We found out we were pregnant at the point when we’d given up on life.
We had accepted we were going to die from Bulimia, it was just a matter of when. You see, we weren’t thin enough for hospital treatment, or mad enough to be sectioned. We were totally alone, and we couldn’t stop vomiting by ourselves. We had constant chest pain and infected tears in our oesophagus. We woke up vomiting blood most nights and fainted over the toilet bowl most days.
We were going to die, and there was a sort of peace that came from knowing that. We had nothing to live for anyway.
That’s when we got pregnant.
I think every woman imagines what that moment will be like… sitting on the edge of the bath waiting for the results of a pregnancy test, and getting a positive result.
I didn’t know my body could be capable of doing something good.
And even though everyone was quick to point out that it was unplanned, that I barely knew the father, that I lived in a tiny flat, and that actually, I really wasn’t very well,… I didn’t care. In those first few weeks of pregnancy I felt like I was carrying not just a baby, but hope. And I was going to be the best mum in the world.
Those first few weeks, we felt like we were always smiling. We organised moving house and giving in our notice in at work. We thought about baby names and home births and the benefits of breastfeeding, what type of sling to get and if the baby should be raised vegetarian.
The reality of pregnancy hit home at our first hospital appointment. The midwife asked us to step onto the scales and we burst into tears. I began explaining about the bulimia and, possibly because she was looking so baffled and unsympathetic, I ended up explaining that I was a survivor of child sexual abuse. I was referred to a specialist midwife for women with mental health problems, who would support me throughout my whole pregnancy.
Then we had our first scan, and another surprise: we were having twins.
Both were healthy. But twin pregnancy is high risk. There would be no possibility of giving birth at home, or in a pool of water, or without lots of medical people and a greater risk of medical intervention. Suddenly what had seemed like a manageable feat, felt totally overwhelming. I was scared to death.
The physical reality of pregnancy began to hit home over the next few months. We’d coped brilliantly with the exhaustion and nausea of the first trimester. We’d been tired and sick, but purposeful and excited. We couldn’t wait to get beyond the 12 week mark so that we could relax and enjoy it all a little. We’d looked forward to having a baby bump, but the reality was awful. We felt fat and out of control, and we couldn’t stand it.
The first time we felt the babies move we broke down crying. Everyone had said it was going to feel so nice, that we’d love it. But when it happened, it felt like a pair of eels swimming about in my stomach. We felt nauseated and disgusted and horribly triggered. For months, we didn’t picture growing babies kicking inside our womb, we pictured writhing snakes. We were terrified to tell anyone how we felt incase they thought we wouldn’t love our babies after they were born and took them away. We didn’t think anyone would understand that although we loved our unborn babies with all of our heart, we hated literally everything about being pregnant.
The further along in pregnancy we got, the less choices we had. Everything became about not harming the babies, no matter what the consequences were for us.
Our consultant started talking to us about c-sections and anaesthesia and we said no, no way, we can’t, under no circumstances… and nobody listened, because “good mothers” don’t think twice about allowing their bodies to be immobilised and cut open by men they never met. “Good mothers” agree to having the vaginas cut and cold metal equipment forced into them.. “Good mothers” allow anyone in a medical outfit to put their hands inside them, whenever they want too. “Good mothers” surrender gracefully to the process of childbirth; to foetal heart monitors and endless scans and blood tests and medicines that make you feel sick and cervical sweeps.
“Good mothers” certainly don’t have a major panic attacks 2 days before their planned induction of labour and seriously contemplate ways of committing suicide that would only kill themselves and not their unborn children.
I would of done it, I wanted to do it. Only there was nobody else to look after them, and the thought of them being so tiny and so alone, with nobody to love them, and nobody to make them feel safe, tore my heart to pieces.
