I had my eldest daughter before I became a doula or childbirth educator. On paper, my birth went ‘to plan’. My daughter and I were both alive, which was my ultimate ‘birth preference’. Assuming this could be ticked off the list, I wanted to have birthed her drug free, standing up in the hospital shower. Well, congratulations to me, another tick. All should be well, right? I had a physically healthy baby. I was alive. That’s all a mother should ask for, isn’t it? 

Well, isn’t it?

Let’s put this idea into another situation. Let’s pretend you’re driving a car. Let’s pretend you’re pulling into the car park of your destination, when you’re side swiped because someone else wasn’t paying attention. You get out of the car, which is ok, but in need of some serious repair. The driver of the other car is ok. You’re sore, you have some neck ache, but you’ve pulled through it ok. But suddenly, you’re experiencing flash backs. You don’t want to get back into the car. The thought of getting into a car makes you completely and irrationally terrified. You talk to your partner, but he tells you, ‘What are you upset about? You survived. You’re ok. That’s all that matters.’
 

 "You’re ok. You survived. That’s all that matters."

Your brain is traumatised. Your heart is terrified and hurting. Your body aches. But you’re alive. Is that all that matters? What about the next time you need to get into a car? And then someone says, ‘But everyone will be involved in a car crash at some point. That’s just part of driving.’ How do you think it would feel to be told, “you’re ok,” while you are so unequivocally not ok?
 
I wasn’t expecting a medal for my birth choices, and I certainly didn’t think it warranted any comparison to what other women decided was the best way to birth their babies. But I was determined that for us, a vaginal birth, preferably without any medication, was the safest and best choice for our family. Gratefully, this is what happened. But while physically we were healthy, as a whole person I wasn’t.
 
I would later, through professional support, realise I was traumatised. The contributions to my trauma are a story for another day, but for now, all I need to say is that emerging from the birth of my first born baby, I was not ok. I was not healthy. I was a complete mess.
 

“All that matters is a healthy baby,” some friends would try to encourage me. “What happens in the process doesn’t matter.”

These well meaning comments from friends and family would shatter me to my core. Of course the most important thing to me was my baby being alive. No mother in the world would deliberately risk her baby’s life if she didn’t think it was the absolute best option, and not a day went by when I wasn’t grateful that my child was alive.
 
I was grateful. But what about me?
 
Too many women are traumatised in birth but are told, ‘You have a healthy baby, and that’s all that matters.’ Having a live baby and a live mother at the end of labour are obviously the most important outcomes in a birth. But they are not the only outcomes that we should be measuring.
 
And taking it a step further, when we define a successful birth as only ‘a healthy baby’, we are essentially saying that women don’t matter. Mothers don’t matter. In an extreme sense, we are essentially saying that a good mother has no voice or worth, except to care for and defend her child.
 
Here, mother; having just grown an entire human for 9 months, and then birthed that baby, either by pushing it out of your vagina or undergoing serious abdominal surgery that often requires weeks and weeks of recovery, you don’t matter. Your body doesn’t matter. Your mind doesn’t matter. Your heart doesn’t matter.
 
Only, it does.
 
It does matter. Your baby, your body, your heart, your mind, your soul – they matter. And how you emerge from birth matters. Your birth story matters. 

You matter.

Pregnancy, birth and post partum are not one-time events; they set a woman up on a trajectory.
 
How she emerges from the childbearing year has a profound impact, and the ripples of this impact can be felt for the rest of her life.
 
And it’s not only women who have experience traumatic births who suffer in this. You don’t have to be traumatised to feel disregarded – ask most care givers and they will say that it’s ‘normal’ to feel overwhelmed and completely unsure of yourself after birth. It’s ‘normal’ to feel like you’ve lost yourself and ‘normal’ to not know yourself.
 
These experiences may be common, but they are not normal. 
 
Women are reaching out, and we’re telling them, ‘There’s nothing wrong with you.’
 
When someone is trying to say they don’t feel ok, and they are brushed aside and told they’re fine, what they are really being told is what you feel doesn’t matter. 

But it matters.

So what then? This isn’t the first time this has been spoken about. It won’t be the last. These articles often finish with sentences like this: We need to change how we treat women in pregnancy, labour and post partum. We need to start treating women with care. We need to listen to their stories. We need to allow them to express and vent and grieve, if they need to. We need to create a culture where we support the woman after birth – we let her rest, we let her recover. We don’t continue the lie that a good mother is not a person, but a sacrifice for her child. We stop telling each other that our experiences and emotions don’t matter. We stop telling ourselves that we don’t matter.
 
But what does that mean?
 

If someone starts sharing their birth or parenting story, then I suggest you:

1. STOP. Breathe. Breathe again if you need to, and let them finish. Let them get out all the rubbish, all the pain, all the memories, all the good bits and all the bad bits. Let them share. Don’t interrupt, don’t minimise. This is a hard thing to do. When people share pain, inevitably pain is triggered in us, too. That is hard and uncomfortable to sit with. Sit with it anyway, and let them share. Give them the opportunity to speak unhindered – tell them they matter.
 
2. Don’t give advice, unless they specifically say ‘What should I do?’ If they finish with the ambiguous “I don’t know what to do…” then ask them, “Would you like my advice?” Sharing pain is not soliciting advice. It can be hard, because when someone is in pain, we want to fix their pain. That can be a very natural response and sitting with someone in that pain can be very painful for us, too. Like I said above, sit with it anyway, and let them share.
 
