“We are all a little fragile”
Healing when your birth has been traumatic is as individual as the experience itself.
Time is involved, and this will be different for everyone.
However, healing is possible.
How do I know? Because I have been there too. I have been at the edge, holding on with my finger tips and terrified I would fall and never be able to get up. I have been to the edge of despair and I know how hard it can be to simply get through each day.
My journey to healing was done with small steps that helped me change how I viewed, and dealt with, my trauma. This is where B.E.Y.O.N.D* grew from, simple steps to support healing from birth trauma based on my own journey to recovery.
B.E.Y.O.N.D provides some simple ways to think about your experience, how it has impacted you and how you can find ways to support you as you heal. It is a combination of self-help and support that can make the journey to healing possible.
Healing does not mean that you no longer feel the pain, or that you forget, but that you are able each day to slowly move beyond it. The scar will remain, but it will not define you, only remind you that you are much stronger than you ever believed possible.
B is for?
The Birth of your baby matters, it matters because it significantly impacts your life. It is the start of your relationship with a new human being that you have made and nurtured for many months. When birth is difficult, it impacts everything and can be life-changing.
It may be that you planned your birth for a long time and then found that the birth you wanted didn’t happen. This can leave a void that is empty and full of unwanted emotions, including disappointment.
It may be that poor care or other things meant the loss of a peaceful birth experience, instead leaving you feeling numb, anxious or traumatised.
Sadly the view of many can be that your birth experience doesn’t matter as long as you and your baby are safe. This view can cause those who experience a difficult birth to feel that to speak up is ‘making a fuss’ or ‘not being grateful’ for having a healthy baby. The result can be the silencing of painful emotions and memories, and these are sometimes then carried for years, locked away, but still causing pain.
Your birth experience matters.
How you feel about your birth experience matters.
Being able to acknowledge your experience and its impact on you is the first step towards healing. Like an open wound cannot just be ignored, so too when we are wounded by a birth experience it matters that the wound is acknowledged and support is given to help it heal.
Part of this is regaining a sense of stability and safety. This can take time. After trauma we can feel overwhelmed, anxious and terrified. Knowing that your birth matters can support you to feel stable and in control so you can look for and receive the help you need. It allows the taking back of some control that often trauma can strip away, in the knowledge that you can find healing.
So the first step of B.E.Y.O.N.D is to help you see that your birth matters.
E is for?
Your birth experience is your experience and yours alone. How you feel about your birth experience is individual to you.
Only you know your birth and how you experienced it. Regardless of who else was with you, it is how you experienced it that matters. It may be that your birth was outwardly a very traumatic experience, or it may be that to others your birth experience appeared to be ‘ok’, or even positive. Regardless of how others may have ‘seen’ or may ‘feel’ about the birth of your baby, what matters is how you feel.
It can be hard to own your experience, to admit it or accept it. Especially can this be hard if everyone around you is saying it ‘wasn’t that bad’ or they feel it was different to how you experienced it. It may be hard also because admitting your experience can bring up unwanted feelings, feelings that you may have tried hard not to feel such as guilt, disappointment or grief.
Your birth experience is just that, YOURS.
- Do not compare.
- Do not berate yourself for how you feel.
- Do not let others dismiss your experience or your feelings.
- Instead explore, as you’re ready, and own your experience.
How can you do this?
Another step in B.E.Y.O.N.D is with someone you trust, or by yourself allowing the space for you to explore your experience. This isn’t to relive the trauma but involves exploring and mourning the losses associated with the trauma. It is also about providing a safe space to grieve. It can be incredibly healing to be heard, not to be judged but to have the safety of sharing your birth experience.
Accepting your experience will be hard because it also means accepting your feelings. This we will look at later.
(It may be that you may have gaps in your memory or questions that need answers from your birth experience. This can be supported by a ‘debrief’ at the hospital where you had your baby so you can discuss with them your medical notes.)
Y if for?
YOU matter too
A healthy baby isn’t all that matters in birth, a healthy mum, both physically and emotionally is important too. You are both linked by every cell in your bodies, a dyad, each as important and equal in needing help and support as the other. There can be much emphasis after birth on your new baby. Sometimes you will feel that your wellbeing needs to take a back seat, but this is just not true. Your baby’s wellbeing is linked to your own and after a difficult birth the impact on you both can be profound.
So it matters that you get the help and support you need, both in a physical sense but an emotional one too. You need to be nurtured so in turn you can nurture your baby.
Part of healing is knowing that your wellbeing matters and that you need and deserve love, care, support and help.
- This means being kind to yourself.
- Not expecting too much of you, or what you can accomplish
- It means asking for help and accepting it.
- It means allowing time to practice self care and tend to your own needs.
It also means realising that support to heal is important for your long-term emotional well-being and that you deserve to have your feelings acknowledged. It may also mean allowing yourself time to recover physically too, accepting your limitations.
A self-care plan can support you, as can realistic expectations of yourself. Realising you matter and putting in place ways to support this is a firm foundation on which healing beyond birth trauma can begin.
