Birth Trauma revisited 7 years on (surrogacy pregnancy)

Jay KellyBlog

Fern

Today is my 1st surrogate babies 7th birthday. This post comes with a big trigger warning of a traumatic birth/postpartum story.

Jay Kelly, pregnancy

It was a day of such mixed feelings. 

On one hand, it was THE BEST DAY! The day my friends finally got to hold their baby in their arms. It was amazing, and I’ve enjoyed being part of their journey ever since. 

On the other hand, it was THE WORST DAY EVER and the hardest postnatal journey I have ever had. It was the best and the worst day for the parents too, and for my doula as well.

In my opinion, the trauma we all experienced was all caused by the consultant obstetrician. She did not listen to me and my thoughts, my instincts were totally discounted, she told me and the baby’s parents very different things, as if we were on a different team. 

Yesterday was what we call ‘Forgotten Thursday’.  It was the day that she should have been born.
It was the day that at 43+2, and 2 days of labour that I said I needed a cesarean, that my cervix had not changed, the baby wasn’t moving down, and I truly felt that she didn’t want to come out that way. 

I asked for a cesarean birth. A choice that I would never in my wildest of dreams imagined pleading for.
How many doulas/antenatal teachers, mother of 4 babies all born vaginally, would request a cesarean, as a single parent with kids just desperate to get back to normality, and me to get back behind the wheel and take them on the adventures I promised?

It was not a decision taken lightly, and I was told “NO”. Told that I was a multip (a woman who has given birth many times) and that all I needed to do was to get to 10cm and I would have the baby out in no time.

Considering after 48 hours of induction I was still at the 2cm I began at, and I was saying that I was not progressing – something wasn’t quite right, you would have thought she would have listened to me – they gave women cesareans for all kinds of reasons, why not me? I have questioned myself over why she refused many times, I have questioned why myself, my doula and my independent midwife who was with us as a 2nd doula at that point weren’t able to convince her. What was she trying to prove in refusing? Was it because the baby wasn’t in distress – why did it not matter that I was in distress? Why did it not matter that I knew something was amiss, as otherwise I would have opened and released the baby by now – by 40+10 if my track record had anything to go by.
And my body was trying its absolute hardest, my waters had gone, there was meconium, my contractions were so powerful, but there was no head and no cervical change.

One thing led to another, and I somehow ended up railroaded onto the synto drip. The midwife looking after me was phenomenal. She knew, she was on my side, she was under the watchful eye of this consultant though.
I agreed to the drip to pick up the contractions, though they were doing what they needed to already, and would have worked if the baby was at my cervix – (whether it was head or bum, any body part would have been good). I agreed as long as I had the epidural in place as I knew it would be a cesarean.
As soon as the epidural was in I fell asleep, as 2 days of contractions had absolutely wiped me out. The parents were encouraged to go off for a sleep too. My doula stayed by my side the whole time. Every time I opened my eyes, she was there, on a chair beside me, under a blanket, one eye open, one eye closed, clearly absolutely exhausted but not ever wanting to be asleep if I woke. The constant beeps of the machine. The not knowing what time of day or week it was. The midwife never left my side either. She was clearly shocked too. According to my doula, baby did go into distress on occasions and they moved my position. I was pretty much unconscious and I have no recollection of this.
I got to 10cm and pushed for 2 hours and baby did not move from her position high up at all.
Eventually, the same obstetrician was back on shift again came back and agreed that it could have a cesarean. I cannot tell you my feelings for this woman without swearwords and huge anger.

Baby was born with epic head ridges, she was stargazing and went through the whole labour with her head being pushed into my bones. I hate the obstetrician for this. I knew there was something, and the fact that the baby was rather quiet about this didn’t mean that there was nothing wrong. Every fibre of my body told me that this baby was not present at the cervix and was not coming out via the planned route.

