Healing after Birth Trauma will be as individual to each person as the experience itself. I always think of it as a road laid out before us that leads to a new destination.
Each journey will be different and so will the time needed, your road may be long, or it may be shorter. Some will be able to process their experience and feelings quickly, for others healing may take months, even years.
It does not matter how long you need on your road, how you travel, or who is with you along the way. It also does not matter what others think about your journey.
What does matter is that the road to healing is yours to start and while this journey will not be straight or easy, but hard and bumpy with some obstacles, you can travel it and reach your destination.
Sometimes you will stop to rest and you will glance behind and see how far you have come. Sometimes you will look ahead and doubt you can carry on.
There may be times when the road is too hard and you will need others to help you, maybe they will just take your hand, and sometimes they will carry you for a while.
So never give up, keep going, and do not let the bad days push you off the road or the doubts stumble you and keep you from moving ahead.
While the road is yours to walk, scary and uncharted, remember you are not alone. Around you are the voices, love and support of everyone who loves you and those who like you are walking their road to healing too.
Remember too that healing does not mean you forget what you have been through, nor does it mean it does not matter. Healing means that while birth trauma is what happened to you, it’s not who you are. You may not be the same person, your life may have been changed forever and while you cannot wipe away all that you have suffered, you can find your way to move beyond the pain, cope with and accept the changes it has made to you and your life, and find peace.
Everyone will heal differently and everyone’s term of healing will be different. Yet it is possible to heal in the way that is right for You.
What can help you on the road to healing?
‘Time is a great healer’ so the saying goes. When it comes to Birth Trauma this is also true. But in what way? Time does not magically heal the hurt or take away the pain but what time does is allows you the chance to process your feelings, to reach out for help and find what You need to heal. There is no time limit, it will take as long as it takes. Time will be affected by other circumstances and outside influences. Each stage of your healing will also take different amounts of time. You may find that understanding what happened to you medically, quick to process, but the effect on you and your life emotionally may take much longer. Whatever the case be kind to yourself, do not expect too much and allow time to navigate your road to healing.
Getting adequate rest is important. Yes, I can hear you, how do you rest with a new baby or toddler? It can be a challenge, a big obstacle on your journey. Yet making sure that you make time for rest is vital, as lack of sleep and exhaustion can impact emotional well-being and be a major trigger for those suffering from birth trauma.
It may mean asking others for help or letting the house go un-dusted. It may mean looking for ways to have small amounts of time to yourself or adjusting the family schedule to allow for some ‘downtime’. Rest will also be different for each person. Rest may be actual sleeping, or it may be doing an activity you enjoy. It may be time chatting with a friend, go for a walk or even just a cup of tea and a nice piece of cake. The point is it does not matter what you do to rest, only that you do it.
Resting will help your mind to again find peace and calm. Life can be chaotic and a merry-go-round that never stops, this can hinder you from seeking the help you need. Rest and time out from the constant demands of life can help you to refocus so you can see more clearly the road to healing.
Birth trauma takes a physical toll on your body. You may have experienced damage in some way, or loss a lot of blood. After nine months of nurturing and growing your baby and then the birth itself, physically even after a positive birth experience, it takes time to heal. When birth is difficult, or complicated by medical interventions, results in a c-section or causes other damage the time needed to recover can be days, weeks or months. We can be tempted to try to return to ‘normal’ trying to cope and do everything. It is important however that you allow yourself time to heal. Physical health and emotional health are just as important as each other and are linked in many ways. For us to heal emotionally we must also heal physically. The road to healing involves not only healing emotionally but physically too. Neglecting either will serve to stumble your journey.
Sometimes the damage suffered at birth can be long lasting. You must get the help and treatment you need for the damage to be corrected or managed. This can be hard when feeling traumatised and emotionally scarred. It is an important part of your healing and may need specialist support emotionally for you to manage. Do not allow yourself to be dismissed if you seek help for your physical recovery.
Acknowledge your feelings
One of the hardest aspects of Birth Trauma is the acknowledgement of your feelings around your experience. Not only is it difficult to accept your feelings but it may be that those around you, while well-meaning, may encourage you to ‘move on’, ‘to get over it’ or ‘be positive’.
Trying to carry on as if nothing has happened to you will not help you on the road to healing. In order for the journey on the road to even begin you need to start with the step of acknowledging your feelings.
