So, I feel like I have come on leaps and bounds in my healing journey over the last few weeks. After months of just feeling feelings, then recognising feelings and then addressing feelings, I have finally managed to look at some facts.
Healing from trauma is a very personal journey and quite necessarily an introspective one. I probably wouldn’t have bothered examining facts, but when I inadvertently became a birth trauma spokesperson, I felt a bit of a fraud speaking about anything other than my own experience. For confidence I wanted to know what defined trauma, how it happens, what is common to all who experience it. And I can’t tell you how it has helped me move forwards! Oh, do I wish we all knew more about what is behind birth trauma. Because if we did, it wouldn’t happen nearly as much in the first place, and we wouldn’t take nearly as long to heal when it did.
Since learning more about what actually causes trauma, the misplaced guilt and shame I have been carrying around subconsciously since my baby was born, have been pushed out and replaced by shock and anger. I see it as a massive leap forward.
You see, guilt and shame are simply not my burdens to carry. I’ve just come to realise that – and crucially – accept it and my goodness, the lightness in my heart. I cannot begin to tell you.
I had convinced myself that they were my burdens, because maybe if I had tried harder somehow, it would have happened differently and I wouldn’t be feeling this way. As if PTSD is handed out as some sort of penance for being a shit birther or something. Logically, I know that it was impossible for me to try any harder to get my baby out – every blood vessel in my and my baby’s face burst (her eyes had no white they were so filled with blood) in my efforts. I had also prepared my body and mind as well as I knew how beforehand, I exercised to the end, I read up, I did my classes. Regardless, I still felt that shame and guilt and blamed myself. I still felt like maybe if I done something differently, had known more, planned better, advocated for myself louder, etc, etc…
There are so many things that you can blame yourself for if you look hard enough. I know this, because I’ve been there before. It’s called victim blaming. It isn’t just ignorants and bullies who like to blame victims. People do it to themselves even, because of the false feeling of control it gives them over a situation which was ultimately completely out of their control. Fault and blame somehow feel easier to accept than powerlessness. Than the fact that in a situation where you were completely vulnerable, at the mercy of another, they did something to you that made all the alarm bells in your body start ringing, yet there was nothing you could do to stop it happening.
Another reason victims of trauma self-blame, and then feel that subsequent guilt and shame, is because when something is done to them but then that person doesn’t take responsibility for what they have done, the responsibility just hangs there in the air, like a black cloud. It hangs heavily above, waiting for someone to claim it. Until eventually the victim does. The victim assumes responsibility, because nobody else has done, and so it must be theirs.A cloud which rains down on the wrong person, by default alone.
Guilt and shame and blame lie with nobody but the perpetrators. In this case, the perpetrators are not birthing mothers.
Guilt and shame lie with a failing maternal health system. They lie with the antenatal classes which leave mothers in the dark on the realities of birth, so they end up frightened and ill-prepared for split-second decisions. They lie with medical staff who treat people as organs not humans, themselves tripped up by the failings of a system that is supposed to support them to do their jobs well. For over a year now I have been struggling with feelings of confusion and guilt and shame and self-blame and it has been eating up my insides, contributing to my self-silencing over birth trauma and stagnating my healing. And now I am furious. It needn’t have been this way, and I was never even at fault at all.
It is very convenient to keep mothers-to-be as in the dark as possible about what birth really should look and feel like. It is very convenient, because when it doesn’t look and feel right, they don’t complain. They don’t blame anyone other than themselves. Like me, they suffer silently, in shame. So nothing has to change at all.
We all plod along, suffering the individual and social consequences, whilst governments continue to under-fund maternity services and perinatal mental health services because we don’t collectively know better, so we don’t push for anything else.
Birth classes continue to prepare parents-to-be to breathe and rock their way to a natural birth, scaring them away from any alternative with threats of the “spiral of intervention”. Which leaves them completely unprepared for any other (more likely) eventuality, and sadly more likely to feel failure over anything other than a non-assisted natural birth.
Cash-strapped hospitals continue to press medical professionals to rush from one emergency to the next like robots, without time, energy or inclination for holistic and human care, simply because we don’t realise that this is where the blame for trauma lies.
THIS. Not birthing mothers. THIS.
This is wrong. SO WRONG!
And all the while it continues, thousands and thousands of new mums and newborns suffer the stresses of poor mental health, silently, alone. Generations of mothers and babies who grow up feeling the after effects of birth trauma, sometimes for decades, sometimes for their whole lives.
I’m done with this. It disgusts me. It has to change.
Time to make some noise. Who’s with me?