#116 | Surviving an Amniotic Fluid Embolism, Birth Trauma, and Its Impact on Postpartum

August 4, 2021

Trigger Warning: This episode contains sensitive content around birth and birth trauma and may not be for everyone.

Kayleigh describes the birth of her son as the worst day of her life; and it literally was because she actually died during birth.  Her son was born via emergency cesarean as she was being resuscitated on the operating table after experiencing an Amniotic Fluid Embolism.  She and her baby survived and are healthy and well but the lasting trauma and post-traumatic stress is something she is still working through two years later.  As a survivor and therapist, she is a voice for of support and encouragement for those who have experienced any kind of birth trauma. Today, she shares her story and her emotional process of recovery to help other mothers who may be struggling with recognizing and processing their birth trauma. 

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View Episode Transcript

So about 30 medical professionals came running into the room. At this point, I don't have a pulse, I'm not breathing. He was born while they were doing CPR on me, my fertility was taken away from me. And I can't have any more kids, I can't be pregnant again. And I don't remember any of my labor. And so and I didn't see my son born, I was technically not living while my son was born. And I had an emergency hysterectomy. And when I woke up, and when I left the hospital, my mindset was, oh my god, I get a second chance at life, I should have died. This is amazing. We are going to just go live happily ever after. And enjoy this sort of second chance at life. And then I got home. And all of these expectations that I had, around my birth and postpartum, kind of came crashing down.

I'm Cynthia Overgard, owner of HypnoBirthing of Connecticut, childbirth advocate and postpartum support specialist. And I'm Trisha Ludwig, certified nurse midwife and international board certified lactation consultant. And this is the Down To Birth Podcast. Childbirth is something we're made to do. But how do we have our safest and most satisfying experience in today's medical culture? Let's dispel the myths and get down to birth.

Hi, I'm Kayleigh. I am a survivor of birth trauma and an amniotic fluid embolism. And I am here today to tell the story of my son Callaghan's birth, and how birth trauma really can affect that postpartum period.

All right, Kayleigh, why don't you? Why don't you tell us about your birth story?

Sure. So this is my first and only child. And I was about, I would say 40 weeks and two days pregnant. And I had a couple of high blood pressures. I was really anxious at the time, and my blood pressure tends to go up and down with my anxiety. So I wasn't surprised. But protocols are to send you to the hospital, especially after 40 weeks, they suggested an induction because at that point, my baby was suspected large for gestational age, he was 11 pounds. So to be fair, they were correct. And I accepted the induction. I was also nervous about the size of the baby. So I had I was 0% effaced, I was zero centimeters dilated. So starting from the ground up. So I had Cervadil inserted for 24 hours, I had a Foley ball, I had Pitocin, pretty awful. And just for the record, I have no memory of any of this. This is all put together from my family, my medical team and my text messages to other people. But I got to about 48 hours. And I was ready to push and my doctor came in and excitedly told me that I was finally 10 centimeters, and that we were going to be pushing out a baby pretty soon. And so my mom and my husband were in the room. My husband apparently had decided with me that we were going to have my mom and for the birth, which is great. I think he needed an extra support person. There's a lot of pressure on partners, I don't think we talked about enough. So she actually left the room to go tell my dad that she was going to be there for the birth of cow. And it was my nurse and my husband in the room. I told them I wasn't feeling well. And my nurse was like, yep, transition, totally normal. Here's a bag to be sick. And if you feel like you're going to be sick, and I said nope, I really do not feel well. And she was like, Okay, and then I started screaming that something was wrong with my heart. And when she went to go look at the monitors to check them because nothing was showing up on the monitors. At that point. I then collapsed and went into cardiac respiratory arrest. So from there, obviously, Code Blue was called very quickly. My nurse was fantastic and very much on it. So about 30 medical professionals came running into the room. At this point, I don't have a pulse, I'm not breathing. And my husband is screaming in my face for me to wake up. And they sort of pushed him out of the way for obvious reasons. And I was unplugged And out of that room within about 30 seconds. I was taken right to the OR to get the baby out. And so from the time of my code to the time of code blue to being born was only six minutes. So he was born relatively fine given the circumstances. So he was breathing and he went to the NICU for oxygen support overall, he was okay. He was born while they were doing CPR on me. I had nurses switching off every two minutes doing CPR. And I was resuscitated after seven or eight minutes. And so the problem with a effies is that there's a two phase response typically. So you have the cardio respiratory failure. And then you have D IC, which is disseminated intravascular coagulopathy, which is actually when your blood clots everywhere it's not supposed to. And so your body consumes all the clotting factors. So you bleed out. And you bleed out excessively. And so I needed 143 units of blood by the time all of this was over. And the body holds about nine to 12 units of blood. So as fast as they were putting it in, it was coming right back out.