3. Try and empathise. Phrases like “that sounds really painful” or “that sounds really scary” can be magic words that let them know they are heard. Using logic isn’t always helpful. It might be supremely unhelpful, in fact. Emotions aren’t always rooted in objective reality, but the emotional reality is still there and it still hurts. This helps you tell them their experience is valid and that they matter.
 
4. Ask them, “Have you spoken to a professional about this?” It’s important to add here that not all mental health professionals are equipped or able to support women through traumatic experiences, in particular childbirth trauma. It’s important that we understand that just because someone has ‘seen’ someone, does not mean that their needs have been met through those interactions.
 
5. “What do you need right now?” Then give them plenty of time to finish. Silence can be just as scary as sitting with someone’s pain. But allowing them this time tells them that you are there for them, not just to make them stop talking. It honours their pain, and also lets them know you are there for them, and that they matter.
 

If your birth didn't go as planned and you're not ok, even if you're grateful you have a healthy baby, or you are finding parenting harder than you expected, then I suggest you:

1. Do not tell yourself that you do not matter. When that voice comes up and says, ‘but your baby is all that matters,’ do not accept it. You can respond with your own version of ‘My baby matters. And I matter too,’ and then act like it. You don’t have to believe it just yet, but treating yourself as if you matter changes your perception of self dramatically. What does treating yourself like you matter mean to you? Find the option that most fits you – it could be refusing to talk harshly to yourself and actively finding things to encourage yourself about, it could be letting the people around you know what you need, it could be getting some new friends who will let you treat yourself kindly, it could be just spending some time in the sun. It looks different for everyone. 
 
 2. Get some help. Find someone to talk to. This could be a psychologist, a counsellor, or maternal and child health nurse, your GP, your kind and empathic friend. Talk. It’s scary. Let them know what you need, too. Do you just need to let it all out? Do you need some active strategies? Do you have a goal? Do you want advice? If you don’t know what you need, that’s ok too. In particular, find someone who understands childbirth trauma, and/or navigating the rocky roads of parenthood. 
 
 3. Go to the appointment. You matter. Don’t treat yourself like it’s not important. If your baby needed an appointment, you would go. You would find every reason to make it happen. You are important, just like your baby is important. So just go.
 
4. Be so very gentle with yourself. 
 
5. Remember, trauma does not have to define you. While time alone does not heal these wounds, help is available. It does not have to be this way or feel this way forever. We are capable of healing and growing and changing – all of us, no matter how old we are. Healing is possible. It is possible to get yourself back.
 

If someone you know is about to have a baby, or has just had a baby, then I suggest you:

 
1. Drop around freezable food and non perishables to minimise the cooking and shopping they have to do after having a baby.
 
2. Drop in (check with the partner first) to do some housework. Let the baby stay with the mother, it’s not going anywhere – you can cuddle him or her later. For now, this mama needs to rest, recover and be with her child. You can help this by doing her dishes, or taking older children out so she can rest, or folding that washing, or wiping that bench. Even better, set up a roster so for at least a whole month, she doesn’t have to do any cleaning or cooking!

Physiologically, women should have at least a month of rest after having a baby. I’m serious. This occurs in most cultures around the world, but ours is particularly dismissive of mothers. We can change this! You can be part of this change. Helping her tells her – you matter.

3. Understand that just because her birth seemed ‘good’, or ‘wasn’t as bad as someone else’s’, or ‘was the same as yours’, everyone’s individual experiences are different. Do not assume that anyone is ok just because they say ‘everything went well’.

4. Understand that trauma affects us profoundly. You cannot expect a traumatised person to act, think or feel ‘rationally’. Do not insist that they do things normally, or mock their efforts. If they are not acting ‘normally’, consider that they may need extra support right now to navigate an incredibly difficult process.

 

 

I’m not a counsellor or mental health professional. But I’m a mother, a birth worker, parenting educator and mentor, and someone who has been through trauma myself. This information is not intended to suit all people or to be clinical advice – it is based on my own experiences and observations of the families I’ve worked with.
 
If you, or someone you know is struggling, then please don’t delay in getting help. This can be scary, especially if the trauma we experienced was in an institution, such as a hospital, with a professional who we trusted.
 
But your safety and your health are important. Don’t put it off. Make that appointment today, call Beyond Blue or PANDSI or Lifeline or your local Child and Youth Health. In America, try 1-800-311-BABY (1-800-311-2229) or 1800-PPD-MOMS (1800-773-6667). In the UK, try Samaritans 116123.

 

Because, you matter.

Anna xx

Anna is a Childbirth Educator, Doula and Motherhood Mentor, working in Canberra and surrounds.

For more information about her workshopsbirth coaching, birth support, and post baby support services, or if you would like to find out more about overcoming motherhood overwhelm, please visit www.annasiebert.com.au.

© Anna Siebert and Anna Siebert Blog, 2016. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Anna Siebert and Anna Siebert Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

About the author

Anna is a Motherhood Mentor, who works with busy mums to beat overwhelm, stop yelling and enjoy parenting. As a Childbirth Educator, Anna helps parents prepare for their birth to overcome fear, feel confident and come out the other side of birth positive and empowered. She is the founder of Calm in the Chaos, where mums learn how to feel calm, joyful and confident in modern parenting, and Preparing for Birth, where parents learn how to have a positive birth regardless of how their birth unfolds. Her mission is to take the fear out of birth and the overwhelm out of parenting. Anna runs live workshops, online courses and trainings, and is the author of Preparing for Birth.
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