A Story of Birth Trauma, PTSD and Other Fun Stuff

03 November 2013
Trigger warning: contains discussion of abuse, medical procedures and birth trauma.

So, I've shared a lot with my readers...from the year long quest to conceive Baby G, through to my dreams about pornographers. Probably I over share. But now I'm going to tell you a very personal story I've not shared even with people I know...a tale of medical incompetence and the not-so-delightful lead up to the birth of Baby G. And I'm telling you this because I want to add my voice to the brave women who say birth trauma is real, it does matter, and because what happened to me should never happen to anyone, if I have to shout a bit to make sure that happens.

When I was pregnant with BabyG back in 2011, we were still living in inner Sydney, so I booked in to go through the birth centre at an inner city hospital. I have had some very bad experiences at the hands of doctors, so I thought the most natural birth safely possible was the best, least traumatic way to go. We had a doula, and I practiced breathing exercises and visualisation, and took natural birthing drops, which I didn't even believe in but thought I'd try...you get the idea. Also in preparation for making the gory parts of the birth as smooth as possible (are you still with me? This is where it starts getting nasty) at 38 weeks I hopped in the shower to try perineal stretching. Very gently to start with.

The second I tried it, my blood ran cold; I nearly fainted and threw up at the same time. I was horrified. It instantly brought flashbacks to a disturbing incident when I was young; I came out of the shower sobbing. There was no way - no way in hell - I could have a vaginal birth. The stretching was so horrible, I feel sick even now thinking about it. Fuck the birth centre. No one - no doctor or midwife - was touching my hoo hah. Pass the scalpel.

So the next day, I reported to my regular appointment at the birth centre, and explained the situation. Sorry guys, you've been great, but I can't do a natural birth. So they referred me to the clinical nurse consultant, and I went through the whole situation. I've been abused; preparing for a natural birth has triggered flashbacks, I can't face a vaginal birth and I want a c-section.

She said no.

Can you believe that? I can't, still. I've spent the last five years in the community sector, advocating for people. I'm at a loss, shocked, by how someone could lack the basic human compassion to allow an assault victim to have a c-section on request. She was really, really rude actually - told me I should have thought of this before, that if I wanted an obstetrician I'd have to go privately because it was too late now. If I knew then, what I know now, I'd have made a massive scene, demanded to speak to someone, anyone else - but I  didn't.  I meekly said that's fine, I understand. Be nice. Don't give anyone any reason to not like you. And I went home and cried and cried.

As it happened, BabyG went overdue. Really overdue. By day 10, I was overwrought with anxiety - about the birth, about the baby, as another overdue baby a couple of months before had not had a good outcome, and the precious little angel was born asleep. I was terrified, and would have gotten G out with a garden fork if I had to, and I stupidly agreed to an induction. Into hospital we went on Tuesday, 30 August. They shoved cervadil up me, which was fairly fucking horrid. I had been told in advance that once the cervadil was in, I could go home until contractions started. Oh no, I was told now. You can't leave. At all. Not allowed to walk up the street to get my head together. I was already starting to lose it, but they gave me a valium and off I went to sleep in the hope labour would start and this would all be over.

Wednesday morning. No labour. Nothing has happened. No dilation - he wasn't even engaged. Okay, said the midwife with her hand rammed up me (sticking her finger in my urethra on the way in) - the next step is to put a balloon catheter in your cervix.

Everybody out of the goddamn pool, I said. I'd had enough being nice. I'm not proceeding with the induction. Get him out now - I want a c-section, if you won't give me one I'll go home and freebirth. And by the way, being in the hospital in pretty fucking upsetting, considering I'm not even in labour can I just walk up the street and get some food? They told me they'd get back to me. Do you know how long they made me wait? Thirty fucking hours. Thirty hours of me crying, begging for the c-section, not allowed to leave, and having midwives continually giving me cervical sweeps "to see if anything is happening" and pressuring me to go on with the induction.

Finally on Thursday afternoon - 48 hours after arriving at hospital - they gave me the c-section, and BabyG was born. And whoops, no one picked up on that he was 4.5kg with a 40cm head, which should have qualified me for a c-section if I wanted in the first place.