A lot of things are obviously happening. There's about 50 to 60 medical personnel at that point. There's trauma surgeons, there's lots of obese, lots of anesthesiologists, they're pumping in blood, they're trying to get me stabilized. They resuscitated me but then as I continued to bleed out for the next hour, I coded again until they had to restart CPR, resuscitate me again after a few minutes, and then they tried to embolize my uterine arteries to get the bleeding to stop. And that didn't work enough. And so they ended up having to open me up again, vertically this time. And I had an emergency hysterectomy, one of my ovaries was taken out as well. And they packed my abdomen and left it open. While they were doing this, my heart and lungs just weren't recovering in the way they had hoped. So they had to ambulance what's called ECMO over from the mean, much bigger hospital, but it's the highest form of life support. So it literally takes the blood out of your body oxygenates it and puts it back in. And so that's what they had to do for me. So finally, this all happened that I would say 12pm by 10pm. That night, I was still unstable but able to be transferred to the medical center that could maintain the ECMO circuit for me, is about a half hour away, not too bad. I was transferred to the cardiothoracic ICU, my stomach was still open. So over the next few days, I had multiple abdominal surgeries, to just make sure that bleeding had stopped to clean out everything that needed to be cleaned out. I was opened with a wound back and they finally closed me three days later. And then I also came off ECMO Three days later, I came off the ventilator Five days later. And that's when I first met my son. That's when I was first conscious. How old was he? He was five days old. Yeah.

We had he been in the NICU this time or had he been able to go home.

He was in the nick you for one night. He stayed at the hospital the night that I was transferred to a hospital that I was at. And then he was transferred to be with me at the Medical Center. And they actually I was in the hospital for a total of 15 days, 16 days. And they actually boarded him for me so that I could see him. So there was nothing wrong with him. Thankfully, he wasn't in the NICU he was healthy. And they kept him so that they can bring him down to the CT ICU. They actually, I have to give them so much credit. They have him skin to skin the day after my amniotic fluid embolism happened. There's pictures of me on ECMO and on a ventilator with him on my chest.

And how long were you not breathing when the whole thing began?

They didn't get me back resuscitated for about eight minutes. So they were doing CPR for continuous blood flow. But the baby did not have oxygen for six minutes. He is totally fine. We don't know how big was it because of how they were keeping you resuscitated. Likely Yes. Yes, babies are built to tolerate they are stretch of time they are surprisingly long how they can go without. That is something nation that my my family actually specifically remembers the doctor coming because of course during this time the doctors coming back and forth saying like this happened. We don't like my family for the Code Blue for my room over the loudspeaker and had no idea what had happened and the first thing that came inside was the baby's out the baby sign. He didn't have oxygen for six minutes but they have like a pocket of something. I don't know how they explained it but my feet that time I can't my my family remembers I'm saying there's like a pocket of air that they somehow like a reserve. Yeah, exactly.

And that's about the length of time that it goes for. Yes. All right. So amniotic fluid embolism is probably the most dangerous thing that can happen in childbirth. Yes. It's extremely rare. There's a little bit I'm sure you have studied, you know, backwards and forwards up and down in every way around. So can you tell us tell our listeners a little bit about the occurrence rate of that and what it actually means? Yeah, the occurrence rate varies a bit just because of reporting issues. The easiest way to explain it is that in the US, about 4 million women will give birth each year 100 of those will be AFEs. Cynthia, quick, do the math. So it's about it's about one and 40,000. So an amniotic fluid embolism, just as a quick little fact, is unpredictable, unpredictable, and unfortunately, often fatal. The fatality rates are very, very high, because it happens suddenly, and it kills quickly. But those rates are getting better, because we have better care. And we have better resuscitative measures. It's very, very rare. And so again, only 100 women a year will have an AFE 50,000 will have a near miss. So that can be anything that puts someone who's birthing in risk of dying, right? So even if that 50,000, only 100 of those RFPs.

And how many of the AFEs survive these days?

that varies a lot, just the statistics on that are tough, but because of reporting again, but I think the mortality rate is probably between like 40 and 60%. So between 40 and 60% of those 100 people will die.

