By Krissy Regan, The Wellness Poet.
There is no doubt that a mother’s love for her newborn is nothing short of profound and surreal. The hormones flooding our body also make it impossible not to feel “high on love”. There are some exceptions to this and hindsight is a remarkable thing.
In this story I would like to share an insight into what may happen when intense love is mixed with intense trauma and how mindfulness may help support new mothers as they navigate the daily rollercoaster of emotions, whilst caring for a newborn.
Every woman experience’s conception, pregnancy and delivery in a different way, and there is no right or wrong way. It just goes differently for everyone. In my case I had IVF and two relatively high-risk pregnancies, coupled with difficult deliveries and quite fragile newborns. I use gentle language here because I’m conscious that there are women who have had even more challenging circumstances than I did. And there are those that had fewer challenging circumstances. What’s interesting about this is that trauma is trauma, and there are no degrees of trauma on a scale of 1-10. Your experience, is your experience and how you respond physically, mentally and emotionally is unique to you. Of course, you can relate to another person’s experience but do not compare yourself to someone else. The truth is, only you will know how you felt about your experience, and the impact of it.
For me, becoming a mum had been a fairly long, hard road, with many challenges along the way and when my baby was finally delivered, I could not believe how lucky I was to have one tiny, relatively healthy baby. There were many scary moments during my pregnancy and birth, and that did not end when we came home from hospital. The pregnancy was a twin pregnancy, and unfortunately, I had lost one at 9 weeks. I kept telling myself, I was lucky to still have one baby, so whilst I grieved for the lost baby, I had to be strong for the remaining one, so I made myself stop grieving. I also developed severe ICP during my pregnancy (Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy). This is a very dangerous illness for the baby and immensely uncomfortable for the mother. Due to this illness she was delivered at 36 weeks.
I was in hospital for almost 7 days, and when I bought her home a friend came over to make me lunch. That was very kind of her! She was not a mother herself at the time and I said to her, “I don’t think it’s baby blues, I think I have PTSD!” She scoffed at me, not to be silly. I never mentioned it to anyone again. In hindsight she was the wrong person to talk to about such things. In my follow up appointments with midwives and the hospital review team I explained my experiences however, because they could not identify signs of depression at that stage, I was not referred any further. I realise now, because of my clear and concise explanation of what had happened to me on a medical level, it was probably thought that I had everything under control. My personality most likely gave the impression that I had things under control as well, as I’m used to doing that in my professional life when faced with challenges.
I loved my baby so much, I wanted to be strong and happy and every time she looked at me, I could not stop smiling at her. But the loss of one baby in a twin pregnancy is heart-breaking and you can never quite let go of the fact that there was once another little heart beat that did not make it. In the hospital the living baby was referred to as Twin A. Often Dr’s would ask me innocently, but directly, “Where is Twin B?”, despite the fact that Twin B had passed 26 weeks earlier, I was reminded every day of the life that had gone. It’s hard to imagine that this could not have been recorded and communicated correctly in handover notes along with a debrief about my history. This was incredibly insensitive and seems very strange to me in hindsight.
So why do I share these stories? This took place in 2014 and after 6 years of reflection I realise with hindsight there are some things I would do differently now;
- I could have researched or discussed the idea of PTSD with others; the hospital staff, ICP charity, support groups, miscarriage counsellors, google etc.
- I wasn’t even aware that PTSD was a recognised condition affecting new mothers after traumatic births, it was never mentioned to me.
- I could have asked the hospital to do a review of my case given the severity of my ICP and my after-care, to see what learnings they had taken from that. I felt there were many areas they could have better supported me in hindsight.
- My “newborn baby high”, masked the real feelings I had about my experience and I just wanted to demonstrate to everyone that I could do this mothering thing after so long of trying for a baby.
- I’m a very capable person and asking for help, was not something I was used to. I was far from home, close family and friends, and no one in my immediate circle understood what I had suffered. I felt very alone in my suffering but also felt guilty for feeling this way, given I was lucky to have a baby at all.
