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My birth trauma story and the glimmers campaign

Published 1 month ago. Estimated reading time: 11 minutes.

May 21

Last week I was so proud to announce a collaboration with the perinatal mental health charity PANDAS Foundation. We’ve come together to create the Personalised Glimmers Journal to raise money for face-to-face support for those affected. It’s such a beautiful journal and a cause particularly close to my heart. 

martha brook blog post my birth trauma story and the glimmers campaign martha with the glimmers journal

I thought I’d share for the first time with you lovely lot what happened after my first daughter Hermione was born in 2018.

As you might know, Hermione is an IVF baby. One that took much fertility investigations, an endometriosis diagnosis, operations, and finally that pregnancy test I thought would never come. I loved being pregnant, I had done it, I thought. I never imaged that the hardest bit was to come.

She was due on 22nd December, which became a bit of a running joke in our team because it was the last Royal Mail posting date before Christmas. As an online retail business, December is our busiest time of year and the team enjoyed speculating whether I’d make it to the end! Incidentally, Hermione’s name comes from Greek mythology and means ‘messenger’ which I thought it was the perfect choice for parents running a stationery company with a baby due at Christmas!

martha brook blog post my birth trauma story and the glimmers campaign martha with hermione

But the last posting date came and went and there was no sign of her. Then Christmas Day arrived, then Boxing Day, and still not a peep. Eventually, after a sweep, on the morning of New Year’s Eve I woke up and the contractions had started.

It started off fine. A little slow, I was still at home when New Year’s Day arrived and I watched from the top bedroom of our house the fireworks going off across the rooftops with the contractions coming every few minutes thinking it was the most bizarre New Year’s Eve ever, and certainly one I’ll never forget!

Eventually, we went to hospital at 7am to their midwife-led unit and I was so glad to get into a water bath and get on with it. Reader, I was in a ZONE! I can do this I thought, nearly there. But then, my waters popped, and the bath filled with meconium. Meconium is the first poop that a baby does in the 1-2 days after they are born, it’s a dark, sticky horrible black stuff that looks a bit like tar. If a baby passes it during birth, it means they are distressed, and people start to worry about getting the baby out fast.

I was taken out the bath and put on a birthing stool to continue pushing where I stayed for hours with no pain relief. Poor Hermione was distressed, and her heart rate kept dropping and she kept producing more and more meconium. The junior midwife who was with me on a clearly understaffed unit had called another member of the team in who realised that the reason she couldn’t get out was that her hand was up by her face. (I like to tell Hermione now that she was trying to wave at me!) There was a palpable sense of panic in the room and more and more people were rushing in.

One of the midwifes decided to perform a double episiotomy (still with no pain relief). A double episiotomy is not a THING and incredibly unusual, and it was also done in an incorrect position much too high up on both sides.

Finally, little Hermione plopped out head-to-toe covered in thick black meconium. In the fuss about her post birth – she was taken off for tests and I couldn’t hold her – I wasn’t sewn up and unbeknown to me a large amount of placenta was left in.

I am so incredibly thankful that Hermione was fine. Squashed and bruised, but fine. I was less fine.

martha brook blog post my birth trauma story and the glimmers campaign martha with baby hermione

One midwife looked at my down below and brought another in saying ‘that doesn’t look right’ and a junior doctor came to do some stitches, which fixed a tear but because my episiotomies were done so high up in an incredibly unusual position the external parts were still not sewn back together. I also couldn’t breastfeed and was transferred to the postnatal wards where we were kept for five days with midwifes pummelling my boobs trying to get milk out.

Of course, I still had placenta in me, so my milk letdown wasn’t working properly but no one picked that up. Every time I tried to breastfeed, I had contractions and felt terrible, and Hermione was losing more and more weight until she was a skinny little thing.

Then, three weeks post birth I came into the Martha Brook studio to introduce Hermione to the team and as I was arriving home, I started haemorrhaging huge amounts of blood and tissue. I passed something that looked like another baby and almost fainted.

Back at the hospital, a scan revealed how much placenta was still there and I was told I had to have a D&C (dilation and curettage) under general anaesthetic, a procedure that is usually done following a miscarriage. I was put on an emergency waiting list and taken back to the postnatal ward as they had nowhere else to put me. I remember being in floods of tears. The next day was the NCT meet-up post birth, and all my mum friends were getting together and here I was back in the hospital.

martha brook blog post my birth trauma story and the glimmers campaign martha in hospital

I was booked in for my D&C at the main operating theatre in the hospital, but I was less of an ‘emergency’ than other emergencies, so I kept getting bumped for kidney transplants because there weren’t enough anaesthetist on the rota. In total, I was kept nil by mouth on and off for five days. I completely lost my breastmilk and was slightly beside myself with limited food and absolutely no one looking after me. Eventually, my husband Chris, decided to take matters into his own hands and literally up and down the hospital corridors campaigning for my situation to be prioritised. Eventually he managed to persuade an anaesthetist who had already finished her shift to stay and do my operation in the maternity operating theatre. To this day, I don’t know how long I would have been left, without him stepping in, and I am so thankful to that anaesthetist who literally got back into her scrubs for me.

Once home, everything felt like a blur. Those first weeks of bonding with my baby and having normal experiences just didn’t happen for me. I was completely shellshocked and wracked with guilt that I couldn’t breastfeed. I wasn’t kind to myself at all and pushed on with all my Martha Brook work to distract myself.

