Birth trauma, Forum theatre, Imposter syndrome, Perfectionism, Procrastination, PTSD, Reflective practice, Social anxiety, Stress
As you may know if you’ve been following me for a while I had a traumatic birth in 2017. This impacted me massively on a personal level but what a lot of people don’t know is how it impacted me on a professional level too.
I had been a qualified midwife for 3 years and had fully prepared for birth and motherhood (or so I thought) but what I had not prepared for was my return to work. I went back part time when Harrison was 10 months old. I returned to the community role I was doing before, so it was familiar and that was nice. What was not nice were the reminders of my experience almost EVERY DAY.
I imagine it’s similar to being a chef for a living…the last thing you want to do is cook when you get home in the evening. I had given birth at the hospital trust I worked for and I was caring for pregnant and new mums who were vulnerable and struggling with similar issues to me. I told myself it was normal and that the sleep depravation probably wasn’t helping. My instinct was to avoid all reminders of what happened to me but I couldn’t. I remember actually having a panic attack in the toilet on the labour ward the first time I had to go back there to collect something. I also remember visiting a new mum and listening to her talk about her birth experience and in that moment just wanting to sit and sob with her. I don’t know how I kept it together.
These expectant and new mums were looking to me to care for them and their baby, give them information and share my knowledge and ultimately reassure them that everything was going to be ok. Outwardly I was talking the talk and walking the walk (my background in performing arts served me well here!) but inwardly I was anxious and could not get away from the things which were triggering me the most. I felt like a fraud.
The reason I share this with you is because it highlights just how hard it can be to do a job like being a midwife, dealing with emotionally charged situations every day when there are personal things that you are still dealing with or underlying emotional health factors such as anxiety. It look me 18 months to realise that these feelings weren’t going away and to start to look at ways to help myself. My family and the women I cared for deserved better and I deserved better.
You see I have been on both sides of the same coin – the new mother trying to keep it all together and not show how much she is crumbling and the midwife trying to keep it all together and not show how much she is crumbling.
Pregnant and new mothers need support but so too do the midwives and birth workers. We care so deeply for others but who cares for us?
When things are constantly changing, our workload increasing in volume and complexity, trying our best but never feeling like it’s good enough, the mounting pressure over fear of missing something or making a mistake and even worse what people will think of us when it all comes crashing down and we burn out…. the guilt, the shame.
Never before has our passion, our calling put us under this amount of pressure. Midwives are leaving the profession at an unprecedented rate. We are in the middle of an epidemic, but the babies still keep coming. We keep showing up the best we can and giving so much of ourselves, even though we are struggling with our own emotions . Even though we feel we may be putting ourselves and our loved ones at risk by doing so.
If I was returning to work now after maternity leave in the hypervigilant and highly emotional state I was in back then, then I would have floundered. It’s taken me almost 3 years but I now have more clarity than ever before in how I want to help others to overcome similar challenges.
My support for pregnant and new mammas will always continue as I am a midwife by nature as well as by name…but I also want to help the extraordinary people who serve our communities to not lose sight of the reason they came into the job in the first place and to rediscover that they can be the midwife they want and deserve to be.
… jumping out of bed in a morning with a spring in your step and the sparkle back in your eyes
…having the confidence to stand up and pitch your amazing ideas, instigate and lead change
…being an inspiration and a role model for your peers, students and the women you serve
…replenising your motivation and resilience to overcome whatever your day brings EVRY DAY
… knowing that your effort and persistence is paying off and that self-assurance is guaranteed
…closing your eyes at night and feeling secure, grounded and peaceful
And finally…to know that if you do decide to leave your job or the profession altogether…it is a decision based on confidence rather than fear.
Think of the sense of relief and the lightness you would feel if you weren’t just showing up for those you cared for, but were showing up for yourself to be the very best that you can be.
You didn’t come this far to only come this far.
Just take a moment to imagine what the midwifery workforce would look like if every member of every maternity team had this mindset. Think of the way we could transform our services and the lives of those we care about – personally and professionally.
This is not a pipe dream. This can be a reality and it starts with you.
Are you ready to take the first step?
April is caesarean awareness month. There’s a good reason why it took me until the very last day to acknowledge it. On a personal level caesarean birth wasn’t something I wanted to acknowledge, as to me this meant failure. My failure.
I want to be very clear here that this in no way means that I believe that those who have had a caesarean birth are failures. To choose to lay on an operating table and have a skilled obstetrician cut you open and bring your baby earthside is, I feel, an act of pure maternal love. I’ve met lots and lots of people who’s baby ended up being born by caesarean and the way that each one of them feels about this is different. Some have chosen it as their preferred mode of birth in pregnancy and are confident it is the right choice for them. For others a situation arises in labour which means that a caesarean is deemed as the safest choice and necessary to save the mother or her baby and they are still coming to terms with this. However your baby comes into the world and however you feel about it is valid.
I want to tell you my experience now. Its taken me almost 3 years to get to this point. Where I feel at peace about how my little boy came into the world. I used to describe his birth as traumatic and its taken me such as long time to figure out why I felt that way.
