I'm a midwife who suffers from PTSD. There's one birth almost 20 years ago that I'll never be able to forget.
- My own traumatic birth experience led me to pursue midwifery as a career to help other women.
- In 2004, a birth I attended almost ruined the profession for me. I'm still dealing with PTSD.
I became a midwife in 1999, deciding that the degree I'd been pursuing in architecture wasn't something I felt passionately enough about — not like I did about the birth of a baby.
Following the traumatic delivery of my daughter when I was only 18, I knew I was meant to empower and support mothers through birth.
After a three-year training course, I qualified to work as a
In 2004, after five years of practicing, I had a home-birth experience that almost ruined the profession of midwifery for me. It even came back to haunt me during the birth of my grandchild. It showed me how hard the job was: The pressure is huge, and you literally hold moms' and babies' lives in your hands.
The birth that changed it all for me
It was a cold night, and one of my colleagues delivering a baby at a home in the community called me to support her as a secondary midwife.
It was an odd birth from the beginning. The windows were all open, and it was freezing inside. The mom didn't want our help, and her husband was quite hostile toward me. As she progressed in labor, I quietly tried to speak to her and listen for the baby's heart rate. But she didn't make any eye contact, talk to me, or let me use the handheld Doppler to check that the baby was OK — even though I continued to insist.
When a woman is contracting quite strongly, there is a normal physiological reduction in oxygen through the placenta. Most babies can cope with that, but the whole point of a midwife attending a home birth is to catch any abnormalities early on. But the mom told me to get away from her.
Right as the baby was about to be born, she decided to let me listen for the heart rate. It was unbelievably low. Before we knew it, we saw the top of the baby's head and prepared equipment to resuscitate it. My colleague had to do an episiotomy on the mom, who was shaking, to get the baby out quickly.
The baby arrived basically dead — white and floppy. I patted him down and immediately started resuscitation, desperate to get his heart rate above the 40 beats per minute it was pumping at. The paramedics came to take the baby to the hospital, and as I left, I looked around the house — the blood, the cold, the shaking hands. It all imprinted on my mind.
Three days later, the baby died.
I treated my PTSD by attending more home births
In the months that followed, I unknowingly treated the post-traumatic stress disorder caused by the event. According to the American Psychological Association, PTSD can be treated with "prolonged exposure" — instead of avoiding what triggers the trauma, you're exposed to it to get over your triggers or fears.
Instead of running away from home births, I requested to continue doing them, but only in an observational capacity, without the responsibility for life and death, so that I could remember that positive home-birth experiences do happen.
But that night still haunted me with flashbacks in slow motion, which were triggered by nothing in particular. Even all these years later, I still have moments of panic when I replay what happened and think of all that could have been different.
Recently, my daughter had a home birth and requested that I be there to support her as a mother, not as a midwife. I waited in the living room while my daughter labored, and the midwife helping came to speak to me.
"The baby is crashing through the pelvis and going to be born quickly, hence why the heart rate is low," she told me. "I've called the paramedics just in case."
My grandson was born flat, lifeless. He needed to be resuscitated. For those 20 minutes, when we didn't know what was going to happen, that case from all those years ago came back like a bad dream and frightened me. But my grandson was OK in the end.
I'm no longer a clinical midwife. Instead, I teach the next generation of midwives. The PTSD I experienced was horrific, but I couldn't abandon the profession. The miracle of life is just too addictive to ignore.
Editor's note: The midwife has remained anonymous for the privacy of her patients.
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