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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Not my finest hour

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I am most definitely not at my best today. I’ve had a couple of late nights helping out friends in need and preparing birthday stuff, and firegirl had been waking in the night out of the blue.

I know I’m a person who needs a lot of sleep generally but even this minor sleep disruption is having quite a big impact on my mood. I’m very impatient and cranky today and poor firegirl is taking the brunt of it.

She’s clearly pretty tired too after two days with no afternoon nap; everything today is no and why and I’m not going to do that. She certainly seems to have misplaced her ‘big girl voice’ and I’m embarrassed to admit I just can not deal with her whiny pleading today.

All this has culminated in me strong arming her like a rugby ball from the shops to the car whilst she thrashed around like an angry octopus. I couldn’t really give two shits what people who saw were thinking, but I am disappointed in myself. I usually try to be a lot more patient and responsive to her needs but I just don’t have it in me today.

I’ll be honest, it’s got me worried. If I’m like this after missing only a couple of hours sleep (if that), what will I be like with a newborn? It seems like someone will have to be the one to suffer, but will that be me, firegirl, or the hatchling firechick? I don’t want it to be anyone, but I don’t see what options we have.

You know what, I think I better sleep on it. Here’s to daytime naps.

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Why does mental health still make some health professionals panic?

So here’s what happened when I went to my doctor about an eye problem.

Standard GP appointment, which I waited 2 weeks for like a good girl. FireGirl had flicked me in the eye with the talons she doesn’t let me cut and it was still sore, so I went to get it checked out.

All is fine and dandy, then doc leans in to squirt some stain in my eye. I pull back and ask if it’s safe to use in pregnancy, as I’m about 8 weeks.

He visibly panics, puts the drops down and quick as precipitous labour pulls up my perinatal mental health team discharge letter from 2 years ago like a rap sheet. He starts to berate me. Why haven’t I told anyone sooner! How could I present this late! People need to be told!

I’m calm, I reassure him it’s under control, the team and I have already discussed I don’t need to be referred til 12 weeks. It was part of my very careful, mutual discharge planning.

No dice. He continues to lecture me. I feel like a naughty school child. I remind him about my eye, never mind that, we can’t use the stain anyway, other things need to be done.

I grit my teeth through the rest of the appointment and leave seething. It’s exactly WHY I didn’t blurt it everywhere the second I got a positive pregnancy test. I feared exactly this would happen, the we-know-what’s-best-for-you brigade would show up and start ordering me around.

I’m also only about 2 weeks further in than last time, but clearly having MENTAL stamped all over my file clearly makes a difference.

Thankfully the perinatal team are far more sensible. Completely unfazed, they sent me an appointment for 3 months’ time. This reassures me.

Heallth professionals, please, don’t panic when you see mental health. Trust us to know what we need. By all means offer us help and guidance, but we’re not stupid, weak or helpless. We’re patients like any other and we can make choices and be responsible for our health. Don’t let the label blind you to our true needs.

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So this happened…

I don’t really know why I took a pregnancy test this morning. If you were to ask me my mood over the last week, I’d have to say ‘PMS super bitch’. So imagine my delight then when that faint little pink line appeared!

Last time we told parents the day after the test, such was our excitement. This time I’d like to enjoy the secret for a while (anonymous blogs don’t count, OK!). This means not telling FireGirl, unless we want her blurting it out all over the village. She’s taken to jumping knees-first in to my stomach though, so we’ll see how long that lasts.

The other half wants to wait a while before booking in with the midwife too, so we can delay the shitstorm for a while. So, here’s to a few weeks of peace! Wish me luck…

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Possibly? No. Surely not. Maybe? Probably…?

Firebloke and I had a serious talk the other day.  He sat me down, put on his serious face and said, ‘I think you’re pregnant’. Huh??! I only had my coil taken out about two weeks ago, and he’s been working nights most of that time! Highly unlikely. 

He laid out the case for me. My period is due, yet my skin is crystal clear. Better than it has been in months, in fact (my rosacea cleared up last time I was pregnant). He’d been asking me to do loads of stuff for him, and I’d done it without telling him to eff off…and when he pointed this out I didn’t bite his head off…doesn’t really sound like pre-menstrual me.

