Will My Birth Trauma Damage my Baby?
Hello gracious life-givers,
Folks who have experienced a traumatic birth often wonder if their difficult birth will affect their child. They worry that their child suffered during interventions, during separation, and during the postpartum phase when parents are struggling with PTSD, depression, anxiety or detachment.
First, I want to validate this concern. So often, when such a concern is expressed, it is brushed off: "He was a baby! He won't remember that!" or "You still have the rest of her life to make it up to her." But the truth is, it is really sad and deeply disappointing when you know you were not your usual self when your baby was young or when you know your child had to undergo invasive procedures and might have been scared or lonely.
So first, know that your concerns are valid and let yourself feel that ache for a moment. That ache comes from your love, your care, your protectiveness. It is good.
Hold that with compassion for a moment....
Now, will your traumatic birth damage your baby? My answer to this is: ALL births probably affect infants and children. While babies do not have memories, they do have nervous systems. Their nervous systems respond to threat and danger even though they are not verbal yet. However, what was traumatic for you, might not have been traumatic for them and vice versa.
The other important point about all this is that trauma is part of the human experience. If it is not the birth, it will be something else. It is a universal experience. Life is very much about experiencing aches and pains and overcoming it with our communities. What we must focus on is the healing, and all traumas can be HEALED. There are plenty of things you can do to help your child integrate their birth experience and help them grow strong and resilient from it:
1) Healer, heal thyself: The most important thing is for the birther to do some healing work themselves. When you feel safer, calmer, regulated and integrated, you will shine all that secure energy onto your child and that will be healing. Be compassionate with yourself. You have been traumatised. Do what you can, but know that it takes time.There is no point or need to blame yourself for how your PTSD is affecting your child. You are enough, even if you are wounded and bruised. That baby wants no one but you.
2) Dance, jump, and shake it out!: Move your body with your child. Movement helps to shake things around but it also creates bursts of joy, and that is healing. Notice what happens after a session of movement play. How do you feel? How do you and your child connect?
3) Snuggle and snuggle more: Skin to skin, stroking, hugging, massage, tickling...all of these touches are healing and contribute to building up your strength and resources to help both of you face those less comfortable feelings. Find what soothes you both, what comforts you and what is pleasurable.
4) Write the birth story together: With my first, I was able to invite him to write and draw his story when he was 3.5. He still remembered his story and he actually noticed things and remembered details I did not know about or had not told him about. This may seem cooky but it is not. We now understand that the body remembers things that the mind does not.
When your child is verbal enough, you can invite him or her to tell you about their birth. You can do this together, filling each others' stories with details the other missed. Ask your child to draw the story. You can write the text under the drawings. Ask your child often how they felt at that point in the story. Do they remember a physical feeling? My child described feelings of heat and coolness as well as wind. I wonder if those are his descriptions of internal emotions such as anxiety feeling like a tornado in your chest, or adrenaline like a burst of cool air. What you will find will be unique and interesting. Feel free to e-mail me if you have questions about this process.
5) Do a birth healing ceremony. Invite friends or do it alone. Have a birth photographer attend, or not. Find meaningful activities that will help you heal from the birth. Symbolic rituals are powerful. Examples include. Bathing with your child in a flower petal bath, chanting or singing with your child, singing to your baby, reading your birth stories, creating a family painting, doing clay work to create a communal symbol of strength and resilience, wearing beautiful clothes, painting...etc. If you have any other ideas to inspire others, please write them in the comments below!
As always, reach out to a professional whenever you feel the support would make things easier. You do not need to be at your worst to reach out for help. Therapy is not a last resort! Wishing you peace and healing. With love, care, story-telling, and nurturing, your baby's birth story will contribute to his future resilience.