I was somewhat naive when it came to having my first baby back in January 2010. I think we all are when it comes to first-time motherhood. Nothing can prepare you for a baby.
I worked as a screenwriter and director at the time and thought that within a few months of giving birth to my first son, I would be back on set, no doubt, with him strapped to my chest, ready to direct actors and lead a crew as I did before his arrival. Business as usual, as it were. Told you I was naive. Oliver arrived via an incredibly traumatic emergency C-section due to a pregnancy liver condition (ICP) I was suffering from. I could barely walk three weeks post-birth, let alone get back into the directing chair (which never required sitting down, by the way).
Worse than the physical pain I was in, (coupled with sleep deprivation and a child who could cry for six hours straight with colic), was the emotional distress I experienced after his birth. There seemed no time nor energy to deal with the trauma I’d faced before going into labour, the grave fear that my child might be stillborn, a risk posed by ICP and then the emotional dash to theatre and distress which followed.
I was broken but ploughed on, suffering in silence for 10 long months before finding the strength to start a blog: Honestmum.com which soon became an emotional lifeline for me, a creative need and distraction for the pain I was in, and also a means to connect with other like-minded mothers and later, fathers, online.
That, in turn, gave me the confidence to move back to Leeds to be close to family and friends and also seek help from my GP who referred me to a psychologist for CBT, and start my recovery. I never intended to launch a blog business in 2010, I had no idea that was a possibility then but as tech exploded and advertising gravitated online, I was able to create a personal brand doing what I loved in a flexible way around my family, developing a successful business which I’m really proud of...
While I deeply loved my firstborn, Oliver, I also felt incredibly strange, particularly as I was induced due to ICP, resulting in an emergency C-section and traumatic birth. It’s not easy to deal with, accept or even write about any kind of trauma – and birth trauma comes with a placenta-style side of guilt attached to it because motherhood is built up to be this hyperreal fairy tale: something to relish and enjoy and be grateful for (which it is), but when it tears you apart too (which it can), it can be scary and isolating, as if you’ve gone against the natural order of things and must be punished in some way. Fear, sadness and shock simply don’t feature enough in the ‘story of motherhood’. Can you remember when it was last covered on TV, for example? Yet, so often, those are the exact feelings you will experience when bringing a child into the world. The traumatic birth of Oliver, now eight, was so hard to deal with and eventually overcome that it took me five years to blog about it. It is one of the most-read posts on my site, and it helped many women reach out for professional help.
Birth trauma refers to damage of the tissues and organs of a newborn due to physical pressure or trauma during childbirth, and also encompasses the long-term emotional consequences.
I, like many other women experiencing pregnancy, birth and first-time motherhood, struggled with a loss of identity, as well as the emotional and physical pain that birth and, in my case, a crash C-section brought. Trauma can occur, whatever the birth, of course. It simply relates to the circumstances of birth.
The Royal College of Psychiatry estimates that between ten per cent and 15 per cent of women in the UK will experience a mental health issue, either during pregnancy or within 12 months of their child’s birth. While most people will have heard of post-natal depression (PND), this statistic also encompasses obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and post-partum psychosis.
My subsequent birth with Alexander, my second son, was a tranquil elective C-section. After undergoing both those birthing experiences, I urge mums-to-be to do your research, speak to the pros, trust your body – and importantly your gut – and listen to those qualified. Never let your heart override the advice of medical professionals, whose job it is to keep you and your baby alive and well. Birth is birth, however your baby arrives in the world. Please remember that.
I wish I’d had access to stories similar to mine, to know what I do now, that I didn’t fail as a mother because I’d had a C-section, that I experienced trauma because it was a scary time. I would have loved more practical help at the time too, but we were far from family, and while my husband was a dependable rock as always, it was moving closer to my mum and dad in Leeds which proved a game-changer for us all.
After relocating, I revealed to my family that I felt broken, and had for almost a year. As soon as I’d finally admitted this to my husband and parents, the support was overwhelming. I wish I’d had the strength to speak out sooner.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) explains why new mothers might be more at risk of experiencing these mental health issues. They state that, after childbirth, the levels of hormones oestrogen and progesterone drop rapidly. This leads to chemical changes in the brain, which can result in mood swings. The fact that mums are often unable to rest and recover from birth leads to physical and emotional exhaustion that can contribute to the symptoms.
Everything comes down to self-care, be it during pregnancy, birth, at work or at home. Here are my tips:
o Make time for a bath.
o Turn off the tech.
o Spring clean your life and step away from negative people.
o Exercise – mild and moderate.
o Get on the mat and practise yoga.
o Pamper yourself.
o Put your coat/PJs on the radiator to warm up.
o Keep a gratitude diary.
o Play music that empowers you and brings you joy.
o Watch a movie when baby sleeps.
o Read a book or a magazine for some “you” time.
o Practice positive affirmations – see mumbelievable.com for inspiration.
o Visualise your dreams. Pre-baby goals don’t have to die when your baby is born.
o Arrange a night out with your friends when you’re up to it.
Mumboss: The Honest Mum’s Guide to Surviving and Thriving at Work and at Home is out now, published by Piatkus at £13.99. Vicki Psarias will be talking about her own personal Mumboss Manifesto at the Life & Style weekender tomorrow and Sunday at The Royal Society of Edinburgh, 22-26 George Street. Day tickets cost £10 and are available from www.edinevents.com/lifestyle (Access to all talks are free, but on a first-come, first-served basis.)