Halfway through this conversation I asked if I could get him a coffee. OH GOD YOU ARE PREGNANT he joked. 

Hmm. So I’ve been feeling pretty sick the last couple of days. Last night the smell of the leftover dinner had me pretty het up and this morning I had to gag down my weetabix. Firebloke said surely it’s too early for you to feel sick… yeah because my body is known to react in a normal way to pregnancy hormones! The pelvic girdle pain, the prolonged labour, the postpartum psychosis…
Maybe he’s on to something. Exciting times! Just need both of us to be in the house and awake whilst toddler is asleep so we can take a pregnancy test. Don’t fancy her knowing just yet and blurting it out to everyone!

Firebloke will be mighty p’d off if I am pregnant already, he thinks he’ll miss out on all the sexy times!

Watch this space…

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Sisterhood of the World Award

I’m so flattered to be nominated for the Sisterhood of the World Award by the lovely Our Rach! I’m very new to the blogging world so I’m surprised anyone would really think of me for it.

Here’s how it works: she asks ten bloggers ten questions, I answer and write my own new questions for another ten bloggers, and so on. We spread the love and discover new things!

So here we go:

1. Why did you start blogging?

Peer support honestly changed my life. Medication was a leg up. Therapy was necessary. Hospital was life saving. But meeting other Mums who struggled with the same things I did? That brought me back to my old self again. I’ve written before about the ‘me too’ phenomenon, but I really do think it is so powerful for recovery. I wanted to give some of that back.

I had to write a few things during the course of my therapy, and my clinical psychologist asked if I’d ever considered writing a book about my experiences. I did consider it, and even started it, but blogging just seemed to make so much more sense to me.

There were so many perinatal mental health blogs out there I was put off for a while, thinking I had nothing to add. But when when my husband and I started talking about having another baby, it struck me that that was something I’d read very little about, especially where psychosis was involved, so I decided to go for it.

2. What things would you take with you to a desert island and why?

Earl Gray tea

A pen and paper, to write to myself and others, whether they’d ever read it or not

My little girl’s lovey (presuming she didn’t need it!) it smells godawful but it reminds me so much of her

Slippers, jammies and a blanket (I can’t stand to be cold or uncomfortable)

The Harry Potter books

I reckon I could eke out an existence on that lot…

3. What’s your all time favourite song?

Aargh too hard! I have never been able to choose just one. I’ll go with sentimentality and say ‘Beyond the Sea’, which my husband and I danced to at our wedding.

4. What was your worst Christmas present and why?

I can’t honestly think of anything I got this year that fits that criteria. I guess I’d have to say ‘nothing’; a gift I received for about ten years running from my brother. Anything is better than nothing. (He got his act together and got us all lovely gifts this year, so it has a happy ending!)

5. Have you made any New Year’s Resolutions? If you have, what are they?

To be nicer to my mother in law. She drives me absolutely bloody crazy, but I can’t change her so what’s the point in wasting my anger and frustration on her? I’ve already seen the positive impact being nicer has had on my mood and my marriage!

It’s a secret resolution though. No one can ever know *shifty side eye*

6. What are your hopes for this year?

Quite honestly, to come out the other side with another baby and (most of) my sanity. Maybe I should have loftier aspirations, or more selfless ones, but that’s it peeps, pure and simple. 

7. What’s your favourite memory?

Looking in to my daughter’s eyes for the first time. Seems a bit too obvious? Well it’s my favourite, because it’s a recovered memory. For roughly the first 18 months of her life it was overshadowed by the memory of almost bleeding to death, which was happening at the same time (though I didn’t know it then). With a lot of damned hard work, the terror subsided, and in its place came the blissful, serene memory of falling in love.

8. What’s your favourite film?

Ugh, I don’t do favourites, I change my mind too often. Yep, just spent ten minutes staring at my double book shelf full of films, still can’t choose. Sorry to be a spoilsport. I’m just grateful I can now watch films again that contain any of the following themes: time distortion, an altered sense of reality, dreaming, dying, panic, ambulances, childbirth, bleeding, babies. I still don’t think I’ll ever watch Rosemary’s Baby again though.

