In a world where cesarean sections are required in 26%-30% of births, instrument assisted vaginal deliveries are on the increase and well thought out birth plans are rarely played out, I ask my fellow men and women to please stop telling new mums that a healthy baby is all that matters!
Disclaimer: I am not a trained psychologist. There comments and thoughts simply reflect my experience as a mother, a friend and a health professional who works with (the often traumatised and injured) perinatal population.
New mother’s and father’s who have experienced a traumatic, frightening or unexpected birth are often reassured that “a healthy baby is all that matters” or told “as long as bubby is safe…”. These comments, while often coming from a good heart, are not always helpful. Now please let me clarify. Of course these mothers and fathers are grateful that their baby is healthy, of course they are happy that some wonderful obstetrician and midwifery team were able to perform a miracle of modern medicine and bring their baby into the world safely, and of course they wouldn’t have wanted to risk anything that could have endangered their baby. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t experienced loss. Loss for their birth plan and loss for the expectations they had on themselves and their bodies. As well as that, a healthy baby doesn’t mean that a new mother and father haven’t experienced grief. Grief over their body, mind and heart that had experienced a trauma, and grief for the moments of anxiety and fear that they may have had to experience during their delivery.
“Loss and grief are not something to be measured against another person’s experience. It is a not a competition against ourselves or anyone else as to ‘who has suffered more’. It is simply an experience and an internal state of being that we must acknowledge and show kindness to in order for our new mothers and fathers to heal.”
The baby blues, post-natal depression and post traumatic stress disorder are all very real things that new mum’s (and dad’s for that matter!) can experience. 15-20% of women will experience depression or anxiety during or following the birth of their baby, 9% will experience post traumatic stress disorder and although rare, 1-2 out of 1000 mothers who deliver will experience post-partum psychosis. These conditions will often not discriminate. You can have everything you ever dreamed of in life: a safe home, a loving partner, a supportive community and a home/work life free from worry. But that doesn’t mean that you are exempt from experiencing changes to your mental health pre and post partum. It certainly doesn’t mean you should feel guilty if you are someone who is experiencing post-natal depression, anxiety or post traumatic stress. Signs and symptoms that you may be experiencing perinatal mental distress might include some of the following (with thanks to http://www.postpartum.net/learn-more/pregnancy-postpartum-mental-health/ for the following info):
- Feelings of sadness or depression
- Feelings of irritability or anger with those around you
- Difficulty bonding with your baby
- Feel anxious or panicky
- Having problems with eating or sleeping
- Having upsetting thoughts that you can’t get out of your mind?
- Feel as if you are “out of control” or “going crazy”
- Feeling like you never should have become a mother
- Worry that you might hurt your baby or yourself.
You can also use an evidence-based tool such as the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Screen (EPDS) to check on your symptoms.
So… have we missed something really crucial in the experience of these women? Is a healthy baby really the only thing that matters?
In my utopia I would love to see all women band together, give each other strength and find support in the difficult times that we all will face as mothers. Why as women must we continue to judge, compare or hold competition with each other? Indeed, why as women must we continue to judge, compare or hold competition with ourselves? I would love to see us take a step back and see each women for every part of her experience and being.
Let’s continue to celebrate our new born babies and the amazing, miracle that is a woman giving birth. But at the same time let us show kindness, compassion and acknowledge that a women may be suffering behind closed doors. Giving acknowledgment and permission to a women to let go of her stoicism and guilt may be the first step in letting her move toward getting some help and enabling her to lead a better life for her and her family. A simple question to ask is “are you O.K?”. A simple acknowledgement may be “I am sorry that happened to you”. A simple conversation could mean the world to someone else.
- Post Partum Support International. Available at http://www.postpartum.net/learn-more/pregnancy-postpartum-mental-health/ Accessed 7/2/18
In our next blog Julia will be elaborating on the effect that delivering a baby can have on our physical health and give you the warning signs to look out for that things may not be right.
Be kind to yourself,