What has happened to you may feel unreal or you may feel that you are to blame. You may feel angry, sad, hurt, and confused. You may feel scared, betrayed and like you don’t know who to trust. You may have lost a birth experience that you had planned and prepared for. Or it may be that you feel lost and unsure of what you are feeling. You may feel that you are the only person to feel the way you do. You may feel ashamed or weak even vulnerable. You may suffer from feelings of guilt too. As a result, you may try to push your feelings away or hide them from yourself and those you love.
How you feel matters. Your feelings matter.
Your feelings are you and they are important as you try to heal. You may pass through different stages of your feelings each with their own challenges. If you can own your feelings, if you can work with them, if you can understand why you feel a certain way and how you can manage or cope with those feelings they will be steps on the road to healing that will carry you on.
What is also important is not letting others dismiss your feelings or make you feel they are not valid. They are! Seek out those who will understand and support you, lean on them when the road is tough.
One of the hardest things to do after Birth Trauma is reach out for help. You may have lost your trust in those who you believed would care for you. You may worry about what others will think of you and why you are struggling. You may worry that others may feel you are ‘mad’ and question your abilities as a parent.
It may be that weighed down by the hurt and the pain you feel too weak and vulnerable to ask for help. I’ve often heard ones say that you are expected to be strong and fight for help when you are at your weakest. Sadly this may be true. But never give up. You deserve support and help to recover. Everyone will need different things and it is important to explore what these are. What matters is that you try to find it. I like to think of it as little hidden clues on the road to healing. Some you find will help you and spur you on, some will be like a bridge and carry you over obstacles that will get in the way. Others may hinder more than help and knock you back a few paces. Whatever the case seek out help, find what works for you and use that help to support you as you heal.
Learn about Trauma
Knowledge is power they say, and learning about trauma can be your secret weapon. Learning about how it happens, how it changes the brain and what the effects of trauma are can help you see that trauma is a result of what has happened to you and not anything to do with you as a person. Your trauma didn’t happen because you are weak, or because you were not prepared. Your trauma wasn’t because you did anything wrong or because you allowed it to happen. Trauma is when your mind is overwhelmed by a distressing, scary, stressful event that is often life-threatening to you or someone else. Trauma is defined by the experience of the survivor, meaning it is individual to you. How you react will be different to someone else.
Understanding trauma and the signs and symptoms can help you make sense of your feelings as well as any physical effects you may suffer. It will help you to understand that the reason you are struggling, the reason you are full of all the emotions that you carry each day is because you have been through a traumatic event. Just like you would understand why someone who has been involved in a natural disaster or a violent crime would be affected by their experience so when you understand trauma can you understand why you have been affected by your experience too. For some when they are ready part of learning about trauma will be to understand exactly what happened, this is often done with a de-brief or birth reflection session.
Find support from others
For me, the biggest aid to my healing from birth trauma was finding others who had experienced and suffered from it too. To speak to others who knew how I felt, who understood my feelings, worries and anxieties bought me great solace. I no longer felt alone but wrapped in arms of comfort. I realised that it wasn’t just me, that I wasn’t weird or going mad but that others too had felt as I did and could offer me the support I needed. Also having others around me who had also travelled the road to healing gave me the hope I desperately needed to keep going. At times they just took my hand and other times they carried me. So seek out others who too are healing, you will all be at different stages but draw on their strength to get you through. There are many wonderful sources of support especially on social media such as the Birth Trauma Association.
Grieve what you have lost
It may be that you have lost the wonderful birth you had planned. Maybe you wanted to birth at home and ended up in a hospital. Maybe you wanted a vaginal birth and instead due to circumstances required a c-section. It could be you need to grieve that you felt your choices were lost, or your voice not heard. Maybe you felt stripped of your dignity or lost in an emergency situation. Others may not have reached the full term of their pregnancy and lost the last weeks and months. Sadly you may not have been able to have those firsts that come after birth such as skin-to-skin, holding your baby or first feeds. It could be that you were separated from your baby, or you didn’t get to take your baby home for a while. For some a traumatic birth means the loss of breastfeeding, bonding or the enjoyment of their new baby.
