“I could never have anticipated how my birth experience would shatter my confidence and infiltrate all areas of my life.”
In September 2006 Natalie’s life seemed pretty close to perfect – at least to the outside world. She was on maternity leave from her high-flying job in publishing, she was head-over-heels in love with her husband, Adam, and she had just given birth to a beautiful baby son, Thomas. Inside, though, Natalie was a nervous wreck.
Natalie had a traumatic time giving birth to Thomas, and, after three failed inductions, ended up having an emergency caesarean under general anaesthetic. This was followed by less-than-brilliant medical care which left Natalie feeling shaken, and lacking in confidence as a new mum.
Home from hospital with her new baby, Natalie went on to develop acute constipation. The situation became so bad that she haemorrhaged, losing a large amount of blood. She was taken, by ambulance, to hospital for surgery, and, during the days that followed, lost so much blood that she was in danger of having a cardiac arrest or going into a coma, and eventually had to be given a blood transfusion.
Although she was discharged from hospital, Natalie continued to lose blood for several weeks, and she was forced to stop breastfeeding because of the medication that she’d been given. She put on a brave face for her new friends on the baby circuit, but Natalie’s confidence was at an all-time low. “I felt extremely fragile and vulnerable. I spent a lot of time at home, just hoping I wasn’t going to bleed again. If there was any thought in my mind that I might need the loo while I was out I would arrive late, leave early, or cancel plans altogether.”
As well as stifling her social life, Natalie was concerned that her fear and anxiety might damage her marriage. “Before getting married, Adam and I had both spoken openly about wanting more than one child. I was extremely worried about the harm that our relationship might suffer if I felt too frightened to have a second baby.” Adam assured Natalie that his only concern was for her welfare, and Thomas’s, but this made Natalie even more determined to give him the second child that they had always planned. “He was prepared to sacrifice his dream of a bigger family in order to keep me safe and healthy. This was all the encouragement I needed. I knew that I had to try and complete our family.”
Natalie realised that she was going to need help to move on. Her GP diagnosed post-traumatic stress and referred her to a counsellor. Slowly, she began the process of recovery, and worked towards her goal of being able to have another baby. “I was embarrassed to seek help, but I knew my behaviour wasn’t rational. I was paralysed by fear, and I didn’t want to give in to it.”
Fortunately, in addition to Adam, Natalie had plenty of support from her mother, Soraya. Soraya had looked after Thomas when Natalie was unwell after the birth, and now she supported Natalie in her struggle to overcome her fears. “Mum took charge of me and my recovery, and looked after us all. She put me back together.”
Two years after Thomas’s birth, and after a lot of help, support and counselling, Natalie decided that she was ready to try for a second baby. “I couldn’t have overcome my fear without the involvement of my GP and my counsellor – two amazing women whose support was unfaltering.” Not long after making this decision, Natalie became pregnant. “I was petrified and excited in equal measure. And I was also relieved that I fell pregnant quickly, so that I didn’t have a chance to change my mind.”
Natalie decided to do as much as possible to ensure that her birth experience was different this time. She chose consultant-led care at a different hospital, and, because of the haemorrhaging after her first birth, she was advised to have a planned caesarean, which also helped her to feel more in control of the process. “I wanted my second experience of giving birth to be away from the place where I'd been traumatised, and I wanted to take control of the things that I could influence. I was given a lot of support and encouragement throughout my pregnancy from the medical team.”
Adam’s unwavering support, and that of family and friends also helped Natalie to get through the pregnancy. “Adam continually calmed me and kept me sane. He saw a very private fear gripping me, but also saw that I was refusing to let it beat me. Our families and close friends provided me with real comfort and encouragement.”
When Adam and Natalie arrived at the hospital on the day of Natalie’s planned caesarean, which was also Natalie’s mother’s birthday, things could not have been more different from the way they were at Thomas’s birth. “We were shown into a huge room which was bright and airy, and the sun was streaming in. A midwife greeted us and went through everything we needed to know before surgery. The atmosphere was so relaxed it made us laugh – we even had a photo opportunity with me in my gown and Adam in his scrubs, doing his best George Clooney impression!”
Natalie was also able to take time to lay out clothes for her new baby. “It was very touching for me to be able to choose the first outfit she would wear. Last time I was high on morphine for the first day after delivery and Adam took care of those details. I had a feeling that this time everything would be OK.”
Although Natalie had hoped to be awake for the procedure, the anaesthetist, as had happened at Thomas’s birth, had a problem administering the epidural, so Natalie, again, had to be given a general anaesthetic. This time, however, she was prepared. “I had shared my concern about missing so much of what was going on around me when Thomas was born, because I was on morphine, so the medical team decided to do things differently. The anaesthetist administered a nerve block – numbing injections given to me on either side of my abdomen. It meant that when I woke up I felt very little pain, yet my mind was alert and I was able to meet my baby, hold her properly and chat lucidly to those around me. This went an enormous way towards compensating me for having to be under general anaesthetic, and I felt a great sense of gratitude to the anaesthetist for listening to my concerns.”
Although Natalie was nervous in the days following Beth’s birth, she recovered well. “I kept my fingers crossed every day that this wouldn't be the day where I fell ill and it all started to go wrong again. I'm so pleased to be able to look back and say that nothing has gone wrong.”
Just two weeks after Beth’s birth, Natalie and Adam took their children out for a celebratory high tea at a luxury hotel. “It was a huge personal milestone. Last time my parents had to stay with me for six weeks because I was ill and frightened. This time I was sitting calmly with my family in a beautiful setting.”
Sadly, a year on, Beth’s first birthday was also to be her grandmother’s last. Natalie’s much loved mother, Soraya, passed away unexpectedly – something which has spurred Natalie on, to share her story of triumph over fear, in the hope that she might inspire others to overcome their own fears. “Mum was the encouraging force behind me trying to get my story published, and I hope that I might give confidence to another mum reading this who may be frightened to have another baby: please ask for help, and please know that history doesn't always repeat itself. I look at my beautiful children and my proud husband, and I know that it was worth it.”