Recovering From A Traumatic Birth Series: Pt 2 - How You Feel Matters
It's all too easy to believe that, somehow, you have no right to feel traumatised by your birth experience. Birth is a joyous thing, you should be happy because your baby is here safe and well. That's what everyone says, right?
One of the most common things to happen, and perhaps this has happened to you, is that when you tried to talk about your traumatising birth experience, you were immediately shut down with the phrase; 'Be grateful, at least you've got a healthy baby'.
So now you're not only trying to cope with feeling traumatised, you've got to be grateful for it because your baby is healthy and well??
But what if your baby isn't healthy?
No one ever really talks about how it's meant to feel, what you're meant to do, how you cope when your baby isn't healthy. The shock of realising your baby needs specialist help in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) can be totally overwhelming, yet no one seems to acknowledge this.
Even worse if you're having to face the fact that your baby may have a life-altering illness or disability, or that your child has not survived or will not live for much longer. Are you still meant to be grateful? Are no other feelings allowed?
So often, the expectation is that you will carry on and deal with all of this like it's just a minor blip, that your world has not been completely devastated. Of course, you will get on and try your hardest to deal with everything as best you can in the moment, that's what caring parents do. But what happens when it's all over and you're alone trying to deal with the fall-out of whatever has happened?
Another common scenario is where because, to other eyes, nothing 'bad' happened during your birth, then you couldn't possibly be traumatised by the experience.
This is a real 'eye of the beholder' issue.
Someone else decides that your experience couldn't have been as traumatic as you feel it is, and whenever you try to say otherwise, you get shut down dismissively. very often with the phrase 'Be grateful, you've got a healthy baby'. Their disapproval of your inability to carry on like none of this matters just adds to guilt and shame.
Then there is what you may say to yourself; perhaps something like 'adults are meant to cope; I see other adults coping. I'm not coping, I'm plagued by flashbacks and nightmares, my anxiety is out of control. Therefore, there must be something wrong with me. I am weak and pathetic'.
Humans always shy away from anything that causes pain, physical or emotional. It's a sensible thing to do. So, you may notice that even you are telling yourself to 'be grateful, a healthy baby is all that matters'. It's a way to try and block out these awful memories and feelings that won't stop tormenting you. The thing is, it doesn't stop the triggers, flashbacks and nightmares. Living with anxiety is exhausting and soul-destroying, so how can you help yourself?
This first step is surprisingly easy.
it is a matter of standing your ground whenever anyone, even you, yourself, tries to tell you that you didn't experience trauma, or that you should be over it by now if it's acknowledged that you were traumatised. You don't need your experience to be validated by anyone else in order to determine if it was traumatic or not, only your feelings matter. If your experience was traumatic to you, then it was traumatic. End of.
The important thing here is to separate the whole 'be grateful' thing from your birth experience. They are very separate issues. In fact, it can be somewhat overwhelming to have both things going on at once - on one hand being floored by the chaos of feeling traumatised; on the other still feeling joy in your baby, and, yes, being grateful that they are here.
Your feelings are valid.
No one lives in your head but you so no one else has any right to determine whether what you experienced was traumatic or not.
Your feelings are valid and they matter.
"Parents of premature babies face a further trauma - PTSD"
"Is a healthy baby all that matters during childbirth?"
"How you mighty be invalidating a loved one's PTSD"