This week is birth trauma awareness week.
Women and men carrying burdens from your experiences, this week is a time for you to know you are not alone. I say women and men because there was plenty of trauma experienced by both myself and my husband during the labour and birth of our daughter, Macy. We know there are other couples struggling with different aspects of your beautiful child’s birth and we are here to say, we see you.
My birth story is really extreme. I still struggle to wrap my head around the entire experience nine months postpartum. There is trauma associated with every single aspect.
My labour was a total of 15 days and 20 hours.
My baby’s birth was by cesarean.
The OB who performed my surgery physically assaulted me.
It was tragic.
It is tragic that a woman could violate another woman in such a harmful, horrific way. She violently cleaned the inside of my vagina with a long pair of surgical thongs and a piece of gauze soaked in what I can only imagine was iodine. My only warning was “you’re going to feel a lot of pressure” but what I saw and what I felt was not a lot of pressure. It was violent. I was so shocked that days later while having my staples removed by my midwife I asked Colin to leave the room so I could make sure I hadn’t dreamt up what happened in that OR. She confirmed. I sobbed. She held me.
Recently, I was reading a book called Healing Trauma by Peter A. Levine, and he describes trauma symptoms and one of them jumped off the page at me. (We bought our copy from amazon, here.)
The feelings that overcome my body if I allow even the briefest second of a flashback is horrific. Immediately my vagina tenses, I feel nauseated and the hair stands up on the back of my neck. It has been nine months and a brief second is still all I am able to handle. I would also say that I am not handling it, really, but it happened to me and healing my body, my heart and my mind from this trauma is very important.
This might be shocking to hear, but I am grateful I saw what she did to me because I know that the body holds onto trauma. I honestly wouldn’t have been able to understood what my body was trying to tell me if I didn’t know what happened.
And I watched it all because I could see my reflection in the lights above me. Terrified, I asked for those lights to be moved a dozen times. Maybe more. The fear of witnessing my own surgery was enough to traumatize me. The lights were moved, but they were always moved back and now I know that I was meant to see.
I asked a lot of questions because I was very confused, and did not receive answers. Never was I warned or told what was going to happen to me during my prep in the OR.
I’ll never forget the day my daughter was born but it certainly isn’t the romantic story we’re used to hearing. This is one of dozens of mis-steps from our nurses, doctors, the OB who performed my cesarean and violated my body, lack of warning and education for my husband to prepare him for my epidural or for what he would walk into in the operating room, the pediatrician and her nurses overlooking all of Macy’s symptoms and blaming my worry on being a “first time mom”, listening to her cough and gasp for air for a full 24 hours before our midwife saved her life, watching my daughter being poked and prodded with constant needles and IV’s while she screamed in the NICU for five days.
My birth story is extreme.
It’s sometimes really hard to think about. It’s fresh. It’s still raw. There is so much we didn’t talk about - but for now, it is birth trauma awareness week, and that story is the important one to tell here.
I would have blamed my body’s reactions on postpartum if I didn’t know the truth. The truth is that the thought of having sex with my husband, the thought of him touching me sexually or even intimately, can be shocking and me feel physically sick. We have a beautiful and intimate sex life - so for me, this is extremely difficult. Thank god I know what happened to me or else I can’t imagine what shame I would be feeling for not wanting this beautiful and intimate part of my relationship with my loving and sweet husband.
Even if he touches my belly, my whole body tightens.
This is trauma.
And the most miraculous thing about trauma is our ability to heal. I am so grateful I know this truth. This one is going to take time and slowly there has already been some beautiful progress. Recently, I created a community of people who have suffered from trauma - any trauma - who are ready to make changes towards healing. It isn’t necessary to accept this as my reality forever and I know there are other people out there ready to do the work and not feel so alone. Trauma can be lonely.
The Good Healing Habit was creating in service of others, but, you guys, it is absolutely serving to be a saving grace and gift to myself as I navigate the details of Macy’s birth. With only a few months to go before her first birthday, I’m sure emotions I haven’t dealt with yet will surface and I am grateful to have a platform to learn and grow in real time with this incredible community.
Most of all I am grateful for a healthy, happy baby and a compassionate, loyal and loving husband. Healing happens best with a support system and that starts for me, at home.
Happy Healing to you.