*The third guest I welcome is Jess Parkins in light of #cesaeranawarnessmonth *
About the Writer:
Hi all - I'm Jess Parkins. Mummy of two beautiful children (who are admittedly driving me a little crazy while I'm trying to work from home during lockdown). My son is 4 and my daughter is 1. I suffered with postnatal depression and symptoms of PTSD (caused by birth trauma / poor care) following the arrival of my son via emergency c section. The experience caused me to lose myself for a long time but now that I am recovered - I am determined to help support women and make maternity care better. I am a service user representative for my local Maternity Voices Partnership and I hope to one day become a Doula. I have exceptionally curly hair and am quite obsessed with marmite.
A few days after my Cesarean - feeling totally empty and shell shocked
A caesarean section, or C-section, is an operation to deliver your baby through a cut made in your tummy and womb (https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/caesarean-section/). Around 1 in 4 women will give birth this way. I am one of those statistics, but my story is so much more than ‘making a cut’.
I never pictured myself having a c section – I didn’t head towards my due date thinking I might be in for an easy ride, but I certainly never prepared or entertained the idea that my pregnancy would end in that manner. I was 10 days overdue and after 36 hours of labour – I was ‘failing to progress’. God medical terminology is so shitty sometimes!! My baby had spent a significant proportion of that time in distress and when my waters broke, they contained meconium – this isn’t a positive sign.
I was a ‘category 1’ emergency c section, which means once the decision has been made – you’re taken to theatre straight away and baby is delivered as quickly as is feasibly possible. Fortunately, I had already had an epidural, so I didn’t need to be put to sleep.
Upon arrival to theatre – I couldn’t process what was happening. The room was full of people and before I knew it – I was being stripped naked (to have a clean gown put on). I mean – I understand the logic but seriously – who wants to be naked in a room full of people?! Next step was to have a catheter inserted – again – as this was all in a rush – it didn’t feel remotely dignified and I distinctly remember feeling embarrassed while all this was happening.
From the moment the scalpel touched my skin to my son being out – was minutes. Unfortunately, my baby was poorly and instead of this being the happiest day of my life. It turned into what would be the worst 9 days of my life – mostly due to a prolonged hospital stay and poor treatment on the postnatal ward.
No one tells you how painful the recovery from a c section is – you struggle with coughing, sneezing, sitting up, laying down, showering, putting clothes on, changing your pads, going to the toilet, holding your baby, feeding your baby, taking the briefest of walks – it’s all really, really difficult. Even once fully recovered – even years down the line – I still get twinges in my scar. The other thing which I’m sure many don’t know is that it’s very common for you to be left with nerve damage near the wound; I have no sensation from my belly button down to my c section scar.
After my C Section trying to muster a smile but essentially feeling totally exhausted
I will be very honest now – my birth experience and the subsequent days that followed left me a broken woman. I can’t go into all the details here because this would just be pages and pages long, but I was traumatised in every sense of the word. I had cried every day, nearly all day for the 9 days I was in hospital and for many months afterwards.
Upon discharge from the hospital and in the months that followed – I swore I would never have another child. During my surgery – I had honestly believed that both my baby and I were going to die. I couldn’t ever envisage finding the strength to face pregnancy again – knowing I would have to make a choice between opting for another caesarean or trying for a vaginal birth.
As the years passed and my son grew older – I longed to add another child to our family, but fear stopped me. My birth experience impacted my whole life in those years – my work, my parenting, my relationships. I felt like a failure and I was constantly dragged down by postnatal depression and symptoms of PTSD. I had to work on my mental health a lot to even consider trying again.
Eventually – my husband and I decided to go for it, and I fell with my second child. As soon as I found out I was pregnant – I started to dread the decision regarding birth. I cried – a lot, and my anxiety was through the roof. After a lengthy discussion with my community midwife (a lovely lady called Zoe) – I was referred to the Birth Options Clinic at our local hospital. There, I was given the opportunity to talk through my first birth experience and all the issues I had had since. They were so kind and there was not even a faint hint of judgement from them. They explained I would be supported whether I opted for a c section or a vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC).
In my heart – I knew I wanted the VBAC. I knew I wanted the experience of ‘giving birth naturally’ but I was also petrified of ‘failing again’. It was recommended that I try hypnobirthing, and this was a total game changer. It empowered me and allowed me to find the strength I needed to finally believe in myself. To believe that I could follow my heart – but that even if it didn’t work out – it didn’t mean that I had failed. I spent the remainder of my pregnancy ‘bigging myself up’. I was so determined that no matter what happened – I would not have a repeat birth experience. I would speak up, I would ask for time if decisions needed to be made, I would be in control and I would trust my instincts and my body.
At 40 weeks +4 – my daughter arrived. I got my VBAC and she was born so peacefully in the birthing pool. It was, and is without question, the most amazing and powerful experience of my life. If you had asked me in that moment if I could rule the world – I’d have told you – 100% I can. If you asked me now – today – would I give birth again – I would say yes in a heartbeat. It was magical and I am in awe of what my body achieved.
A couple of days after my daughters birth - totally content and happy.
I wanted to share my story for so many reasons. For the first time Mums yet to give birth – please don’t be scared – your body is amazing and will know what to do when the time comes. For the Mums who may feel as though their body failed – it didn’t and neither did you. For those that are considering a VBAC – if you really want that experience, please go for it and believe in yourself. For any Mum that is suffering with PND or any other mental health issue – even on the darkest nights, the sun rises again. You will get through this, I promise you. Please reach out for help and support – there are so many of us that have been in a similar position.
And finally – if you ever want to talk – if you want to discuss anything I’ve shared – please get in touch. I have made it my personal mission to improve maternity care for women in any way I can and to speak up for them – because your experience, your voice matters. You deserve to be heard.
Thanks for taking the time to read my story and many thanks to Liz for sharing it for me.
If you feel you need more support please don't hesitate to get in touch with Make Birth Better. You can find them here