By Pia Johansson
Both my daughters were born in almost the same way (well, they all are, aren’t they), labour started naturally, progression was fast at first, then not, followed by epidural and eventually emergency C-sections. Yet the last one left me feeling, with want for a better word, traumatised. Now, to be clear, nothing bad actually happened and I do not want to trivialise anyone’s experience; there are lots and lots of moms who went through things whilst giving birth that I don’t even want to think about. My baby and I were not in imminent danger and my body was not damaged or violated, and yet I spent a whole year after often experiencing an overwhelming sense of weakness and failure whenever I thought about giving birth. I still sort of shudder as I think of some of it. So why am I writing this? Well, partly as some sort of catharsis or therapy I am sure, but also as another step in reaching out to other moms that might feel the same but are afraid to talk about it. One of the many things I learned after becoming a mother is that even though you might feel alone, you are not! And that sometimes just knowing that you are not alone with your brain ghosts helps so much.
With my first delivery, I had no real expectations, apart from that I expected it to be pretty terrible; I had no objections to epidurals and just went with it. The second time I thought I wanted to try to at least wait a little bit longer for an epidural and expected a little bit more from the experience I suppose. Labour started in the middle of the night and contractions came strong and frequent pretty fast. I went to the hospital already after 3 hours or so as the contractions were so frequent and I was definitely in labour when I got there. I felt I had no time to control myself, compose myself, breathe or do anything. I felt panic and desperation and I felt judged by the staff at how badly I was handling it. My husband was with our 20-month old daughter still as he were trying to get hold of and settle her with whoever of our designated care-takers would pick-up their phones first (it was still very early in the morning). How much I wished I had a Doula then. Then I got some pain-relief (something in a bag and drip) which helped take the edge off and I could just hang on the bed and drift in and out of the pretty constant contractions. I now I actually thought I was doing ok, but then it appeared I was no longer dilating, and the midwife said this will take time and sort of suggested that I should have an epidural. This was actually quite defining as she made me feel like I was really weak, as it seemed she clearly didn’t think I could manage without. I actually thought I could have kept going with some of the same pain medications, but it just didn’t happen and that’s sort of where it ends (metaphorically, not literally, I have a healthy beautiful daughter). It ends when I felt the weakest, and that’s where I was stuck, feeling like I wouldn’t have managed without the epidural. Feeling like I just wouldn’t have managed full stop. I wanted to make a come-back then, so to speak, and be strong and push her out, but then the decision for another emergency C-section was made and she was born.
Now to be clear it has nothing to do with the C-sections or even the epidural, it was something else. An overwhelming feeling of failure and weakness is the only way to describe it. Instead of feeling at all empowered, or stronger and tougher than I thought I was, I felt weak, much weaker than I thought I was. I was the weakest link and I had failed at giving birth. The thing that made it hard to talk about was that I also felt sort of ridiculous, nothing actually happened, my daughter was born healthy, there absolutely nothing exceptional with this birth story (as I see very clearly now that I read through my own writing); and you can’t really fail at giving birth anyway, so what was I talking about.
It has now been almost two years and I feel it still but pay it less mind. My logical mind finds it more interesting than traumatising. Importantly, I don’t really know what triggered it, but I think it goes to show that birthing is a such vulnerable process. I know it doesn’t really matter and it doesn’t define me, my daughter or our bond. I just want to encourage everyone to talk about their birth stories, sometimes letting it out helps and releases the demons. If you are truly suffering and talking to a friend isn’t enough then seek professional help. Remember that you are not alone, not overreacting and there’s no need to suffer: life is too precious for that.
Pia Johansson is a research scientist in neurobiology, mother of two and working mum. She was an expat for almost twenty years, in Australia and Munich and a short wild stint in Dublin many many years ago. She is in the throes of being repatriated to Sweden with her Australian husband. She likes talking, running and talking about running. And chocolate (although mostly 85% these days, as crazy as that sounds). In addition to staying fit and eating healthy, and raising happy healthy children, she dreams of doing something a little bit creative like writing or becoming a photographer. Or at least organizing her photos soon.