A letter to the mama who’s birth has left more than just physical scars.
My first birth was far from perfect. Induced before me or bub were ready, I hardly remember any of it except the deep fear and the voice in my head that kept repeating ‘I’m never doing this again.’
I don’t remember my husband being there, and I hardly remember my midwife. It was just me, all alone, terrified. And then, when they finally had to suck her out of me, I was just so relieved it was all over.
I didn’t really realise just how traumatised I was from that first experience until, almost exactly two years later, I was staring down the barrel of birth again. The realities of going through it again, despite that voice loud and clear in my mind, was terrifying. But, thankfully, I had an amazing midwife who helped me work through what happened the first time, and I went about empowering myself in a completely different way for the next birth.
And it worked. It was the best experience of my life.
But only because I had worked through what had happened the first time.
As new mamas, we’re not given enough time to process what’s just happened, or given enough support to work through how we feel about it. There’s guilt, regret, shame. Time and again, I’ve seen mamas feel like they’ve failed because of their birth experience – which then goes on to affect how they feel about themselves, their kids, and their whole mamahood experience.
So when Amy Dawes reached out to me and wanted to talk about the Australasian Birth Trauma Association she and other mamas are wanting to set up here, I knew it was important to share. It is both of our hopes that if you are feeling any guilt, shame or regret from how you brought your baby into the world, you will reach out to Amy.
There is wisdom in your pain, and healing in your regret. You just need to know you’re not alone, and feel safe to feel it all.
“I want you to know that you are not alone. There are so many of us who have experienced a birth so far from our imagined ideal.
When we start preparing for birth, we rarely spare a thought for ourselves and instead think only about what could happen to our babies. So, when we experience trauma, it can leave lasting psychological scars in addition to potentially life-altering injuries, as I experienced after my baby was delivered with forceps.
I want you to know that I know what it’s like to feel guilt; the sort of guilt that hangs over you every day. Guilt that tells you you aren’t worthy of being a mama, and even more so when you are full of regret, ‘what if’s’ and ‘why me’s’ and on those truly dark days where the multitude of emotions comes bubbling out as anger. And then there are the times when you imagine your old life and then feel ashamed because there are other women, among them friends and loved ones, who long for what you have.
Mama, I need you to know that it’s okay to feel anger and I have also experienced the depression you are feeling.
I understand how betrayed you feel by your body and so I am here to remind that your body is beautiful and magical because it grew life. Your body is capable, you are capable and that little person that you GREW, those tiny fingers, those tiny toes, they are a reason to celebrate.
Mama, I know you feel betrayed by your medical staff for not informing you of the risks, and the postpartum care you did (or didn’t) receive. I understand how it feels to feel completely isolated, alone and embarrassed. I understand how it feels to not feel like yourself anymore, to not recognize yourself.
Every time we share our story, we feel obliged to start with “I love my baby but….”.
I want to tell you that that’s a given; I know you love your child, even though you may have struggled to bond. The love is there and it’s real but it’s still alright to say that you are not okay. Remember, accepting that, and showing yourself some self-compassion may just be the key to recognising the moments of joy – because I promise you, there are so many moments.
“Mama, I know there are days when you become consumed by your limitations and feel like you will never be the mother you imagined. Perhaps there are specific situations that trigger these feelings that you can’t avoid? I know because I have my own and it’s those triggers that send you into a spiral of sadness to the point where you wonder; can I do it? Can I carry on?
But Mama, you can carry on. You are amazing!
You have survived this journey so far and your life may be different to the life you dreamt of, but your baby thinks you are EVERYTHING. Your baby only knows the ‘you’ that you are now and they will love you no matter what. You’ve just got to be there. Be present.
I know you might try force yourself to ‘think positive’, and that people (who clearly don’t understand the profound affect your trauma has had on you) may just tell you to ‘get over it, you have a healthy baby’. And I know this makes you work hard to push those feelings of doubt away and to distract yourself but I’ve been there, and I know that constantly trying to control your feeling and denying your emotions eventually becomes so energy sapping that they soon start tumbling out.
Mama, you have to try; try to work towards accepting what’s out of your control while putting into action the things that you know will improve your quality of life. I want you to start by showing yourself some compassion, because even though you can’t always see it yourself, you are doing an amazing job! When you question your ability to carry on…remind yourself that you are worthy of this life and strong enough to survive everything it throws at you. Some days you’ll cry and not cope and some days you’ll feel like you can conquer the world and that is exactly what makes you human. Forgive yourself for your imperfections.
Mama, when you are in a dark place…I promise you that you are not alone. We have all been there.
Pick up the phone and speak to your person. Go to a café, communicate and be open because the world needs more authenticity and when you speak to others it may well remind you that you are capable of far more than you think.
“Mama, when you struggle to ignore the voice in your head telling you that you’re broken, remember this: In Japanese culture, when an object is broken it is often repaired by bonding the pieces back together with gold. The flaw then becomes a beautiful part of the object’s past that adds to its unique story.
…and lastly Mama, I ask you;
Share your story and speak out because there are so many women who suffer in silence and if we #breakthesilence we act as support for those who have none and while doing so we facilitate our own journey and our own healing. Do not forget Mama, that there is always strength to be found in connection and that you are not alone.
The Australasian Birth Trauma Association (ABTA) is a voluntary organisation established in 2016 to support women and their families who are suffering postnatally from physical and /or psychological trauma resulting from the birth process.
We aim to offer advice and support to woman and their families who are struggling to cope with their childbirth experience. We are also dedicated to researching the effects of psychological and physical trauma while developing best practice for diagnosis and treatment for sufferers.”
If you require support, information or resources after a traumatic birth please find out more at: www.birthtrauma.org.au