Birth Trauma, an anniversary

Here’s the story that women are supposed to tell:

 

On this day __ years ago, this perfect little bundle came into my life. And the moment I saw his/her face, I knew that all the pain and sacrifice was completely worth it, and the joy of seeing my baby washed away all the trauma I experienced bringing him/her into existence.

Here’s the story I’m telling you today:

It’s my son’s 7th birthday today. Yesterday I couldn’t pin down why I was feeling so sad and anxious all day long. Last night I went to sleep running my fingers over my C-section scar. This morning I woke up after yet another anxiety dream, and my body felt like it was pinned to the bed. Just like that horrific day seven years ago when I discovered that I would be strapped down to a cross and cut open, and then left alone for hours with my mind and body still reeling from the horrors that had just happened. From all the echoes of past trauma that had been both physically and mentally re-opened.

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For mothers who experienced traumatic births, these birthdays are the cruelest of celebrations. We are supposed to smile and shower love on our children, and never admit that on these days we would really love to curl up in a ball and sob. We are not supposed to say that having our children took too high a toll on our physical and mental health. We are not supposed to mention just how badly our medical and social systems failed to support us when we needed it the most.

There is no space for this grief. It is lumped into a big pile with all the other unacceptable griefs in our culture and buried in a mass grave far away so we won’t have to look at how women’s bodies are routinely traumatized in the name of health care. Or how our culture simultaneously holds up motherhood on a pedestal while actively despising mothers. Or how childbirth re-activates old sexual assault trauma. All these topics are strictly off-limits.

Well I am done pretending that this day is not traumatic for me. I have seen friends who decades after the anniversary of a loved one’s passing still make room for grief on the anniversary of the death. And I think that mothers (and parents of all genders who experienced birth trauma) need to be allowed to take room for themselves on this day. Maybe we can have some kind of group ritual, much like people bring flowers to grave sites. Something to honour that pain and sacrifice. Something to sooth our grieving bodies, who very much still remember.

I think I’ll find a park bench today and sit there with a bunch of flowers and make space for tears to flow. I’ll remind myself that I am in good company, that many others feel this way. I’ll honour my body and the sacrifice it made by treating it kindly today, offering it sweets to taste and fresh air to breathe. I’ll light a candle for all those who are sitting with any form of grief today that they have to harbor in secret. And I’ll send out these wishes for all of us.

May we be filled with loving kindness.

May we make space to honour our grief.

May we be loved, supported and seen in our sorrow and our strength.

 

P.S. If you are struggling with birth trauma right now, I want you to know that you are not alone. If you need support, Pacific Post Partum offers phone and text support at 604-255-7999 Monday to Friday from 10am to 3pm PST.

 


Interested in learning more about trauma recovery?

Enroll in my upcoming online workshop: Parenting After Trauma.

Self Care in Challenging Times: When your personal trauma intersects with public trauma

There are times when we really want to avoid the news. Sometimes we forget for a moment and then click a link and instantly regret it. Bill Cosby. Jian Ghomeshi. Alabama. For survivors of sexual assault these are hard times to navigate.

The headlines remind us that there is a war on women’s bodies and that our personal trauma is part of our larger cultural trauma. I feel so conflicted at these times, between survivor me and advocate me. Survivor self is triggered into a state of feeling helpless again to change these things, to take control of both my personal body and the collective female body. Advocate self wants to hop on a soapbox and rail against the injustices of the world. But there is a toll that is paid by women who speak out publicly about anything in this society. Speaking out publicly as a feminist can lead to death threats, personal attacks, and harassment. So how do we balance taking care of our mental health and standing up for our rights? How do we balance staying informed and maintaining our mental health?

I have a list of five things we can do to take care of ourselves during these challenging times.


1. First I have to take what I know about how trauma impacts the brain and remind myself that at times like this we are triggered into our fight/flight/freeze/fawn responses. When this happens the amygdala is in control and it is taking the thinking brain, the prefrontal cortex, off-line. And when that happens it’s time to remind myself to use my flashback management strategies.