I was still in excruciating pain from the episiotomies, which felt like it was getting worse not better. For weeks I tried to get various healthcare practitioners to take the pain seriously to no avail. Eventually a friend of mine recommended I paid to see a consultant privately to check me out. It is farcical that it took until three months post birth in a private appointment for a doctor to realise that my labia majora had been sliced apart on both sides and not sewn back together.

I had to go back to the hospital for another operation but because the nerves had been exposed for so long the pain got even worst post operation. It felt like a burning stabbing pain that continued for years and I was told there was nothing they could do about it.

I was putting on a brave face for work but crumbling at home. I found it impossible to move on from the birth. I kept having flashbacks and nightmares about it, I was anxious, not sleeping and a constant state of distress. Eventually I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

martha brook blog post my birth trauma story and the glimmers campaign martha with hermione

I’m not sure about you, but I’d never heard of PTSD being a thing post birth. It felt so silly to me. I struggled to talk about it and process it all. I was referred for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy through the local NHS mental health services, which didn’t seem to help.

It wasn’t until I went back to the hospital to discuss starting IVF again three years later that the consultant there picked up on how much I was struggling and referred me into the IVF counselling service. This was unlike any counselling I’ve ever had. The lady put me into a sort of trance / hypnosis and made me play my birth as if it was a VHS video I was watching on a TV. In the trance, she made me eject it and put it back into the box, and it was like a weight had been lifted.

It was because of her I was able to continue going back to the same hospital for six more rounds of IVF and four miscarriages.

I am not sure the trauma of that first birth will ever leave me. When I was due last summer with my second baby I opted for a caesarean because I wasn’t sure my vagina could cope with much more (!), and, honestly, I needed as much control as possible. I felt much more cared for post birth and in some ways, it helped me heal and moved on from what happened in 2018 in ways I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to.

Last week, you might have seen that a report was published by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Birth Trauma which found that 4-5% of women suffer from PTSD after birth, which is approximately 30,000 women in the UK each year. That is shocking.

I am delighted that Martha Brook have teamed up with the charity PANDAS Foundation who offer support to those suffering with their mental health both during pregnancy and post birth. Until 27th May we’ll be donating £5 from every Personalised Glimmers Journal sold, which will be doubled to £10 as part of the Big Give campaign. Knowing that the funds will go straight to support woman and families affected is huge to me. Every purchase really does make a difference so thank you so much to everyone who has supported so far.

martha brook blog post my birth trauma story and the glimmers campaign martha brook glimmers campaign

We’ve been blown away with messages from people saying they’ve been through similar experiences or with postnatal depression, so huge love to you if you’ve found this hard to read. Thank you for reading my story, and here’s to raising lots for PANDAS to help others struggling.

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1 month ago

Thank you so much for sharing your story and being honest with your experience, I am deeply saddened by it 🙁 it is not normal or expected, and thank you for fighting for changes in maternity care to help people get better experiences.

My first birth was uneventful in a sense but my son was also born into meconium filled waters, and I was then bundle onto a bed, poked and prodded. My son was taken away handed to his father and then my placenta was stuck. Luckily it came away eventually but I was then left on delivery suite for hours with nobody coming in to then be shifted out home like I should have been glad. My son was readmitted hours later to NICU after vomiting meconium and refusing feeds. He has to be out in an incubator because he had been outside of hospital so I couldn’t hold him. I wasn’t in a good relationship but didn’t have a safe space to speak out, and in a trance when I was given my baby I took out step forward and was shouted at by the neonatal nurse for doing so. I felt so guilty and alone, and was told ‘when he is here he is yours, when you are gone he is ours’. Somehow thinking that was meant to make me feel better…. I felt like my baby was no longer mine.

I missed all postnatal visits and care, with no nurses able to find a midwife to see to my wounds that didn’t feel right. I ended up attending sexual health services and was given antibiotics and things got better. However developed postnatal depression from all the stress.

I was fortunate that my second birth was so much better, a homebirth and I felt so much more in control and happiness when my baby girl got here safely. My midwives were incredible!

However, I then had a piece of retained placenta and it took weeks of going back and forth to the GP with heavy infrequent bleeds, irritable symptoms to finally be referred for an ultrasound. (Had already been discharged from maternity by time symptoms were presenting – ) Everyone kept telling me my tummy felt ok but not listening to how I was feeling. The care really does need to change for everyone’s benefit xx

Jo Sowerby
Jo Sowerby
22 days ago

Hi Martha I have read your post with a sense of anger and horror. As an ex-midwife, I spent a lot of time with mothers but mainly on the NICU where I worked for most of my career. My friend is still a midwife and would be equally horrified by your story and the struggles you have had with PTSD. I well remember as a student caring for a mum who had also had bilateral episiotomies and was readmitted in excruciating pain. It was very difficult to find pain relief which worked but I remember that she had a special ultrasound therapy which really worked. It saddens me that women are experiencing such trauma, alongside their babies, partner and family. I know there are brilliant midwives and they are also struggling with providing the care they are committed to because many older experienced midwives aren’t being replaced and many midwives leave because their role has been downgraded financially and professionally. I hope that things change for the better but I wish I knew how.

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