My experience giving birth seemed to fly by in a blur of hyper-emotion, dull physical pain and still-scenes from my hospital bed playing back in my mind. Looking back on it afterward, I had questions, so I attended Birth Reflections counselling to try and fill in the blanks.
Please note this is my personal experience and the info given on the practicalities of the counselling was correct when I attended. It may have changed since. Everything else is just my account of my experience: it will be different for everyone!
Not every NHS Trust has the facilities to offer Birth Reflections counselling, but my local does, and I took advantage of it when my son was about 5 months old. Run by midwives, it’s a confidential service open to anyone who gives birth under the care of the hospital I did – be that at home, in the MLBU (Midwife Led Birthing Unit) facility, on the Delivery Suite, or in theatre. Partners are welcome (although I chose to go alone), and you can book to attend for free up until your child is three years old.
During the hour’s session, the midwife will have your notes on-hand and can read through, discuss, and answer questions on everything that happened from your first intervention; be that inducing labour, prepping for theatre, or going into labour naturally; right through until your baby is delivered.
It is, quite frankly, a bloody brilliant service; if you can access it.
The below could be triggering if you’re struggling with mental health issues (post-natal or otherwise), so please be kind to yourself before you decide to read on! Want out? Here’s what you need!
Despite having had my appointment booked for several weeks, and being confident about attending and asking lots of questions, I was super nervous walking into the hospital, and it threw up some pretty raw emotions for me before I even made it to the waiting area – which I totally hadn’t expected.
The midwife who worked with me suggested I go on to seek further help with my post-natal mental health, which I did. I was later diagnosed with post-natal PTSD, which you may detect the signs of in this account of what happened.
I went for my counselling on a Saturday morning; the first time I’d been back since we’d left with my son a few months before. As I emerged from the lift on the relevant floor, a couple walked toward me smiling with their newborn in a car seat, ready to go home… annnndd I burst into tears. Great. I then passed the post-natal ward I’d stayed on, and then NICU (the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit), where my son had spent time post-birth. Somehow it all seemed really far removed from my memories of it, and I’d mis-remembered some detail, which at the time horrified me. Bringing my son into the world was the most important thing I’d ever done; how could I, not even 6 months later, have forgotten so much?! Now, of course, I know that my post-natal PTSD had muddled the memories in an attempt to try and protect me from some of the distress I’d felt. At the time though, it was really upsetting.
I finally sat down in the waiting area I needed to and was already not in a great frame of mind. If you too are attending sessions like this and they happen to be in a hospital, be mindful of what you may see en route that could upset you. I had been caught completely off-guard because I didn’t give it a second thought. I could have walked a totally different way and avoided everything that upset me, but in hindsight that may have meant I missed the signs of some issues I needed help with later on, so it may not have been a bad thing, even if it felt fucking awful at the time!
I went in to my appointment with the midwife, who I didn’t know and hadn’t met before, and she sat down with a smile and opened my notes. We had a bit of chit-chat about how I was feeling (“Yeah, fine…”, I lied) and we talked through the unusual circumstances through which I’d found out that I was going to be a Mum. She put me at ease and we could pretty quickly get to talking about my favourite topic: me and my magical vagina. Ha.
I wanted to run through everything about my birth experience, so the midwife read through my notes in order and I asked questions as we went. These were mainly the handwritten notes made by delivery midwives, each timestamped and full of medical checks, behavioural observations and of course, info on my baby’s wellbeing. As we talked through the notes, and my labour had progressed, I learnt lots of information that I hadn’t known at the time – additional checks being made on my unborn son, NICU teams being alerted and visiting (not in the room with me, but liaising with doctors and midwives outside) and notes on my general demeanour. I felt a bit shocked that I hadn’t known these things, but actually, I’m glad I didn’t: had I realised the gravitas of giving birth to a small baby prematurely who wasn’t really responding to contractions, it likely would not have been conducive to a calm and healthy labour and birth! It’s good to know now, and it definitely reinforces the feeling of having been well cared for, but I can completely understand why it wasn’t divulged to me back then.
We talked through my notes for about an hour, and once it came to the headline act entering the arena, the discussion ended. This felt a bit prompt to me (I mean, the best bit had only just arrived!), but of course not everyone sticks about in hospital after birth, so for many, the notes do stop there. The midwife I saw didn’t have any further notes on me, so we couldn’t speak more on my experiences. (Probably just as well, I figured later, as I would have bored the poor cow for hours with relentless questioning!)
I left feeling really uplifted, and definitely regained some of the empowerment I had initially felt after having brought a person into the world. Despite having managed to upset myself before I’d even got in the door (for fuck sake), I was much calmer and feeling more positive, particularly about making the next step into asking for help with my post-natal mental health.
If you have questions about your birth experience, I’d definitely recommend booking in if you’re able. It’s not likely to do any harm and may help you feel like you can tie up some loose ends about the whole thing mentally. If not, you can do as I did and use it as a stepping stone to then seek more answers and help.
For me, though, this was just the beginning and I went on to full therapy to really feel like I could get back to myself. Read up on that on my Post-natal PTSD and Me blog.