How to heal after a traumatic birth

I know when I was preparing for the birth of my first child, I had very clear (and rather inflexible) expectations about how I wanted the birth to go, how I expected it to go. I was living in Asia at the time and very conscious of the highly medicalised approach that was commonplace so I almost reeled in the opposite direction and committed myself to not allowing this intervention to be thrust upon me. I took the calm birth course, I practiced my visualisation breathing. I talked through the contingent pain management plans with my husband. But alas, these best-laid plans were thwarted by numerous circumstances outside our control. I will spare you the details, but in essence it felt like I had lived through a car accident alive. It was not until much later on when I fell pregnant with my second child that I realised the impact that experience and went on a journey of trying to process the thoughts, the emotions and my reactions that were playing out.

 

Research indicates that up to one third of women find their birthing experience traumatic. It may be that you did not experience your birth plan, your maybe you had unwanted interventions such a caesarean, an instrumental birth or perhaps pain medication was not available. Your trauma may not even relate to the physical birth itself but an interaction with someone at the birth. Trauma comes from many sources.

 

No one chooses a traumatic birth (and even a ‘normal’ birth can be traumatising) but you do have choice in how you process it. It is very common for women to feel bad about their experience and keep it private – not wanting others to judge their emotional reactions. As we near the end of Birth Trauma Awareness week, I wanted to share with you a number of different ways that can help you to come to terms with the birth experience of your child, understand the impact and move towards healing. Birth may just be one day but the effects of trauma can extend well beyond this.

 

  1. Share your story. Talking through your experience can help to make sense of it. By putting words to your experience you get the opportunity to link the events, to your thoughts and feelings. It often results in others opening up about their own experience, which can reduce feelings of isolation and shame and offer opportunity for validation, release and acceptance. Retelling your story can be done in conversation and writing but even through other creative avenues such as drawing, music and dance.

 

  1. Read about the experience of others after a traumatic birth. It is very easy to feel alone or feel confused by your emotions. You are not alone. Connecting with the experience of others often helps to better understand and order your thinking about your personal experience. Websites like birthtalk.org present diverse narratives and there are many other online forums where you will find different stories with which you can connect.

 

 

  1. Reconsider the story of your birth and see if you can identify any positive elements to the experience. This is not about finding a silver lining but negative information and experience is like velcro. It sticks and can crowd out and make us blind to positive information. It is worthwhile seeing if there were elements or stages of your birth that you can connect with positively.

 

  1. Review the medical information about the birth. If you feel unresolved and confused by the chain of events that took place, it can help to gain clarity from your care providers as to why decisions were made or certain actions were taken. Check your memory against others who were involved in your treatment or present. Please note that it is important to proceed carefully as this may be triggering and even re-traumatise you. This may be best done with a psychologist or counsellor.

 

These ideas are not exhaustive or fail-safe but they offer you ways to engage with your experience and your emotions around the birth of your child. If you or someone close to you is concerned about how you are coping, it is important to seek professional help from a GP and psychologist.

 

An incredible resource for anyone who feels like they have had a traumatic birth experience is  How to Heal a Bad Birth by Melissa Bruijn and Debby Gould. Their website is www.birthtalk.org. For more resources, please visit our resources page.

 

Written by Belinda Williams

 

 

5 Ways to Prevent Burnout in Motherhood

After a decade of working in and consulting to organisations around workplace wellbeing, I shifted into the world of motherhood…

As I stood in the playground listening to the physical and mental symptoms being described by the women around me, it was all too familiar… physical ailments, emotional outbursts, catastrophic and negative thinking, feelings of helplessness, insomnia. They were burnt out. We all know that motherhood, with all of its bright spots, is undeniably relentless. So what can you do to prevent burning out? Read on for my top tips for taking care of yourself.

1. Learn to soothe your nervous system in the moment

If we stop for just one moment, you may recognise the signs of stress – tension around the shoulders, chest or head, short and shallow breaths, low energy, reduced libido, upset stomach, unusual eating patterns, irritability. These are all signs that our sympathetic nervous system is switched on – we are ready for fight or flight. Routinely check in on how you are feeling. When you notice you are stressed, you can intentionally try to calm your nervous system. The quickest and easiest method is via the breath – notice the sensation of breathing and try to elongate the breath in for a count of five, pause for a count of five and exhale out of the count of five (known as 5/5/5 breathing). Other tools to practice include mindfulness, keeping an eye on the level of stimulation in our day – food (sugars, processed food), drink (alcohol, caffeine) and also our visual diet (social media, screen time).

