Post Traumatic Stress after a twin birth
You’ve just given birth to your babies, you’re laying on a bed in a recovery room on the labour ward. You’re by yourself for the first time since 10am this morning, or, I guess you could say for the first time in 7 months as you’ve had the company of your bump and wriggly babies with you all that time. You have no idea where your babies actually are, you know they’re with the right people but if you wanted to go and see them right now you wouldn’t have a clue where to go and if you should even be there. You don’t even know if they’re alive.
J has gone to see them. He shows you photos of them when he gets back. The first ones face is black and blue where they’ve pulled her out with forceps. They both have so many tubes and wires all over them that you don’t even recognise them as being the babies you’ve been growing inside of you for the past 30 weeks. The babies’ you’ve said “good morning babies” too each and every morning as you’ve got up and rubbed your belly. The babies who wriggle so differently inside of you. The babies you have been itching to meet.
A midwife comes in and helps you express milk, I say ‘help’, but she actually does it for you. Your babies first feeds being squeezed from your boobs by a complete stranger. You’re grateful yet wounded all at the same time.
Someone suggests you go to see the babies. You really don’t want to. You want to kick into self-preservation mode. If you don’t see them you won’t get attached to them, and if the worst happens it won’t hurt as much. That of course is a load of bollocks. These are your babies, your girls, and you already love them more than you’ve loved anything. You just don’t know it yet and haven’t felt it in it’s full force yet. You go to see them because you know it’s expected of you and it’s the right thing to do. You feel oddly numb when you do go.
From this point on you paint a picture of being together, being ok, coping well. People annoy the hell out of you with insensitive, thoughtless comments and actions. “Congratulations, you must be so chuffed”. “It was meant to be”. “They were in a rush to meet you”. Sending you photos of their baby bump when you ache for your own one which should still be safely growing your babies. You want to tell them all to fuck off. To spell out to them how they’ve made you feel. But you know it’s not intentional on their part and you carry on pretending you’re ok. You pretend you’re coping.
You refuse to allow yourself to think about what happened the day they were born. You don’t process the memories and the thoughts. You keep on shoving them back to the darkest recesses of your mind.
The feeling that something wasn’t quite right, that something was missed, that something wasn’t done which could have prevented this keeps creeping up. But you push that down too, you need to concentrate on the girls getting to a position when they come home. At that point you can think about it.
They eventually do come home. After 53 long long days. It feels like an entire episode of your life. You get them home. It’s amazing, you can walk around the house with them, you can cuddle up on the sofa with them. There are no charts, no machines, no incessant beeps and alarms, no body standing over you as you change nappies and give feeds. But then the craziness that is life with newborn twins kicks in. It’s non-stop. Between feeds, expressing, sterilizing, giving medicines and changing nappies you’re left with about one hours worth of sleeping time, broken up into 15-20 minute chunks. J is great, you sit and cry at the thought of him having to go back to work after his two weeks are up. But you learn to cope, and just about keep it together. Whenever you start thinking about what happened the day they were born and whenever that nagging feeling that something wasn’t right creeps up again, you push it down. You suppress it, you don’t give it the air it needs to breathe and grow into anything else. You simply don’t have the time.
Eventually seven months on you do let that nagging feeling get some air time. You go and speak to your pre-natal consultant, and yes, it turns out you were at risk of your cervix shortening and going into premature labour even earlier than often expected with twin pregnancies. You should have been monitored for this. You should have been given very different lifestyle advise. You are made to feel that’s it, end of story. You leave that room in tears but feel that at least now you know why that nagging feeling was there. Your instincts were right.
For the next 12 months it niggles though. Things have gotten easier with the girls, you have more time to think. Memories of the day they were born keep flashing into your mind. Really intrusive thoughts. They’ve been there since it happened but you would shut them down as soon as they cropped up. Now you have more time to think though they creep up more often and you give them air time. You start having panic attacks. Your heart rate goes through the roof. After these episodes you get thinking more about the fact you were right about that nagging feeling. You feel robbed of your healthy pregnancy and your babies’ chance to come into the world normally and at the right time. Robbed of that full term twin bump. Robbed of those first holds right after they were born. Robbed of the joy of taking babies home and showing them off rather than dashing out of the hospital one rainy night then keeping them incubated at home away from germs and well meaning visitors.
The rages are unbearable. You throw bowls of food up the wall just because one of the girls refuses to eat it. You individually smash up each and every bit of fruit in the fruit bowl. You even throw a dining chair across the house and stamp and kick it until it’s just a pile of wood. You know you’d never hurt your girls but the rages scare you, it’s like you’re someone else. It’s like you have a devil on your shoulder whispering into your ear “do it, smash it, go fucking mad, let it out”.
Anytime you have a flashback you get angry afterwards, so you spend the majority of your time anxious or fuming. The injustice of the situation, the fact your girls had that start to life, the fact you missed out on so much, it literally feels like it’s driving you mad, haunting you, tormenting you. You think about it ALL the time.
You finally accept you need help. You get diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress and you need a course of therapy. Then you have to wait for a spot to come up. You want to do it through the NHS to help you restore some faith in them after failing you so badly. In these torrents of bitterness you forget the amazing NHS staff you’ve encountered on this journey. The team who delivered the girls, the team that looked after them in special care. You’re in a dark place. Everything is negative. But there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Help is on its way, and it calms you somewhat.
Therapy helps, a lot. You deal with the flashbacks. You process them, you relive them. You work out why those particular snippets of the day keep coming back. You give them the life they need to be filed away properly in your mind. You accept the chain of events which occurred, you recognise it wasn’t right, but you accept it. You recognise that those things which are unjust need to be dealt with. In order to make your peace you need to say your piece. You speak out and you try and set things right.
Thinking of the journey still makes you sad, it always will, it wasn’t a happy one and no amount of therapy or positive thinking can change that.
What I would say to you mama, as you lay there in that bed on that labour ward wondering what on earth just happened,is speak out. Get the support you need. Work out fast who you can rely on because it’s a terrible shock when you realise it’s not the people you’d have previously thought it was. Give the trauma you’ve just experienced the airing it needs. Process it before it processes you. Use these next 53 days to really get your head straight rather than just ignoring what’s happening in there so that when you get those amazing girls of yours home you’re in the best mental position you could be in given what you’ve all just been through. Don’t be ashamed about feeling the way you feel. Don’t deny your fragility. You don’t have to be strong all the time. And mama, when you’re back to full strength, you go kick some arse and set those wrongs right. X x x
I write this anonymously, not because I’m ashamed, but because I don’t want to risk hurting the feelings of my girls should they ever read this. I don’t want them to even think that their mother didn’t want to visit them when they were fighting for their lives, or be aware that I was so full of rage during the first year and a half of their life.