At YogaBellies, we are all about giving you the tools and skills to help you have a positive birth. Unfortunately, no matter how hard we prepare and how calm we remain, sometimes things go wrong during birth, which can lead to some hard emotions to deal with afterwards. As June is PTSD Awareness month, YogaBellies Edinburgh teacher Jen Smith has written about her own experience of birth trauma – if you’ve experienced peri-natal trauma, please ask for help if you need it.
A letter to my husband.
I feel empty. Drained. I struggle to muster the energy to be excited about this new life, this beautiful face, this amazing child I’ve just given birth to.
I feel guilty and beat myself up and try to do too much, too soon. To prove I’m not a bad mum just because I didn’t manage to have the perfect birth. To prove I’m ok, that I’ll be ok, despite having just gone through the most traumatic event of my life. I’m not sure I can even acknowledge that now, I just need to keep going, to look after this new person.
I feel vulnerable, like I’ve never felt before. I’m not used to having to ask someone else to help me do the most basic things, to not be able to move without wincing, that pain an instant reminder of what just happened, of that lack of control, of things being so far from what I’d expected. I need my body to be better, not just because I have a whole new person to look after, but because I need it to help me remember who I am, in the midst of everything else.
I feel sad when I look at you…sad that you’re having to look after us both when we should be a team, sad that I’m dragging you down with my sadness. Sad that I cry uncontrollably when you leave the hospital because I don’t know how to survive without you until the morning, but feel too embarrassed to ask you to stay. Sad that your paternity leave won’t be as fun as we planned, bonding at home as a new family. Silly, I know.
I feel alone – I wish I didn’t, but I do. I wish I could share in everyone else’s – in your – excitement. And I am excited, honestly I am. I just can’t process all these different emotions, and I’m too scared to admit how detached I feel right now from everyone and everything. But I need you to stay here, to keep being here, right beside me. Even when I’m pretending I’m ok and you’re pretending with me.
People tell me I should be happy as ‘at least’ I have a healthy baby and ‘that’s all that matters’, that I shouldn’t be ‘disappointed’ I didn’t achieve my birth plan. I’m too drained to put into words how this makes me feel – guilty that I’m even thinking about myself when my newborn should have 100% of my attention, that I was arrogant enough to have had hopes and dreams for what could (should?) have been a positive experience…angry that people don’t realise it was a traumatic, shit experience for anyone to go through, whether they had a birth plan or not. I nod my head vacantly, instead.
I feel broken – physically of course, but emotionally and psychologically too. I feel like I might never recover, like we might never recover. More and more alone with my own, personal trauma, I feel ashamed that I’m too weak to just get over it. I bottle up those feelings – it’s too hard to talk about them, and I have a new job to do – I’m a mum now.
I feel lost. Lost among the statistics and the processes and the checklists….no, I don’t tick the boxes for post-natal depression (not right now, anyway), but I don’t feel right, I’m not myself. I hear all these awful stories of childbirth, like some grim competition. Surely some (all?) of these women had it worse than me? Does it even matter? How come they don’t seem to have the nightmares, the flashbacks, the random anxieties I never imagined I’d have, the rage? Do they also still think it every, single, day? When will it get better?
Maybe it’s not a competition, maybe they’re just like me, looking for a way to work through their feelings about what really happened to them. Maybe they also feel that ‘trauma’ is just another adjective that we sadly hear so often nowadays. So often that it begins to lose its power, and we forget to think about the real person behind it, with real feelings and who is, maybe even years later, traumatised?
My heart breaks when I realise finally – finally – how hard you’re finding it, how you’ve been carrying us all for days, weeks, months, years, despite also having been through the biggest trauma of your life.
I wish we’d spoken about it – really spoken about it and how we both felt. I wish we’d both asked for help. I wish we’d both realised that birth trauma is real, it’s not just an event that happens and then you move on, that you might not just ‘get over it’. I wish we’d realised that just because so many parents sadly experience traumatic births, it doesn’t mean they don’t also think about their experiences every, single, day; that they don’t struggle with it internally; that they might not be ‘over it’ even if they can make a joke about it. I wish I’d realised I could be honest about how I really felt without it meaning I loved my child any less.
I’d wish I’d known I wasn’t alone. I wish I’d known there is proper help available, that it’s never too late to get help, that we don’t have to have these dark, sad, heavy feelings forever. That it’s possible to remember the joy of our child’s arrival, to honour the circumstances of her birth without it taking us back to that dark place, to cherish our memories rather than fear them.
If any of this resonates with you, please know you aren’t alone. Often we feel we’ve dealt with an event but the symptoms come back later when we least expect it – you may be expecting your next baby and all of a sudden finding yourself unable to talk about your last birth without crying, or your child may be much older now. Maybe you think it doesn’t look that bad ‘on paper’ but it’s still enough to make you feel emotional when you think about it. Talk to your midwife or health visitor (if you still have one) or your GP. Tell them you need help to deal with the trauma symptoms you still experience, even if it happened a long time ago.
Consider counselling if you want to talk about it, or techniques like the TBR 3 Step REWIND to help you deal with the symptoms. If you’re based in Edinburgh, the Juno perinatal mental health charity runs peer support groups across the city, with a specific birth and perinatal trauma support group meeting monthly on Mondays (https://www.juno.uk.com/).
With love and light,
Jen Smith teaches YogaBellies for Pregnancy and YogaBellies for Mum & Baby in Portobello, Bruntsfield, Morningside and Marchmont in Edinburgh. You’re welcome to contact her directly if you’d like to discuss Juno’s groups or TBR 3 Step REWIND in more detail: firstname.lastname@example.org