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Episode 162

Leah Williams

In today’s episode I talk to Leah about her two IVF pregnancies and, in particular, her second birth that resulted in a PTSD diagnosis at six-months postpartum. It’s a pertinent discussion about women’s birth rights and the imperative role of educated and supportive caregivers. As a long-time sufferer of endometriosis, Leah and her husband tried to fall pregnant for two years before they sought the assistance of IVF. 

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“After trying for so long, I knew when I was ovulating. I did temp tests, cheap tests and expensive tests. I did everything, including acupuncture, but it just didn’t work….I don’t feel like there’s a lot of information that explains why it’s harder to fall pregnant. I’ve had five surgeries and they did the final one three months before the IVF cycle, if there’s adhesions I know that they can prevent conception,” she says.

Leah appreciated that her IVF doctor had a well laid-out plan for her and they opted to go straight to creating the embryo. They got 12 eggs and 5 embryos, two of which were the best quality and have since become her children; Eva and August.

“On day three I had implantation cramping. I had read about it as when you’re doing IVF you read everything, but it’s difficult too because they said you can’t read too much into symptoms. But I felt like I was pregnant. You do your test in the clinic and they ask you to wait till day 12 but on day 8 I did a test and it was negative but then my husband came home and looked at it and he could see a really faint line…we waited 48 hours and did a test and it was positive,” says Leah.

She booked into her local birth centre at 5 weeks pregnant and enjoyed a very straightforward pregnancy apart from experiencing sciatica. Eva’s due date was around Christmas and Leah thinks this added to the pressure and anticipation of those final weeks. At close to 10 days overdue she had her third stretch and sweep which kick started her contractions. She laboured at home before heading to the birth centre and she spent hours alternating between the baths and the shower as well as having water injections to ease the back pain of a posterior labour.

She created a dark, calm birthing space and used the support of a beanbag on the floor in transition. She was pushing for close to two hours although she admits she doesn’t think she was effectively pushing for that time. Moving position and using the support of the birth stool helped her bring Eva earthside. “We had a sleep, she had her first feed in that loved up bubble, then we went to the recovery suite. I stayed in for two nights…I was originally booked in for 5 nights because I’ve got pre-existing anxiety/depression but I was feeling good so I went home,” she says.

Eva was quite an unsettled baby and didn’t sleep till about 14months which left Leah exhausted and wondering if she did want to have more babies. However, shortly after Eva turned 2, Leah started a round of IVF and it was successful on the first try.

“The waiting is the hardest, I just follow the steps and stay focused on one at a time. But after implantation there’s just waiting to do a test and I’m not very good at that,” she says. She vomited till she was 20 weeks pregnant, had a week of intense panic attacks at 38 weeks that required medication and then went two weeks overdue, even though she had had a few stretch and sweeps.

She was admitted to the maternity ward to be induced and was assigned a midwife that dismissed her requests to return to the birthing suite to labour. So began a birth experience where Leah felt alone, scared and ignored. She was placed in a small observation room and advised that she couldn’t move into the birthing suite until she was 5cm dilated or her waters broke.

“Having a drug-free birth is a mind game…staying in your zone and the right place mentally. I wasn’t there and I was really losing it, sobbing and crying, I was on the verge of a panic attack. I remember saying: I can’t be in this room anymore, I feel really unsafe. Please let me out of here. She just said I couldn’t go to the labour ward or the birthing suite….and then she just left the room.”

Leah had a persistent feeling that something felt very wrong and regardless of the numerous times she requested help from her midwife, especially considering the immense pain she was in, she was ignored. She opted to wait for a change of shift and when the new midwife came on she discovered that she was 8cm and the cervidil was still in her cervix, causing extreme uterine contractions.

“The midwife was so shocked that it was still in; my uterus was contracting too much. I told my husband that I needed to go to the toilet and then I just started pushing. I didn’t have control of it at all. My body knew what to do and I had no control. Husband hit the emergency buzzer and the midwife came running in, got a wheelchair and wheeled me down to the delivery suite. I was sobbing hysterically and screaming but thankfully I was assigned the head midwife who was amazing. She put the mats down on the floor and I started pushing but she couldn’t find his heartbeat so I needed to get him out quickly. My whole labour was just fear and I felt like the end result wasn’t going to be good. I’d been left on my own the whole time and I hadn’t been monitored.”

August was born not crying although with a firm rubbing down he started crying. Leah was having trouble holding him as she was shaking and hyperventilating and losing blood. She had a second-degree tear which needed stitching and required a syntocinon injection to check for retained placenta. The nights that followed were very unsettled as August had swallowed lots of fluid and was bringing a lot up.

After her anxiety experience at 38weeks, Leah was assigned a psychologist who was meant to visit her in the hospital but failed to do so. It wasn’t until she had her second visit from the midwives at home – well into her third week of motherhoods – that she broke down. She was sad, angry and traumatised and at six months postpartum she was officially diagnosed with PTSD after experiencing insomnia, crippling flashbacks, panic attacks and nightmares.

“I felt like I’d failed myself and failed him. I wish I had screamed and shouted and kicked and made someone help me…A lot of birth trauma is around guilt. Because everyone says to you, over and over again, oh but at least you and your baby are ok and that’s the main thing. But it’s not the only or the main thing. Your experience and what happened to you is not nothing. Your mental health affects your connection and your mothering journey….I think that’s why people don’t speak about birth trauma because there’s guilt attached. But it makes it so much worse because you feel so alone.”

Leah pursued two rounds of investigation with the hospital and has since received a formal apology and discovered that her initial midwife lied on numerous occasions.

“I knew what birth could be, and should be, it wasn’t about the fact that it didn’t go to plan but that my right, as a woman in labour, was taken away from me.”

Topics Discussed

Antenatal anxiety, PTSD, Two births, IVF, Endometriosis

Episode Sponsor

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