Whatever it was that you lost, grieve it! Cry, shout, feel the pain and let the feelings out. Loss* is a major part of Birth Trauma no matter how small you may feel it is. Many of the things lost are things that you may as a family have planned for months, sometimes years. It matters. It matters that the plans you made, the memories or special things you wanted were taken from you or lost because of circumstances beyond your control. Grieving them is your right. So grieve, take as long as you need then the tears will dry and you will be able to see the road ahead more clearly.
Don’t let guilt overwhelm
Guilt and Birth Trauma go hand in hand. Guilt is like stones that will keep tripping you, causing you to stumble as you try to recover. You will question, ‘What if I had done this”, ‘What if I had made that choice’, ‘Why didn’t I just do it?’. Or you may feel guilt about yourself that you did something wrong, or ask if you caused the situation.
Guilt can cause you to play the events over and over like a movie, looking to find answers, ways to have prevented what happened or what you could have done differently. While this is natural to do and again part of the healing process, guilt can overwhelm you. It can make you stumble and be unable to get up. Guilt is your nemesis, it will cause you to doubt, question yourself and weigh you down.
Remember this. We all do the best we can, in the circumstances we are in at the time. You did what was best for you and your baby at a time when you were scared, vulnerable and relying on others to help you. The choices you made, you made with the information you had available to you at that time. There may be ‘what ifs’ or things that you feel you could have done differently but as we know hindsight is a wonderful thing. So while guilt will test you and try to keep you from moving forward, don’t let it overwhelm you. On days where you stumble, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, keep going and in time guilt will you let go.
It’s not your fault
Part of not letting guilt overwhelm you is realising that Birth Trauma isn’t your fault.
It’s not your fault what happened, just as it’s not any person’s fault that they are caught up in any other traumatic event. If you had a friend that had been through a terrible ordeal you would feel empathy for them, concern, understanding and would comfort them and support them in any way you could. But what about you? Do you not deserve those things too?
- You did not let your trauma happen.
- You did not cause your trauma.
- You did not make others hurt you, not try hard enough, make wrong choices or fail!
For a long time, I believed that my Birth Trauma was my fault. I believed I was weak, not strong like other women. I believed that I should have been able to cope with birth like every other woman who has birthed a baby. I believed that I must have been an awful person, a bad mother, an awful wife. I believed that the way I was treated was because I must have been a difficult patient. Then I realised that I wasn’t an awful person, I never had been. I wasn’t a bad mother but a traumatised one struggling physically and mentally to cope. I wasn’t an awful wife, but instead a wife desperate for love, help and support. I wasn’t a difficult patient, instead, those who should have cared for and protected me were cruel, and unkind and chose to hurt and neglect me instead. No, it wasn’t my fault. It was a cruel mix of circumstances, lack of proper care and situations beyond my control that was at fault.
No, Birth Trauma isn’t your fault, knowing and truly believing this will be the biggest bridge on your road to recovery you will ever take.
Find what works for you
As you travel towards healing there will be stops along the way that will claim to help and support you. It may be counselling, or other therapies, it may be a debrief or birth reflection session or peer support, or it may be holistic options such as mindfulness. Whatever there is available you need to find what works for you.
Everyone will be different. Not every option will be right for you. Some you try will help, and others will knock you back. Whenever I tried something and it didn’t help I would become disillusioned and wonder what was wrong with me. Of course, there was nothing wrong with me I just needed to find what worked for me.
Whatever you find that does work use it to make you stronger. There is no right or wrong because everyone is unique. Your ‘right’ of practising mindfulness may be someone else’s ‘wrong’. So look around, stop and test things out, if it doesn’t feel right move on till you find what works for you.
and finally…….Share your story
Sharing my story helped me heal so much. It was hard to see in words what I had endured, but somehow it enabled me to make sense of it and also see how strong I was. We can dismiss our experience or try to minimise it. Often because we can’t believe it to be true. But telling our story can be powerful and healing not only for us but for others too. It can also help us feel less alone and give hope to others. So when you are ready and when the time is right, try it. Write down your feelings or what happened, maybe as a story, or as a letter to someone.
From times of old the telling of our story has been regarded as a gift and in return the gift it may give You, is to heal.
You can find out more about how I supported my recovery from Birth Trauma in my book Beyond Birth Trauma- The Road to Healing
*Loss in this context is not discussing the loss of a baby.