I found writing my birth story very helpful, but I must admit, I struggled to remember a lot of it. There are still blanks and there are still questions that occasionally pop into my head – until recently I didn’t know when or how my parents had actually found out they’d become Grandparents, I just know that they appeared to see us at some point. The timeline and a lot of the details are hazy.
One thing I do remember from my post natal checks is being asked by the midwives if I had a “normal birth” and I just thought, what does that even mean? None of it felt like an especially normal thing to do, but in terms of the spectrum of birth, was it? The language is just so bizarre.
So how would I describe my birth? I shy away from saying it was traumatic but there is no doubt that it has caused physical and emotional trauma for me and my husband. While the physical scars have healed now, the emotional damage will take longer I’m sure.
What is a Birth Reflections session?
My husband and I were both very emotional after the birth, compounded by the fact that our little boy was in an incubator in Special Care. In one of my post natal checks, we caught up with the lovely midwife who had been the one who got our labour going. She saw we were upset and mentioned a birth debrief, also called a Birth Reflections session.
Birth Reflections is the opportunity to talk through your birth from start to finish with a consultant from the hospital you delivered at. You may get the chance to speak to the consultant who oversaw your labour (if you had one) or you may see the head of department. You can decide when you would like to do it and you can do it any time following your birth, whether that’s weeks, months or even years later. You can ask questions and you can also give feedback to the hospital, whether good or bad.
When our midwife came to see us after we’d both been discharged, she booked us in. She told us we would see the head of department and we had the last appointment of the day, meaning it didn’t matter if we overran. It was scheduled for three months after Sebastian’s birth.
How did we prepare for the session?
We didn’t do a lot at first, but the weekend before the appointment we had a long walk around the park and talked through our hospital stay from start to finish. It wasn’t an easy conversation actually. But it did highlight exactly where the gaps were; in our memories and in our care.
Because we’re organised, we typed up all our questions in advance and printed a few copies – for us and for the consultant. It might sound anal but I’m glad we did it, because it meant we didn’t forget anything and the consultant could take notes and take away a copy for himself.
What happened at the session?
We met the consultant, who was really a friendly, young guy. He had my medical records open on screen and could look back over exactly what had happened, when and why. Essentially, we did what the husbear and I had done in the park: we talked through everything from start to finish. We asked lots of questions, some of which could be answered and some of which couldn’t be answered.
The consultant told us about changes he was driving through in the maternity department that would address some of our feedback. He helped us make sense of the ten days I was hospitalised. Most importantly, he listened, he took notes and he promised to follow up on the feedback we had given. We felt heard, and that was surprisingly healing.
Importantly, we also asked about the future. Would I develop the same conditions I did in my first pregnancy? Would my care plan be any different? How likely would I be to deliver prematurely again? Of course none of these questions could be answered definitively but even having the conversations felt like a step forward.
What happened after the session?
We were in there a good hour and a half (although I had more to talk about than your average bear!). The consultant promised to follow up and I believe he did.
He wrote up what had happened in the session and sent a copy to our GP, which we got sent a copy of as well. He gave us his secretary’s number in case anything else cropped up that we wanted to ask and he suggested places for further counselling if we felt we needed it. A few weeks later I also received a letter from the hospital’s Matron saying that she had spoken to the consultant and had taken on board the feedback.
And that was it.
Was it worth it?
100% yes. It was so important and so meaningful to me. Talking through what had happened was cathartic. It was interesting and helpful to hear the hospital were working towards better solutions. I felt less alone. It was healing.
I still feel emotional when thinking about everything we went through. I think only time will help that.
If you had what you consider to be a traumatic birth, or even if you didn’t, I would definitely recommend a debrief. It might just help you more than you know.