9. What’s your guiltiest pleasure in life?

Tea. I’m that English, and that boring.

10. In your opinion, what’s the best blog post you have ever written? Link it here.

I’ve only written five! Not many to choose from, but I think the Guest post I wrote on stigma and peer support for #PNDhour is my favourite so far. Read it for a fuller answer to question 1! I’m hoping my best is yet to come.




My nominees, on the off chance they haven’t been nominated already, are:

 Tracey Robinson AKA @PPsurvivormum

PPSoup

Eve Canavan

Kathryn Grant

23 Week Socks

Emma Jane Sasaru

Katherine Stone

Pop Tart Mum

Beth Bone  

Laura Wood AKA @mrsjellybobuk
My questions to you lovely lot are: 
1. What’s your favourite kids’ book and why?

2. Who do you think is the most annoying kids’ TV character and why? (Obviously the correct answer is Peppa Pig, but you’re allowed an alternative opinion)

3. Which theme song gets stuck in your head the most?

4. What’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?

5. If you could say one thing to a pregnant first time mum, without the fear of offending or frightening them, what would it be?

6. What’s the funniest thing you never thought you’d hear yourself say before you were a parent?

7. We’re all human. Sometimes we lie to our kids to get them to do stuff, not do stuff, or just leave us the f*ck alone for 30 seconds. What’s the worst lie you’ve told your child?

8. What’s the most irritating thing a grandparent(/carer that’s not you) does whilst looking after your kids? (Eg asking if it’s OK as they hand them the chocolate, asking the kids questions that are intended for you, giving them a noisy shiny toy specially for grandmas house 5 mins before you & kids have to leave, etc)

9. What’s been your proudest moment as a parent? (Go on, brag, you have my permission)

10. If you could go back and talk to yourself at your lowest moment, what would you say?
And here are the rules!

1. Thank the blogger who gave you the award, and link back to their blog

2. Answer the ten questions given to you

3. Nominate a further ten bloggers for the award

4. Write ten questions for those nominees to answer

5. Display the award on your blog or post!

Aaaaand GO!

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New Year

Happy New Year!
It was quite a quiet one for us this year, a whispered party at home with the teetotal in-laws whilst FireGirl slept. She didn’t even wake up when all the fireworks went off. Despite the low key celebration, I was really happy; excited about the opportunities and changes this year will hopefully bring.

It wasn’t always this way. That first year, I was 5 months post partum, 4 months put of hospital and sunk well in to postnatal depression. When Jools Holland and co chimed in midnight, I allowed myself a tiny sip of champagne (I was still heavily medicated and not supposed to drink alcohol). I tried to hold it together but as I went round hugging and kissing my family, stinging tears betrayed me, welling up and over.

It wasn’t just the depression. New year is inevitably a time of reflection and review, and I was crushed by the stark comparison between how I’d started the year; excited and full of naive hope, with how I’d ended it; depressed, tranquilized and feeling like I was begrudgingly surviving motherhood rather than embracing it. How did I get here?

The following year was slightly better. I’d come a really long way. I was medication free, back at work (I’d thought my career was over once I’d been hospitalised) and felt like I was fairly content with life. I still had a way to go in trauma therapy though, and was still feeling a lot of shame about my mental health. FireGirl’s first birthday had come and gone, friends were announcing second pregnancies and I just wasn’t there yet, though I so wanted to be.

This time at midnight, the fireworks had woken my girl up and spooked her, so I broke with tradition and gave her my first kiss of the new year instead of my husband. We watched the sky light up out my parents’ spare room window, and as I watched her sleepy face light up, I whispered to her, “I’m really glad I’m here with you”, and I meant it. I love that girl so much.

New years can feel great, a time for new beginnings and a time for celebration. It can also feel awful. This natural time for reflection can leave us feeling like we’re not where we wanted to be and feeling disappointed in the year and ourselves. If, when the clock strikes midnight, you feel like crying instead of cheering, don’t be too hard on yourself. Allow yourself the tears. Hold fast brave mama, better times are right around the corner.

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