It is rare that I see mums or dads within the 1st year of their childs life after a traumatic birth. There is just too much going on, often they would rather forget all about it, move on into the demands of looking after a newborn, keep afloat, get through the early starts and lack of sleep, in the hope that their broken hearts, minds and bodies repair as time whirls on in a blur.
There is an expectation from those who have experienced a difficult birth that it will leave and mark, a scar and imprint in the way significant, traumatic events do.
But it is not usually until the conversation arises between couples about having more children does the full affect of a traumatic birth make itself known. This can create a huge chasm between two people and reflects the different experiences of birth that each person felt.
Of course this difference in experience can lead to accusations of ‘not understanding’ the other persons position, internalizing their desired outcomes (to have more children or to not have anymore), withdrawing from each other and building of protective walls and layers around themselves to keep safe.
I worked with a couple recently who had reached this stage of division. He was desperate for another child. He had no siblings himself and felt very strongly that the same fate would not fall upon their child who was soon to celebrate their 3rd birthday. For her the birth was ‘just too bad’ to ever risk repeating again. The post natal period equally stressful as she felt she struggled to meet the demands of her baby, unable to establish breast feeding she felt judged by her family and by herself. She felt herself fall very short of her own and her family’s standards of ‘motherhood’.
She explained that in the first year that she was a mum when Mother’s Day came around she instructed her husband not to buy her anything because she felt she didn’t deserve anything. Her husband had forgotten about this but as she told me he said he hadn’t realized how worthless his partner had felt as a mother. He hadn’t appreciated that there was more than just not wanting to repeat a traumatic birth experience (as if that wasn’t enough!)
She found that her fear and anxiety surrounding childbirth lifted after 2 sessions and she reported feeling more easy, lighter and calmer about her previous birth. But it took more sessions of working together to examine and reverse engineer some of her most unhelpful beliefs about herself as a mother. These common beliefs can frequently infest the minds of new mums causing low mood and anxiety. Universal mis-beliefs such as ‘you will feel a rush of love and elation when you give birth’, ‘ you will learn what your baby’s cry mean’, ‘all women can and should breastfeed’ can set women up for ‘failure’ if their experience is different (which it so often is). These beliefs ultimately feed into the biggest mis-belief of all: ‘I am a rubbish mother and my child hates me’.
It was however easier to discuss these mis-beliefs once the fear and anxiety had subsided. I never did get to find out if this couple went on to have more children but I do know that this mum found peace of mind and a new way of thinking about herself as a mum that gave her the freedom to begin enjoying her parenting experience.