So it's not the number one cause of death in this country. But it probably has of all the risks that can happen during the perinatal period. It's probably got the highest fatality rate, but does Yes,

it is. So it's about 50 deaths per 4 million births. Yes. All right. Correct. A year.

So think about how rare it is. It's that rare, and yet, it's still one of the top things, complications that kill women in birth.

So whereas preeclampsia is a very significant risk to women, we can manage it very easily. Yes, with magnesium sulfate or whatever the other measures are. But with this, their tactics are born limited.

There's only Yeah, it's only supportive measures. We can't stop it.

Was it just a matter of luck and the quality of your team that you're here today? Yes. 100%. So what happened next you were saying that you saw your son that five days old, or you held him at five days old, for the first time went from there, from there, and the outlook on this was she's going to be in the hospital for months, she's probably going to be on ECMO for at least two weeks. And then she's going to be sort of rehabilitating, and we don't know what brain functioning is going to be, but it's going to be. And so the way that I recovered was very unexpected. Once the ventilator came out on that fifth day, I met my son. And then I was after three more days in the cardiothoracic ICU, which is for heart, lungs, chest. I was transferred down to the regular ICU. And I remember being very upset about that I wanted to go to maternity I wanted to be out of the ICU. ICU is miserable. And they were like, well, you will like we'll eventually transfer you down to mother baby. Once we get you a bit more stabilized in the ICU. And then I had a really hard time walking. It was really painful. I was all I had been I had been open for three or four days at that point. I had finally been closed but I was sore. I had a hysterectomy. I had a chest two, I had all kinds of I had like 18 different lines and had a really hard time walking and I was in a ton of pain. And then a few days later, so about nine days after I gave birth and had my AFE, the patient just didn't feel that bad anymore. And I started walking just regularly. And then the next day I was walking up and down stairs. And I got discharged two weeks, 14 days after I gave birth,

where they just stunned that you were able to do any of that.

Yes, yes, very stunned. I was supposed to be discharged to rehab and I didn't need to rehab it and qualify for rehab. So I was able to just go home. Physically, the only thing I had left was my incision. I had to have it packed because it had some holes in it. So I had that packed by a home health nurse every day physically. That was all I was really left with, which was lucky to say the very least.

So tell us about the emotional recovery.

Yes. So when I woke up and when I left the hospital, my mindset was, oh my god, I get a second chance at life. I should have died. This is amazing. We are going to just go live happily ever after and enjoy this sort of second chance at life. And then I got At home, and all of these expectations that I had around my birth and postpartum kind of came crashing down. I remember feeling angry. And my reaction to that was like, nope, nope. I mean Three days later, another woman had an amniotic fluid embolism and had to have her leg amputated and was in the hospital for like a year. And then a month after me a woman my same exact age with the same exact way that they if they happen at 10 centimeters died. And so So who are you to complain? Exactly right off anything but grateful. Yep. But right. So who so I kind of pushed away all of these angry sadness, like I don't have any right to feel those. I was feeling guilty about having those feelings. I also wanted nothing to do with my son at that point. I would come downstairs after sleeping for like 16 hours, and like walk right by him. My parents lived with us for six weeks to help us take care of him, which was a godsend. But I you know, I would be asked all the time to Oh, you should hold him You should feed them and I would just say yeah, sir. Most people would be all worried about me. But inside I was like, I hate this. I don't want to be a mom. I don't want to be here. I just I hate this.

