The birth of a child should be one of the happiest moments of a woman’s life — but for some it is an experience that leaves them psychologically scarred. In the first of a two-part series on birth trauma, a Perth mother shares her story with reporter Katie Hampson.
Marina Trinidad just wanted to have her baby in an environment where she felt comfortable — at home.
Believing birth is not inherently a medical process, she had her heart set on hiring an independent midwife and delivering her first child in calm, quiet, familiar surroundings.
But at around the time she discovered she was expecting, her husband lost his job, the couple fell into mortgage arrears and the bank repossessed their home.
“A private midwife can cost upwards of $3000, so it was not going to be an option for us,” Mrs Trinidad, now 27, recalls.
So the couple turned to the Community Midwifery Program — not their first choice but it seemed the best option available.
After a smooth pregnancy, Mrs Trinidad encountered her first problem at 36 weeks when one of the midwives measured her fundal height, a tool for gauging a baby’s growth, and expressed concern.
“I’d had a perfect pregnancy and in my view, nothing was wrong,” Mrs Trinidad says.
“My instincts and my body were telling me the baby was fine but my midwife told me that according to their policy, I needed to have an ultrasound to make sure my baby was not too big for a home birth.
“I went through with an ultrasound I didn’t want to have so that I could continue having a home birth.”
Everything on the ultrasound looked fine, she added, but the CMP policy required that a doctor review and approve the result before the home birth could happen and the soonest appointment was a week away.
A few days later, Mrs Trinidad’s waters broke unexpectedly, so she rushed back to the hospital to see if the appointment could be expedited.
“I already knew I had cleared the policy of needing to be past 37 weeks to have the baby at home and that all I needed was the doctor to give the go-ahead about the ultrasound,” she explains. “But going to that hospital was the worst mistake of my life.”
From there, she felt pressured into medical interventions she did not want — ones she still believes she would not have needed if she had not felt bombarded by medical staff and instead been “left alone so that I had a chance to calm down and focus on my labour”.
She adds: “The staff told me they needed to confirm my waters had broken.
“I explained I didn’t want any examinations of any kind and the first nurse I saw was fantastic and was able to confirm my waters had broken without applying any pressure.
“Then she left and I never saw her again, probably because her shift ended.”
The next nurse insisted she stay for an hour of observations over concerns her blood pressure was too high.
Mrs Trinidad told her that she just wanted to go home where she would feel calm.
“I did not believe there was a risk to the baby and knew my blood pressure had risen because of the stress of being in a hospital I didn’t want to be in,” she says.
“But I was told that if I walked out, it would be against medical advice and I would not be assisted in a home birth.”
Feeling pressure to remain in hospital, Mrs Trinidad requested a transfer to King Edward Memorial Hospital.
At least her midwife would be permitted to attend the birth there, she explains, and KEMH seemed to offer more birthing options.
Staff told her she would need an examination first to determine how dilated she was. Feeling backed into a corner, she agreed.
“It was excruciating but I did it so I could be transferred to KEMH,” Mrs Trinidad says.
“Then she said I was too dilated to transfer.”
Feeling let down, and increasingly anxious, she asked if there was an option for a water birth.
“I was told in a very strict tone that this hospital doesn’t do those,” Mrs Trinidad says.
“The next thing I knew I was being moved to a birthing suite and without being asked they put my feet in stirrups and that is pretty much how I stayed until I delivered my son.”
During her five-hour labour, she says she felt like she didn’t know what was happening and like the medical interventions had spiralled out of control.
“I was cannulated without being asked, given no water except two sips when I first arrived, I was not allowed to stand up and was given about 10 examinations in the space of an hour where they put their hands in my cervix and at one point caused so much pain stretching it open that I nearly hit the roof.
“They also kept demanding to put a foetal scalp clip on the baby, which I said ‘no’ to all the way through. I was screaming in pain and just wanted to stand but every time I tried, they put my feet back in the stirrups.
“They said they would let me stand if I agreed to the scalp clip, so in the end I did, and then they didn’t let me stand. Nobody told me what was happening and then I had a form pushed in my face and to this day I have no idea what was written on it but I scribbled my name on it. Then they took me to an operating theatre, used forceps, a vacuum three times with no success and they performed an episiotomy on me without discussion or consent.
“I decided to push anyway and that’s when Marcel came out and I had to ask twice if he was a boy or a girl because he was wrapped up, shown to me quickly enough for me to kiss him and then he was taken away.
“Only later was I told they were concerned he had suffered brain damage.”
When she finally saw baby Marcel, weighing 2.9kg, in the neonatal ward, she says his head was blistered and bruised.
“As his mother, all I wanted was to bring him safely and calmly into the world and what happened was the exact opposite and I felt I had failed him.”
She says although she was grateful Marcel, now 21 months old and pictured above with Mrs Trinidad, had a clean bill of health following the hospital ordeal in 2019, she has been plagued by flashbacks, anxiety and very low moods. This is despite no previous history of diagnosed mental health disorders or abuse.
She says her GP and a psychologist have been treating her for post-traumatic stress disorder, which has helped, as has the joy of being a mother to Marcel, but his birth still haunts her. She hopes sharing her experience will encourage other women to seek support around their birth trauma and also provide medical professionals with a better understanding of how it affects patients when they don’t feel listened to, informed, respected or made to feel safe during labour — a time when many women feel at their most vulnerable anyway.
Birth trauma part II:
WA health experts discuss birth trauma here.
Five signs you could be suffering from birth-related trauma:
Since the delivery, you:
- Have nightmares about it, or intrusive thoughts, when you didn’t want to think about it.
- Avoid situations that remind you of it.
- Are now hypervigilant, on guard, jumpy, easily startled, irritable.
- Feel numb, detached from your surroundings, activities or other people.
Where to find help:
Start with your GP, who may recommend counselling and extra support.
You can also go online and connect with a peer mentor and other supports at birthtrauma.org.au.