My womb had been through 3 days of intense contractions and despite effort the bleeding wouldn’t stop.
The obstetrician told me that they would need to perform a hysterectomy. My hatred rises even more so when I recall this memory. She actually caused that.
I refused. She externalised my uterus to work on stopping the bleeding. At this point, Mum was sitting on a chair holding her baby, and Dad and my doula were standing at the head end, seeing this all occur. Mum was supposed to be in bliss with her new baby, and yet she was also in shock. She later told me that she was wondering how on earth they tell my children that their mum died giving birth to their baby.

At this point in writing my story, I can no longer see, as this hurts the most, the tears stop me seeing where I am typing, my glasses have steamed up the tears are so hot. Again, I blame all of this on the consultant obstetrician for putting us through this, no matter what her reason was.

After lots of work, the bleeding was stopped. Mum and Dad went to their room to be able to be present with their baby on what should have been the best day ever. Tainted by fear and shock.

This should have been the end of the trauma, but the postnatal care, (scrap the word care) the postnatal ward was its own set of whole new trauma.

Within 12 hours of giving birth, with the catheter still in, IV fluids coming in, an iron drip in, I have brought the discharge papers and was told I could go home and to phone someone to come and collect me.
I had wires in me, there was no urine coming out into the bag, I had been through 3 days of hell, I was broken, I had not been out of bed, how on earth was I supposed to go home. My body was in shock, I felt and looked like I was dying. I refused.

They told me that I needed to increase my water intake as my fluid output wasn’t good, very highly concentrated, and they also put another bag of fluid up… after many more hours they removed the catheter and found there had been a blockage that was causing the urine not to leave, and my body was dealing with the fluid backlog.
I was so cold and constantly asking for more blankets that never appeared. The buzzer was frequently left out of reach. It would be so long between visits as I was left there alone and no one coming in to see me.

The most frequent visitors where the women who came to deliver food, empty the bin, clean the floor. Not one of them really spoke to me. Until I braved asking one of them if they knew why I didn’t have a baby with me? She said no.
So all of this time these women didn’t know if my baby had died, if I had my baby taken away from me, no idea. One cleaner sat down and listened to me for 20 minutes. That was the most care that anyone gave me in the whole of my postnatal stay there. I was there 3 days. On the 2nd day I managed to get in the shower. I was left alone in the room when I went for the shower. No one to help me shuffle across the room, no one to help me try to put pants on, no one to catch me when I felt so weak and dizzy that I would collapse.
I was given some fresh surgical stockings to put on.
I told the midwife that I couldn’t get them on and could she help me please.
It was around the 8pm time, she had just come in to say hello as she was taking over, and all I wanted was help to get them on, oh and those extra blankets that I had pleaded for, and to go to desperately go to sleep.
She said she would do her rounds or read the paperwork or whatever and would come back to help me put them on. She helped me climb back onto the bed and I waited, shivering, in pain and couldn’t move positions.
An hour or so passed and I thought I would need to buzz to see if she was coming. I tried to get out of bed to reach the buzzer, but I felt like I had no connection to any of my muscles and felt paralysed, I couldn’t move.
I tried and tried a few more times. By 11pm I finally made it off the bed, reached the buzzer. She came back. She was cold and heartless. She put the stockings on me, went for more blankets and brought me back just one. Finally turned the lights out.

What hurt me so much was when I read the notes on a debrief session later, she had the gall to write that I “refused” to have the socks put on.

The next day I went home as I couldn’t stay any longer where I wasn’t cared about. I was going home to an empty house.

The Leeds General Infirmary ought to be ashamed of the care they provided.
The Obstetric Consultant that had been overseeing my labour never came to visit me once despite me asking to see her.
I wonder why.

This should have been the best time, filled with absolute wonder seeing my friends holding their baby. And yet when they came to bring their baby for a cuddle with Auntie Jay, and the loving grandmother who brought me flowers to thank me for the best gift ever, they saw a very broken woman, and were absolutely helpless and riddled with guilt.

My children should have had their mum on the journey back to being her normal physical self, and they were landed with a broken mama who had PTSD, depression, chronic fatigue and a whole host of health issues as a result.