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So obviously, I was dealing with some trauma and postpartum depression at that time. Because I'm a therapist myself, I knew even when I came out of the hospital and had like, these great like, Oh, I'm gonna live this wonderful life because I get a second chance I was like, I'm pretty messed up probably. So we're gonna start therapy right away. And so I got into see a therapist at the postpartum stress Center, which is an amazing organization. I don't know if you've read any work on postpartum depression. But she's fantastic. And she runs that center. And so I've been seeing that therapist. Up until today, I had a really difficult time, I cried pretty much every day, I finally realized that I was allowed to be angry and sad, while also being grateful that I was alive. They are not mutually exclusive feelings, you get to feel them all at once. And that really helped with my processing of the trauma. Because while I was so grateful to be alive, I also was so angry that this random thing happened to me out of the 4 million women who give birth each year, and that I my fertility was taken away from me. And I can't have any more kids, I can't be pregnant again. And I don't remember any of my labor. And so and I didn't see my son born, I was technically not living while my son was born, and to really processing through all of the trauma of that took a very long time. And it's not even done. I'm still in it right. His second birthday is actually in like 10 days. So this month has also been difficult for me again, just reliving some of that stuff. I think one of the most difficult things about birth trauma. And the reason that it is so different than other types of trauma, not better or worse, but different is that you have this experience that has all of these expectations, right? So it's going to be the most wonderful moment of your life. You are going to love the golden hour, it's going to be magic and amazing. Awesome. And even for women who don't experience trauma, sometimes it's not to be clear, we have very high expectations for that golden hour. When those expectations aren't only unmet but are completely shattered. It creates this very unique set of traumatic sort of symptoms. And then on top of that, we have a society who says no, no, no, I don't want to hear about how you're suffering because you live So you and baby are healthy. If your baby didn't die, I don't care to hear about it. As long as there's a healthy mom and a healthy baby, that's all that matters, when in reality, we all know that that's not actually what matters. Because we're now living with post traumatic stress. We're living with postpartum depression from the things that we have been through. And I want to be clear, I think this is really important. And this is something I often talk about on Instagram, I have a very, very severe birth trauma. It is well beyond a lot of birth traumas, birth, trauma is subjective. So if you feel like you were traumatized by your birth, your birth was traumatic. That's the way it works. And there's a lot of invalidation in our society for birth trauma. And I think it's because we're so uncomfortable with something, someone having a negative experience on the day that was supposed to be the best day of their life.

I think it's like you're saying that it's not for others to judge what your trauma is. So if someone says that their birth was traumatic, because the hospital staff was just really rude to them all day, it's not another person's place to say that's not trauma. I'm sorry, I know someone who had a much a truly traumatic experience. You're saying that's, that's something that we have to get past? Because for that woman, she's feeling like she isn't seen? Is there any part of you that does grapple with that, though, because of what you did experience? I mean, do you ever sort of have that feeling? Do you ever feel like it's anything but subjective.

So in the beginning, when I was still like, very fresh out, yes, I was still dealing so intensely with my trauma, that it was the only lens that I could use. Now, being further out, also being in this field, where I am a therapist, and I understand that even if your trauma is getting poorly treated by the medical team, right, that's if that's your trauma, it still works the same in your brain, like the the neurobiology of trauma is the same. So that helps me and I hope helps other people understand that that's why it's adaptive, because it still has the same effect, no matter what type of trauma or severity on the spectrum that it is. It still reacts in the same way. There are reasons why certain people are traumatized by situations and other people aren't. Right. It has to do with the way we grew up. It has to do with our background, it has to do with our chemical makeup. So just because you experienced the same thing and weren't traumatized doesn't mean that that trauma isn't valid.

Would you say also that a lot of women were emotionally traumatized and birth and don't even realize it, they just write it off as postpartum depression or anxiety or, you know, difficulty bonding with their baby, and they don't even recognize that they were traumatized by their experience. Absolutely. 100%.

So how does one know if they are? I mean, what are the signs?

This piece is tough for me. Because I'm, I also feel very strongly like, I'm not going to tell you, you're traumatized. Right. That's your story. That's your subjective feeling. If you want to feel like it was due to postpartum depression, great. Like, it doesn't matter. I think that's the piece, it doesn't really matter, helping helping someone feel seen and heard, because they may have experienced some trauma or have been treated poorly, or were terrified because of an emergency c section. That's all really important. But forcing people to think that they're traumatized becomes problematic, if that makes sense. Like there's, there's sort of that line. Like we don't have to remove anyone else evaluating it at all. Yeah, one way or the other.

Yep. That's exactly how I feel. But symptoms of trauma. This is why it's so difficult is because they so often look like postpartum depression. There are some differences in terms of like nightmares, and flashbacks, which are similar to like traditional PTSD symptoms, hyper vigilance and anxiety, but it gets so convoluted with the other perinatal mental health disorders like anxiety and depression. So in general, just getting treated for those things is going to be the number one advice. The other piece of this is I did not have preventable birth trauma. In my opinion, I have lots of people who will say like, Oh, well, you had this long induction and blah, blah, blah. And we don't know if that, you know, has an effect on it. But there are lots of women who have experienced atheists that have had no intervention, right? So we don't have enough research. So we'll say that mine is unpreventable at this point, but there's so much birth trauma. I mean, one in three women are expressing that they have been traumatized by their birth at this point. 30% 33% Yes, yes. So let's talk about that.

