This is a fairly lengthy post about my own personal experience of using a baby wrap/carrier after birth trauma.
I’ve been wanting to write this ever since we started the sling meet over three years ago!
We (the original sling meet founders) were all going to write our own stories to share on our website, all fantastic; except I couldn’t write mine back then.
It was all too raw and too icky feeling and had me in a clammy, cold sweat at the thought of it.
So fast forward to over three years later and I now run Have Child, Will Carry as a solo project and here I am sat in my bedroom on my laptop with my favourite Brene Brown talk playing in the background to inspire me to be okay at being vulnerable, something that doesn’t come naturally to me.
I’ll pop the link at the bottom of this post for any of you who haven’t come across Brene Brown’s work yet but she is AWESOME and is helping me to stop writing blog posts like this and then deleting them.
I can’t really talk about my own journey so far without discussing Birth Trauma.
It felt helpful for me when trying to gather the strength to write this out to refer back to the very website that shone the light on how I was feeling five years ago after the birth of my youngest child. It was through realising that there was a name for how I was feeling that prompted me to start talking about how I felt and to start asking for help.
On the Birth Trauma Associations website they say:
What is Birth Trauma?
When we talk of birth trauma, we mean Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that occurs after childbirth. We also include those women who may not meet the clinical criteria for PTSD but who have some of the symptoms of the disorder.
What is different about Post Natal PTSD?
It is, perhaps, difficult to understand how a process as seemingly ‘natural’ as childbirth can be traumatising but it has been clear for many years that women can suffer extreme psychological distress as a consequence of their childbirth experience for a complex variety of reasons which are frequently related to the nature of delivery.
Unfortunately, the difference between the common perception of childbirth and some women’s experience of it means that women who suffer Post Natal PTSD symptoms frequently find themselves very isolated and detached from other mothers. They also find themselves without a voice in a society which fails to understand the psychology of childbirth and which therefore expects mothers to get over their birth experience very quickly.
Consequently, women affected by Postnatal PTSD often find that there is nowhere to turn for support because even other mothers, who have not had traumatising births, can find it hard to understand how affecting a bad birth can be. This can make sufferers lonely and depressed as they often feel they are somehow ‘weaker’ than other women because they are unable to forget their birth experience, despite being told by others to ‘put it behind them’. They may feel incredibly guilty as a result.
This is a terrible burden for women to shoulder and one which profoundly affects their lives. The nature of PTSD means that constant ruminating on the birth experience is beyond the sufferer’s control but this is constantly misunderstood, even by health care professionals.
Unfortunately, for women suffering from Postnatal PTSD, their detachment from others and the lack of support provided to them can mean that relationships with friends and family may deteriorate. For example, many women end up feeling torn between their desire for more children and their determination to avoid another pregnancy.
Isn’t this just Post Natal Depression?
No. PTSD can overlap with Post Natal Depression (PND) as some of the symptoms are the same, but, the two illnesses are distinct and need to be treated individually.
I think it’s really important to acknowledge that like all things in life, birth is a completely unique experience for each individual (and I’m including birth partners who witness childbirth in this topic because they too can experience birth trauma) and that nobody else is better qualified to tell you whether you have experienced birth trauma than YOU.
I didn’t want to touch on the subject and just post a link to the page where that information came from because I didn’t want to take the chance that some of you may not have the time to go and visit it to see the information. I felt it deserved a bit of space on this post.
My Birth Trauma Experience
To cut the long story short though my youngest child’s birth five years ago (which was an otherwise INCREDIBLE, calm, empowered experience and SO unlike my eldest child’s seven years previous) went really well and showed no signs of any problems we happened to be one of the 2/3 per 1000 who’s baby suffers a condition called hypoxic-ischaemic encephalopathy (HIE), or perinatal asphyxia.
“This condition occurs when a baby suffers a shortage of oxygen or blood supply to the brain around the time of birth, leading to brain injury.
In severe cases, 25–50 percent of babies may die, and those who survive are at risk of disabilities like cerebral palsy, blindness and epilepsy.” Action Medical Research website.
The long and the short of it for us was that our daughter didn’t breath but thanks to the incredible team we had around us was able to be given oxygen the entire time until we could get her to the Dr who would make the call that she could be a part of a Neo-Natal Cooling medical programme at a nearby hospital in Gillingham.
The treatment is called Therapeutic Hypothermia and basically by cooling the body with the aim of reducing the brain’s temperature the hope is that the doctors can alter the chemical process that can lead to brain damage.
Because we were able to receive treatment so quickly it meant that the doctors were able to start lowering her body temperature straight away, even as she was being transferred by ambulance to Gillingham hospital (the hardest car journey for us EVER undertaken as we had to travel separately later on once we were okay to drive).
The treatment lasted for a few days (which are still a bit of a blur) and I can just remember the unexplainable urge/need/instinct to touch my baby on that first day, even just on the hand (which I hadn’t yet been able to do at all in any way) but I couldn’t. Not straight away.