Part of B.E.Y.O.N.D is to look at ways to support YOU. This may include identifying triggers, finding things that can promote self-care and support your own emotional well-being as well as practice things you can do to help you as you heal. This is very individual and you are the best person to know what is right for you.
O is for?
Open up your emotions. Yes this will be the hardest part of moving beyond birth trauma because your emotions will be many and varied.
When struggling after a difficult birth we can often feel numb, blocking our emotions for fear they may overwhelm us and open a floodgate we cannot stop. We may seek ways to bury our emotions deep within us or even deny them altogether. Emotions however can become like stones that weigh us down, as we try to carry them around, becoming so heavy that moving beyond birth trauma is difficult.
The emotions that accompany birth trauma can be;
You may have some, or all of these emotions.
Each one is valid.
Each emotion matters.
You may find they come in stages, you may feel guilt which in turn gives way to anger or vice versa. Your emotions are important, they are gateways that move you beyond birth trauma.
Being open to your emotions allows you to understand why you feel the emotion, how it relates to what you have been through and why it matters to healing. It can bring pain but then also relief. This can be explained with guilt. Guilt is a very common emotion that accompanies trauma. There can be so many reasons that you may feel guilt. When you are open to this, able to explore why you feel guilt and if there is a basis for your feelings, it can bring relief. How? While it will be painful to admit your feelings of guilt, there is relief in letting out how you truly feel. Also, when feelings of guilt are explored often you will see that there was no basis for them and so then peace can be found.
It takes bravery and courage to face your emotions and it is a hard path to tread, but it pays richly because letting go of feelings that have been weighing you down can bring healing.
This B.E.Y.O.N.D step is done by exploring what it is you feel about your experience and what it was that made you feel that emotion.
N is for?
NOT YOUR FAULT
One of the hardest aspects regarding birth trauma is accepting that whatever happened was not your fault. However, to move beyond birth trauma, realising and accepting that trauma is not your fault is important.
Oh but I can hear you saying, ‘if only I had done this, or that, or if I had stood up for myself or believed in myself more’. I believed for a long time that my experience was all my fault. It stopped me getting help, it stopped me telling anyone how I was feeling, it cocooned me off in to a darkness that it was hard to see the end of. But after all the steps above I finally released that it wasn’t my fault at all. This was the biggest step in my healing and lifted of the darkness that had engulfed me.
It takes time to accept that you did the best you could, at a time when you were feeling vulnerable and with the best knowledge you had available to you, in likely very difficult circumstances.
It wasn’t your fault;
- that you suffered poor care
- that you weren’t listened to
- that choices were not offered or respected
- that language was used that caused you pain or hurt
- that you were neglected physically and/or emotionally
- that you lost a much wanted birth experience
- or any other reason that you feel trauma was your fault.
Birth Trauma is never your fault. You are a victim of an awful event that happened beyond your control. When you let yourself believe this to be true you will move beyond birth trauma.
Part of the B.E.Y.O.N.D steps is looking at your experience from other perspectives and how this can help you to see you were not at fault.
D is for?
DO NOT GIVE UP
Even when the days are dark.
Do not give up.
When you feel that you can’t carry on.
Do not give up.
When the feelings are overwhelming.
Do not give up.
When you doubt you can move beyond birth trauma.
Do not give up.
Instead look for;
Hope. In others around you who love and support you. Hope in those who like you are suffering but carrying on. Hope in those who are beyond birth trauma and sharing their stories to help you find your way.
Support. Seek help and lean on those who can help you while your healing. Make self-care your tool to help you stay strong and keep you going even on the bad days. Make time for you and remember that you matter too. Ask for help, even when it is the hardest thing to do.
Moments. Every day look for a moment that helps you to keep going. Just a smile from your baby, a kind word from a friend, a beautiful sky or just realising you made it through the day. Let your mind hold on tight to those moments and let the bad moments drift away because you are doing the best you can.
Self-care. Find things again that you enjoy, that bring you refreshment and support. It may be walking, dancing or photography. It may be you like to write, paint or sing. It doesn’t matter what you do but find again things that bring you joy.
This step B.E.Y.O.N.D helps you look at ways to keep going, to carry you as you heal. It supports you to look to the future with a new sense of self. It means realising that your trauma doesn’t define you, or control you. You understand that while you have been a victim of trauma you are now a survivor and can keep making steps to healing.
You can move beyond birth trauma.
Yes, it will be hard, and yes it will mean that you have changed, indeed your life may have changed, but this is not the end of your story. You will start to write a new chapter, that will be different but brighter. You are still as amazing as before trauma touched you, in fact, more so because despite everything you have walked through trauma and come out the other side.
These B.E.Y.O.N.D steps can help you to find peace again, they were the journey that led to my healing and they can be for you too. So take my hand, take the step B.E.Y.O.N.D Birth Trauma.
If you would like more information, or help to process through the steps above please get in touch.
(*Please note that B.E.Y.O.N.D is to support healing and understanding of feelings around a birth experience. B.E.Y.O.N.D is not to treat or cure any conditions that may arise from Birth Trauma such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Postnatal Depression etc. It is important that if you feel you may be suffering from any perinatal mental health issues from your birth trauma that you seek support from your healthcare professional. You can find out more about this and finding support here.)