TV star Louise Thompson: PTSD from nearly dying in childbirth left me in ‘utter hell’

The former Made In Chelsea star talks to Lauren Taylor about what happened during the birth of her son and how her body – and mind – were impacted.

Thompson’s new book, Lucky, reveals the extent of the birth trauma she experienced
Louise Thompson Thompson’s new book, Lucky, reveals the extent of the birth trauma she experienced (Ian West/PA)

Louise Thompson has revealed that attacks of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a traumatic childbirth often left her “screaming in bed” and paralysed.

“I was completely unable to move. It was so awful. I would be kind of OK, and then suddenly out of nowhere I would be screaming, going, ‘What’s happening? What’s happening? I’m dying’, having no idea where I was or how I was alive.”

The former Made In Chelsea star nearly lost her life while delivering her son Leo in November 2021. The PTSD episodes – which still happen today, although less frequently and less severely – can leave her unable to move or speak for 30 minutes at a time, with the same recurring thoughts.

The belief that she wouldn’t survive has been so vivid, at one point she wrote goodbye letters to her loved ones.

(Pål Hansen/Pål Hansen)

Thompson, 34, ended up having an emergency caesarean section because her baby’s head became wedged in her pelvis during the late stages of labour. The NHS medical team operated for three hours to stop a haemorrhage, while Thompson was awake and not under general anaesthetic.

In her jaw-dropping new book, Lucky, the TV personality and influencer describes seeing ‘immense amounts of blood splattering all over the curtain… and splashing onto the floor below. It’s a bloodbath’. Her son, now two, stopped breathing during the procedure.

“It has now really dawned on me, that is one of the things that is likely to have really contributed to my PTSD. It’s not dignified having to witness that whole thing. What other scenario are you ever awake in an operation?

“I’m amazed that I didn’t pass out,” says the mum-of-one, who suffered a rupture to the uterus and lost three-and-a-half litres of blood. She was in hospital for six weeks, while her partner and former Made In Chelsea co-star Ryan Libbey cared for their newborn.

But it was a second major haemorrhage back in her own home that was “the worst part” for Thompson. It took a medical team four hours to stop the bleeding this time – she lost five litres of blood, woke up in intensive care, and spent a further three weeks in hospital.

“The physical stuff is shocking, but for me personally, it was the mental stuff that followed – it is absolutely the most petrifying thing.

“It’s been the worst two years of my life,” says the star, whose brother is I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! winner Sam Thompson.

“There have been moments when I’ve been living in total and utter hell.

“I lost many, many days of my life to being completely not myself, pacing around the garden… just circling, counting birds. Not thinking like a normal person at all.”

Her mental health deteriorated immediately after the birth, noting in the book that most of the time she was ‘sat upright in bed, staring into space. I never felt boredom, I never missed home, I never wanted to check in on people’. She never asked about Leo.

When Libbey would bring their son to the hospital, Thompson says: “I just didn’t have the capacity at all to care that he was there. I didn’t acknowledge him at all.” She wasn’t able to change a nappy for six weeks, and it took her two months to be able to bathe him.

It took “a long time to find the love” for her son, she admits. “There were times I’d announce that I loved him, that I felt really connected to him, and I look back and [think] I wasn’t really connected. I would say it because it’s the right thing to say.

“I couldn’t love anybody, I couldn’t love myself, or my partner. I didn’t ask Ryan a question for months,” she adds. “I’d go to bed early and he’d wake me when he got into bed, and I’d honestly be like, who is this? I have no idea.”

While pregnant, Thompson had repeatedly expressed she wanted an elective caesarean – and recalls how she “did feel shamed” for asking at the time.

According to the charity Birth Rights, women have a right to ask for an elective C-section even if there’s no medical need for one – called a maternal request caesarean birth – and a hospital must have a good reason for saying no.

And the NHS website notes that, ‘if after discussing all the risks and hearing about all the support on offer you still feel that a vaginal birth is not an acceptable option, you should be offered a planned caesarean’.

Thompson says: “I’m someone that is quite assertive, but I’m certainly not pushy. Equally, I’m not someone that is going to get completely dismissed. I had a lot of things in my favour, I suppose, but I was met with so much resistance. And I was made to jump through loads of hoops I felt like I was not listened to. I very rarely got to speak to the same person twice.

“Some [staff] would say, ‘You’re really good candidate for having a C-section, you’ve got a really small pelvis and the baby’s head is quite big’.”

Eventually, she was offered an elective at a hospital far away, two weeks after her due date (she went into labour precisely on her due date). “In the end, the writing was on the wall.”

Although she’s quick to note she’s aware the NHS is underfunded and under pressure, not feeling listened to was a theme of her pregnancy and labour, she says – particularly in regards to her pain.

“It’s something that was mentioned in my birth debrief [a service to discuss your birth experience with the hospital]. They said, ‘We need to listen to women more and listen to their pain levels more’.

“Unfortunately, there’s an expectation for women to give birth easily, and to get on with it and look after their child,” she says.

“Some women have a really enjoyable [birth], they love it, and then they’re up and about. And on the other end of the spectrum, some women really, really suffer and really struggle.”

Two-and-a-half years on, Thompson has been left with a myriad of health problems; she’ll likely be unable to carry another baby, her pre-existing ulcerative colitis, a form of inflammatory bowel diseased, flared up and she’s now had part of her colon removed and a stoma bag fitted, which she may have for life, as well as the autoimmune condition lupus.

For someone who once featured on the cover of Women’s Health magazine and has been an entrepreneur with two fitness business, it’s difficult for her to comprehend how unwell she became.

“One really sad thing of all of this is that I’m so triggered by exercise. I always feel really unwell the day after exercise, so I’m almost scared to do it.

“[But]I’m trying with baby steps, because that’s the final piece of the puzzle really for me, being able to incorporate [fitness] into my life and feel good about it.”

Now though, she says: “I feel like I’ve got my old normal body back”, and with the help of dedicated trauma therapy she’s recovering.

She’s got a newfound determination and purpose too, she says: “To do anything in my power to prevent that from happening to any other woman.

“I haven’t really been well enough to embark on that mission yet, and I finally feel really ready,” says Thompson. “I feel like I’ve turned a big corner.”

Lucky: Learning To Live Again by Louise Thompson is published by Ebury Spotlight on May 23, priced £22.