As a first-time mum, how do you know what to expect when you’re expecting? And the all-important day of the birth? How many ways are there to prepare for the arrival of your new baby? You name it, I’m pretty sure I did it. I signed up to ante-natal classes. I did the ‘stork walk’ at our local hospital. I eagerly read the weekly pregnancy email I’d subscribed to. My birth plan was written. I regularly listened to a hypno-birthing meditation. And pregnancy books? Well, the local charity shop now has a library in stock!
I imagined when the day came that my little bump made an appearance in the world that I’d feel informed, prepared, in control. The reality couldn’t have been more different. It was fast. (Aren’t first births supposed to be long?) It was frightening. (What happened to my blissful water birth?) It was traumatic. (Why isn’t he crying?)
Over the past few months I’ve talked to other mums about ‘birth trauma’ and it seems the definition is loose. It seems to be any birth experience that, for whatever individual reasons, didn’t meet the mum’s expectations. For me, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but it certainly wasn’t that.
It took some time for that to hit me and when it did it hit me hard.
I felt cheated. I had been robbed of that magical moment I’d seen on so many films and fly-on-the-wall documentaries, the euphoric moment when the mum holds her baby for the first time. And the feeling just snowballed. And eventually snowballed into a serious case of anxiety.
As my birth preparation might suggest, I’m usually a driven and go-getting person. And, as a life design coach, I’ve got the badge to prove my belief in people’s ability to create their best experiences no matter what the circumstances. But I began to feel out of my depth. It took some time for me to begin to wade through the gloopy heaviness I was feeling and that continued to rob me of the magical moments I’d imagined.
But wade through it I did.
Slowly, and with the patient support of my amazing family, I began to unravel the tangle I’d got myself into. I took baby steps into my new role as a mummy and I used a few tools in my professional toolkit to help myself. Here’s how:
Tell your story
The biggest shift came for me when I wrote my account of my experience. I knew, rationally, that it was probably inaccurate but getting it out of my head and down on paper was cathartic. I wrote exactly how I had felt and the experience through my eyes. How my excitement and apprehension turned to panic and terror. How I’d felt violated. Sadness. Anger. Regret. I let it all out. I re-read it. And then I decided to let it go. Not forget it but come to some kind of acceptance.
Talk it out
Talking it through was the biggest eye-opener. I re-lived the events of the day with my husband, filling some of my gas and air-induced lapses in memory. In getting another perspective, my own began to shift. I also took the opportunity to have a ‘de-brief’ at the hospital. Understanding the medical reasons for the decisions that were made gave me yet more perspective and a new sense of gratitude for the outcome of that day – the birth of my precious baby boy.
Give yourself a break
On reflection I can see how hard on myself I was. As a new mum, you’re dealing with a huge life adjustment and a traumatic birth experience gives you an extra helping of new emotions to deal with. Once I’d made the decision to ‘let it go’, I saw and felt subtle changes each day – I began to notice more. I started enjoying the special little moments each day, present to the day rather than re-living a yesterday that I couldn’t change. Notice the little things each day and, if you can, write them down. If you can find at least one thing you’re grateful for each day, it’s surprising how quickly things begin to shift.
Set the bar
I’d spent so long focusing on being pregnant and planning for the birth that I neglected to prepare for how I’d feel as a mummy. I decided to create a vision for what kind of mummy I wanted to be; I set the bar for myself. For me, it is important for me to create quality time with my baby each day, to be creative in sharing new experiences with him, to bring a sense of fun to the ordinary. In knowing what I’m striving for, it’s made it much easier for me to recognise when I’m doing a good job. And, on the other days, I remind myself that we’re both new to this game but we’ll get there, a day at a time.
For more suggestions for coping with birth trauma see this post HERE.
To contact the Birth Crisis Network visit their website HERE.
Sheila Kitzinger will be speaking about birth trauma at the International Parenting Conference this summer, for more information visit the website HERE.
