by Jules (@thejoysofjules)
When Jules Theis experienced birth trauma during the arrival of her first child, she was surprised to find herself keen to get pregnant again. In this brave and honest piece she talks about the feelings of inadequacy and failure that her first birth left her with, and the desire to redeem that with another by having another baby after birth trauma. Whilst this article does not detail birth trauma, you may choose to avoid it if you’re currently pregnant. Jules shares more about motherhood and birth trauma on her website.
One year passed by after my first child’s birth. One year since the birth trauma. Since we rushed from our home birth to the ER. 365 days separated us between now and the day I died during childbirth. When eclampsia took over my body at the last push and a seizure was triggered, my pulse flatlined. The doctors worked quickly and with the ventilator in and oxygen pumping, an hour later they saved my life. My vitals stabilised and after a week at the hospital, baby Oslo and I returned home with my husband, James. The remnants of the attempted home birth had been cleaned up and it was as if nothing bad had happened. But every time I thought of how our son was born, I felt like a failure.
His birth was meant to be the best day of our lives but for me, it was one I wanted to completely forget. The first moments that define a woman’s journey into becoming a mother were stripped from me and knowing I could never get them back took a piece of my motherhood away. Despite having the label of mother and wearing it proudly, I often felt like an imposter.
One year on I only wanted this date to be remembered as Oslo’s birthday. A day to celebrate him and only that. The distance made it easier to choose to disassociate from the details of his birth and move forward with our plans to expand our family. As we celebrated Oslo’s first birthday with a small party, the urge to have another baby began.
The trauma still weighed heavily in our marriage and no healing had been done, but we thought maybe this second attempt at birth would fill in the cracks. The trauma would be cleaned up. Just ten days later, as I ovulated for the first time since I stopped breastfeeding, I became pregnant. Instant gratification for us. I hoped in the first sensations of this second pregnancy that I could finally prove without resistance that I am a mother, and am deserving of this title. As if the kind of birth women have defines us as mothers.
I thought if I had a redeemable birth – a healthy and normal one – then I would no longer feel so much shame. Maybe if I tried harder, planned more and trusted, I would be present for my baby’s birth this time. I would not die. I craved that feeling of triumph and connection. All I wanted was a second chance at giving birth.
One week before my due date, on my 29th birthday, the contractions began as soon as I woke up. Before I even truly knew I was in active labour, it was too late to make it to the hospital. Our second son was coming quickly and I lay down on the landing of the stairs, ready to push. The planned hospital birth soon turned into a dramatic and unexpected home birth. Out of fear the eclampsia could return, James called the emergency services and a medical team arrived quickly. As I rested my head on James’ legs, three paramedics, two firefighters, a doctor, a nurse and a midwife watched me give birth. With all eyes on me, I pushed baby Louie out in just three minutes. Fresh skin, warm breath, and pulses colliding. We did it.
In many ways, I got all the things I wanted from Louie’s labour. I was alive, we were healthy, he lay on my chest as he took his first breaths. But the presence of paramedics quickly encroached on our magic. Yelling out that we must leave now, we must go to the ambulance and to the hospital. Our bubble burst when I realised this wouldn’t be the home birth I had always wanted. I may have pushed our second child out at home, but we would not get to reap any of the rewards from this work. Instead, we were carried downstairs into the scorching July heat, down the street and loaded into an ambulance. Those first critical moments of bonding taken away, again.
I was quick to share our birth story and did so with pride at our strength. I so wanted to package it up as a positive experience; a redemption from Oslo’s birth. However, I learnt that birth trauma can lie in the expectations we have and the plans that don’t go accordingly. I may have had what was deemed a healthy birth, but it didn’t erase a traumatic one. I could now see that a difficult experience can’t be redeemed by another more positive one.
Four years later, after birth trauma therapy, energy healing and a lot of growth, James and I made the decision to have another baby. Not to prove my strength, not to redeem, and not to erase the negative outcomes of the other births, I know none of this can be done anyway. We wanted to expand our family, and with that I became pregnant with a baby girl.
The decision on how we would give birth was not an easy one, though ultimately with my mental and physical health in mind I chose for an elective caesarean. I knew I had to trust in myself, my baby and the team of doctors and midwives who would support me. I knew that anything could happen.
On February 15th I was wheeled into the operating room with nerves pulsing through my body. I was terrified of the surgery and also excited knowing our daughter would be here any minute. The anaesthesia was injected into my spine, my legs became numb and I lay on my back breathing through the stress of it all. Ten minutes later we heard the cry of our daughter and saw her being lifted out from my abdomen. James and I erupted in tears– she’s here!
Our daughter Sunny was placed skin to skin on my chest and I looked at her beautiful little face, while James cradled us both in his arms. It all appeared so perfect from the outside, but as the doctors cleaned up my incision, my body lost control. A pounding, formidable headache took over and pulsed my brain under the pressure. My teeth chattered and limbs shook uncontrollably. I felt so sick, though these were deemed normal reactions to the anaesthesia. It took me out of this beautiful moment and made me think back to Oslo’s birth and the fear of death.
For two hours I succumbed as I tried to bond with Sunny. I was shocked I reacted in such a way, because the doctors hadn’t warned me of this. For them the elective caesarean went according to plan; the baby was perfect and we were both healthy.
My three births taught me that whatever happens, it doesn’t define us as mothers. Just because the birth didn’t go to plan doesn’t mean we are a failure and have anything to make up for. You are a mother. It may take time, healing and help to feel like this role is real, but no matter the kind of birth we have we should be proud to be called, mother. For that’s all our baby knows us as.
Birth can be positive and negative. It can be all the good moments we long for and all the fearful moments we want to overcome. The kind of birth you have and how you feel about it doesn’t define you as a mother. I wasn’t a failure and didn’t have anything to make up for.