Where do I begin? I fell pregnant with my daughter in 2010. An R&R baby conceived whilst my husband was mid-way through his second tour of Afghanistan. We were poster to Germany at the time and living in Munster.
I had a lovely, straightforward British midwife for the first five months and those first few months went really well. I also saw a German midwife alongside my English one. Being my first child, I was naturally excited and so looking forward to the romantic rose-tinted expectations I had for the birth ahead.
It was the birth for me where it all went wrong. I was bang on my due date and the German midwife was concerned I had pre-eclampsia, so I was admitted to the Hospital in Osnabruck, over an hour away from where we lived. I actually didn’t have pre-eclampsia but was kept in to be monitored.
By Friday, less than 24 hours later, I was struggling so much with the language barrier and I didn't understand what they were telling me. I don't speak German and neither does my husband but between us we realised that they wanted to induce me due to my daughter’s erratic heartbeat. We had no translator; the medical team didn’t speak great English and as we spoke very little German it made things difficult. We had to rely on Google on the computer in the hospital reception to find out what forms we were signing when they presented them to us! We did try to get support from the Army Welfare team but it was a weekend so there was no one to help us!
They induced me, and I spent 36 hours in labour, in agony with no pain-relief. I was offered a foot-rub or a rope that was hanging from the ceiling! I was so frightened I didn’t know what to do and my husband just felt useless. I was also put in restraints with my wrists buckled to the bed. I was in such a bad and uncomfortable position that I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was mad that I literally didn’t have a say in anything. The medical team made all the decisions and I felt like I was flung around like a piece of meat.
It was decided that I needed an emergency C-section as the umbilical cord was wrapped around my baby’s neck three times. I was prepped for surgery and wheeled away from my husband with tears streaming down my face as he was not allowed to come with me.
I was totally blanked in the theatre and no one spoke to me. I felt so vulnerable as I was being pulled about, laying naked on my back and being covered in iodine. No-one congratulated me or told me the sex of my baby. No one spoke to me! I just saw my baby being held upside down by her ankles and a man with a bio hazard bag filling it up with the placenta and bits to my left. My baby was taken straight to my husband upstairs whilst I stayed downstairs to be stitched back up and wait for the spinal to wear odd. I was on my own, unable to move, naked and vulnerable. A nurse kept spraying me with a spray bottle of water gesturing to me if I could feel anything. She eve mocked me at one point and said, ‘you just want to see your baby, don’t you?’
I was so angry and upset. I felt like I had been robbed of one of the most special moments in my life. I was finally brought up from recovery to find my husband and daughter together. The midwives told me that they would look after the baby and wold only bring her to me to be fed. This was because in Germany they keep babies in a nursery and not at your bedside. My husband couldn’t stay with me and visiting was limited - he also had around a 90-minute drive there and back each day to see us!
I didn’t experience a full day or night with my daughter until 5 days after I had her and I got to go home. I lost a lot of blood and had issue with low iron levels. I was tutted at and eye-rolled the entire time I was in hospital as I struggled to breast feed. In fact, my body was so traumatised from the entire experience that it didn’t happen. Rather than support me I was told by the midwives that I was a failure to my daughter and I didn’t try hard enough.
I can’t begin to tell you how let down I felt by the Army. When I eventually got home I had such a hard time bonding with my daughter. I thought she didn’t like me and that I shouldn’t be a mum. Having lost my own mum to cancer aged 9 I felt completely alone and like I had no one to turn to. I hid the issues I was dealing with very well and passed all the postnatal depression questionnaires without question. However, had someone really taken the time to talk to me they would’ve seen that I needed support.
It took me two years to finally admit that I needed to speak to someone about it. It was such a tough time and I never wanted to have any more children. I finally got counselling to help me come to terms with everything that happened and to be told I had experienced Post Traumatic Stress.
What’s most sad is that during all of this and bearing in mind that I was on an overseas posting with my husband, no one from the Welfare support team checked in with us to see if we were OK. I’m sure had I had a little more support at the hospital and then once I got home my mental health would not have been affected as much as it was.
I hope in the future things change and that by sharing my story if ladies need support that those who are holding welfare positions start to approach the families in their community to make sure they’re ok, rather than waiting for a call to arrive that’s highly unlikely to come.