Birth. Trauma. Rape. Compassion. Healing.

Last time I put my first birth experience into words, I had been sitting at the top of our stairs. It was some time after 5am. I hadn’t slept at all and instead, I was watching the sky change colour through the skylight. I had a pen beside me and an old envelope, I think. The back of it covered with scribbled notes.

That envelope turned into Birth. Trauma. Rape. Compassion. Sending the article to Selena marked the first time I had really acknowledged what we had gone through. The first time I felt something close to baring my soul. In that way of things that the universe is so fond of, I found out I was pregnant four months later.

I can’t and won’t deny my happiness upon knowing that we were having another child but within the week my world effectively came crashing down around me. I had my first appointment with the midwife, Mr. Juniper by my side. I made it home before breaking down. No sniffling. No weeping. I broke. I howled. Small mercies, Juniper Junior didn’t witness what happened. I felt broken. I cried so hard my entire body hurt. Mr. Juniper held me close as the waves of emotion began to slow and weaken. When I was finally clinging on to my composure again I called my midwife and begged and pleaded for a caesarean.

And she listened.

My doctor had listened when I found out I was pregnant and I had told her the basics of what had happened with Juniper Junior. More midwives listened as time went on. Obstetricians, too. There was one exception, she was an obstetrician I wasn’t meant to see but somehow did. I felt physically hurt by her words. I sat there crying and she did nothing. Said nothing. Finished the appointment, that was it. The next day was when I realised I really was beginning to heal. I told Mr. Juniper I was going to make a complaint. I was going to speak up. I rang up the clinic and was put through to the Sister in charge. I told her I wanted to complain, I told her why, why I had been there, what we had been through. She said with the most beautiful sincerity, “I’ll listen.” I could bawl now as I’m remembering the kindness in her voice. She would make sure the complaint got back to the clinical lead, my actual consultant, my pain, though? Without my asking it of her, she was there to listen.

The weeks still crept by. The months passed in moments.

I had a sleepsuit covered in little bunnies to try and encourage the positive focus. Little Juniper would be here. We would be able to hold our darling baby. In the end, I was never able to put Little Juniper in that sleepsuit. No amount of trips through the washing machine would rinse out all the fear and anxiety that sleepsuit had been witness to. I would stare at that sleepsuit at night wondering if we were both going to make it out of this safely. I was so scared. So scared of how history might repeat itself.

Through various workings of the universe, organising appointments with my consultant became something of a task for all involved. I ended up on the phone to her and asked if we could do this now. Could I get the go ahead for a caesarean. She said yes. Yes! Yes! Yes! I wanted to cry and scream and shout and laugh. I felt giddy and happy. She had listened. She said yes. And I felt so tired. When I put the phone down. I remember that in amongst all those amazing feelings, I felt so tired. And we still had a way to go. I could still go into labour. But she called my midwives and within hours, I had one of my midwives calling me with a date for the caesarean.

It was happening. They were listening to me. They were supporting me. There was a chance we were going to get through this and we were going to be okay. I was beginning to realise that I could separate natural birth and positive birth, too. I would look at Juniper Junior fast asleep in his bed, snuggled up underneath the duvet. I would go through our birth experience a million times over for him. I felt myself wanting to apologise for wanting a different birth this time round. It’s not you, it’s me, my lovely. What I went through brought you into our lives. How could I see that as a negative experience? How could I? I did it eventually by realising that the negative was my medical care. The negative wasn’t bringing our beautiful boy into the world. The negative was how I was treated.

The day of the caesearean came. I consented in writing. The doctors brought Little Juniper out into the world. What I could feel of my body shook as I cried. My body was no longer carrying him and I was no longer carrying all my fear and anxiety. Smiling and crying. Our beautiful boy was delivered to Mr. Juniper’s arms and I began to feel at peace. This was a piece of history I could welcome with open arms. I settled for welcoming this piece of history by stroking our beautiful boy’s face. So now I’m one of those women, too, and I’m okay with that.

Our time in hospital wasn’t always easy. I cried some more. When Mr. Juniper couldn’t be there with me, wonderful midwives were there with kind words and hugs. I threw caution to the wind and talked. They listened. It was so strange.

The pain isn’t gone. It still gets me sometimes, often when I least expect it. Slowly though, I’m finding a way to balance peace and pain. Mr. Juniper and I have two beautiful boys. We’ve had two very different experiences. We know now what it is to be shown kindness and support. We know now what it is to be listened to. And I will be forever grateful that through it all, Mr. Juniper has been with me every step of the way. Forever grateful that through all the pain, I haven’t had to go through it alone. Forever aware that many do go through birth trauma alone. Forever hopeful that others begin to find peace, too.

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Juniper

Rarely to be found without herbal tea nearby. Team Unicorn. Often in pyjamas. Also: TEAM KATNISS!

