DISTRESSING CONTENT WARNING: This story discusses birth trauma, postnatal anxiety and depression.
At almost six months old, baby Oliver has squishy cheeks, chubby fingers with soft pink nails and perfectly pursed lips that can crack into a smile.
But until the past few weeks his Calderwood mum, Lauren, has felt unable to form a connection with her second born son after a traumatic birth which has scarred her for life.
"It devastated the bond between us, I'm still struggling to bond with him," she said.
"We have a family nurse who comes out and does exercises with me to help me bond with him, and I've only started to feel a connection with him in the past two or three weeks. Before, it was like he's not my baby."
Lauren is speaking out about her two "horrific" birth experiences as the issue comes under the spotlight thanks to a new parliamentary inquiry looking into the issue.
On Wednesday, women across the region will meet to hear from experts of the issue at a booked out event, which is also be attended by the NSW MP leading the select committee on birth trauma.
Baby Oliver was born in January at 31 weeks, after Lauren presented with symptoms of the serious pregnancy condition preecclampsia which doctors initially diagnosed as gallstones.
"Eventually, after days of trying to seek treatment, I was sent lights and sirens to the royal women's hospital," she said.
She says there were delays in giving her a caesarean, as doctors wanted to give her son more time in her womb. This led to the procedure being rushed, she said, and she could feel the surgeons cutting into her.
"I was begging for a caesarean, saying 'what does two days matter if it can save my life', because me and my husband spoke about our will because I was convinced I was going to die," she said.
"I then had a stroke two days after he was born when I lost vision in my eye, which was missed, and then two weeks after being discharged I had a catastrophic cerebral stroke, which has left me with right sided deficits, aphasia and I'm unable to return to work.
"Me and Oliver spent five weeks in hospital together, which led to massive loss of income. I spent so much time away from him, and the nurses wouldn't let me hold him. We didn't have any of that golden skin-to-skin time. I have severe PTSD. I can barely lift up my kids."
For Lauren, this was her second birth, which she hoped would provide her with a chance to have a vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC) to help overcome some of the trauma of her first.
"My first son was born in 2021, during the COVID lockdowns," she said.
"I was pressured by the medical team to have an induction, so they broke my waters - and when I verbalised to stop I was held down. I was 39 weeks and five days, and I was happy to go home but they said 'no, let's get this going on'.
"A nurse sliced inside my vagina with the hook used to pop the water. I had severe back pain, which was ignored. Then they put me on the drip and they had it too high, and even though I was telling them I was having way too many contractions they ignored me.
"It wasn't progressing enough, so they said I had to have a caesarean, but I said no, so we had an epidural. Then I wasn't allowed to get up and move, I had to lay on my back - and then when the night doctor came on he told me I was killing my son.
"I was wheeled to the theatre, strapped down, vomiting and shaking thinking that my son was dying.
"When he was born, I hemorrhaged and he was given to my husband - we were separated for three hours and my husband wasn't informed if I was doing okay or not.
"Finally we were given 10 minutes together, so he could see if I was okay, and then he was told to leave - and I was left with a newborn, with no pain relief in my own afterbirth for six hours."
"Then I was discharged after two days."
Lauren says she believes her experience of being pushed into an induction and then a caesarean was primarily driven by the hospital being shortstaffed.
"It was faster than letting me labour how I wanted to labour," she said.
"I was a first time mum during COVID, so we couldn't go to birthing classes or get educated about the effects of birth interventions. And we've been told things like 'the doctor is always right' and we didn't have anyone in our corner to tell us we could say no."
She has welcomed the NSW inquiry into birth trauma, and said she hopes it leads to better outcomes for women in the future.
"Women need to be given choice, have options explained and be listened to," she said.
The Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District does not comment on individual patients, but has acknowledged that some women experience birth trauma.
A spokesperson said the hospital works to support these women.
"This may include postnatal debriefing and referrals to appropriate support services," she said.
"It may also include an investigation into the clinical care that was provided, in consultation with the woman and her family, with these outcomes used to improve future maternity care."
For help contact:
- Lifeline 13 11 14 (24/7) or text 0477 13 11 14.
- Mental Health Line 1800 011 511.
- PANDA National Helpline (Monday to Saturday) 1300 726 306 or website. PANDA's National Perinatal Mental Health Helpline is Australia's only free national helpline for people affected by changes to their mental health and emotional wellbeing during the perinatal period.