away and tried to ignore the possibility that something could go wrong. 

At around 40 weeks I was getting uncomfortable but there was still no sign of the baby coming. My husband and I drove to the hospital for what we thought was just another regular check, expecting to be home later that day.

They started doing some tests, and then they hesitated, because they found I was losing fluid, and that the baby was coming and we needed to get things moving. I was admitted to the hospital – lucky we had our bags packed and ready in the car because we’d been told that the baby could come at any time.

We got a room overnight and my husband could stay. I wasn’t dilated at all, so they had to insert this thing inside me, which was meant to manually open things up. I couldn’t sleep so I was awake all of that first night. 

The next afternoon they found zero dilation and we were back to square one. I felt cheated of time – instead of being home where I might have been somewhat comfortable, I had spent the past 24 hours waiting in a hospital bed. We eventually got moved into a birthing suite, and they started the IV hormone induction. That was meant to get the labour started. But I found out later that that doesn’t really work unless your waters have broken, and mine hadn’t at that stage, so they proceeded to manually break my waters. We trusted that it worked. 

I was in more and more pain with inconsistent contractions, and it took half the night before the next doctor came along, who took one look and said my waters hadn’t broken. So they had to do it again, and this time, I actually felt it happen. This was day two. I was already exhausted, and for the second time we were back to square one. It was becoming very difficult, not just for me but for my husband too who had to watch it all unfold (at least I got a bed! He had to sleep on the floor).

Things felt out of our control. Obviously the hospital team had to explain what they were doing and get our consent, but we felt swept along. I mean, what else could we do but say yes when they suggested something? We had never pictured any of these things happening, so it’s not like we were prepared in advance to make these kinds of decisions. 

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So even though it was informed consent, I didn’t really feel prepared. It would have been great to know that these things might have been possible beforehand, or even that these things had happened to other people, so I didn’t feel like we were the only ones going through an experience like this. The antenatal classes just don’t talk in detail about things like failed inductions, epidurals, and emergency C-sections.

Looking back, I feel like we were very naïve going into this, and that just made us feel like we had to trust in the doctors and the system and go along with it. 

Listen: Leigh Campbell and Tegan Natoli talk about their very different experiences with PND on This Glorious Mess podcast. Post continues below.

Eventually the birth progressed, and I was given an epidural which allowed me to rest a little. But then there were problems with both my heart rate and also the baby’s, so out of nowhere the medical team swooped and we had to go into an emergency C-section, now three days after I was first admitted to hospital. It was a long and traumatic experience for all of us.

After the birth we were in hospital for a week to recover from the whole birthing process – and I think in some ways I still haven’t recovered. I feel fatigued a lot of the time. Our son needed frequent medical attention with IV medications because of an infection at the time of birth. I was so exhausted and couldn’t even keep my eyes open to watch the IV drip being inserted into his little body; I was just slumped in my wheelchair. I felt guilty not being able to do anything for him.

I was constantly teary in the week after birth, but at that time there were so many other things to deal with. I was just getting used to the idea of having this baby, this little human to look after.

After we got home, I distinctly remember when the child and maternal health nurse came and visited me. It was her second visit, maybe two weeks after the birth. She was focussed on checking the health of the baby, while I just burst into tears. She gave me time to stop crying, but I don’t remember her doing much to address my mental health, apart from suggesting I could talk to my GP.  It’s a shame they don’t focus more on maternal mental health, in addition to prioritising the child.

A couple of weeks later I started Googling what I was feeling, then I found the number for PANDA and gave the Helpline a call. That was a really important first step. With their support over the next few months, I found a new local GP who cared for my mental health and recommended a psychologist, and from there I started feeling better. I had this happy, healthy son, and while his coming into the world was traumatic, we had got through it. I gradually started feeling like I was getting things back under control, and feeling confident about making decisions again. It took a while though. 

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Looking back, I think I felt quite a bit of shame about what happened with the birth, and not knowing more going in. Why didn’t I question the whole process more? I started to unpack these feelings on my first visit to my psychologist. Even just telling your story helps, just talking it through. It’s a bit like grief I suppose. First comes denial, the anger and depression, and then with time there is acceptance. 

My psychologist recommended this book that explored similar birthing stories, and I just devoured it. Coming to the realisation that I wasn’t the only person to go through something like this was really helpful. Other mums had been through birth trauma too. 

That’s why I’m sharing my story now – to help others who may have gone through something similar to know they can get through it. 

I know now that it’s something that could happen to anybody. And what happened wasn’t a reflection on me, and it didn’t have to affect my relationship with my son. I could compartmentalise that experience as something that happened, and it didn’t need to influence how I felt about myself or being a mum. 

We are now expecting another baby in March 2021. I feel like I have a lot more control about the upcoming birth. We have been given the option of an elective caesarean and I think we’re going to take that. This time my husband and I have actually had the time to sit down and talk about the full range of birthing options and contingency plans, which we didn’t do the first time around because we were somewhat carried away with the ‘ideal birthing plan’ and choosing our music playlist for the birth. (We can both laugh now at the irony of hearing Cat Stevens’ ‘The First Cut is the Deepest’ just before I was wheeled into theatre). 

We’ve both agreed, and we own that decision together. We just feel like we are in control a bit more, and that’s really helpful. 

If you think you may be struggling with depression, contact PANDA – Post and Antenatal Depression Association. You can find their website here or call their helpline – 1300 726 306

Feature Image: Supplied.

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