Because I was so scared, my midwife had taken me to see the labour ward and meet an anaesthesiologist. But I couldn’t shake the image of being strapped down to a bed, paralysed and naked, with a room full of strangers staring at me while doctors cut me open and do whatever they like to me. I wouldn’t be able to move or run away or stop them or anything. Despite my midwifes reassurance that this is not how it would be, all I could imagine is that whatever happened, childbirth was going to it feel a lot like another rape.
I didn’t know then that I had DID, or that my abuse had had any sort of ritualistic element to it. Maybe now I would be able to make sense of the triggers and work through the memories. At the time, I had no idea how to make any of it feel better. I felt small and terrified and powerless, with a body that was no longer mine.
When I arrived at the hospital on the day of my induction, I had to will myself through the front door. The midwife who’d supported me throughout my pregnancy wasn’t allowed to be there for the birth. Instead I would have to put my trust in a team of people I’d never even met.
I knew there would internal examinations. I knew I couldn’t say no. The first one happened on the busy ward I’d been taken to. They pulled a curtain around my bed and asked me to lie down. There were so many people in the room, separated from me by just a thin blue curtain that didn’t quite meet the walls. I didn’t feel safe. I wanted to ask for a room with a lock on so nobody could come in, but I had no choice and I was terrified to be anything less than compliant incase I made them angry and they hurt me. I’d forgotten how to speak by then anyway. Before her hands were anywhere near me, I had already found a patch of sunlight on the ceiling and floated away on it.
I watched the sun move across the ceiling all of that day. There were tests and scans and monitors and needles and none of it registered with me at any level.
About 6pm that evening I was given a hormone to induce labour. The pain began suddenly and intensely, and for the next few hours I felt focused and hopeful. Then it faded away and I was no closer to giving birth than I had been that morning.
They said to sleep, we’d try again in the morning, but I didn’t. I couldn’t.
For the next 2 days, the hospital tried every hormone they had to force my labour to start, but nothing happened. I spent hours after hours hooked up to monitors, breathing through wave after wave of pointless pain.
One of the midwives told us that occasionally induction hormones can cause pain worse than actual labour pains, and as my contractions were measuring 20 and 30 minutes long she was shocked that I’d been coping with it without making any fuss. She wanted to give me some painkillers. I refused, because I was scared of feeling drugged, and I tried to explain that I wasn’t really there anyway so it didn’t matter about the pain. But she didn’t understand, and it was easier to just swallow the pills.
On the 4th day, they became concerned about foetal distress and told me I was being sent for an emergency c-section. I started saying no, but before I could finish my sentence I’d been told they needed to do what was best for the babies, and surely I would want what’s best for my babies too? I did. Of course I did! But I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t. And nobody would listen.
A consultant walked into the room they’d put us in to get ready for surgery, he was clearly very annoyed. He started shouting at the midwife whilst trying to put his hand inside my vagina to examine me. He hadn’t said hello, or told me his name. He hadn’t even looked at me. From somewhere inside a voice shouted “ no”. He stormed out of the room and slammed the door behind him. Even the midwife looked shocked. I didn’t see him again. The next doctor who came in who was kind and I recognised him from clinic, and he said to trust him, and that he wouldn’t let me down. I felt about 5 years old.
In the operating room, I had to sit on the side of the bed leaning forwards so the anaesthetist could give me an epidural in my spine. He kept apologising for the pain, and that he couldn’t find the right spot. He said sometimes it happens with twins that there is extra fluid and it’s harder. But after an hour of trying he said he was sorry, but he couldn’t get the needle in the right place and I would need a general anaesthetic.
5 year old “me” sat sobbing on the edge of the bed begging them not to do it because she believed it meant she was going to die.
13 year old “me” felt her heart was breaking because her babies would have nobody to hold them when they were born, no mum to keep them safe and protect them and tell them they were loved.
15 year old “me” became terrified that the scary doctor people in green masks might be going to rape us while we were unconscious.
Adult “me” knew we had no choice. We were out of options. Our body had refused to give birth, and now we were going to be put to sleep so our babies could be forcibly removed.
