Laura, 40 years old
"During my first delivery, I thought I was going to die. The second time I gave birth my child died during delivery and during the third pregnancy I thought I lost my mind. Three experiences in three years time, that had an incredible impact on me. The loneliness and insecurity I felt at that first delivery, I carry the scars with me for the rest of my life."
Laura is 22 years old when she unexpectedly gets pregnant in the final stage of her studies at the University of Amsterdam. Despite their desire for children, the couple chooses to have an abortion. At 24, Laura becomes pregnant again. "The pregnancy went reasonably well until the 30th week. I started to feel ill and my blood pressure became very high. I was young, healthy and didn't know anything about pregnancies, so I wasn't worried. Until it went downhill from week 31. I turned out to have pre-eclampsia and the HELLP syndrome, in the Netherlands known as ‘pregnancy poisoning'. Your kidney and liver functions drop, red blood cells are destroyed and blood coagulation gets disrupted. The only remedy is to end the pregnancy." Laura is admitted to the hospital, where her health worsens.
One night, she is then 35 weeks pregnant, she feels things are getting out of hand. The nurses don’t take her cry for help seriously. "They thought I was having contractions, but I knew something was very wrong. I had this horrible pain in my abdomen and thought, I'm not going to survive this." The next morning, her liver turned out to be the cause. Laura's condition is stable, but her infant son's heartbeat suddenly drops. An emergency C-section takes place. Her son, Joshua, is delivered safely and healthy, but Laura is left in shock. "That lonely, helpless feeling is something I will never forget. I have never felt so unsafe." After a few days, Laura is dismissed from the hospital. Her lower body was covered in deep, purple bruises from the C-section and disrupted blood coagulation. They have to leave Joshua behind in the hospital for observation. No further attention was paid to the psychological impact.
Pre-eclampsia leaves permanent damage: Laura's blood vessels are similar to those of a 60-year-old. "They therefore advised us not to wait long with a second child. Joshua was one year old when I got pregnant again. At 16 weeks we had an ultrasound checkup, but then the medic suddenly became very quiet. I had little amniotic fluid and the cerebellum part of the brain was not visible. It turned out to be a serious and rare chromosomal abnormality. We decided to terminate the pregnancy. At 22 weeks, I gave birth to our second son, Samael. He died during labor. On one hand, I felt defeated, having finally gathered the courage to get pregnant again. I was prepared to experience another pre-eclampsia, but not a rare anomaly. I couldn't believe we were so unlucky. Still, I look back on a wonderful experience: we received great support from the medical team and I delivered my second son into the world all by myself."
Shortly after Samael's cremation, Laura unexpectedly became pregnant again very quickly. "This pregnancy went well medically, but I lived in constant anxiety. This couldn't possibly end well; I had lost all confidence. At 38 weeks I was induced, because psychologically I couldn't take it anymore." Thirza came into the world healthy, but Laura had mentally reached the end of her rope.
Society should be kinder to women
Laura went through therapy to cope with the three pregnancies and then went on to study Midwifery at age 30. Now, she offers specialized coaching around pregnancy and childbirth. "Healthcare providers should realize that the way they treat their clients largely determines how women look back on their childbirth. I am convinced that postpartum depression or PTSD is preventable that way. What would also help is if women were given a little more air after a violent childbirth. Employers and the UWV*) breathing down a young mother's neck and applying pressure. If you want a sustainable recovery, let a woman process her childbirth. And finally, let each woman shape motherhood in her own way. Stop saying that ‘now you can enjoy the happiness of motherhood’ after giving birth. It causes loneliness and guilt when it is not experienced that way."
*) The UWV (Uitvoeringsinstituut Werknemersverzekeringen) is a Dutch employee insurance agency. An administrative authority commissioned by the government that provides services for employees, such as benefits for women on maternity leave.