“I had a very complicated labour which left me feeling a bit all over the place for quite a while afterwards. I initially considered some therapy but was advised to see if my symptoms eased after the first few weeks. Although I did start to feel a lot more like myself quite quickly, I began to realise that the labour had given me a relapse of a psychosexual condition I have a history with, which is called vaginismus. When I realised this, I knew I needed the therapy to help me to store the memory of my labour in the correct part of my brain.
Vaginismus is a psychological condition which causes the vaginal muscles to spasm. I know that some people can experience it for the first time after a difficult birth, but for me it was all too familiar. I was really nervous about engaging in anything involving that part of my body as it would give me flashbacks to my labour – the feeling of needing to push and pushing, and the memory of lying on a hospital bed with my legs wide part, feeling vulnerable, exposed and out of control. All of this would just come flooding back to me every time intercourse was attempted for over 6 months after the birth. The spasming of the vaginal muscles made intercourse very painful and virtually impossible. Because I have a history with vaginismus, I knew that it would be possible to deal with it and get it under control but because it had been triggered by my labour I knew I had some processing to do in order to move forward.
As I said above, my labour was very complicated. Knowing my tendency to towards vaginismus and knowing that birth could potentially be a trigger for me, I wanted to be as prepared as possible. I did a lot of reading into labour and found out about of the importance of producing oxytocin throughout in order for things to progress well, and that anxiety and fear produce adrenaline which can slow the whole process down and make it more painful. With all this in mind, I decided to opt for a home birth. I find the hospital environment causes me a lot of anxiety which I was trying to keep to a minimum.
The first part of my labour was great. I was in a birthing pool at home for 12 hours, managing with a bit of gas and air and lots of positivity!! Being in the water made me feel safe and in control, like the water was a protection around me. Also, being upright I felt less vulnerable and exposed. However my labour stopped progressing when I got to the stage where I felt ready to push. I was 9cm dilated but my waters still hadn’t broken. So it was advised that I transferred to hospital.
This was the point when I started to feel really out of control. Leaving the water was terrifying, as I felt like I was losing my protection. The urge to push was overpowering and very intense because my baby was back to back. Once arriving in hospital things went from bad to worse. I wasn’t progressing at all and in a lot of pain. I was pushing involuntarily every few mins and being told off for doing so. I also had to lie on my back on a hospital bed with my legs wide apart, which was just my worst nightmare and caused me so much fear and anxiety. I felt exposed, vulnerable and out of control. I had to undergo countless examinations and at one stage a doctor had to actually put their hand in to try and turn the baby’s head as it was stuck sideways. I found the whole thing very traumatic. After over 6 hours of being in this hospital room, I got to fully dilated but still I couldn’t push my baby out. The doctors realised his head was stuck sideways so I was transferred to theatre for a forceps delivery. My husband watched as a doctor pulled with all her might and still our baby’s head remained stuck. I ended up having an emergency section which was complicated because my baby’s head was already so far down, so he had to be pulled back up the other way in order to get him out by caesarean.
I think this experience would cause anyone to struggle afterwards. The dramatic shift from relaxed home birth environment, all the the way to an emergency section is hard enough to process, let alone all the anxiety that goes with it. But adding a history of vaginismus to the mix, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to process it all properly on my own.
I’m so glad I had the therapy! It was enormously helpful to talk the whole thing through with someone who understood but also the therapy itself was so effective. Being able to walk through all the different parts of my experience and process it all properly was so, so important. I am now able to think about all of the details of my labour without being triggered because they are stored in the correct part of my brain. My vaginismus is back under control and I am able to move on.”