I was a midwife when I became pregnant so I knew all about labour and birth and I quickly started putting things in place to have the birth of my dreams. I hired an amazing doula, Vanessa, to support both my husband and I, and I was gifted a birthing pool from a wonderful friend, Gemma. I wrote my birth plan, made my ‘birthing nest’ in our spare bedroom and started to look forward to giving birth in the comfort of my own home. I was a healthy first time mum and with a healthy baby on board-I though I had covered every base and things would go according to plan.
To some, my birth story may sound standard. We were both kept safe and policies and protocols we’re followed. No one was unkind to me, or ignored my wishes. No one did any procedures or examinations without my consent and in fact a lot of the things on my birth plan were respected. Others may hear my story and say that it’s traumatic. In fact, a midwife who came to visit me at home in the early days said ‘I’m so glad your smiling and ok, as when I knew you’d had a caesarean after planning a home birth I wasn’t sure what to expect seeing you today!’. Others may hear it and say ‘well you’re both here and healthy and that’s all that matters’, as if this makes up for a birth not going according to plan (and this is a topic for another day…) but they are all just different opinions and interpretations of the same event. They are not fact.
For 18 months I couldn’t put my finger on why I was getting flashbacks to elements of my labour and birth at random times…whilst washing the pots, trying to go to sleep at night, in the shower. Why I felt so anxious and why I had put such rigid rules in place about how a mother should be and if I wasn’t following them then I was a ‘bad mum’. For so long I’d thought it was because I had failed to do one of the most sacred and feminine acts- push my baby out of my body. I couldn’t get my head around the fact that I was still beating myself up about something which happened so long ago. Why did it still matter so much to me?
One of the amazing midwives who cared for me during labour said to me at one point, when a caesarean was looking more likely “you just need to be able to look back and know that you did everything you could” and for a while the memory of those words brought me comfort. But I couldn’t shake the thought that if I did everything I could to avoid a caesarean birth (which I really believe that I did) then why was I not feeling happy and fulfilled with my experience, regardless of the actual outcome?
Its taken me almost 3 years and the help of some wonderful people to get to the bottom of it, in particular my recent work with the wonderful Sarah Brent in her Emotional Health Coach Academy. I have suspected for some time that attending antenatal classes, making a birth plan and having a supportive birth team wasn’t enough to ensure a positive experience (and I was living proof!) and I wanted to understand why this might be. Qualifying as an Emotional Health Coach has not only helped me understand this deeply but gave me an amazing opportunity to heal myself and hit the master reset button on so many things which have been negatively impacting me, particularly regarding my own birth experience.
My core belief prior to and during pregnancy was that if left undisturbed birth could and should be a natural, amazing and transformative experience. I had pre-loaded my expectations that this is how it was going to be for me, even though I had never given birth before so I had no ‘evidence’ that this would be the case.
I have cared for enough people in labour to understand that birth can be unpredictable, but I believed I had done everything I could to ensure it would go according to plan for me.
I’d started off with high self confidence and self esteem about the birth. I had put so many things in place to try and safeguard the ‘perfect birth’. The doula, the birth plan, my unwavering belief in the awesomeness of my body and trust in my baby…and for some birthing folk this would be enough for them to achieve a positive and empowering birth. But my self esteem took such a massive hit when all those external things i’d put in place were no longer working to help keep the birth I wanted on track. And they never would have. As the one thing which I didn’t have in place was my mindset. The reason I considered my birth to be traumatic and a personal failure is because unknowingly I was trying to control the uncontrollable through external factors rather than developing my own internal resources.
I had needed a caesarean to give birth and as this realisation ‘threatened’ my core belief about birth, it had caused me to start thinking very negatively about my own birth. It made me internalise the outcome and blame myself for not being able to achieve the very thing which I truly believe in. I dwelled on it. Replayed that day over and over in my mind. Visualising all the different ways it could have gone. Feeding those negative thoughts and feelings. Not once did I give myself any credit for the hours and hours of preparation I had put in to trying to achieve my best birth. The pregnancy yoga and frequent chiropractic sessions, my nightly self care and bonding time with my baby bump, the birth plan I’d written to help me be able to clearly communicate the things which we’re important to me. I hadn’t even acknowledged the hours I had thrived in my labour- fully in my power and owning my experience. All I had been focusing on was the final few hours when everything had gone ‘wrong’.
I’ve realised that what makes one persons birth ‘bad’ and another persons ‘good’ is perception and interpretation. We don’t all feel and react the same in similar situations. I had been telling myself for so long that I had failed as I had not pushed my baby out. This is not a fact but a belief. No one else was judging me so harshly. I have come to understand that I can start to change this belief by changing my perception, and acknowledging all my efforts rather than just the end result. I already feel so much better.
I truly believe that the KEY to preparing for a positive birth experience should include an understanding of a persons own core beliefs about birth, mothering and in general terms. How they view themselves and their place in the world has such a massive impact on this and the ability to develop skills for their internal self esteem and self worth. All of which will help them approach motherhood with resilience and confidence.
This in my souls work and regardless of whether you already know how to approach labour and birth as a midwife, developing a view from the other side, how you approach birth as a pregnant person and the additional challenges being on the receiving end of care brings, will undoubtedly make a huge difference to your experience.
Love Radha x