There are no beginnings without endings.
I never imagined what that could mean when I set out to start a family. Being a mother was what I had always wanted. A dream I had had since I was a young child playing with her dolls; a dream that became all the more important after the loss of my own mother at the age of 19. I knew about endings; the sadness, the finality, the despair. Beginnings though, brought hope. Beginnings could only be good?
Our first much wanted pregnancy ended at 7 weeks. And there was my first bitter taste of a new beginning brought to an abrupt end. I had no idea that this loss of life would be a catalyst for much more heartache. Our second pregnancy was a healthy one, physically speaking, although the anxiety I thought was normal in pregnancy turned out to be more indicative of my own mental health struggles and fear of death. I suppose on reflection, the intrusive thoughts began in that pregnancy, at first, the vivid living out of an early miscarriage, then as the pregnancy progressed I imagined delivering a baby that had died in utero, I imagined being told there was no heartbeat, I began to grieve for the loss I felt so imminent, I couldn’t quite accept that this baby would arrive safely, if I did I would ‘jinx’ it and my world would fall apart. I didn’t share these thoughts, like I said, I thought they were normal. I was asked at antenatal appointments, and whenever I went in to be monitored for reduced foetal movements, whether I had a history of anxiety and depression (it said as much in my notes). I waited for the next question, or something that acknowledged what this might look like in pregnancy, but it never came, so my conclusion was that it was irrelevant, and the way I was feeling must be normal.
Without dwelling on the ‘what happened next’ (my birth story is already out there for anyone interested), my almost 42 week pregnancy riddled with anxiety ended in a long traumatic labour. This trauma was predominantly emotional, and as I realised much later, was very much influenced by my belief that my baby would die.
And there it was my new beginning; a beginning that meant the end.
The beginning of my journey through Birth Trauma; the end of my life without it as a defining event.
The beginning of new intrusive thoughts; the end of sleeping soundly.
The beginning of hypervigilance; the end of my dream of motherhood.
The beginning of unbearable guilt and feelings of failure; the end of my self-confidence and trust.
The birth of a mother broken and bruised; the end of every positive expectation, because I got it so wrong.
I was ill prepared and I blamed myself. Despite the late night reading, the classes, the understanding of the process, nothing had prepared me mentally for such a brutal entrance into motherhood. I knew the Post-natal Depression questions, I anticipated them. I felt like screaming. I’m not depressed, I’m traumatised! And despite the lack of support I received, I persisted, I kept asking the questions, I kept asking for help. I accessed High Intensity CBT to help me deal with the persistent and painful memories. I wrote to the Head of Midwifery and finally my voice was heard.
The beginning of a healing journey; the end of the most intense pain.
The beginning of reaching out to others; the end of blaming myself.
The beginning of accepting events; the end of wanting to turn back time.
The beginning of validating others’ stories; the end of feeling so useless and alone.
The beginning of the feelings that I’d longed for; the end of the desperation to feel anything at all.
The beginning of the panic disorder; the end of the anxiety I had known how to cope with.
I am 3 ½ years on now and I am still living with the effects of my experience. I began taking medication (anti-depressants that are also prescribed for anxiety) which, in time, helped me to cope better and another course of CBT helped me to get to a good place.
I had my second son, now 18 months old, in the midst of my darkest time, not least because the thought of another traumatic birth was a constant trigger. However, in this darkness I also found light, in the form of key people who helped me to believe in myself and gradually relinquish some of my pain and fear, guilt and shame. I was able to take control and planned my positive experience through emotional preparation, hypnobirthing and informed choice. As a result, I had a very positive, and emotionally healing, planned caesarean section and I can honestly say that every day since I have healed a little more, which is more than I could have wished for or believed possible.
I will continue to heal, and with each new beginning I will never be quite the same again, but that is because at the end of each new challenge I prove myself stronger than I ever thought I was. And that’s the thing I want to share; the birth of a mother is much more complicated than the birth of a baby. It is not instant, it is a journey that means lots of endings too. It requires sacrifice and heartache and strength, so much strength. Strength that you didn’t even know you had.
If your experience has left you feeling traumatised or you recognise any of the thoughts or feelings I have mentioned, please know that you are not alone. It is not your fault and you didn’t do anything to deserve it. It can get better, but it will take time. If you haven’t been offered the help that you need, keep asking until you are- because you matter, your experience matters, and what happens next matters.
The beginning of a meaningful purpose; the end of punishing myself.
The beginning of being the light for others; the end of the dark silence.
The beginning of accepting a different future; the end of clinging to what was expected.
The beginning of Simply Natal; the end of trying to prove myself to anyone other than myself.
Empowering minds and enabling bodies through the power of positive thought.
I can’t change my past, but I can change the future for someone else.
My hope is that the people I teach will never know the pain that I have endured to get here.