My doula engaged with a bunch of wonderful women that I knew from the birth world, and each day someone came to visit me for a while, delivering food, gifts, being an ear to listen to. I had visits from the independent midwife daily for over 6 weeks.
I developed a womb infection and called my GP surgery for antibiotics and they told me that I could have an appointment over 1 week later. I said to forget it and found another way around it. No one ever followed up. No Dr, no local health visitor. There was no baby, so they didn’t care.

What this experience highlighted for me lands at two very different ends of the spectrum.
One end – absolutely appalling and damaging care from the certain medical practitioners, and at the other end the midwives, the doulas, the women that cared with all their heart and hurt alongside me.

I worked on the trauma of the birth experience, and live day to day fine, today as this amazing little girl turns 7 years old, I feel the grief, the abandonment, the feelings of being uncared for by the professionals that should have, being unheard and not mattering, and today it is acutely painful.

I went on to have a second baby for my friends (a sibling for this amazing little one) and birthed via VBAC in Harrogate, where we were heard, we came up with a policy with them, they listened, they supported, they were great, even postnatally I couldn’t fault them – until I went back in 5 days later with a fever, and the perineum stitches coming apart, and again I was unfortunate to land with the most uncompassionate and appalling care.

It should not be a chance thing – that your care depends on who you get and how busy they are.
Empathy and compassion should be a number 1 skill in this field.
And sadly some of these professionals are so very shockingly lacking.

Editing to add that since sharing this post on social media, the number of messages that I received from parents (still dealing with trauma, parents who were so deeply hurt back the lack of care, empathy, and coercion) is absolutely shocking.
So many mums messaging who can relate, the postnatal ward and obstetricians are mentioned most in these messages.

People who have gone for debrief/birth revisited sessions and have come away feeling gaslighted, and made to feel like it was one of the following: 
– Their fault because x,y,z.
– Not as it seemed, it wouldn’t have been traumatic as it was a ‘textbook delivery’.
– Notes do not match their experience.
– Too triggering and lack of empathy.
– Like they must have been making it all up.

These people have had real experiences and it takes its toll on their mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.

My story may have been from 7 years ago, but the increase in people contacting me for support due to birth/postnatal ward trauma has increased massively during Covid times.

If I had to list some frequently used word:
Alone, scared, in so much pain, fearful, helpless, abandoned, shell shocked, traumatised, no help feeding baby, no help lifting baby to bed after cesarean. The amount of parents who have gone in for inductions and laboured for a long time only to have an emergency cesarean or forceps/ventouse is unbelievable.

The reasons that I have heard for induction:
– Baby too big (usually resulting in a baby of very average size)
– Baby too small (usually resulting in a baby of very average size)
– Age of mum
– Weight of mum.
– Mum’s iron levels (despite them measuring within normal range)
– “Research tells us the safest time to deliver the baby is at 39 weeks.” with ZERO discussion about what the risks are of the induction process.
– “High risk of pre-gestational diabetes” (I think was the best yet! Just break that one down, again?!)

What on earth is going on, and why are we being subjected to such a lottery of care standards.

If I ever met the consultant again, all the words that I have dreamt of saying in my head would just crumble and come out with tears and pain. So writing about this feels the best way to do this. In the hope that no one else has to experience similar or equivalent experiences.

If on that second day she had gone along with the cesarean, as requested – as needed – the birth would have been a very different story.
I would still have been dealing with recovery and disappointment that the home birth that we planned didn’t happen, but at least it wouldn’t have involved a day that we have all blanked out of our memories and the most hideous experience in the theatre.
And if she had come to see me on the ward I would have been able to ask her questions. If the staff had given me the kindness to do some basic cares, that would have been very different.

*Note, surrogacy in the UK is an altruistic act – it is illegal to be paid – I did not carry a baby for money, I carried a baby to help create a family. This should not be relevant, but it seems to be a question people like to ask about.