2. Initiate a self-nourishment routine

Self-care routines are individual – whether it’s a bath, a candle, listening to a playlist, time in the ocean, in the sun or a cherished glass of wine in the evening (note, one glass!). Brainstorm how you can prevent or remedy stress and fatigue and plan how frequently you get to engage in these activities. If you notice you are lacking and want to commit to change, it’s important to start small. This gives us the greatest chance to succeed and build confidence. Marking ‘x’ on a calendar on the days that you have carried through on your commitment is a great visual cue and often promotes an inner motivation to see more ‘x’s.

3. Prime yourself for positivity

We are primed to select negative information in our environment. In fact, we process negative information five times faster than positive information! So when we are trying to remedy stress, we need to look to ways to work against this bias and attend to the positive. A good and widely reported technique is to identify three things that went well in your day at bedtime. The mechanics behind this activity is that it sends your mind looking for events, interactions and actions in your day that are positive and meaningful for you. You will also start to seek out these events proactively during the day knowing that you need to report on them in the evening – you will become more aware of instances of things going well. To boost the effectiveness of this, I recommend that you physically write it down or tell someone, maybe your partner or make it a commitment with a friend. We know that positivity is contagious, so in making this a shared activity, you are also enabling the wellbeing of those around you.

4. Be strategic about routine

Routine and children – I can see you rolling your eyes! Bare with me. We know that the more decisions we have to make on a daily basis, the more fatigued we become. With this in mind, it is important to look for opportunities in your day to reduce the need to choose between the endless options available. At the end of the day, consider, ‘what can I plan for tonight in the next 10 minutes that will make my day easier tomorrow’. It may be your outfit, your meals, the park you are going to visit, whether you are going to check work emails and when or how much social media you choose to indulge in. The less frequently you draw on your decision making powers in advance, the greater conviction you will have in the momentary choices you make and the better energy levels you will enjoy.

5. Give yourself permission and a ‘budget’ for being unproductive

Women often find it difficult to detach from their pre-children self-concept of the ambitious, high achieving and reliable doer. The problem with this is that parenting intimately ties you to the emotions, health, preferences and “routine” of another little person. And the smaller the person, the less predictable and less apparent control we have. While I am not asking you to surrender to endless years of being unproductive, it’s important to consciously revisit your priorities and capacity after having a child/children. Giving yourself permission to redefine success in a day and scheduling time to be unambitious can be game changing. It unlocks pent up pressure and frustration to be on the front foot and results oriented all the time. While this can be challenging, remember that the wonder of motherhood can be in the process, not the end result. A sole focus on the end result thwarts the process and in doing so robs you of the quality, the connection and the opportunity to savour the present moment.

Negativity and stress can cascade and if you are serious about overcoming or avoiding burn out, it’s important to be able to break the cycle of negativity that when left unchecked can become pervasive and insidious. Shifting to a position of awareness, intention and self compassion can take time and may feel like more of an effort in the short term however in my view the benefit of this discomfort well outweighs the discomfort and difficulty of being burnt out and the detrimental impact this can have on your relationships, physical and mental health and that of those around you.

How to deal with the feeling that “my body is failing me” when you are having difficulty conceiving.

Conception is a tricky beast. You often have not idea how long it may take you to fall pregnant until you try and most people only begin trying when they feel “ready” to have a baby in arms. So by default, we often approach the process of getting pregnant from a starting point of impatience and with about one “shot” a month, most of us are in for a bit of a waiting game. To add insult to injury, people can be understandably quite private about their journey towards conception but this results in a rather solitary journey.

 

Given we probably know more about our iphone than our menstrual cycle, when we decide to “start trying”, this can be the first time we have attuned to science of conception and boy, is a mind-field – irregular periods or no period, endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome…. For many of us, when we go off the pill, this is the first time we uncover irregularities with our biology. And don’t forget, we do this when we are “ready” for a baby.

 

So here is the perfect storm, impatience and unknowns. Its no surprise that these pressures and uncertainty lead to significant distress and anxiety in many women. The concern and negative self talk most often turns inward in judging and blaming yourself:

“have I been too unhealthy – drank too much, ate the wrong thing, exercised too little/too much….”

“am I too stressed”

“am I doing too much”

“should I have started trying earlier”

“is this my fault”

“is there something else I could have done”

“why is my body failing me”

 

This is what I want you to know:

  1. GPs recommend waiting 6 months before investigating further. Whilst this is not a hard and fast rule, it provides you with an average timeline for conception.
  2. If you have passed the 6 month mark and you have not fallen pregnant, you are not alone. Around 1 in 6 Australian couples experience an inability to conceive within 12 months.
  3. Ruminating and dwelling on past actions or inactions is not productive. It may feel like the default position but recognise that it is detrimental to your emotional wellbeing and can negatively impact conception.
  4. Whilst you may feel out of control there are things that you can do, ways for you to plan and contingencies that can you take.

