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Here's How I Coped After A Traumatic Birth Experience

Coming to terms when it doesn't go nearly as planned.

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When my son was born prematurely, I was very afraid.

Sarah Montrose

My placenta started to malfunction at 28 weeks, causing my son to have intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR). He was born weighing just 3lbs 6oz.

For the first few months – like any new mum – it was "head down, get through it", but once the dust had settled (as much as it does with a newborn!), my husband and I began to reflect on what had happened.

I joined some Facebook groups: one for parents of premature babies, a breastfeeding one, and one on Gentle Parenting. These parents have really helped me come to terms with what happened, and continue to offer support and advice.

I used various coping mechanisms for my birth trauma, but I wanted to know how others managed. These lovely, brave mums shared their stories with me.

1. "I talked about what happened, either with friends or professionals."

Courtesy of Sarah Montrose

Rhiannon's eldest twin needed open heart surgery, and was put on life support shortly after he was born. There were complications for Rhiannon's health too as she developed mechanical meningitis. Thankfully, the whole family are happy and healthy now.

"We were able to cope through the worst of it all on autopilot, but it was afterwards that things got hard mentally. My coping mechanism was talking to my friends and other mums in similar positions." – Rhiannon, mum of two

2. "I breastfed."

Courtesy of Sarah Montrose

Four hours after Ellen gave birth to her son, it became apparent that she'd been slowly bleeding. She ultimately lost 2.5 litres of blood and needed emergency surgery and a blood transfusion. Her recovery was slow.

"My birth left me feeling like a failure, so I felt it was important for me to 'succeed' at breastfeeding. I was mindful that I hadn't had an opportunity to bond with my son immediately after the birth, and breastfeeding seemed a way to make that up to him." – Ellen, mum of one

3. "I bottle-fed."

Sarah Montrose

"I'd had fertility issues, and had also had an unrelated health matter the year before, so to say I didn't trust my body was an understatement. Now my body couldn't even grow a baby properly and, to make matters worse, it couldn't feed him either: He was so small, even a few sucks would tire him out, leaving him upset and hungry, and my supply dwindling.

"Whenever we went out, I was so stressed about feeding him that we ended up staying in. We'd sit together on the sofa battling together, both of us crying. After four months our breastfeeding journey came to an end. I was heartbroken. Overnight our relationship improved drastically. I wasn't so stressed – and he was happier too. Whenever we went anywhere I was confident that, yes, I would be able to feed my baby." – Sarah, mum of one

4. "I had counselling."

Courtesy of Sarah Montrose

Ruth suffered PTSD after the birth of her daughter.

"My baby was diagnosed with an incurable disease at my 20-week scan, and I was constantly pressured to have a termination. Then when my waters broke, all hell broke loose.

"My birth plan was ignored, I was scheduled for a C-section without my consent – the first I heard of it was when the registrar came to get me for the operation. After a lot of back and forth between the medical team and myself (which was all incredibly stressful, and included having a vaginal examination under duress), I finally consented to a C-section – I just wanted to get out of that place! No one spoke to me or my husband during the operation. When the baby was born, she wasn't breathing.

"Fast-forward three months, we were home after spending time in SCBU [a special care baby unit] and at Great Ormond Street. I was broken physically, mentally, and emotionally. I couldn't sleep. I had flashbacks all the time, especially at night. I didn't know how to deal with it or process everything that had happened in the past nine months.

"I decided to go for counselling, and had two sessions, which really helped: Someone was finally listening to me and validating my feelings and experience. Unfortunately little one passed away a month later, and I never went back…

"I have not had any flashbacks in over four years, and this year was the first time I didn't cry or walk around in sadness on her birthday."

5. "I did as much kangaroo care and skin-on-skin as I could."

Courtesy of Sarah Montrose

After an easy pregnancy, Heather's labour was anything but. She went from 4 to 10cm in 15 minutes, and had only spent an hour in the hospital by the time her son was born. She felt she had no time to mentally adjust to what was happening or bond properly with her baby.

"To cope, I did skin-to-skin for the first week, breastfed, and barely let the baby out of my sight. I fully believe the constant skin-to-skin and breastfeeding have helped. In a way because of how quickly I delivered, I was in shock.