Emma Gwillim is mummy to Louis and a Life Design coach empowering women to live a life less ordinary. Emma coaches women to awaken to their unique potential, so they can make more time, more money and more life, through one-to-one sessions, virtual group programmes and live workshops. Sign up to the weekly newsletter here to get tips, advice and inspiration delivered to your inbox.
This is a really sad post for me to write, but so many of you have emailed, tweeted and facebooked, both myself and our social media team, over the past two weeks telling us how excited you are to be able to meet us, browse our slings, get a book signed and so on at the Earl’s Court baby show at the end of this month, that I feel I owe it to you all to tell you why we have decided not to attend The Baby Show (organised by Clarion) anymore.
In October 2011 we exhibited at the Earl’s Court Baby Show for the first time. We were very busy for the three days we were there which meant we had little idea of what was happening at the rest of the show and certainly did not have time to listen to the ‘expert advice’ being given from the stage. Although we were very busy and sold lots of slings we did not profit from the show, we were happy though as we felt we were getting the BabyCalmTM name ‘out there’ and presenting a different perspective – of gentle parenting – to the thousands of new parents attending the show.
In February of 2012 we rebooked and attended The Baby Show at Excel in London. A week before the show I was made aware of The Baby Show’s links with the arms trade. Apparently several larger companies and organisations, including Bounty, Mumsnet, UNICEF and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), were already aware of this and had already decided to boycott the shows. For more information on The Baby Show’s links with the arm’s trade and subsequent boycotting see:
This news left me feeling deeply uncomfortable, how could I attend and promote BabyCalmTM – a company all about love and life – when my stall fee (circa £1500 in total) would be used to help a company who also promoted war and death? Or as RCM spokesperson Sue Jacob sums up in this post http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/rebecca-schiller/baby-show-arms-trade-links_b_1319821.html
“As a caring organisation that believes in providing universal care to women and babies (some of whom have themselves been victims of war) we object strongly to links between the Baby Show and the arms trade. It is abhorrent that Clarion Events is putting money before people and the RCM calls on them to break their links with the arms trade now.”
We had however already paid for our stall and invested a lot of money in display materials and stock and felt we had no choice but to attend. Charlotte and I couldn’t shake the feelings of guilt the whole weekend though and wondered if the parents attended the show knew of the links? This time our stall was directly opposite the main stage, so for the first time I got to hear every speech by all of the ‘experts’. Some I found to be very good and very interesting, the Red Cross speaker for instance was excellent. Others were less so (see http://babycalm.wordpress.com/2012/02/27/our-adventures-at-the-baby-show/ and make sure you read all of the comments left by others in reply). It is important to me in my professional life to realise what a privileged position I am in, thousands of expectant and new parents trust me to give them sound evidenced based information in order to help them to make informed choices about the care of their baby. I know this, I make sure I spend hours researching the latest scientific evidence, I have an amazing network of scientists, parents, lecturers, authors and birth workers I rely on to help keep me informed and up to date. Ultimately what matters the most to me though is that whatever information I disseminate is 1) factually correct, 2) Current , 3) Non-judgemental and 4) As impartial as possible. I am often asked ‘How would BabyCalmTM deal with this?” my answer is always “there is no BabyCalmTM way, there is only information and support”.
In short it became apparent that not all ‘baby/breastfeeding experts’ feel the same as me and this saddened me deeply. So much so that I wrote a 3000 word complaint letter to the director of The Baby Show, Julian, after the show (It is too lengthy to post here, but if you are interested in reading it please let me know). I spent a week composing the letter ensuring that I backed every single point up with scientific evidence and was as impartial and professional as possible. In short I called for The Baby Show to consider their position and the advice they presented to vulnerable new parents. I awaited a reply. I did not receive one, despite much chasing via email and telephone (thank you Charlotte – my business partner for doing so!). I think they hoped we would go away quietly.
