By Erin Newton, LCPC, PMH-C
May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month! And if you’re not new around here, then you already know how much we value maternal mental health at Wellness & Co. It’s over four (!!) years ago now that we started intentionally focusing on mothers and their unique needs in terms of anxiety, depression, OCD, and birth trauma.
Since then, I’ve:
In honor of our journey as a practice, of maternal mental health month, and of mother’s day, I give you a re-release of sorts of an old blog post, slightly updated. This piece is very important in terms of birth trauma, guilt, and the ways in which we are ultimately able to process things and move through what has happened to us. I invite you to read the original here before reading this one.
You see, while I have been helping other women move through their trauma, I have also moved through mine. This post I wrote all those years ago…it doesn’t feel the same anymore. The trauma has been filed away. The memories are there, but they’re less raw, less painful. I am less able to touch and see them like I used to, and this is good, this is healing. I am writing this with the hope that you will see these two pieces and realize that healing is possible, that trauma does file away, and that you will not feel this way forever if you are brave enough to do something about it. I wish you bravery and hope and peace and healing.
It’s been almost fifteen years.
Fifteen years and… I actually struggle to remember the pain in my back from the prick of the epidural now. I have a memory of the PA’s inexperienced fingers as he checked my cervix, but I no longer hear the beeping of the machines, feel the chill of the room, or hear the musical on the tv that no one was watching. These physical, tactical memories have faded. They have filed.
I can still remember the empathy and fear in my husband’s eyes when I looked into them and whispered, “I give up. I want the epidural. I’m so sorry,” but it’s no longer right there when I think of it. I have to search for it, have to move other memories out of the way in my head. My voice still cracks telling this part of the story (that hasn’t changed!), but it’s more because I remember the panicked, devastating feeling of feeling responsible for this. I feel sad for 26 year old Erin now, who didn’t realize that none of this was her fault, that all of this was the fault of the system. That she did what she thought she had to do to keep herself and her baby safe – what any mother would have done.
Nearly 15 years and the smell of a hospital room still makes me uneasy, but there’s no longer dread or panic. In fact, there is more comfort now than there used to be. There is and has always been joy too, a great change set into motion. Trauma can be like that – joy and fear and panic all wrapped up together. Change and loss melting into each other.
Birth trauma can be defined as a specific type of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that occurs as a result of a difficult birth experience. While not all women have symptoms severe enough to warrant an actual PTSD diagnosis, some surveys conducted on women after they’ve given birth show anywhere from 20-30% of women found their birth experiences to be distressing, terrifying, or out of the range of normal experience. There is also often an overlap with Postpartum Depression (PPD) and birth trauma, leading a lot of women to be diagnosed with PPD when they are really suffering from birth trauma, a specific form of PTSD.
This is not something we talk about in society. When a new baby is born, there is so much time and attention paid to this new life, this new hope that has just come into being. We expect new moms to also be feeling this elation, but what if they aren’t? There is shame in that as well, shame that they aren’t feeling happy, shame that they can’t connect to their baby, and at times, shame over dark and scary thoughts that can make women feel isolated and alone. Maternal mental health is a tricky topic to tackle.
A lot of women think that they can only classify their birth as traumatic if they had a surgery they didn’t expect, or worse, if their baby died or was injured. They don’t feel justified in feeling the way that they do unless something catastrophic occurred. Perhaps they’ve been told “Well at least the baby is healthy,” a statement that is meant to bring comfort, but instead ends up making mom feel as if her feelings are not important. As if the only thing that matters here is the life of the baby. And then there’s more shame in that feeling – what kind of mother is so selfish as to care about her own feelings when there’s a new baby to tend to?
I have been doing the work of helping mothers heal from their traumatic experiences for four years now, and in doing so, I have also worked to heal my own. I have said in many of my posts that my daughter’s birthday has always been two feelings for me – one, joy and happiness over another year, but two, a day of loss and trauma and anxiety for me. I would go through the whole day remembering at what times they started the pit, when they broke my water, when they started the epidural. This past year, I realized halfway through the day that I wasn’t doing that. I realized I had to really think about what times things happened, and then I realized that I actually didn’t want or need to do that. That felt strange, like a betrayal to my traumatized self. But then I realized it wasn’t that at all. That it was growth, that it was healing.
These days, I feel like I’ve talked about it enough. I am tired of rehashing it, and I no longer have a reason to. I picked at that scab for a decade before I finally did the work of allowing it to heal. I have done the work of letting the trauma go, of understanding what I had control over and what I didn’t. I am 15 years outside of it. Sometimes that feels like a really long time and other times it doesn’t, but it no longer feels like yesterday, like it did for years. It no longer feels raw and unfinished. It feels resolved, solid, sewn up. It is a weird feeling to be honest, because for so long “having birth trauma” was a part of my identity, like an odd little group I was part of. I imagine that’s how a lot of people feel when they grow and heal, and even sometimes the reason that people resist growth.
I wish this healing for all of you, mamas. To be brave enough, to feel worthy enough, to feel important enough. I want you to learn that your trauma is no longer yours to hold, that you can let it go a little at a time, so it’s not so heavy. That peace is possible and so deserved. Peace when you hold your baby, peace when you look at your partner, peace when you remember your birth story. Peace and love and acceptance.
As always, I am honored and blessed to take this journey with you.
In honor of mother’s day, we are excited to offer our two courses at a discount rate.
“Rebirth, A Birth Trauma E-course” is a 10 week e-course designed for mothers who are searching for healing and a better understanding of their traumatic birth experience. It can be used on its own as a means of self healing and self discovery or in conjunction with therapy from a mental health professional. It combines virtual instruction, printable resources to create a workbook of your progress and activities, a special mug and journal to use throughout the course, and the opportunity to join our private Facebook group to connect with other women who have also experienced birth trauma. Use the code 50OFF to save $50, bringing the cost of this course down to $125. This could make a great gift to someone who you know is struggling with their own trauma and is looking for healing and understanding.
“Rebirth: A Birth Trauma Therapy Group,” is an e-course designed as a one of a kind curriculum for mental health providers looking to run a supportive and educational therapy group for mothers who have experienced birth trauma. It combines virtual instruction for the provider, a sample group format, process and topic schedule, printable resources including a group format guide sheet for each week of group, group activities, discussion questions and homework assignments, and links for meditations and group instruction. Use the code 50OFF to save $50, bringing the cost of this course down to $149.
Erin Newton has been working with individuals and families for almost nine years now. She specializes in perinatal mental health, birth trauma, and anxiety related issues. She strives to help her clients feel seen, heard, understood and to give them the tools they need to start their own journey of healing.
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