- I lived in flight or fight, sleep deprived, and anxious for almost 5 years after the birth, and this took an immense toll on my overall health and wellbeing. It’s only after studying mindfulness I’ve been able to let go of the stress, tension, sadness, anxiety and suffering I felt over all those years.
To help clarify, it is now recognised that women can experience PTSD as a result of trauma around the birth of their children. PTSD is not just exclusively for ex-service men and women. Post-natal depression is widely discussed, post-natal PTSD is less widely discussed. If you feel you may be experiencing PTSD after your pregnancy or birth, then I would suggest to reach out to someone for support.
The main symptoms of PTSD are:
- Re-living the traumatic event; this can include feeling very upset or having intense physical reactions such as heart palpitations or being unable to breathe when reminded of the traumatic event.
- Negative thoughts and feelings such as; fear, anger, guilt, or feeling flat or numb a lot of the time. A person might blame themselves or others for what happened during or after the traumatic event, feel cut-off from friends and family, or lose interest in day-to-day activities.
- Feeling wound-up; having trouble sleeping or concentrating, feeling angry or irritable, taking risks, being easily startled, and/or being constantly on the lookout for danger.
- Avoiding reminders of the traumatic event, including activities, places, people, thoughts or feelings that bring back memories of the trauma.
- It is not unusual for people with PTSD to experience other mental health problems as well, such as depression or anxiety. Some people may develop a habit of using alcohol or drugs as a way of coping.
Since I’ve acknowledged I suffered with PTSD after the birth of my children I’ve found ways to grieve, heal and prevent further suffering. Some of the most useful methods I’ve found is using Mindfulness and Meditation. Mindfulness allows us to acknowledge our thoughts, feelings and emotions and to process them in a helpful and healthy way. Meditation allows us to connect with our breath, our body and the world around us which is useful for healing and relaxation. My children are currently two and six years old and every day with them is a joy despite the day to day demands of being a working mum.
The benefits of embracing Mindfulness are as follows:
- Mindfulness has helped me to stop the negative cycle of thinking and ruminating, and to use reflection as a method of processing my feelings and emotions.
- Mindfulness has also allowed me to gain control over the incessant chatter and self-criticism in my head. When faced with a challenging moment I do not let it cloud my judgement. I connect to my breath, know that this too shall pass, and that I am strong, capable, compassionate and resilient.
- Mindfulness has allowed me to acknowledge my suffering, my fears and my anxiety and to thank those emotions and feelings for helping me to keep my babies safe, but to let go of them when they become unhelpful.
- Mindfulness has allowed me to understand what I was ruminating about, what affect being stuck in my grief and PTSD was having on my body, and to enable me to chose a new path and make new, healthy decisions about what I’m thinking and feeling.
- Mindfulness has enabled me to appreciate the small pleasure and joy of my children and to be present with them, to form a deeper connection, and to demonstrate wholeheartedly my love for them in a way that ensures we are bonded on many different levels.
- Mindfulness has helped me overcome anxiety and to understand my stress response which allows me to cope better with stress, particularly when exhausted from constant lack of sleep.
- Mindfulness has helped me to prioritise my health and wellbeing above all else so I can be the best version of myself for me, and my family.
There are many benefits of practising mindfulness to help you connect with yourself and experience a deeper connection with your newborn. If you would like any further help or support, please do reach out. Mindful Mums Queensland offers non-judgemental advice and support as well as programs and workshops to help mums develop mindfulness skills and strategies to improve well-being.
Krissy Regan is The Wellness Poet and Founder of Mindful Mums Queensland. She is author of the new book Broken to Unbreakable, 12 Steps to an Unbreakable Mind, Body & Spirit. Krissy wrote Broken to Unbreakable whilst working part-time at home, raising 2 small children and juggling the demands of her household.
You can contact Krissy Regan at email@example.com or follow Mindful Mums Qld on Facebook and Instagram @mindfulmumsqld
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