 

This is what you can do:

  1. Proactively look for ways to reduce your stress levels – try yoga, meditation, mindfulness, regular exercise, socialising and sex for pleasure.
  2. If you find yourself stuck in a cycle of negative thinking, blame or relationship tension, seek professional counselling where you will be able to access practical tools and strategies to overcome unhelpful thinking habits and reduce the emotional burden.
  3. Working through feelings of failure needs to be grounded in facts. Seek medical professional insights so you can explore new information and gain new perspective.
  4. It can help to have a plan A, B and C so you are not simply approaching this journey in terms of “success or failure”.
  5. Consider taking a break. Trying to conceive can be a stressful time with the monthly anticipation. This can impact your mental health, your sexual intimacy, your social relationships and often your work performance. Often taking a month off can give you an opportunity to cultivate aspects of your life and relationship, which have been sidelined or redefined by conception.
  6. Talk to your friends. It’s likely that there are many women around you with a very similar experience and it is often only when we open up to others that people share their vulnerabilities with us. A support network is invaluable on this journey.

 

Given the mind-blowing chemistry involved in creating incubating and delivering a little person, it is no surprise that it is not a standardised experience. But as a society we enjoy the narrative of the near instantaneous conception, the glowing pregnancy and the “natural” delivery. If you are experiencing difficulty conceiving and managing your emotional wellbeing, reach out and connect with us. Your emotional health is a fundamental part of your key part of your fertility plan.

Stressing out when your kids get upset? Let’s think about this differently

Lets start by asking what is it in the world that you want most for your child?

More often then not the verbatim answer is “health and happiness”. Amen. Easy enough said, right? But oh such a tricky and non-linear journey to get there, namely because it does not always feel intuitively right.

Where we often get tripped up is that we think that to develop a happy child, we must eliminate struggle, pain and discomfort. In essence we become an expert “sweeper” – you know that crazy winter Olympics sport of Curling – where a team member glides a stone along the ice and the rest of the team start desperately adjusting the friction of the ice in front with a set of kitchen brooms. Feel familiar? I sure know that at times this is exactly how my day feels.

And like with most actions taken by parents, it is done with the best intentions in mind; Because really who wants to stand there and see your child take a fall, experience pain of the hardship of setbacks? Me – and here is why:

 

  1. Eliminating struggle, challenge and discomfort for your child is not only impossible, it also robs them of opportunity to develop strength in time of difficulty, confidence to navigate challenge and the capacity to manage themselves. The reality of being a parent is that you cannot be there in every moment of your child’s life and there is a time when they do not want you to be.
  2. If we impart on our children that difficult feelings are bad then we cast a shadow over the emotions that are inevitably part of life. We judge them. So not only does your child experience the challenge of the situation and their emotional reaction but also feelings of shame and guilt that they should not be having that experience.
  3. The “sweeper” parent can also lead to and perpetuate the issue that so many teens, young and fully fledged adults face where we over estimate the difficulty of a situation and underestimate our own capacity to face it. This results in unnecessary and often pervasive stress and anxiety.

So the reason I am ok with seeing my children fail, become upset and encounter set backs is that I understand, appreciate and respect the importance of discomfort in my kids life. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t seek it out and I am there with open arms and dedicated time to help talk it through. But in the meantime, I like to standback and watch. It is through learning to do this more and more and overcome the natural inclination to jump in and manage the situation for my child that I can see the beginnings of the strength of independence, empathy and confidence grow.

 

Wondering how you can navigate this tightrope of protection and independence:

  1. Step back and observe. You will be amazed at your childs capacity to manage themselves. They may of course need some encouragement and guidance but resist the urge to take over and intervene.
  2. Look for safe opportunities to encourage discomfort –it could be in a new social setting or a new physical pursuit.
  3. As well as encouraging independence, keep it balanced with connectivity with your child. High quality connections can be formed through small interactions like story telling, hugs and play.
  4. Offer your child a feedback loop on what capability and strength you saw them use. Helping your child to recognise their own growth is fundamental.

 

Each child-parent relationship is individual. It is important to remain conscious in the way we approach our parenting role and develop awareness about what is informing our behaviour. If you would like to explore this topic further – reach out and connect with us.