So many women ask me this question. I thought I would write something about it to answer common questions, and do some myth-busting.
Experiences of childbirth vary enormously. From the variety of families I have worked with, I know that memories of feeling terrified, not knowing what was going on, having people rush into the room with little explanation, not knowing if your baby or even you were going to survive, all have a massive impact on your journey to becoming a mother.
You might have expected it would be hard, but you planned for it, made choices that were intended to help you feel more in control of the process, and you likely imagined over and over how it would be. It may not have been your first birth, it certainly won’t have been the first time you felt anxious during your pregnancy, but you are counting down to the day you meet your baby for so long.
Many women feel they have little choice and have to trust what the medical professionals tell them. This can later lead to feelings of regret and mourning the birth you wanted. If you have had any earlier trauma in your life then childbirth can reawaken something that has been long buried. That can also lead to mixed feelings when you meet your baby. Some mothers find it hard to express that they might feel angry with their baby for what happened, or wished they had not got pregnant.
Some of the signs that you are still affected might include avoiding anything that reminds you of the trauma. This can mean refusing to walk past the hospital where you gave birth, or avoiding meeting other women with new babies, even avoiding your smear test. Other women experience feeling hypervigilant, like a meerkat – this means that you are constantly alert, irritable and jumpy. You might continue to worry that something terrible is going to happen to your baby. Your baby might be a daily reminder of what happened. The loss of early moments with your baby can make you feel distant, as if you are ‘going through the motions’. You may also be suffering with the physical consequences, pain and discomfort, tears or incontinence.
But is it too late to address it if your child is now 2, 4, 6, 15? I think only you can know whether it still impacts on you, and how much. If you never had a chance to tell your birth story to anyone it can be a very helpful emotional process to make sense of the order things happened, or to understand why certain decisions were made. Some mothers experience flashbacks of images from the birth that were difficult. A traumatised brain lays down memories in a different way to usual, this can mean when we try to ‘push them down’ they end up bursting out, like an overly full linen cupboard. Therapy gives your brain the chance to open the door a bit at a time, and make sense of the chaos and re-order it so that it can remain contained. Partners can be affected too as they observe and feel powerless to help.
My approach involves sessions that can be either for you alone, with a partner or with your baby, to think about how to further build on your bond and process the trauma that might be getting in the way.