Charlotte and I spent the next 6months in turmoil, trying to decide whether we should continue to exhibit at The Baby Show or not – on the one hand we had received so many positive emails and comments from visitors and fellow professionals saying how wonderful it was that we were presenting parents with good, empowering information and an unbiased opinion on products, particularly slings and carriers (we spent many hours with parents at the shows helping them to understand the pros and cons of each type of carrier and understanding what may be best for them, we were the only stand offering a choice of carrier types and brands) and on the other there was the guilt about the arms trade links and the growing unease with The Baby Show’s apparent disregard for the information presented to vulnerable new parents.
In the end we decided to try once more, but this time to attend in a not for profit capacity (though because of the high stand fees we hadn’t actually profited at the first two events anyway). We thought we could genuinely help parents to understand their options and could provide them not with advice, but with information and support. This felt a little more comfortable to us and although we still felt uncomfortable we felt we could attend with a clearer conscience, so Charlotte commenced the booking procedure.
We received an email from The Baby Show’s manager, Melanie, at the end of August expressing her surprise at BabyCalm’sTM decision to re-attend the show, given our response to the last one (which we still have never received a reply to coincidentally). In this email she later went on to say that we could only attend the Earl’s Court show if I agreed to sign a document saying that I would not question the validity of The Baby Show’s ‘expert’ speakers again – or in Melanie’s words:
“I was surprised to see that Baby Calm wishes to exhibit again at The Baby Shows following previous events. I therefore wanted to speak to you personally prior to returning the counter signed contract formally confirming the stand.
I am sure that you will not be surprised to hear that we were contacted by a number of the stage speakers from the event who were quoted within a Baby Calm presentation. It was felt that the presentation made references which were taken out of context from their talks to portray them in a negative light. It also included The Baby Show logo without permission.
We do not believe that this activity was carried out in the spirit of the event or one fellow exhibitor to another. Therefore I request a written reassurance confirming that this type of activity will not be repeated again. Once this has been received we will be happy to send through the counter signed agreement.”
Understandably I was not prepared to do this. I have strong business ethics and felt deeply uncomfortable with the idea of signing a document promising that I would not call into question anything I saw or heard at the show which I felt was detrimental to the psychological or physiological health of parent or infant, Charlotte supported me fully. Perhaps it was a bad business decision, but we are not prepared to put the economic success of our business before the wellbeing of vulnerable new parents and their babies, if that makes me a bad business woman so be it, but I will sleep with a clear conscience tonight. Here I should point out that I have no issue with any ‘expert’ presenting a different opinion to my own on anything, I only have issue with factually incorrect, unscientific and potentially dangerous information. I am not ‘a trouble maker’ in fact I seek peace wherever possible, but I do strongly feel that something needs to change in the ‘parenting expert’ world, we need to stop disempowering new parents and help them to foster their own confidence and do this by empowering them with factually correct information.
We are deeply sorry to all of our teachers who we will not be representing and also sorry for all of the members of the public we could have helped and those we knew already had planned to visit us, particularly for babywearing help, but we cannot – will not – put our business’ finances first. For that would even go against our very own code of ethics, written by myself for BabyCalmTM and our teachers two years ago, and in particular the second most important point in our code:
“BabyCalm™ will always put the health and well-being of the parent and baby first.”
We will *always* put the health and well-being of the parent and baby first and we just can’t do this if I am gagged in order to be allowed to exhibit at the Baby Show.
With this in mind we replied to Melanie and told her pretty much what I have said here and re-submitted our initial complaint letter, hoping once again for a reply (again we did not receive one). This was her reply:
“As discussed in our conversation this afternoon unfortunately it does not seem that we are able to find a workable solution to the situation to enable Baby Calm to exhibit at Earls Court. This is disappointing for us as the events aim to provide a range of experts throughout the show. However through the negative comments made towards The Baby Show and speakers at the event we do not believe that it is advisable to proceed. The attached presentation uses The Baby Show logo without our permission and both ourselves and the speakers quoted believe that the comments are taken out of context to portray the speakers in a negative light. This is detrimental to both the speakers and Baby Show brand.