It matches this is Erin rate. I know it's not going To perfectly overlap with that, because I've known women who've had vaginal births and absolutely felt traumatized. And I've known women who had surgical births and felt it was absolutely beautiful. Yep. So it's not matching that statistic. But it is interesting.

You know, I also think to that point, like this is such a unique situation, we are uniquely vulnerable when we give birth. So the opportunity to be traumatized is so high, right? Like the the incidence of being traumatized by every and that. That is why the medical staff if you give birth in a hospital, or if you give birth in a birthing center, needs to be trauma informed. There's so much trauma that is wrapped up in the medical providers who give birth. I think people often think I shy away from that because I had a medical team that saved my life. But just because I have a medical team that saved my life doesn't mean other medical teams aren't out there traumatizing. I think that's such a big part of the problem. We are so vulnerable we give birth.

Now that's a great point. I mean, that is like the peak. You're we're in the perfect position to be traumatized. Yeah. When we give birth. Yep, absolutely. So how do we prevent that?

Yes, choosing your medical team very wisely. And also, not all trauma is preventable. Right. So even with not an amniotic fluid embolism, there are other things preeclampsia things that that are just not preventable at the time. But we can do a better job with our mindset going into birth and our expectations around birth by still having the expectation that I'm going to be this beautiful euphoric moment. But if it's not, here's how I'm going to handle that. And I think that's the difference. There's a lot of gripe about sharing negative birth stories, I understand. But I think the education around here interventions, here's the risk benefit analysis. Here's the if you I'm sure you all have posted about the brain before where you ask like benefits risks. Amazing wish I had known that when I gave birth. But that sort of stuff is what's going to help prevent birth trauma, doulas wish I had a doula 100%. Love, love, love, any sort of supportive care that helps you advocate for yourself and birth?

How about you, you mentioned sort of modifying our expectations? How do you advise women to modify their expectations for birth?

So I think that this is this is a difficult question, right? Because I want everyone to go in thinking they're going to have a beautiful, wonderful, magical experience. But I also think if you blindly going with, that's the only thing that's going to happen, you are setting yourself up to be potentially not always potentially, very, not only disappointed, but maybe traumatized.

In my training in perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, we learned some interesting risk factors from postpartum support International, and they very much, yeah, they're there. They're there the global authority and deserve to be, but you have so many of what so many things about what you're saying, are making me think of some of those risk factors because it's about expectations. Yep. And they're so innocuous. I mean, one of the risk factors is a lot of people telling you what a wonderful mother you're going to be, who isn't told what a wonderful mother they're going to be. And you really have then a vision, even when you are a quote, wonderful mother, your vision of what that means is like I should be happy all the time, I should be excited to play with my baby all day long, even though I'm bored out of my mind, and this is the most monotonous thing I've ever done. So when you're doing all the acts that you need to do as a mother taking care of your child, let's say in this case, some women don't bond and they're not able to do that, either. But I did not bond for six months. Right? To be clear. I like to normalize that.

Yes, I know a woman for whom it took eight months. Yeah, but you know, what does wonderful even mean? It would be better? You know, it's it's we have to set expectations, women who tried to get pregnant for a long time, women who have used IVF, they are all at experiencing these risk factors. Because the expectations are high. They just think it's going to be magical. And how where do you go from there from that expectation? That's like getting married, and everyone in the world telling you, this is going to be a lifelong honeymoon. Rather than people saying, you'll have hard times you'll have to learn to communicate, this is how you'll get through it. That doesn't happen with having a baby. It's just going to be glory, all your needs are going to be better. It's going to be the most fulfilling thing you've ever felt more loved than you've ever felt.

Yep. And then when it doesn't happen, and when we have women who have postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, because it's after they have a baby, they think it's who they are as a mom, rather than something that they're suffering from, which is the most insidious piece of PPD, for me at least and that it's never going to change. Yep, this is it. This is how I'll be forever. Yeah, absolutely. It's temporary. I have a I hope. It's not an For a question, I have a difficult question. I'm so curious to ask you. Yeah, your hysterectomies as part of what saved your life? I'm sure you thought 1000 times, if you were able to have another baby, how this recovery process would be different for you emotionally? Yeah, how would it be different?

