I’ve just posted this somewhere else but I wanted to mention it here too because I think there’s too much stigma surrounding Tokophobia (fear of childbirth) and maybe it will help someone else:
I have always had tokophobia and it put me off wanting children for years because I was so scared of childbirth. I thought we would adopt instead, and justified it because the world is overpopulated (and isn’t it the height of self-indulgence to be a Millennial in the position of being able to afford a child). I had so many little justifications but underneath it all, I wanted kids. Twenty of them. Enough to fill a minibus or a classroom. Smashing the Idiocracy, one baby at a time.
With my first (unsuccessful) pregnancy I got such bad hyperemesis and I think a large part of it was because I was so anxious about giving birth, despite desperately wanting a baby. I was sure I would die. I ended up in hospital on IV fluids because I was so scared of having a baby that my body stopped digesting food. At the time, maternal-request C-section was not an option in England. In many parts of England, it still isn’t, and I find that abominable while on the other hand we tell women to trust their instincts about reduced foetal movement etc.
With my most recent and finally successful pregnancy, I had all my antenatal care in China where a C-section is the norm, which took away 99% of the stress. I got “normal” amounts of morning sickness, which isn’t great, but it also made me realize just how bad my hyperemesis had been several years earlier, despite so many people dismissing it as part and parcel of pregnancy.
I finally allowed myself to learn all about pregnancy and childbirth, and the whole thing fascinated me. I think I talked about random obstetric facts non-stop whenever my husband was home. I found myself craving the British model of pregnancy – midwife-led care, with emphasis on normality. In China, a doctor makes all your decisions and they get quite offended if you refuse any tests they’ve recommended (and they loved recommending tests).
When I got to Northern Ireland, there was uncertainty about my due date so they wanted me to have an induction. This was something I hadn’t really read about because I didn’t like it as a concept. It seemed unnatural to fill the body with gloop to force a baby out when it wasn’t ready. It really didn’t sit right with me, but no one said I had any alternative, and the baby had to come out somehow, so I actually psyched myself up to go for an induction.
I think I would have been okay except I had a cervical sweep three days before the induction and it was agonizing, and it left me unable to walk very well (I suspect this is when the baby accidentally got turned). I still kept telling myself I could do this induction, but now I had a lot less confidence because if that was just a little membrane sweep, how much worse was labour going to be. I was resolved that I was going to try and have a normal birth though (in between bouts of crying and telling my husband I was going to die because I was completely terrified).
I tried practising hypnobirthing and meditation, and even wrote a birth plan about 2 days before the induction date. On the day, I spent 6 hours having the worst and longest anxiety attack of my entire life, convinced my baby would die and so would I, while the poor midwife in the induction bay was trying to calm me down because I was crying and shaking, blood pressure through the roof, and she ended up getting the registrar to come and go through what an ELCS would entail with me.
Until a C-section was offered, I’d been too scared to ask for one in case they said no.
The registrar then did a scan to look at my baby and said he’d shifted to an oblique lie so couldn’t have come out any other way. She drew a diagram in my notes and everything, but I still don’t know if she was just trying to make me feel better.
When I was going into theatre to have the CS the consultant-midwife asked me why I was having it and I said about the baby being oblique because I was too ashamed of how scared I’d been. Of course, she could see my notes so I should have just been upfront but anxiety isn’t rational.
My notes say “maternal request c-section” but that doesn’t quite cover the time I spent agonizing over this, feeling like I’d let my baby down because I was too scared to try and push him out, or the fact I still mourned the loss of my envisioned “perfect” birth, a waterbirth, surrounded by delicious snacks, with my husband in the water with me and holding my hand. It doesn’t come close to making me feel better about what happened, when I know what the statistics say about C-sections and the chance of babies developing respiratory issues and digestive problems.
I dreaded having to tell my family what had happened so I didn’t tell anyone I’d had a C-section for weeks before I finally admitted it, and everyone was fine about it. This is the first time I’ve openly admitted it was partly down to my own terror of childbirth.
It’s taken me months to come to terms with the fact I “failed” at having a baby the “proper” way but I know now that a lot of that stigma comes from within me, from the phobia of having a baby, not from other people’s genuine opinions. Literally no one has said anything nasty to me about having had a C-section.
I wish I’d been honest with my consultant about my fears and felt brave enough to ask for a C-section when I first got back to the UK instead of letting the situation go on for weeks with me thinking I was going to be able to try for a vaginal birth. But I know why I didn’t. I was hoping I’d just “get on with it” on the day. Within minutes of us arriving for the induction I’d been told I was too high risk for a waterbirth because of the baby’s size (because he was broad-shouldered), and that was when my anxiety got the better of me and everything fell in on itself in my mind.
I also wish I’d been honest about my history of mental health issues, but there is a lot of pressure on us as women to be fine when we’re not, and I was trying so damn hard to be ok with something I just couldn’t do. If the baby had been low-risk, I would have gone home and waited for labour (and maybe even freebirthed) but I was terrified of refusing the induction and putting my baby at risk of death so I got paralysed with anxiety.
I was also terrified of social services being alerted that I had a history of bipolar on my medical notes (we still don’t know what’s actually wrong with me, currently Autism, type II bipolar, borderline and ADHD are all being floated around) and taking my baby away. I was convinced they were going to take my baby and nothing anyone said could divest me of this belief. I might have had a teensy bit of psychosis over this but it seems to have resolved itself and I managed to keep enough of a lid on it that I didn’t get mental health sectioned over it (just C-sectioned haha) despite being sure at several points over the last few months that I was going to be an inpatient and separated from my baby (we don’t have mother and baby units in Northern Ireland so women with post natal psychosis or severe post natal depression get sectioned and put in a normal psychiatric hospital).
And despite at least 2 suicide attempts post-partum I am still at home and with my baby. Turns out NI don’t really intervene beyond community mental health teams unless you’ve set yourself on fire so that’s relieving because I don’t think being imprisoned in a mental hospital without my Jellyfish would help me to recover very well, and anyway I’d have to stop breastfeeding.
Overall, I am glad I had a C-section rather than a prolonged birth in a strange place where I couldn’t be myself because there were too many strangers, and where my husband would get sent home outside visiting hours. But I still really wish I could have had that water birth. I’m looking towards a second baby, and I’m pretty certain I want a homebirth (homebirth after C-section, or HBAC, is allowed in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK but as far as I know it’s not allowed in Southern Ireland) with a birthing pool. I’ve seen some beautiful videos on Youtube of vloggers who had natural waterbirths at home.
The first mental health keyworker I saw said to me that it doesn’t matter how your baby came out as long as they are healthy. This effectively shut down the conversation about why I was there, lost in the depths of post-natal depression. While I do think a birth is just a means to an end, at the same time it is a part of our story and lived experience as a woman and for that reason we should respect each other’s decisions and hear each other’s words about birth, especially when that has deeply affected someone’s outlook or mental wellbeing. I don’t think dismissing this as unimportant actually moves anyone forward or helps them get over things.
If I am lucky enough to get onto a midwifery course (yeah I haven’t told the fam about that, either, because I might not get on a course), this is how I want to work for my pregnant ladies; I want to ensure they know their options and get the closest thing possible to the birth they want.