My Experience with Birth Trauma

Jessica is a Midwestern native and moved to Oregon with her husband Mike. Before coming, she taught school for four years and worked as a CNA for three. She is now a stay at home mom. Jessica has two young boys, George and Gilead, and has also had four miscarriages. Jessica loves to sew, create, and read.

Jessica’s oldest, George, was twenty-two months old when she gave birth to her second child, Gilead. She had planned to have a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC).

What did you expect Gilead’s birth to be like?

I expected to have to fight a bit for what I wanted, but I knew I could do it. I was very well prepared. I was aware of the risks of a VBAC and of a repeat cesarean. I expected to labor like my body was made to, to push for a while and have a wonderful little boy to care for as a reward.

I expected pain, because labor is not a joy ride, but I knew I could handle it. I had labored for ten hours on pitocin during my first son’s birth with no pain medication.

What was his birth like in actuality?

I fought well and returned to my contractions with warrior-like stamina time and again. The doctor on call was certain I was not well cared for. He was mad that he had to leave his daughter’s graduation party because I was in labor. My midwife hauled him to the hallway and had a chat three different times. Each time he came back a bit subdued, yet pushing for me to sign a consent form for a C-section.

I labored well. After five nights of prodromal labor, my water broke, and I was instantly in transition. It was very intense, but I welcomed it. The day had finally come. But the pain became unbearable. During each contraction, I was in so much pain. Throughout the labor, there had been a voice in my head that said this was not going to work. I had a hard time discerning if there was something wrong within me and my baby or if it was the world around me spewing gloom and doom. Finally, we ascertained that the pain was caused by my baby not having his chin tucked so my cervix was being pinched between his skull and my pelvis during each contraction. All that quickly lead to involuntary pushing and only more pain. Based on the rate of swelling, I knew that was the source of my inner voice. At that point, the doctor was very calm and far from gleeful about having to do the C-section.

After Gilead was born and breathing, there was nothing else to know. I had made the doctors swear they would do nothing to him until I could be there. I knew in my gut my baby was a boy – and a big one. There was nothing left to know except whether or not he would breathe. And he did. At that point, I was thinking about the pain that was to come of healing from surgery and then I thought of all I had been through with the birth and recovery of my first child. The horror of going through all that pain and sickness again was more than I could handle.

There was a part of my head that pulled back from the thought. The people and the room started to swim out into the darkness around me. I knew I was disassociating, so I fought to stay conscious. And yet everyone rolled back like a deep silent fog. The midwife told me I batted at the blue drape, and she snapped at me to not touch it. I don’t remember that, but I never lost consciousness.

I have never in my life felt so alone. I could see no one, yet the glare of the lights in the ceiling grates haunts me even yet. I was so helpless, strapped to that stupid table. At one point, I do remember thinking, “This is how Jesus felt on the cross.” It was hideous.

How did the differences between your expectations and what happened make you feel?

The differences made me feel so very alone. People told me, “Just be glad you have a healthy baby.” That is such a bunch of crockery. My first baby was injured. My friend’s baby died. I felt lucky to have survived two of these very difficult births and actually have a baby alive and doing well.

I felt so very alone. I thought I would find comfort and support in my community. There are people who have faced terribly hard things. But I didn’t.

How did you handle those difficult feelings?

I don’t very well remember how I handled the difficult feelings. I bottled a lot up, because I didn’t feel safe to talk about it. But I could only live like that for so long.

What would you tell a mother who was coming to terms with a traumatic birth?

I would just listen to her. Let her talk. So many people wanted me to be quiet.

I would also help her find an outlet. It is different for every person, but an outlet is available: art, music, writing, blogging, exercising, counseling, WellMama. Something!

But mostly, I would listen to her talk.

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