Motherlife Interview #6 Part 2.
Wren part 2: Positive birth, NICU, The Golden Hour, discussion about possible Birth Trauma.
All mothers in this Motherlife interview series are anonymous and have been given nature names as their super heroine pseudonym. The nature names have been chosen from the list of nature words that have recently been deleted from a well known children’s dictionary.
Sophie: So you’ve talked a bit about how your pregnancy was, would you also say a little bit about how the birth was?
Wren: The birth was incredible. It was quite fast. I haven’t thought about it for a while. I had meconium in my waters. So when I went into the hospital I had to stay in the hospital. But it was a very nice experience in that we had all our himalayan salt lamps and our hypnobirthing music and the midwives were very sensitive and turned the lights down and put a sign on the door and it was a very lovely space. I had my doula and my partner there and it was overall a positive experience. The end of it was less positive because his heart rate or oxygen level was dropping so they had to get him out with forceps which was the worst pain I’ve ever been in in my entire life before that. It was horrible. And then when he was born they had to take him away (to NICU) so that was a really difficult experience.
In the first weeks postpartum I didn’t want to have a bad memory of my birth so I was really like ‘yeah it was fine, a bit rubbish that they took him away but you know it was great over all’. But actually it was awful him being ill and them taking him away (to NICU). The birth experience was positive over all, despite having an episiotomy and forceps but for me overall it’s still a positive memory. But it took a while to separate out those two things because they’re so connected. But I think both can be true.
Sophie: And when did you feel like you were able to separate them out and reflect on them separately?
Wren: Probably two or three months. Actually my friend sent me something about the ‘Golden Hour’ from Ina May’s book ‘A guide to Childbirth’ and there’s a couple of paragraphs in there about how much Ina May hates the ‘Golden Hour’ and the focus on the perfect time after birth. Because she says of course those things are important but actually it doesn’t matter. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t matter. And I realised I needed to read that and I needed someone to say that. Because I’d get jealous of people, not in a bad way, but of that lovely picture that people have post birth of the three of them sitting there cuddling the baby. And we didn’t have that.
It’s funny because you don’t talk about it do you. So when my baby was in NICU I realised it happens to so many people. So many people were like ‘yeah, we had a couple of days in the NICU’. So it seems really normal. But when it happens, it feels like the biggest thing that could possibly happen to you. It’s so horrible. But now we can look back and say ‘yeah, a couple of days in the NICU’. It doesn’t sound like a big deal. But obviously at the time it’s horrendous.
So I think the separation of those two things did take a while. But it was important. In the birth in general I felt so supported and confident in having my partner and doula there who just asked things like when they monitored the baby, if I could get in the shower with the monitor on or if I could take the monitor off when I was in the shower. Those sorts of things that are just so difficult for you to advocate for yourself at the time.
Sophie: So having the doula there helped you to ask the questions?
Wren: Yes, massively. And also her influence on my partner was a massive thing because he’s never given birth and never will give birth. He’s read all the books and been to all the classes. But knowing in that moment what I would be feeling is a really difficult thing for a man to do. And so he really took a guide from my doula. So I would hear her say something and then he’d say the same thing. They really worked as a team, as well as being able to sub in and sub out, he used her to guide how he should be. And I felt so safe. I didn’t really have any awareness of anybody else apart from those two. So it felt a really safe and supported environment.
Sophie: It sounds amazing.
Wren: Well, you’re still in a hospital room giving birth!
Sophie: Yes but that’s what you want from your support team isn’t it that they’re holding you in a little bubble and letting the hospital staff do the medical stuff but you’re the one that’s giving birth so having these two people to hold you safe.
Wren: My doula talked a lot about holding space at birth, and I’d read about it but I didn’t really know what it meant. But in the moment they held that space. The only time it shifted was when the obstetrician came in. Then there was a change but that was the right thing in that moment so it was fine that that happened. So it didn’t feel like a negative or out of control experience.
Sophie: So two things I think are really interesting about that. Sometimes women think that a doula might take over and the partner won’t have a role in supporting the mum. I really like that you described how they worked together to hold that space for you. And the other thing I wanted to ask was if your partner went with your baby? And did your doula stay with you?
Wren: Yes. And I kind of didn’t notice what was going on with my baby to be honest. I’ll always remember this midwife said ‘oh that’s the most meconium I’ve ever seen.’ And I think I’m ok to call her stupid because that’s what stuck with me so much. Because I wasn’t that aware of what was happening because I’d just given birth. My doula was there and talking to me and some senior midwives came in and were brilliant. So when my husband left I didn’t feel abandoned. But I think it would have been different without my doula there.
Sophie: Because you do hear how sometimes after birth everyone is with the baby and the mum is by herself. And I think she can sometimes feel abandoned. So I’m really interested to hear how you had your doula there. Because one of the things I’m interested in working with is birth trauma which is really common. And trauma can be when things happen too much, too fast, too soon. So you can have a sense of how this might happen during birth. When the baby is born, everyone comes into the room, it’s intense in your body, the baby is taken. So that could all feel too much too fast too soon and this is something that could lead to birth trauma regardless of any injuries. But if there’s someone there like a doula to help ground you and regulate your nervous system with you then that can go some way to preventing a trauma response from developing. And I don’t know if you feel like what you experienced was traumatic, but I’d be interested in your thoughts if you’re happy to discuss that.
Wren: I think it was objectively a traumatic experience, the physical pain and my baby being taken away. And of course it felt traumatic knowing that my child was ill. It’s hard to describe that experience as not traumatic because objectively those things are horrible. But because I’d never given birth before I didn’t know what would normally happen. It had never happened to me before so what I experienced just seemed normal. And maybe if I had a specific expectation in that moment it may have been more shocking. But now it doesn’t feel like a major trauma that I have to manage or deal with any more than I think you just have to process your birth experience in general. I think because the birth experience was so supportive and positive and because I had absolute faith in the people around me and in my obstetrician as well and the pediatrician was brilliant in the way that he communicated, he was just wonderful. Every effort was made to involve my partner and I in the understanding of what was happening to our baby. Because he was born at 5.30 pm and then at midnight he was taken from the hospital that we were in to another hospital and that whole process was explained to us really clearly all the way along. And also I was just a bit out of it. I didn’t have any drugs but I was just a bit out of it because I’d just had a baby.
So no, I don’t feel a big trauma. I mean there’s clearly things that are there for me but I’m not suppressing anything. I just felt in control and that I had absolute faith in the people around me, my partner and doula and obstetrician and pediatrician.
Sophie: I think that’s a really important point and distinction to make. In that trauma is not necessarily a particular event, it’s how you experience the event and how the people around you (in birth in particular) treat you. Whether you’re feeling like you are part of the process or whether it’s something that’s happening to you and you have no part in it. So what you’ve described actually sounds like a really healthy experience in a traumatic situation. So it seems like you’ve had a really positive birth experience even though some of the things look like they might have been challenging. Thank you so much for sharing this.
Wren: I do feel that way. I think I was planning to get to that point too. I spoke to my birth doula and my postnatal doula and I think there are things you can control and things you can’t control and knowing that you have tried to influence things that you can control at least you’re going in with a kind of foundation around which you can anchor.
Sophie: Thanks for unpacking that a bit. I really appreciate it.
Wren: No it’s good to talk about it actually.
Photo by @olivialu10.