Birth Planning after Trauma (Part 1: The Debrief)

So, here’s what happened when I went to see an obstetric consultant to plan this next birth, following the horrible time I had last time. 

Twitter followers may remember FireBloke being in the dog house for quite a while after he forgot to book leave far enough in advance to come with me to the appointment. That certainly wasn’t a good start. At my booking appointment I’d had that weird, distant, spaced out feeling I used to get before dissociating/flash backs, something I haven’t experienced  since the tougher stages of therapy (well over a year ago). It made me really anxious about meeting the obstetrician in case I went in to full blown freak out, and the thought of doing this without my other half was just too much to bear. 

Thankfully I have a lovely friend who offered to come with me. She knows the story, down to the gory details, so I had no problem with her being there. She’s had her own perinatal struggles too so I knew she’d be supportive. But before we come to what happened in the appointment, let me explain what happened last time I met this consultant. 

I met this obstetrician for the first and only time 6 weeks after FireGirl was born. As hard as it is to believe, I had already been in and out of the mother and baby unit by then, and was on my way to recovering from postpartum psychosis. I was still incredibly anxious and traumatised, but  I at least knew a few things I didn’t know before (like the fact that I wasn’t dead, and what day of the week it was). I saw her for a ‘debrief’: a meeting where they explain to you what happened with your birth and you get the chance to ask questions. They are often run by midwives, but this consultant has a specialist interest in birth trauma. She wasn’t actually present at my delivery, but she’d spoken to the people involved. If you feel you have suffered a traumatic birth, I would really encourage you to try and push for a debrief. 

She started by explaining to me what had happened, and what they suspected had gone wrong. They think that the prolonged labour tired my uterus out, which may be why it had such problems contracting afterwards (hence the postpartum haemorrhage). They think I lost more blood than initial estimates, and didn’t give me a big enough transfusion, hence why I was so wiped out. They also suspected very late onset pre-eclampsia, a risk for next time. Then came my turn to ask questions. ‘Ask me anything you like. Anything, no matter how stupid you think it is’ she said. I took a deep breath. ‘Did I nearly die?’ I asked. I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear the answer. ‘No.’ She answered me calmly, without missing a beat, like she’d been expecting it. I was taken aback. What?? I felt like I had nearly bled to death, in my memory it played out like a medical drama where the transfusion doesn’t arrive in time and everyone is panicking. She explained further – ‘we were pretty worried about you, but everything was under control. And now here you are, with your lovely baby!’. 

Wow. It was like something slotted in to place in my brain. Like waking up in the present after a nightmare. I had been so locked in that memory, in that room, flat on my back and exhausted, feeling on the brink of death and thinking at least it might be a relief. I had been so stuck there, I couldn’t see the next part of the story; the part in which I survived. I still had a really long way to go in terms of recovery, but after that day is when I really started healing. The therapy that came later worked on this principle ; retell the story and update it with the stuff you now know to be true. 

She ended the appointment by giving me an open appointment for whenever I felt like coming back. She said she didn’t mind whether I wanted to hear the exact same information again, or ask new questions, or maybe even some day talk about planning another birth. She also said she gave me carte Blanche to have whatever kind of birth I wanted if I ever did feel ready to do it again, and she would go on to write that down in a letter for me to wave under anybody’s nose who disagreed. It was a huge relief and played a large part in me feeling able to come back, almost 3 years later, to see her again. 

I just can’t express how much this experience meant to me. It contributed massively to my recovery; to repairing my trust in maternity services, and to empowering me to face the beast and do it all again. I can honestly never thank this woman enough. 

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