Well, my expectations would be definitely different. I think I've done a lot of work around. If I were to have another baby through some other means, right? At first, it was like, Oh, it's going to be the best because I won't have an amniotic fluid embolism and everything will be better, and it will be amazing. And so now being two years out, knowing that's not the case, there are plenty of other things that factor in there. And so I would have much more of a postpartum plan. And this is my biggest I had zero postpartum plan, zero, like, we'll take care of the baby. And so I think having a postpartum plan, meaning having support people in place, knowing where I'm going to go to therapy, I think every postpartum woman should go to therapy, so and just knowing that eventually, everything will sort of work itself out with the right support. Right? As she was saying, This isn't permanent.

So would you have felt you could heal sufficiently to go through it all again? Do you feel Do you feel that that degree of healing as possible, where even after everything you've been through? If you were able to have another you would say, Okay, I'm ready for this?

This is such a fun question. Because I actually just did I did a story on this the other day, because I have women in my birth trauma community on Instagram, who have had a hysterectomy and have not, right, and someone wrote in, I think it would almost be easier if I didn't have the choice. And a year ago, I would have been like, how dare you there are people who have had, you know, whatever. But it's true, right? It's a grass is greener mentality. If someone said, If you still had your uterus, and I have a very good friend who's an amniotic fluid embolism survivor, we're friends because of that we were not friends before that. That would be a statistical anomaly, who kept her uterus but had a few just as severe as mine. And we've had this conversation several times, I'm like, of course, I would have another kid. Because it's hypothetical, right? I don't have to take into account the possibility that this could happen again, I don't have to take into account the complications that could arise, etc, etc. So I'm like, of course, I would for sure have another child. Whereas people who have actually who still have their uterus and have been through similar trauma are like, Whoa, pump the brakes, because now you have a toddler, you're not willing to leave Exactly. So much more complicated. I mean, that the potential guilt that you would envision is just so much more extreme, because you have your first child. Yes.

Has there ever been a woman that's experienced two AFEs? No, not that we have recorded? Yeah.

So it doesn't seem that there's a predisposition toward it. It's just so rare that the odds of it happening twice to someone would be like, exceedingly rare. Yeah. Yes. So what was it like for your husband? What, you know, we're always looking at the trauma for the moms. But what on earth? I mean, no one probably ever turned to him and said, and what about you? And had it had to be terrifying for him?

Right, so he watched me die, essentially. And then someone came back and said, okay, we think the way this one is about 20 minutes later, someone said I had an amniotic fluid embolism that I was, they were getting me stabilized, and they thought they were gonna be able to transfer me to the ICU, in this hospital. This was before ECMO, or the hysterectomy or anything, and then came back again, 30 minutes later and said, She's extremely critical. We think we're going to lose her. Please pray, we don't really know what else to do. And that was right before I had coded the second time. And so you have this person who's just being told all this information when he just came into the hospital with his wife to have a baby. And around three or 4pm. So about three or four hours after this had happened. They moved my family and friends who by the way, really awful timing, we're all slowly showing up. Because I had been 10 centimeters. So Steve, I texted everyone saying, hey, come to the hospital. We're going to have the baby soon. And so one by one, one family member had to tell another family member had to tell my best friend that they didn't know what was wrong. But there was a Code Blue called and so my best friend was never allowed back into the room because she wasn't family. So she was hysterically crying and l&d waiting room for like, hours, but they moved everyone to a conference room. And at that point, and this makes me really sad, and I know there's nothing we could do about it, but no one had seen myself. No one's own born, except for the 50 or so medical professionals in the room. No one had seen my son So at 4pm, about four hours after this, my family said Steve should probably go see the baby. And he's like, nope. He's like, I'm not leaving this conference room. This conference room is right next to the OR. It's the closest that I can be to Kayleigh. I'm not leaving. And they understood that and gave him a break, and then asked him again an hour later, and he agreed, I think they said, like, Well, someone needs to go see him. And he was like, well, no one else is gonna stand before I do. And so he went, and we have videos of him just, it's really sad, because it's like crying because at that point, they weren't sure that I was going to do that. So he had a tough time bonding, he definitely had some PPD, as well, as we know the rates of a partner having PPD if the birther does about 50%, which is insane. It was a very traumatic first year for both of us for sure. So that going back to the having a baby thing, I don't even think my husband would, I don't want to say allow, because I don't do the whole, like allow when it comes to reproductive fertility, but it does take two people in a relationship to be in a marriage to be okay with having a baby. And I think my husband would feel like I was putting my life at risk again.

