Teachable Moments

[trigger warning – birth trauma]

So much has been happening since my little FireChick was hatched last October that the original purpose of the blog has gotten lost. It’s been such a whirlwind dealing with her illness day to day that beyond a few tweets, I’ve not really talked much about her birth, working through the trauma of the first and my mental health afterwards.

I can honestly say that I think of her birth fondly, with that warm glow that I expect many are lucky enough to experience first time around. So much so I think the full story deserves its own post, at a later date.

I’d like to share a moment from the birth though, where unfortunately I did re-experience some trauma and flashbacks. It was a solitary moment in an otherwise good birth, which I share because I think sadly it could have been avoided, in much the same way that wonderful planning and support did avoid any more significant trauma throughout the rest of the birth.

Labour was pretty well established, and I felt like I was in my stride using gas and air and hanging off a knotted scarf for pain relief. Due to my risk of postpartum haemorrhage I’d agreed to be cannulated – in case I was in need of emergency medicines or a transfusion. I remember nothing of the junior doctor who came to cannulate me – barely even their gender. They were not particularly rude, condescending or cold, nor remarkably warm, understanding or patient. A routine doctor for a simple routine procedure. Yet unlike every other staff member I worked with during this labour, I don’t believe they were informed of my trauma history.

I was asked to sit still on the edge of the bed while the cannula was placed. Anyone who’s given birth or witnessed it knows that this is no mean feat. But I managed it, cannula in despite my position making things more painful. The only thing left was to tape it down. Except I felt a contraction coming. I needed to change position. I managed to communicate this but was told no, I had to stay sat where I was on the edge of the bed. I pleaded that they could just wait and do it once the contraction was past but again, no, it had to be now, this way. The midwife told me to use the gas and air for the pain.

I huffed long and deep, too much, and that horrifyingly familiar, greyed-out, floating feeling crept over me. A feeling I hadn’t had for three and a half years, a creeping horror that I was in fact still in my first labour and about to die. I let out a throat ripping scream as I felt my vision and my sensibilities fading. Yet through that fog, I felt my husband’s gentle hand on mine. I heard him explaining to the bewildered doctor that I was having a flashback, an explanation he repeated to me, quietly and calmly. He reminded me where and when I was and showed me a photo of our older daughter. “She’s grown up, look, you’re not there anymore”. Shaking, I came back in to the room. I trudged the soles of my feet against the floor. I took in my surroundings, naming boring objects I could see as I’d learnt in EMDR trauma therapy. I let out a few heaving, shaking sobs and got on with the business of birthing my second baby.

Now why was that necessary? I wasn’t in danger. I didn’t need urgent medication, fluids or blood. Perhaps the cannula may have needed to be placed again, but so what? A little patience, a little more explanation to the doctor and I don’t believe that moment needed to happen at all. It was a small moment in the middle of a very positive birth, it didn’t ruin the experience but I do believe it was avoidable. The clear trigger had been the high amount of pain, awkward position and being told I couldn’t move. All three could have been avoided with better positioning and better understanding.

I hope that doctor went away with more than a sense of bewilderment that night, perhaps with curiosity about birth trauma and how to prevent it. Perhaps they just moved on to the next patient without a second thought. If you’re a health professional, it’s these little teachable moments that can make all the difference in preventing trauma and re-traumatisation, don’t let them slip by.

For more information and support on birth trauma, contact The Birth Trauma Association @BirthTrauma or join the Twitter hashtag #birthtraumachat on Monday evenings UK time

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