So I threw myself into expressing colostrum for her instead and tried to focus on taking it all one minute at a time.
I’m sure that any of you who have experienced anytime in a Special Care Baby Unit will know what it is like and will have your own personal experiences and observations.
My experience of it all was that time seemed to be different inside those security doors, that you see people at their most vulnerable yet strongest times and that there was a very strange atmosphere of unspoken support and understanding between parents/carers all just trying to take this awful time one anxiety riddled moment at a time. You could see people putting their ‘game face’ on as relatives and siblings came to visit and then saw them slump with exhaustion as the loved ones leave with anxious glances over their shoulders… everyone just trying to stay positive and hoping.
When we were blessed beyond our wildest dreams and able to leave that ward behind came the waves of guilt that others were not able to have that same journey, the gratitude and the guilt combined and then the feeling that “what have you got to feel sad about, at least you HAVE your baby!!!” haunted me for a long time.
Here’s another shit thing about Birth Trauma, it’s not just specially reserved for births where there’s been a life or death scenario.
I now know that I experienced unrecognised/unacknowledged birth trauma and didn’t even realise with my eldest child thirteen years ago, not because of anything as dramatic as the birth I’ve just mentioned either. My experience back then was that of powerlessness, of feeling out of control and unsupported.
I was unprepared and didn’t have any faith in my own body and what it was capable of. The labour was long and I was grateful for any drugs I was able to take. I still grieved for what I heard and saw from other new mother’s though.
I assumed that it was something I should have done better and the whole event replayed over and over in my head for much longer than it was good for me. Having now read and chatted to others who have experienced birth trauma I can see that it’s just not as simple as those who have had life/death experiences during child birth at ALL!
The birth of my youngest was everything that my first experience of childbirth wasn’t and as a result the labour experience was genuinely amazing, but that doesn’t guarantee anything does it!
The reason I’m sharing this tricky subject is because I really don’t think birth trauma is talked about enough and I think that maybe a lot of us are just ‘getting on with it’ and not having the conversations necessary for us to grieve for the births that we had dreamt of.
If anybody reading this feels that they could benefit from some more information on this then please do see the links at the bottom of this post.
So, when we did get home ALL I wanted to do was to have her on me as much as I possibly could to support my breastfeeding and just because that’s what babies and mothers need in the fourth trimester (see link below for more info on that) and also because we had lost time to make up for.
I decided to make use of that stretchy wrap that I’d bought in haste towards the end of my pregnancy with no idea how to use suddenly became the greatest tool in my parenting toolbox!!!
I didn’t carry my eldest daughter as much as I would have liked due to a lack of confidence and through buying a carrier that just didn’t feel supportive enough to use.
Second time around with a newborn I had no idea what I was doing but, with the help of some videos on You Tube and lots of practice at home in time (it took me a while) I felt brave enough to leave the house.
If any of you suffer or suffered from anxiety after the birth of your children you may well recall the first time you left the house with your newborn. For me, it was an incredibly intense experience and I just saw potential danger everywhere I looked. Having her close to me in the wrap was the only way I could have possibly survived that lovely, gentle family stroll through our local common.
I put my ‘game face’ on and smiled and then I remember suddenly feeling so so proud as I posed, we’d made it and we were OUTSIDE and I could feel her breathing and although I could ‘feel’ she wasn’t as snug as I wanted her (hence the hands supporting her) it was okay for now and we were here together as a family and everything was OKAY!
It took me a good hour to adjust and to relax enough to have some photos taken and then pretty soon after those I just had to get home to my nest.
As the weeks and months followed the wrap enabled me to leave the house each day to do the twice daily walk to school with my eldest and I could even hold her hand as we walked and give her my full attention as we chatted. It enabled me to feed on the go using both boob and expressed milk bottle.
It allowed me to travel and explore small island just off of Malta called Gozo when she was just eight weeks old where my fiance then proposed and where we later married.
It basically allowed me to do more than I could possibly fit into this post.
Seeing as I’m sharing these early days photos I just want to acknowledge something that I know I’m not alone in feeling, especially since I’ve become a trained babywearing/child carrying educator.
After I completed my first course back in 2013 I started to look back at my early day’s photos not with the pride and joy that I once had but instead with an element of shame. I could suddenly see all the things I could have done ‘better’ or ‘right’ like the third pass of my beloved green stretchy wrap not being used or the fact that I never quite felt it was tight enough so had to use my hand. That her pelvis could have been tilted better and so on, so on… it wasn’t as a direct result of the course but instead the natural side effect of learning. I felt I couldn’t share them on our Facebook page or website as much as I wanted for fear of judgement.
