This week, 7-13th September 2020, is Birth Trauma Awareness Week, the specific theme of which being ‘journeys’. Whilst the journey from birth to recovery is the most journey most commonly spoken about when thinking of birth trauma, there are many other journeys that take place: the rocky journey into motherhood, the journey to justice, and the journey your relationships take. Today, we’re going to delve into the latter.
I think the first, possibly most important, relationship when talking about birth trauma is the relationship with yourself. You might feel guilty about elements of your birth, you might be struggling to get yourself up and ready for the day, or you might feel as though your body does not belong to you. These are all feelings that will greatly affect your mental state, body image and self esteem. In the depths of birth trauma, even getting up and having a shower or brushing your hair could feel like a mammoth task, not to mention looking after a tiny newborn baby. These are all completely normal feelings, but possibly a sign that you need to reach out for support during these difficult times.
Your relationship could, however, improve. Whilst I have guilt that my body failed me, I now see my body as the temple it is – I grew another human being, after all! Having a traumatic birth has, over time, made me respect my body more – I now want to nourish it, be healthier and treat it well.
I asked 3 mums about how their birth trauma affected their relationship with their child, and unsurprisingly: all three answered that yes, it did affect the relationship. Here’s their answers:
“Yes. We didn’t ‘bond’ because he was whisked away almost as soon as he was born, I feel major mum guilt for the events that happened and the first week of his life – even though they were out of my control.” – Katie, a lifestyle blogger and mum to an 18 month old little boy named Buddy.
“It did for the first month, I held a lot of guilt and although I bonded instantly, he had difficultly latching for a long time and I missed out on the first skin to skin experience as he was taken down to neonatal 15 minutes after being born. So much emphasis was put on the first hour after their born (as little medical interference as possible, don’t have them cleaned up until they’ve latched, 60 minutes of skin to skin) that I felt like I’d failed as a mother because I couldn’t do that. I was very emotional for a long time that I’d missed the first couple of hours with him and that he’d had to go through so many tests without me.” – Anonymous
“It definitely did in the new-born days, I was not able to be the first person to dress her, feed her or even hold her. Even to this day I do not know what her first ever outfit was and that does upset me. I had to have blood transfusions meaning I felt ‘drunk’ as such for the first couple of months of my daughter’s life, it was a very strange time and I would not wish it upon anyone… Regardless of the traumatic birth Maci is now two years old and we could not be closer, so if you are reading this and you’ve got a new-born, please do not be worried about the amazing bond you will have with them in the future.” – Storm, a motherhood, beauty and lifestyle blogger and mum to two year old Maci.
The BTA released a statement for Birth Trauma Awareness Week stating that ‘Women with postnatal PTSD often find…their relationships with partners and family can suffer.’
I am extremely lucky to have an amazing partner who made the early newborn days much easier for me, but that’s not to say that my birth trauma didn’t put an additional strain on our relationship. It was difficult for him to truly understand what I was going through – whilst he of course witnessed the birth and traumatic experiences we encountered in that delivery suite, his memories of these are from a completely different perspective, and whilst what happened did of course affect him emotionally at the time, he does not suffer from the PTSD of birth trauma.
At the time, I wanted to tell friends and family all the gory details. I wanted to tell everyone how awful it was. I wanted sympathy. I wanted a cuddle. I wanted to be told it was normal and that everything was going to be OK… but when I did tell people the details, no one ever seemed to understand that what I was experiencing wasn’t ‘baby blues’ – I was having severe bouts of PTSD.
Some people find that their birth trauma affects their day to day life so greatly that this puts a more severe strain on their relationships with friends and family. Maybe the house begins to fall into disarray, maybe bills forget to be paid, maybe you can’t face meeting up or going out like you used to, or maybe you can’t bear to be around your family with children anymore. These are all totally valid feelings and signs that you need to seek help for your birth trauma.
That being said: don’t forget that sometimes, you have to go through a dark tunnel to reach the light at the end. You will reach it eventually, I promise.
I asked the mums I spoke with to share their advice for other mums struggling with their birth trauma. Here are their words of wisdom…
“Small baby steps (ha), every day is different and we all process differently. You have to find the way that works best for you because we all handle situations differently. Don’t ever feel bad or guilty, your feelings and experience are totally valid.” – Katie
“do not feel guilty, it is nothing you did that resulted in a traumatic birth.” – Storm
And my personal favourite piece of advice, as it is so beautifully written and something I think we all need to hear …
‘Birth is a wonderful but uncontrollable experience and if you hold any guilt around your birth, practice on letting that go. You can have a million ‘what if’s’ but you did what was best and that’s the best mum you can be.’ – Anonymous