I’ve spoken about Cyrus’s birth before here, but I feel it’s important as a mum over 40 to explain how I felt after he was born. By that I mean I felt as if I’d been set up to fail because of my age.
Being older and ‘high-risk’, I’d asked more questions of my GP, midwives and consultant before the birth. So much so that my GP had even turned to my husband and jokingly referred to me as ‘high-maintenance’.
Prior to giving birth, my motivation was to have as natural a birth as possible. I wanted to avoid any intervention that might result in a lot of internal stitches and a prolapsed bladder later on. Now was that so selfish?
As I entered the room for my final appointment with the consultant at 39 weeks, I felt strength and confidence like I’d never felt before. I was in awe that my body had actually carried this little being so well over nine months and I was excited and looking forward to going into labour.
I had no placental problems, my blood pressure was low and my seventh growth scan had revealed that Cyrus was neither too big, nor too small in his last week before my due date. So why did the consultant decide to fill me with dread after I refused to be induced the next day?
Without a second thought for how I was feeling, he reeled off a 2006 study by Reddy et al. that revealed a load of frightening statistics to prove to me there was an increased risk of late stillbirth because of my age.
Between 39 and 40 weeks, about 1 out of 1,000 women younger than 35 had a stillbirth, compared to 1.4 out of women age 35 to 39, and 2 per 1,000 out of women 40 and older.
The graph below is what the consultant showed me and reveals the risk of stillbirth going up with gestational age among 3 groups: women less than 35, women aged 35 to 39, and women 40 or older. You can see that for women 40 and older, the largest jump in risk happened between 38 and 39 weeks.
I was panic-stricken. Why had I not been given this information earlier in my pregnancy I wondered. Why now? I felt pressured into being induced because I couldn’t bear to think about something going wrong after coming this far. It would be my fault if it all went wrong because I’d stubbornly held out until my due date. I knew I’d have to live with the consequences and what-ifs for the rest of my life.
I left the hospital dazed and confused and sat sobbing my heart out in public in the city’s bus station. After half an hour, I plucked up the courage to phone the hospital and tell them I wanted to see another consultant for a second opinion, although the damage had been done. I couldn’t get that graph or its findings out of my head.
I was lucky in that I did see another consultant who was lovely and she told me to go with my gut instinct. She even suggested I could complain about the way I’d been spoken to. Unfortunately I knew there was still a chance I might see this man again when I was in labour, so I decided not to do anything radical. Instead I told the consultant that I’d hold out until my due date and if Cyrus wasn’t here by then, I was happy to be induced.
Sadly that graph got the best of me. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat and I was terrified I was going to lose my baby. I spent my last week in and out of the open access maternity unit being reassured by the midwives that everything was fine.
My due date came and I was to be induced because of my age and at that moment I felt like my body had failed me. I was shown to a two-bed room on the delivery suite where I started to be induced.
It was cold, clinical, dirty and depressing and the curtain was partially hanging off its rail. The nearest toilet was also across a corridor in the bay opposite. I became increasingly agitated and complained bitterly to the midwife about my wish to be in the Birthing Centre. My hormones were in overdrive. The fact was it did no good. I was stuck where I was and there was no way they were letting me go.
Once the contractions started, I gave in. I was uncomfortable, exhausted and in pain. It was at this point I was told that I MUST go on a pitocin drip to speed things up because being an older mum my contractions weren’t behaving as they should. I was transferred to another room, given an epidural and things were going fine…until the last 10 minutes.
In hindsight I’m still not sure what happened. I was 10cms dilated when panic broke loose and seven health professionals rushed into the delivery suite to check the continuous foetal monitoring screen. The next thing I remember was a male doctor telling me I needed to have a forceps delivery as Cyrus’s heart-rate had dropped suddenly.
There was no time to argue that I didn’t want a male doctor carrying out the procedure, even though it had been stated in my birth plan. This was the most vulnerable time of my life. I wept a little before grasping the midwife’s hand tightly. I had a responsibility to give my baby the fastest and safest delivery possible, but I was terrified because I’d never even considered instrumental delivery as an option.
While my immediate reaction after Cyrus was born was one of relief followed by happiness, I also had a range of feelings about my performance during my son’s birth. I felt like I’d somehow let him down by not managing to push him out myself. I also felt guilty that I didn’t see this coming or that my son was struggling.
I began to question whether because I’d been labelled as an older mum in a ‘high-risk’ category, it had influenced the care I’d received and such quick intervention. Was it really necessary? I’d read articles that had suggested medical induction had links to foetal distress and therefore it was more likely that birth would end up being an instrumental delivery or caesarean.
I had a lot of internal stitches after the birth and I felt as if my insides were going to fall out for the first few weeks. All I could do was shake off the anxiety of what had happened around the birth and try to tackle the flashbacks.
When I began to analyse what had gone wrong, my better half told me I should just be grateful that all was well in the end and that I had a healthy baby at 40. The thing was while I concentrated on getting better and being a new mum, I was wounded and knew I must deal with this at some point.
My health visitor told me not to blame myself for how the birth went. She even asked me if I’d like to be referred for counselling to talk over my issues. I didn’t need counselling, I just needed someone to say that ‘birth is always a matter of pot luck no matter how young or old you are.’
My birth trauma was not caused by forceps or medical induction, it was caused by health professionals who had based all of their opinions throughout my pregnancy on my chronological age and not my biological one.
If you are feeling low after the birth of your baby, don’t blame yourself or your age. Visit the support website Birth Trauma Association and see that you are not alone in your experience. It’s a brilliant resource post-birth.