"By doing the kangaroo care and nursing him on demand, we reconnected in a way only a mother and child can. There is also something powerful about knowing my body is helping my child to thrive even two years later." – Heather, mum of one

6. "I asked the NHS for a birth debrief."

Courtesy of Sarah Montrose

Emma had planned a water birth at home, but after over 24 hours of no progress she went into hospital for pain relief. After she had an epidural, her baby daughter's heartbeat went dangerously low and Emma had an emergency C-section.

"The doctor did a blood test on my placental blood after she was born and found she was delivered just in time – any longer and she may have had brain damage.

"I was sad that I didn't see her as soon as she was born, as she was being resuscitated, and for a while I felt a bit of a failure for having a C-section. But I went for a birth afterthoughts session where a midwife goes through the birth with you using your notes. She made it clear that it wasn't my fault, and that the C-section was definitely needed – any later could have resulted in permanent damage." – Emma, mum of three

7. "I used hypnobirthing and alternative therapies."

Lottie Daley

After a traumatic first birth, Lottie was so riddled with anxiety her heart was constantly palpitating.

"Then I noticed my hypnobirthing training script stopped the palpitations. When I fell pregnant again, I turned to hypnobirthing author and expert Katharine Graves and an independent midwife to calm my fears, plus I had loads of support in doulas and birth workers.

"I went for acupuncture, reflexology, meditation, read through the hypnobirthing hypnosis scripts, and learned how my body really worked. In the end, I had a planned home birth with a doula – in a pool with candles and Enya playing! The midwives took a hands-off approach, and I delivered her myself – I felt like I had taken control of my body back!" – Lottie, mum of two

8. "I unleashed my creativity."

Courtesy of Sarah Montrose

After Sarah Jane gave birth to her second child, her placenta didn't detach properly, causing her to haemorrhage. Sarah Jane then developed severe anxiety, which she had also experienced after the birth of her first child.

"Doing one doodle a day of something positive (or even sad things as long as I had learned from them) helped me focus on life's little things." – Sarah Jane, mum of two

9. "I did a lot of reading, and felt empowered that way."

Courtesy of Sarah Montrose

After developing intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP, a liver disorder) at 36 weeks, Rebecca then had a very long, very painful back-to-back delivery.

"Understanding the actual birth process and being emotionally prepared for it – knowing that active birthing is better than lying flat on your back – all these really empowered me. It was essential for my process to start early in the pregnancy, and not to wait until the last few weeks to do all the preparation. It helped me to feel more in control of what was going on." – Rebecca, mum of two

10. "I allowed myself to let go."

Courtesy of Sarah Montrose

Laura's labour with her first son lasted upwards of 50 hours, and resulted in a shoulder dystocia (where the baby's shoulders are stuck behind the mother's pelvis after the head has emerged). While he was delivered, the nerves in his neck were damaged, causing him to have Erb's palsy, among other complications.

"There's a lot of focus on your birth when you're pregnant. A birth plan, where you deliver, how you deliver – that moment you hold your baby. And when it doesn't happen the way you imagined, I think it feels like a loss. You have to learn to live with it." – Laura, mum of two

11. "I gained a different perspective after returning to work."

Courtesy of Sarah Montrose

Naomi's son was born at 32 weeks, which lead Naomi to suffer anxiety and panic attacks as well as guilt and doubt in her abilities as a mum.

"I didn't start to feel normal again until I started back at work and was removed from the stay-at-home baby bubble that can totally consume you. Since returning to work, I'm much happier – it gives me 'me time', I feel in touch with the old me, it is a break from the baby, and I've felt the most mentally normal I have felt since having had a baby." – Naomi, mum of one

12. "I had a positive second experience."

Courtesy of Sarah Montrose

Natalie's labour was one long, awful contraction. Her baby's head got stuck, and when the ventouse didn't work, Natalie was prepped for a C-section. In the end, Natalie's baby boy was delivered via forceps, but she then suffered postnatal depression (PND) – and nearly didn't have a second child.

"Of course, you feel you're lucky to have a baby at all so you don't complain. For my second child, I had a private midwife, and it was a fun Friday night: Two pushes and he was out.

"I had an excellent GP and health visitor, and I went out every day with the baby. Sometimes I went to a PND group too. A positive second birth has left me feeling good about it all." – Natalie, mum of two

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