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.