I've lived with this for two years now, and I'm still angry. I'm angry at what I've missed out on - my one experience of birth, and it's just such a horrible, horrible memory. I'm angry that it has taken such a toll on bonding with G. I'm angry at the effect it's had on my marriage. I'm angry at the lack of agency, the disempowerment. Being treated like an object, a piece of meat. I'm angry it was all so damn unnecessary. I'm so angry and I don't know what to do with it. I've complained to the hospital, which was semi-helpful, I guess - but they said I "slipped through the cracks" in the system. No I didn't. It was that damn nurse's cruelty and complacency that allowed this to happen - and you know what? Apparently she didn't even have the authority to refuse or allow a c-section and should have referred me to the head obstetrician. Why didn't you ask to speak to an obstetrician when the nurse said no, the hospital asked? Um, cause I don't know your chain of command. And what about the 30 hours I waited? I was asking everyone by then.

I've also lodged a complaint with the Health Care Complaints Commission; that's still going through the process. I've thought about suing, I haven't decided yet. I've seen a counsellor for PTSD, but I've never been a great fan of counselling; it doesn't work so well for me. I'm on anti-depressants. I've recently started going to the gym and that's nice, but it won't take the need for the medication away. Where to from here? We are almost certainly not having any more kids - a drawback of starting your family after 30 is not having oodles of time to think about it - so the prospect of a "healing birth" is out. Anyway we're looking at moving back to Sydney, back into the catchment of that hospital. Give birth there again? I'd rather burn the place down. Even passing a bus on George St, with the hospital on it's destination board, is upsetting.

So there's my birth trauma story. I was chewed up and spit out by the public hospital system, and I know I should be grateful I have a healthy kid and I gave birth in a safe modern hospital but fuck it, I don't think availing yourself of those services should mean you have to put up with whatever non-compassionate, incompetent treatment they mete out. And I'm furious whenever I hear wails about the c-section rate being too high - I suffered weeks of psychological hell, and 48 hours of physical hell, because a public hospital wanted to keep it's section rate down. I've changed. I no longer meekly accept things to not make waves; I scream, I shout. I'm not a nice person anymore. I used to think I was, but now I'm a furious old boiler who will always speak up. And if what I've said here makes someone think they're not alone it's been worth the pain it's taken to write it down.


  1. I'm really, really sorry that happened to you - and thank you for writing this. I've been thinking a lot about birth lately (happens when you're due to do it again in less than a fortnight) and I've started to think the only way to get rid of this whole idea that any woman who doesn't have a drug-free waterbirth under a full-moon with a harp playing in the background is a failure is by sharing all the stories where things don't go to plan. For whatever reason.

    With my first, I was induced 10 days over as well. I didn't want it - had my heart set on the whole natural birth thing, doula and all, and all I'd read was about the evil overmedicalisation of birth. I had major issues with the bedside manner of some of the doctors prior to agreeing to the induction - telling someone that if they don't induce, their baby will die, that it's a possibility anyway, and that if it wasn't Friday 5pm they'd probably wheel me off into theatre for a c-section just in case is not exactly... kind - but in the end they were right. LittleJ was born weighing not much more than *half* of what BabyG did, shrivelled, my placenta was crappy and I had no waters. I'm glad, weirdly, now, that that doctor scared the crap out of me and got me to agree to the induction, because otherwise... well.

    I'm still hoping to go naturally this time around, but as the date gets closer, I'm starting to get the very definite feeling that it won't happen - I'm also on a slightly tighter deadline, due to how things went last time - and i'm getting more and more ok with that. I'll be disappointed, but you know what? The main thing I'm refusing to feel is guilt. I'm already finding myself wanting to shout down the reassuring comments that my 'body knows what to do' and 'babies will be born when they're ready'. Sure... usually. But sometimes they don't. And that's not my fault and it's not 'wrong' and I'm not 'buying into the obstetrics industry', which I didn't even know existed.

    Fuck. I have asthma and bad eyesight. I've never been made to feel like I should justify carrying ventolin or wearing glasses. It's just the way my body is, and maybe 'not going into labour normally' is just... another way my body is.

    /tangent /rant Thanks again, and I hope you can continue to move forward from what happened to you.

    (apologies for length)

  2. I am so sorry. You deserve very much better xx

  3. Thank you for sharing. You are an incredibly brave woman.

  4. I am so sorry you went through this. I had a *good* first birth, and I still found it incredibly dehumanising and disempowering.

    I am sad to say that the more women I talk to about their birth experiences, the more I realise how common it is that women's psychological health and wellbeing is not on the radar.


    Thank you for sharing.


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