We didn’t expect to wake up again. And that was fine with us.
When the midwives called our name we were far, far away.
The room was so bright, and we could hear our own heartbeat. They tried to show us our babies but we didn’t want to look. Everything was confused and intensely painful and raw.
They wheeled us up to a ward during visiting hours. There must have been dozens of people there. There were women sat up in bed, smiling and exhausted, with children and husbands and grandparents and balloons and flowers and chocolate.
And as they wheeled me in the room went quiet, and I wanted to disappear. A pair of little girls yelled “twins!” and ran over before their father could stop them.
I didn’t want to be there, amongst all this happiness.
I wanted to die. Or at the very least, to be left alone.
But then my family arrived. My brother had called them. They picked up the babies I hadn’t even been able to look at yet and started passing them round between them and taking photographs. Nobody asked if I wanted them there. Nobody asked if they could touch my babies.
I closed my eyes until they were gone.
When I woke up, all of the visitors had left and it was dark outside. The ward was hushed and someone had drawn the curtains around my bed. The anaesthetic must have been wearing off because I began to notice all the tubes and machines and monitors attached to my body.
Someone had put my mobile phone within reach and it was full of messages of congratulations and people saying how beautiful they were. One of my visitors had sent photos to everyone I knew. I didn’t even know where my babies were. It didn’t matter. They didn’t feel like mine anymore anyway.
In the early hours of the morning someone woke us and asked if we’d please feed our baby because they were short staffed and he wouldn’t stop crying. Before we could say no, she’d placed the baby onto our chest and gone off to get some milk. Most newborns we’ve seen look peaceful. Not mine… His eyes were open wide and terrified, and I could see in his tiny face that he all he wanted was to find his mum. All he wanted was me. And in that moment a part of me stepped forward and became his mum, and this was my baby, and I couldn’t really hold him properly because I had needles in both of my arms, but I could tell him his name, and that nothing and nobody would ever hurt him.
We fed him the formula milk from the bottle and we felt so sad, because we’d wanted so much to breastfeed. The nurses came to take him away but I had no difficulty saying no now, so they said he could stay in his cot right by my bed now if I wanted. I asked if I could hold my second baby and they were annoyed because they were busy and they had to go and get him, but the new me who had become a mother insisted.
Morning came, and a midwife removed a couple of our drips and other monitors, and then helped us stand up. I still had tubes coming out of my stomach that were attached to what looked like large bags of blood, and when we finally got to walk to the bathroom we had to carry them with us.
We couldn’t do much that at first.. We were wiped out and dizzy, and the staff had to help us looking after our babies, which we hated, and they made it obvious they didn’t have time for it. When our consultant came he explained that we’d had a major haemorrhage during surgery and needed a blood transfusion, and this is why we were feeling ill. A nurse came to remove our drains, which was horribly painful and felt like our insides were being pulled out. But as each piece needle, tube and monitor was taken away, we started to feel like that the end was in sight. When we finally left the hospital the next day, we sobbed all the way home in the car in relief.
I thought I’d be able to just forget about it. I’d been lucky. Everyone kept telling me so. I’d survived, and I’d walked out of hospital in one piece with two healthy boys.
But when they came to take our stitches out, we couldn’t stop shaking. I kept apologising because I didn’t know why my body was refusing to keep still, or why I couldn’t stop crying. But 9 year old me couldn’t be brave anymore, and 15 year old me was screaming “no more, no more” inside my head. And in the end a doctor came and shouted at us for wasting his time, and he and a nurse held us down to stop us shaking while he cut out the stitches.
Building trust again in doctors and hospitals has taken years. We’ve still got a long way to go.
But despite how traumatic pregnancy and childbirth was, being a mother of small children has been the happiest time of our life. I’m far from perfect, but I think perhaps I was born to be a mum. It’s always felt instinctive and right.
And whilst we have struggled to regulate our eating patterns, we have never, ever vomited on purpose again.