“Rather than being a quick fix or a cure, the [Birth Trauma Therapy] sessions with Sakina helped me to start look for answers to my many questions, grieve for the birth I didn’t have and find my own way forward.”
Birth Trauma Resolution Therapy, one mothers’ experience.
To respect privacy, this mother’s experience is being shared anonymously.
It was one of those typical Autumn mornings in October, dark and grey with clouds hanging heavy in the sky. Clouds not quite ready to release the rain yet, but so close to it that you can smell the humidity in the air. That was the day my son was born.
I had loved being pregnant, and throughout the hot summer I was thinking about and looking forward to the birth. When I finally went on maternity leave I was more than ready to experience it and by the time October came around I was longing for it. Like those heavy rain clouds in the air that day, I too longed for release.
I was a bit nervous, of course. It was my first baby and I didn’t know what would happen. But I wasn’t worried in the slightest, I had a strong belief that everything would be fine. I didn’t really contemplate that it might not be.
So when that October day came, but nothing about the birth went as I had planned or hoped, I was caught completely off-guard. The day that I thought would be the happiest in my life, instead became the single worst day I’d ever lived through.
To many people looking at it, there wouldn’t be anything very strange about the birth. It wasn’t an ideal delivery, sure, but we both survived, we both recovered physically. There’s nothing very remarkable about it.
But to me, the way that day unfolded and how I was treated in the hospital changed everything.
Experiencing birth trauma was like being thrown off a train thundering down the tracks at full speed. I knew where I’d come from and I knew where I was supposed to have gone to, but rather than still being on my way to my destination, I had been cast off to the side.
My body was bruised and hurting all over and I was disoriented and confused. I couldn’t believe what had happened and what I had agreed to during the birth.
I’d felt like a prisoner on the labour ward, both in my mind which screamed thoughts I couldn’t speak out loud, and in my body which was unable to physically carry me away from there. I vividly remember smiling at the consultants and midwives on the outside, while my whole being was in uproar on the inside.
I gave in. I gave up. I let them do what they wanted and used what methods I could to block out what was happening to me.
After the birth, that feeling of having taken the easy way out, of having given up, made me feel so incredibly guilty, weak and ashamed. I felt as though I’d failed to protect my child before I had even met him, at the one time it mattered the most.
I understood what had happened and why, medically speaking. But what kept haunting me in the months that followed were all the questions. Why had I agreed to procedures that I definitely didn’t want done? What did my inability to stand up for myself say about me – as a person and as a parent? And why could I not get over and forget about the birth?
I was too scared to find out. I didn’t think that anyone would understand, not really. How could they, when what I’d been through wasn’t even that bad? So many women go through much worse. I was worried that there wasn’t any solution that would work for me, that maybe I was doomed to feel this way forever.
So I stayed on the side of the tracks, while other new mothers kept travelling on in the train. At least, that’s how it appeared to me.
I saw them in baby groups and in cafes where they talked about their births at lengths, comparing how long they were in labour and sharing anecdotes of funny things they said when high on gas and air. They were seemingly unfazed by it all, while the sheer thought of talking about my birth made me cry. I couldn’t relate to their experiences at all, and I was certain that they couldn’t relate to mine.
So I kept quiet. Whenever a conversation about birth would strike up, I’d scoop up my baby and leave, sometimes quietly crying into his downy head on my way home.
I shied away from most things related to births for a year, it was too painful not to and I wasn’t ready. But in avoiding births, I also had to steer clear of anything to do with recovering from bad births.
It became an almost self-perpetuating cycle. I felt bad about the birth, but couldn’t bring myself to read anything that could potentially help me to feel better. My inability to even try to get better made me feel worse in itself.
It finally changed when I came across Sakina one day on social media. She put out a post to a parenting group about how she was hosting a meet-up for women who’ve had difficult births. I was intrigued and decided to go, reasoning that just being in a room with other women who have been through the same as me couldn’t be that bad.
So I went along, with a pounding heart and without knowing what to expect. I was still uncertain if I really belonged there, if my birth experience was traumatic enough.
But in the room that evening were other women who all had similar thoughts and feelings to me, and none of our experiences were strange or invalid. It didn’t matter, really, what had happened during our births, the important thing was that we could all relate to one another.
I came away feeling strengthened, for the first time, and it was enough to set something in motion, some kind of hopefulness that it might be possible to get better from the birth.
So when Sakina asked me, half a year later, if I’d like to have private birth trauma resolution therapy sessions with her, I said yes. To be honest, I still wasn’t sure that it would work, but I was willing to give it a try. I trusted Sakina, I knew that she wouldn’t say or do anything which would make me feel worse.
In the birth trauma therapy sessions, Sakina was always understanding, non-judgemental and sensitive to everything I said and felt. And that was so important, as a large part of my birth trauma came from not being trusted and listened to in the hospital during the birth.
Gently, we talked about whatever I wanted to, and Sakina suggested ways and methods that I could use handling thoughts and emotions relating to the birth. She used different techniques to help me relax and work through the fall-out from the birth.
The first step forward from the sessions was that I began to feel less vulnerable. Yes, thinking and talking about the birth still hurt, sometimes a lot, but not on the level that it had before, where I often had to try to block out any thoughts of the birth as it was too painful not to.
Instead, I was able think and write about the birth and my feelings around it for the first time, and explore why I felt the way I did. And that meant that I could begin use the incredible wealth of information and support that is out there for birth trauma survivors.
From social media groups with women who’ve all had similar birth trauma experiences to scientific papers about the how the brain functions in a crisis and books about healing after bad births – there is so much information to take part of.
I soaked it all up – I still do – and found ways to work it into my own experiences. Through everything I read, every woman with a similar birth story that I come across, I was starting to see why I felt and acted the way I did during the birth and why I felt so bad afterwards.
I feel more at peace from understanding, on a deeper level than before, that I in fact didn’t give up during the birth. Rather, my body and mind were doing what they had to in order to keep me as safe as they could, in a situation which was anything but.
Realising this doesn’t change the fact that I’m sad about the birth and that I wish – desperately – that events had unfolded differently that day in October, but to no longer have to put the blame on myself is a huge relief in itself.
I’m still only at the beginning of feeling better. There are many things about the birth that I need to work through and get to terms with. Truthfully, I don’t think I will ever get over it completely, but I now believe I can get to a point where I’m ok with that.
Rather than being a quick fix or a cure, the Birth Trauma Resolution Therapy sessions with Sakina helped me to start look for answers to my many questions, grieve for the birth I didn’t have and find my own way forward.
For me, that is the most important thing that has come out of these sessions: to be able to look at my birth and myself differently; with more curiosity, a great deal of kindness and compassion towards the past me and with hope for the future.
There is no way for me to get back onto that train on the tracks – it’s already so far ahead I can barely spot it in the distance. But now that the dust from the thundering train has finally settled on the ground in front of me, I can see more clearly ahead and embark on a new, different, journey instead.
Our practice runs in South London and Croydon, from the Little Escape Crystal Palace, SE19 offering Birth Trauma Therapy on Wednesday evenings and South Norwood SE25 on Monday mornings.