I have spoken to a number of the speakers referenced since receiving your email and The Baby Show still believes that these are credible and respected. We have a number of speakers with differing views who are presented as providing independent information. This information is promoted in a positive light focussing on what they recommend and why, opposed to referencing other experts who they disagree with. This is has been a successful strategy for a number of years and therefore one which we wish to maintain.”
We are incredibly saddened that The Baby Show chose to ignore the strongly researched and referenced information we sent in our complaint letter, but hope you can understand why BabyCalmTM can no longer be involved in these shows. We do feel guilty that perhaps we have put our principles before helping those parents attending, by providing them with current, evidence based information, but it is important to us that BabyCalmTM continue to maintain not only our hard earned reputation, but also uphold the ethics that helped us to get there and for these reasons we cannot be part of a company that do not share our ethics and vision. We hope you understand and can support us in that.
To end I would like to point you to this blog post http://babycalm.wordpress.com/2012/09/14/why-the-world-needs-a-parenting-revolution/ I wrote about the dire need for a parenting revolution, I do believe it is coming, I do believe we are teetering on the edge of a paradigm shift and I do believe we can make a different and return humanity to parenting and thus to our species. In the words of the great Mahatma Ghandi:
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. “
Many thanks to Victoria Ward from Babywearing UK for this guest blog post:
Celebrate International Babywearing Week Oct 8-14th, 2012
Every year, families around the world get together to celebrate ‘International Babywearing Week‘. What is it, you might ask? And why the need to celebrate what is actually something simple: carrying your child? Is there anything novel about that?
For thousands of years, women carried their babies everywhere: in the house, at work, outside… It was the best – and possibly the only way – to keep them safe and warm. Then it became usual to place babies in various contraptions away from their mothers – from buggies to car seats, rocking chairs, cots, even walkers. As usual with these things, you might have noticed that the tide is turning. More and more parents (re)-discover that it is practical and convenient to carry their baby. And it is actually a good thing.
Parents can be at a loss to understand their newborn. Why is he fussing? Is he hungry, tired, does he need a clean nappy? Carrying your baby close helps you understand his signs much quicker, establishing the early foundations of communication and satisfying his needs before he gets to the full-on cries. A much nicer experience for the whole family.
The extra cuddles and closeness give the baby just the reassurance he needs to transition from the womb to the outside world. It can be bright and noisy out there but snuggled up against mummy or daddy’s chest, it’s alright. The closeness allows baby to sense his parents’ reactions much better and gradually makes sense of his experiences.
If you have to be separated from your baby for work or other reasons, carrying him closely in a baby sling while you are with him – perhaps on the way to nursery – is a good way to catch up on closeness. It is also true for working fathers who might not be able to see their little one as much as they want during the week. A baby sling is not just for parents: try lending a baby carrier to your childminder and show her how you use it. She will be able to comfort your baby throughout the day even if she has other children to care for.
‘Babywearing’ is not just for newborns and babies. There are numerous child carriers who have been designed to fit toddlers. They allow you to carry your child right up to about 20kg (45lb). You can help him catch a nap on your back in the middle of a busy day, or encourage him to walk independently knowing that if he gets too tired, you can pop him on your back. A baby sling is a good way to keep young children safe in busy surroundings – at the market or when you’re travelling on public transport for example. Perched on your back, they have a good view of their surroundings (probably less scary that if they were much lower on the ground, surrounded by what must surely seem like giants!).
So why celebrate International Babywearing Week? Because parents all around the world are choosing to parent their children a different way, a way that suits the whole family. Because carrying their baby or their toddler in a comfortable baby carrier allows parents to live the life they want to live with their child.
To find a babywearing event near you visit: www.babywearing.co.uk
A Guest blog by Victoria Ward from Babywearing UK.