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‘I pleaded with midwife to not let me die’ - Amy Warke left shell-shocked by medical trauma after giving birth

New mum Amy Warke suffered serious complications after giving birth to her daughter last July, and the horrific experience left her suffering from flashbacks and anxiety attacks. The Coleraine woman tells Ivan Little how she found help in the Birth Trauma Association charity 

Amy Warke begged the midwife: “Don’t let me die.” The young mother had just given birth to a beautiful and healthy baby girl after 21 hours in labour but her nightmare wasn’t over.

For as the 31-year-old Coleraine woman was put into a wheelchair in the delivery suite at the Causeway Hospital in July last year she told staff that she “didn’t feel right”.

Her pain, she says, was excruciating and was even worse than what she’d gone through during  her marathon labour.

Amy says she soon realised she was bleeding profusely and having “horrendous contractions”.

The hospital team, she says, tried to reassure her there was nothing to worry about.

But Amy says her body was telling her a different story. 

And, after leaving the delivery suite, the new mother was taken to a side room as doctors and midwives rushed to her aid. 

She says: “I pleaded with the midwife who was holding my hand not to let me die. I really did believe that I was slipping away. But I was actually thinking more about my husband and my new-born daughter who needed me”

Outside the ward, Amy’s shocked husband Chris says he was in turmoil, wondering what was happening behind closed doors but not wanting to distract the medical responders with a barrage of questions. 

As alarms rang out, the medics gave Amy blood transfusions and injections and put her on drips.

She recalls: “It was like an out-of-body experience. It was as if  I was looking in on myself. My blood pressure was apparently falling and my pulse was sky high.

“Blood clots were manually removed. It was an horrific physical experience.”

The next thing that Amy remembers was coming round the following morning in a maternity ward with the imminent danger over. 

She was naturally overjoyed to see her new arrival and her relieved husband, but she was still in trauma.

“A lot of women around me were up and about very quickly after their straightforward births, but I was shell-shocked,” she says.

Over the following months, after she was discharged from hospital, Amy suffered from flashbacks and anxiety attacks.

She says: “I was waking up every single morning in a panic. My heart was pounding and I was sweating.”

Husband Chris, whom she married in May 2013, did everything he could to help her.  Amy says: “He was brilliant. He’s very methodically-minded and he really wanted to fix everything for me. But he couldn’t. And that was very hard for him to deal with.

“He would sit me down and ask what was making me anxious but I never had an answer for him because I didn’t know what I was anxious about.”

Amy was also plagued by “harrowing’” memories of  her pregnancy.

“I was really sick and I had hyperemesis, which is what the Duchess of Cambridge was hospitalised with,” says Amy, who was regularly told during three spells in hospital that her baby was “measuring big”, which terrified her because of her small stature.

Other mums she knew had given birth by Caesarean section but Amy decided against it, a choice she regrets now.

She’s happy, however, that after her ordeal she sought guidance from the UK-wide Birth Trauma Association (BTA), a charity which tries to support mothers — and the sometimes forgotten fathers finding it difficult to watch their wives going through traumatic births. And now Amy is attempting to assist them in trying to raise their profile in Northern Ireland. She says: “There’s a lot of awareness about post natal depression out there. But birth trauma isn’t talked about so much. Women who’ve been through a traumatic birth experience often have symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“I don’t want to scaremonger but it’s important to let people know that, even in 2018, childbirth can still be a very dangerous thing,” says Amy.

“And there’s still a bit of a stigma about coming out after being handed a lovely baby like my Ada and saying that was the worst experience of my life’.”

Last year a report said that the rates of infant deaths in Northern Ireland were worse than anywhere else in the UK.

“That is very frightening,” says  Amy, who adds that the charity are currently running a project to encourage mothers to share their experiences of difficult births.  But Amy insists it’s not an attack on the NHS or their staff.

The BTA say it’s estimated that, in the UK alone, 20,000 women a year develop PTSD as a result of traumatic births.

However, the charity say the lack of awareness of birth trauma is generally poor and many women are wrongly diagnosed with post natal depression and are prescribed medication that may do little, or nothing, to help them.

A spokesperson says: “Women tell us that they are frequently told by their healthcare professionals that they should try and ‘move on’ with their lives or that they should just be grateful that they have a healthy baby.”

Amy says: “In my case the midwives and the doctors were fantastic and  got the situation under control but there are areas that I think need to be addressed.

“I’m not blaming anyone but I wish that my problems had been spotted earlier in the delivery suite and maybe all the subsequent trauma could have been avoided.”

Amy couldn’t be happier with her “amazing” daughter Ada, but she finds it hard to look at pictures of her and her baby in hospital last summer.

“Seeing the photos makes me feel a wee bit jittery,” she says, adding that mothers shouldn’t suffer in silence from PTSD brought on by traumatic births.

“The charity’s message is that there is help out there to get you through and mothers can get in touch with other mums who are going through the same things.

“I knew what I was feeling wasn’t the baby blues, as some people call them.

“I spoke to doctors and midwives. And I was referred to a counsellor but the panic attacks increased.

“I was told that a home care crisis team could help me but it took a while to establish contact.

“However, when the team did see me they gave me the best treatment possible.

“Someone visited me regularly and I received long term medication from a doctor for anxiety.

“I was also referred to a cognitive behavioural therapist who has given me the tools to take control of the anxiety rather than the anxiety taking control of me.”

Amy hopes it won’t be too long before she is able to cope on her own again.

And she says that meeting other mothers through the BTA  — of which she’s now on the committee — has been a major plus.

“It eased the strain to be able to share what I was feeling with other people who were going through the same thing,” she says. “It also eased the strain on the whole family because they had to step in and help. I wasn’t able to cope on my own.”

Amy is organising a big fundraiser for the BTA in Coleraine’s Lodge Hotel on March 17.

Amy and Chris are huge fans of the TV series Peaky Blinders and their 1920s-themed night will be an affectionate nod to the programme which was also partly responsible for daughter Ada’s name.

“We both loved the name which features in Peaky Blinders and when I mentioned it to my father he said he had a cousin called Ada.”

Amy, who’s a training and merchandising co-ordinator at Bishop’s shoe shop in Coleraine, admits that having another baby isn’t “on the radar” at the minute. She adds: “I would love to get to a place where I feel that I could have another child but that’s way, way down the line.”

Giving support to traumatised mums

The Birth Trauma Association (BTA) was established in 2004 to support women suffering from Post Natal Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or birth trauma.

The charity comprises mainly of mothers who wish to support other women who have suffered difficult births and aims to offer advice and support to all women who are finding it hard to cope with their childbirth experience.

In addition, its executive board contains medical experts and the charity has many active professional and lay volunteers whose skills range from administration to obstetric and psychological expertise.

The BTA is the only organisation in the UK which deals solely and specifically with this issue. Its work is focused on three main areas:

1. Raising awareness of birth trauma

2. Working to prevent it

3. Supporting families in need

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