I have a question about your memory of the birth. Yep. At what point do you What's the last memory you have? Do you remember going to the hospital? And what's the explanation for all that kind of being?

Yeah, so the last thing I remember is sort of to situate you two days, I gave birth on a Wednesday, the amniotic fluid embolism happened on a Wednesday, My first memory before, right, I guess students memory was from that Friday before. So I missing that whole weekend. And missing the Monday when I went into the office had high blood pressure I had, there's also some weird stuff around my anxiety that feels very intuition based for me and my medical team. Like I run anxious, but wasn't really anxious. My whole pregnancy, that Monday, my husband was like, your leg was just bouncing, I had no idea what was wrong with you. I kept asking if you're okay. And I was like, everything's fine with the baby, everyone's fine. And I couldn't stop being anxious. And I get so much more anxious than a normal first time mom that the doctors when they were passing off to my ob, who I'm very close with now who saved my life. The other doctor said to her, she's really, really anxious, we usually do see intuition come up in the stories or in stories where women have lost their babies, there is more often than not a sense, where she just said something is wrong when everyone around her said everything is fine. It's crazy.

Obviously, you recommend that any woman who has experienced any type of birth trauma starts in therapy? Are there a few things that you could suggest, for moms just that were the most helpful pieces that you learn in therapy, just

Yes, you get to be angry and sad about your birth, you can feel those things while still being really grateful that you and your baby are okay. It's also important to know that it's okay to feel jealous about other women who have what you view as normal births doesn't make you a bad person, doesn't mean you're upset about their joy. You're just sad and angry for yourself. And that's okay, too. There are so many complex feelings when it comes to birth trauma. And there's so much guilt about so many of those feelings. And so when I learned to let go of the guilt piece, and just feel the feelings as they come and just accept them and know that it doesn't make me a bad mom or a bad person that was so sort of releasing for me in terms of processing through that birth trauma.

Yeah, I think it can be confusing for people when you're going through really difficult or traumatic situations to understand why you can feel two opposing feelings at the same time. And it makes you think that maybe you're a little crazy, but it's actually very, very normal.

Yes. In our prenatal and postpartum support groups, usually the first question that we ask, especially if it's the beginning of a new group starting we usually say when you introduce yourself, try to come up with at least three emotions you're feeling right now. And it's so held, it's so helpful, they can usually grab one right off the bat and then to dig for that third or fourth one takes a little more work and it's eye opening because they realize they are feeling all different things. Yeah. I know of a woman who expressed to her own mother that she felt a little jealous after her own traumatic birth seeing a woman on of course social media, talking about how glorious her own birth was and sharing with her mom that she felt a little jealous and her mom completely shamed her over it. She's like, I would think you should be happy for someone else. And I just that you've got to be kidding me. How is that not the most normal thing to feel? Yeah, it doesn't mean she would take it away from the other woman. But she just wants it for herself too. Yes, there's too much guilt and it makes all the emotions so much more painful.

Yeah. And I think I think a lot of the go is also around the baby. Like when you say, the day I gave birth was the worst day of my life. The amount of people that bristle at that, but it was, that doesn't mean that you don't love your child. I love my son dearly. We were very well bonded and mildly obsessed with him. But it was the worst day of my life. How could it not be right in your life? Right? How could it not be right? And yet people there's a lot of sort of like shock and awe, but I'll talk about on Instagram, everyone be like, oh my god. Yes. Like, yeah, it was the worst day of my life. But I felt awful for thinking that because it's the day my baby was born, and I should be so grateful and happy. And I am right. I am grateful and happy that my son is here and that I get to watch him grow up. But it was also the worst day of my life.

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How did your husband recover?

That's a very good question. He had a really difficult time. Like a really, really difficult time. I mean, we both did. But I like to say it like this right? You have two people who have both been traumatized in two different ways. And then also handle their trauma completely differently. And are also just like, you know, thrown into being parents for the first time in their lives. The marriage after birth trauma is also an entirely other podcast episode, but it's really hard because when you have people who are so traumatized by such acute events like a near death experience, they both need room and space for their trauma. But the person who they usually go to for that space and room has no space in room.

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About Cynthia Overgard

Cynthia is a published writer, advocate, childbirth educator and postpartum support specialist in prenatal/postpartum healthcare and has served thousands of clients since 2007. 

About Trisha Ludwig

Trisha is a Yale-educated Certified Nurse Midwife and International Board Certified Lactation Counselor. She has worked in women's health for more than 15 years.

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