But the game changer happened this summer as I attended the Slingababy training course this summer (2016) delivered by Lorette. I will write another post about THAT amazing experience but;
we all had to bring in a photo of our early babywearing days and then we all looked at them and spoke about what we saw when we looked at each other’s photos, well cue the tears and a LOT of emotions but then after that subsided the realisation that it was okay to not have done things then as I would now.
I have always told parents/carers I meet to be kind to themselves, that we were all a work in progress and my favourite quote ever that was often shared by both Vicky and I at our sling meets was:
But there I was feeling shame about some of my own most precious moments!
Thanks to Lorette at that Slingababy course and the amazing women who were in that room with me during the course plus the incredible Brene Brown books I’ve been reading recently and all her wisdom on why we feel shame and what to do to shift it I am now intensely proud of those snaps and am very happy to share them with anyone who ever makes it through this very long winded post.
So a wrap cured your Birth Trauma?
My intense feelings of anxiety, the guilt, the grief for the birth experience I didn’t get to have.
The fear that although we’d been so lucky that surely now she’d be snatched from us at a later date plus the avalanche of other thoughts that followed (and still follow at times) were most definitely NOT magically healed through the use of the many (many) wraps and carriers that I then went on to own.
As the years have gone on I’ve managed to start to make sense of that stuff through the aid of some incredible friends who have listened and held me in a safe space while I had my wobbles, some great books loaned by said great friends (Vicky if you’re reading this I WILL return them to you someday I promise haha) and I’ve learnt to listen to my own advice and to be kind to myself and to recognise my own triggers and when I’m feeling overwhelmed. I’ve allowed myself to grieve for the birth we didn’t get to have and am slowly making peace with it.
How babywearing HAS definitely helped me though is by enabling me to leave the house at a moments notice if the walls were beginning to close in as well as all the other practical benefits spoken about above, I now also know more of the science behind why having your child close to you can be so beneficial for both mother and baby which has helped me and that I love sharing with those that I work with.
Added to that is the incredible community of fellow baby wearers that I now know which is something incredibly special and something I’ve never in all my life experienced before!
From fellow wearers in public groups to the fellow community of educators and retailers, I had no idea how important this whole child carrying adventure would end up being!
It’s all basically people lifting up people.
Literally with regards to carrying the little people in our lives through the basic use of fabric and emotionally through the support and love that is shown to fellow babywearers as we all go along our personal and professional journeys together.
I know it’s all sounding a bit schmaltzy right now but it’s the genuine truth and it’s the whole experience that has helped me with my own personal journey.
I cannot write this without acknowledging the huge effect that starting Have Child, Will Carry has had on me too, the privilege of working with so many parents and carers over the years has been incredibly healing for me.
There’s nothing quite liking witnessing first hand the many benefits of carrying a child in front of your very eyes at a sling meet, consultation or workshop. It’s just magical!
This doesn’t happen every time of course, sometimes everything goes completely awry and nothing or no carrier seems to work at that moment in time.
Maybe the child cries A LOT, or is sick or there’s a ‘Poonami’ incident as we work.
Sometimes parents and carers find it all too overwhelming/exhausting, some cry, some get frustrated that they can’t do something and some just go quiet at a sling meet and leave, only to return again another day.
But that is parenthood isn’t it, it’s basically us just flying by the seat of our pants from one day to the next. Hoping we’re doing okay and just trying to survive the rough times and celebrate the good.
What I like best about working with children and their carers is that it’s all very REAL and that has been a great learning and healing experience for me in coming to terms with my own ‘stuff’.
While we’re on sling meets I’ve still to this day no idea how I’ve managed to fight my anxieties enough to host our sometimes crazy busy sling meets over the years, if any of you have ever attended and been the first to arrive then you probably noticed my nervous chatterings or the huge hugs that Vicky and I used to have before each meet to get me through them.
Each and every meet has been a fantastic learning experience in itself though and I’m so glad I’ve continued to host them and I look forward to hosting more and more in the future.
So if any of you lovelies reading this struggle with anxiety or anything similar and think you can’t possibly do stuff like everyone else does, you can!
I’m not going to lie, there will be hard days but the thing is, once you start being open about having anxiety issues you start to find that other people tell you about their own ‘stuff’ and then you begin to realise over time that it’s not as lonely a place as you once thought because we’re all going through something… some are just better at hiding it than others!
Right well if you’ve made it to the end of this then well done you!
I apologise for any poor literary skills and rambling, I am not a natural writer but I’m going to practice so that I can keep writing on here.
I’m leaving the quote that inspired me to write this in the hope that some of you may feel inspired to do the same and if you do and you’d like to have your story featured on here then feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org because it would be incredible to be able to share other peoples child carrying experiences and photographs. (ps I’m happy to co-edit text and also photos for people too as am a lover/regular user of photoshop so please don’t let that put you off if it’s something you want to join in with)
Thanks for reading
Love Kitty xx
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
― Brené Brown
References and interesting links