11 thoughts on “Birth. Trauma. Rape. Compassion. Healing.”

  1. This post resonated with me so much – and echoed the emotional roller coaster I had during my pregnancy with my son after the traumatic arrival of my daughter. This is one of the reasons why access to maternal request cesarean is so critically important.

  2. This is the first time I read your other piece. You are the first woman I have heard (read) voice(type) the term “birth rape”. I can’t believe I haven’t seen that before. I can’t believe, because it’s exactly how I felt after my second was born, but no one believed my feelings were valid.
    My first daughter was born vaginally – by the book. It was as easy and beautiful as a vaginal delivery could be… with one exception. I had an epidural. Two things were wrong with it. After placing the epidural, the anesthesiologist informed me I have a “narrow epidural cavity”. It took him 3 full attempts to get the line placed and that was agonizing to me. Also, I don’t know why and many doctors have not been able to explain it, but the epidural made my legs feel and lower pelvis feel, in addition to being numb, like they were being crushed. There was no ‘pain’ per se, but if I closed my eyes I could imagine huge boulders flattening my lower body. This feeling was wrong. This feeling was scary.

    When I got pregnant the second time I was terrified of feeling that wrong, scary crushing feeling again. So I told my OB I wanted a drug free birth. Unfortunately, my blood pressure kept rising, so at 36 weeks we attempted induction. I labored for 24 hours and was still only 5 cm dialated. My OB said I might need to consider getting an epidural to relax pelvis to speed things up, or he might have to perform a cesarean. He knew why I didn’t want to have an epidural and he knew all the reasons why. He promised me the anesthesiologist would come up to discuss everything before I had to make a decision.
    When the anesthesiologist finally came up, he didn’t say anything to me. He just started setting up for an epidural. When he started to pull out a needle and catheter I finally said “Wait! I thought you were going to talk to me about this?!” I had been without sleep or food for 48 hours and in labor for 24, so I was a bit of a scattered mess, but I swear every word the anesthesiologist uttered came with a sneer. I told him my OB promised the anesthesiologist would talk to me about my fears. He said, off hand “Yeah, he mentioned you didn’t want to do this”. I told him I was scared of feeling the way I did last time. He told me, basically, that I had imagined the crushing sensation because that was not a know side-effect of any epidural drugs available. I told him the last anesthesiologist said I had a narrow epidural cavity and I was afraid of the pain of getting stuck in the spine multiple times. He asked me “who’s the doctor here?!” and insisted I couldn’t possibly have any idea what I was talking about. In tears I told him how scared I was and, starting to pack up his stuff, he said (I’ll NEVER forget this, ever) “FINE! I have other patients who NEED my time. Just realize – when you doctor [OB] comes in to do your c-section, I’ll just have to stick you anyway….so am I doing this or what?!?!?” I was so undone I just said ok. Inside I was screaming.

    I was sobbing and trembling so much when he tried to stick me the first time he stopped to say “What’s wrong with you? WHY are you crying? If you’d hold still this would be over a lot quicker!”

    He ended up sticking me 6 times before he could place the catheter. As he cleaned up his stuff and packed up his gear he said, not looking at me but honest to God sneering, “Hm. Turns out you DO have a narrow epidural cavity after all…”

    After all of that I had serious PPD, and I’d have panic attacks in my OB’s office during follow-up appointments. There were a few people to whom I tried to explain the feeling of being raped. But every one of them, while trying to be supportive, still “assured” me that rape was a bad analogy”. He had a bad bed side manner, or, he was just being a real jerk.

    I always thought he had raped me, I had always felt he had raped me. And now reading your story I feel I can say he DID rape me.

    I’m sorry to dump all this. I just want you to know that reading your words was very freeing for me. Birth Rape is a term I know now, and can use with authority.

    1. There is no need to apologise. It has taken me a few days to be able to come to this, but I wanted to say how glad I am that what I wrote has helped. So much of finding peace, for me, has been to realise that I’m not alone in what I’ve gone through. To add to the recommendations, I found Sheila Kitzinger’s book “Birth Crisis” of some help; the book wasn’t entirely for me, but I found solace in simply seeing someone write about birth trauma.

      Thinking of you x

  3. It might be triggering for you to read, but in case it helps anyone, Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman talks in a similar way about her first birth, and how her second was so very different, (though a different mode of birth to yours).

    I’m so glad you (mostly) got the care you needed and deserved this time around. Birth rights are such an important part of reproductive justice.

  4. I read your other piece just now as well, and what awful obstetric violence you suffered. Unfortunately, it’s depressingly common; I had a classmate who gave a talk to us about it. I’m glad your experience was much better this time and that people actually listened to you and took into account your desires and needs. Thank you for sharing this experience.

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