“My ideal birth would be a home birth just like my mum had, with my Dad there to catch the baby”, says Melbourne mum, Emma. The reality for Emma though, was a far cry from her fantasy birth.
Because her baby’s head didn’t engage after a ‘failed induction’ – Emma cringes at the language and how it mirrors her sense of self – she was whisked off for a Caesarean. “Being a Vet, I was familiar with birth and well-informed. I expected to be very primal in labour, but I felt so powerless – I didn’t get a chance to put anything into place that I had planned. It was terrifying and surreal”.
Emma says, “After the operation, they gave Abby to Greg (my partner) and sent him off alone, while they attended to me. All the time, he was worried that something was wrong with me. Now, I can’t bear to watch movies with natural vaginal births. I keep imagining how it should have been with that lovely ‘Mum, Dad and baby togetherness’ after the birth. I wish we could have been left alone together to bond with Abby”.
Childbirth educator, Denise Love who runs a post birth traumatic stress support group in Sydney says, “This grief reaction when birth doesn’t meet women’s expectations is legitimate whether you have had a natural birth but felt unsupported in the way you wanted to do things, or you are like one of my clients who was taken off for a Caesarean when she was fully dilated and the baby’s head was on view, because her partner and hospital staff decided she was exhausted. This mother sobbed for nine months and said, ‘everybody gave up on me – nobody supported me’.”
“Coming out of birth not only with a live and healthy baby, but feeling strong and ready for the challenges of motherhood is not a luxury,” says Rhea Dempsey, Melbourne childbirth educator and counsellor. “This is an archetypal need for women as they strive to claim themselves as mothers and when a woman’s experience isn’t acknowledged, it can become a factor in developing postnatal depression and may prevent the mother being present to her child”.
Although Emma’s protective instincts were present as soon as she was able to hold Abby. “it was amazing, I spent time smelling her, like a gorilla!” This isn’t always the case for mothers who are separated from their babies in the crucial moments and hours after birth. Denise Love’s work includes a strong focus on facilitating mother infant bonding after birth trauma. She says, “I am seeing more and more desperate women who tell me, “I feel like I am babysitting and I’m waiting for the mother to come and pick up this child. I don’t feel as though she is mine.” These women have been robbed of a ‘falling in love’ experience with their babies.
As Denise shows women how babies can mimic their mother’s facial expressions, including sadness, and encourages positive interactions, it usually takes just a few weeks of work for mothers to fall in love with their babies – and this includes homework exercises like looking into your baby’s eyes seven times a day and say, ‘I love you’.
The best laid plans:
- If you want a natural birth, organise one on one continuous care – you can even take your own midwife to hospital (independent midwife).
- Take an advocate and/or support person such as a doula, as well as your partner.
- Debrief if birth doesn’t meet your expectations, find acknowledgment for your grief. There are counselors who specilise in birth de-briefing but it’s important you find the right person or place to do this in, to avoid disappointment or the wrong support.
- Be kind to yourself.