2. It’s time for some radical self-care. That means lining up activities that remind me of all the good things in my life. It means connecting with friends, watching funny movies, making art, going for walks, drinking enough water, calling my therapist.

Sometimes art can help us process what we have no words for.

Sometimes art can help us process what we have no words for.


3. Watch out for inner critic attacks. When we are triggered into our past trauma our inner critic tends to get very loud. This is because we are triggered back into feeling like that helpless victim we once were. Paying attention to the inner critic voice and talking back to it is one way that we can take control again at a time when we might be feeling out of control.


4. Think small. Maybe we can’t do anything to change what is happening on a larger scale but maybe we can donate five dollars to Planned Parenthood or Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada. Maybe you buy a copy of the new anthology Whatever Gets You Through: Twelve Survivors On Life After Sexual Assault. Or another new book: My Body My Choice: The Fight for Abortion Rights. Make choices about when you will and will not speak up about this. We do not have to fight every single battle, we do not have to engage with every ignorant comment made online.


5. Seek out the good. When we are faced with a never-ending bad news cycle, it can really twist our perception of humanity. Make a list of all the people you know who are doing work that makes the world a better place. Include yourself on that list. Write a thank you note to someone whose work you admire.


I want you to know this above all: working on your own healing is a valid and necessary form of resistance against a culture that tells us that we do not matter. So if all you do is pick one item of self care off this list, that is still an important and valuable contribution to social change. Sometimes the hardest work we do is rooting out the voice of the internalized oppressor who tells us that we are worthless. As Audre Lorde said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”


Interested in learning more about trauma recovery?

Enroll in my upcoming online workshop: Parenting After Trauma.

Parenting with PTSD Interview Series, a conversation with Andrea Papin, RTC

I recently interviewed Andrea Papin, RTC for the Parenting with PTSD interview series. We had a great conversation about the role of anger, grief and forgiveness in the healing process. Check out the video below!

 "Anger and grief are feelings that arise when we experience a loss, a transgression, an injustice, a boundary violation, or a transition. They are embodied energy that alert us to what we value and what we need. They can be a way to honour what we have lost." -Andrea Papin

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 "Forgiveness is a word that we hear thrown around a lot, but what does it really mean and how important is it in the context of trauma?

Typically, the word “forgiveness” is used to describe the arrival at a state of peace, that involves a letting go of anger and resentment towards someone who has harmed us.  In the context of trauma, we tend to think of an abuser, perpetrator, or even an event.  We also tend to talk about forgiving ourselves.

All of these ways of talking about trauma seem to elude to a particular trajectory with an endpoint where we are healed, calm and wise. Now I don’t doubt that this is possible, but I don’t think that forgiveness is an endpoint, a necessity or a feeling state that is static." -Andrea Papin

Guest blog on Out of the Storm: Parenting and the Legacy of Childhood Trauma

Janet is overwhelmed with a wave of revulsion and nausea every time she breastfeeds her child. Mateo feels guilty every time he changes his son’s diaper, as if he is doing something wrong. Han is filled with paralyzing anxiety every time her boys play-fight. What do these parents have in common? They are all parenting with ACEs.

Many research studies have now established how ACEs, or Adverse Childhood Experiences, negatively impact mental and physical health over a lifetime. The CDC-Kaiser Permanente ACE Study and subsequent surveys that show that most people in the U.S. have at least one ACE, and that people with four ACEs— including living with an alcoholic parent, racism, bullying, witnessing violence outside the home, physical abuse, and losing a parent to divorce — have a huge risk of adult onset of chronic health problems such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, suicide, and alcoholism. An ACE score of six or more can shorten your lifespan by up to 20 years.

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The question that is not being asked is, what happens when these survivors of childhood trauma grow up and have children of their own? Many survivors of childhood trauma are living with un-diagnosed PTSD that becomes un-manageable when they have kids of their own. These parents are blindsided by the sudden onset of flashbacks and triggers related to parenting. In the absence of information about this common occurrence, they are left feeling broken and alone….


To read the full article on Out of the Storm, click below: