Recovering after pregnancy and birth related trauma is hard.
I feel like a large majority of mothers have been through some sort of difficult time pre and/or post-natally. Most of those mothers won’t need much help or time to get back to homeostasis, but some will. Some will need a lot more help than others.
After three miscarriages I struggled mentally when my baby was born. I still struggle with some negative thoughts from time to time. But the difference is that today, ten months on, I’m better able to rationalise them and they are nowhere near as bad as they used to be. Previous thoughts were ones of ‘I wish I didn’t have a baby, what have I done and I’m never having another baby every again’. Now, I only have negative thoughts on particularly bad days when I’m sleep deprived or looking after my baby on my own. And I guess they can’t even be classed as negative thoughts. They’re more like normal struggles that most mums will go through like when I think I could sleep for days, or I wish I had that extra helping hand. I’ve definitely started to heal. Whereas previously I never thought I could.
I have finally started to bond with my baby. It definitely wasn’t that hard and fast love that others feel for their children. And I’m not sure if it will ever get to that full blown level of love with her. Sometimes I look at her and think ‘where did you come from?’ As though I’m looking at her from another person’s viewpoint. I’m often asking myself if this is really my baby (weird right?). But the bond is happening slowly, and the fact that It’s happening at all is what matters to me. In those moments when she reacts to a stranger and naturally turns to me for comfort, that’s when I’m sure she’s mine. When I wake her in the morning and she looks at me with that huge grin, that’s when I’m happy to be her mother. And when I come home and she crawls towards me at a million miles an hour, that’s when I know we have started that bond. And every day, I look at her and think ‘yep, I really do love you,’ and that’s when I know, I’ve started to heal.
Here are the things I did to start healing my mind:
‘Sleep when the baby sleeps!’ I think I heard that about a million times before I gave birth and even more afterwards. If you are one of those people who can fall asleep at the drop of a hat, you probably won’t have any trouble sleeping when the baby sleeps. But I’m a terrible sleeper, and day sleeps before pregnancy were non-existent. I just wasn’t a day napper. And after having a baby, I’m still not a day napper. I cannot sleep during the day. Even if I’m exhausted beyond belief, I just can’t do it. After having a baby I found it even harder to fall asleep when the baby was sleeping because I was thinking about all the things I could have been doing while the baby slept. Like, the laundry and cleaning the house, and making dinner ……the list goes on (I can’t turn my brain off).
So instead of sleeping, I rested. I put my feet up. I watched TV or read a magazine. I forgot about all of the house work that needed doing and I focused on me. Even if it was just for just 30 minutes. It was better than nothing. As Charlotte got older and started taking longer naps, these moments of ‘rest’ became more and more healing. I felt so much better for just sitting down and doing nothing. And I didn’t feel guilty for one second!
Get out there and get moving. When you have a new born, they love nothing more than to be in a moving vehicle (car, pram or front pack). So even just going for a walk was so good for my mental health. At first, I hated leaving the house. It was such a drama just to get my baby out of the house that I would rather just not do it. Even when I was out walking, I didn’t enjoy it. I was too worried that my baby would wake and need feeding or just start crying uncontrollably. But once we were home again, I realised how healing it really was.
As my baby got older, I started going to the gym when I could. Hubby or family looked after bubs, and I went to the gym. Just having that time for myself was immensely helpful. But also getting my heart rate up and having endorphins flood my body was even better. And it helped me sleep! Go figure.
- You time
Go and get your hair done. Meet up with a friend and get your nails done. Go for that coffee without your baby. If you can get someone to babysit, go and do something that was a normal activity for you prior to having your baby. The more you can do things that was the norm for you before bubs, the more you will feel like your normal self again. I know this can be easier said than done. I didn’t do anything for myself for a very long time. The first time I left my baby for more than an hour, she was about 5 months old. I booked an appointment to have my hair dyed. I reluctantly left Charlotte with my husband and my family. I was away for around 3 hours. It was the hardest thing I’ve done, but the feeling was amazing. I was so proud of myself for doing it. It let me know that other people are more than capable of looking after my child. And seeing blonde hair instead of grey roots when I looked in the mirror, lifted my spirits every time. Win win!
- Post-natal vitamins
For some reason, I stopped taking my pre-natal vitamins after giving birth. I didn’t pack them in my hospital bag, and so I went without them for about a week. Once we got back home with Charlotte, I just seem to have forgotten to start taking them again. Plus, I had already given birth, so I didn’t think I needed PRE-natal vitamins.
Your body goes through so much when you give birth, so of course it’s going to need extra help to heal afterwards. And let’s face it, eating healthy and getting the nutrients you need from food isn’t at the top of the list as a new mother. So a post-natal or multi vitamin is key (‘Lifemum’ do a great one). As soon as I started taking a post-natal vitamin, I started to feel so much better. I also added iron and magnesium supplements. The magnesium also helped me sleep deeper at night (when I wasn’t awake to feed).
- Date night
Spend time with your significant other. There is nothing more important than getting that connection back.
When you have a baby, they suddenly become your number one priority and everyone else gets whatever energy and love you have left. Which is not a lot, if any. So spending time with your loved one (partner, family, or friends) is really important. And only one rule applies: No baby talk.
If you are the significant other reading this: plan a night out for mum. There is nothing better as a mum than being taken care of and having someone else make the decisions for once.
Tell people about what you’ve been through. You might be surprised to find that others share your experience. And once you find that person, spend time with them. Ask them over for a coffee. And just talk.
As soon as I found others who had an experience similar to mine, I made sure to talk with them about it. We shared our stories. I learnt about things that I hadn’t experienced, and vice versa. The more I talked, the better I felt. Just to know that I wasn’t alone and other people had shared in the same trauma was a great relief.
If you can afford it, talk to a professional. Find someone who specialises in the kind of trauma you have experienced, and open up to them. I really started to heal when I spoke to a psychotherapist. It was one of the greatest thing I’ve spent money on and I highly recommend it.
- Teach your baby to sleep
My biggest hurdle as a mother, and something that was a major contribution to my poor mental health, was my baby’s sleep. If my baby had a long nap, I was in great spirits. I felt like the best mother on earth, I could do anything! As soon as bubs woke after a short nap, or I struggled to get her to sleep, the negative thoughts came flooding back. Sleep was a major issue. The best decision I ever made was to get help from a sleep consultant. My biggest problem was that we rocked charlotte to sleep for every nap and at bedtime. So of course every time she woke, she expected to be rocked back to sleep as she had no idea how to fall asleep on her own. The sleep consultant helped us teach Charlotte how to fall asleep without our help with something called the Pick-up, put-down method. As soon as she learnt to fall asleep without our help, I started to relax a whole lot more about things. The consultant also put charlotte on a sleep schedule. This meant age related appropriate awake and sleep times. And as a mum who liked to know what was happening at all times, this sleep schedule allowed me to plan my day and any appointments around her naps. No more second guessing when she might be awake or asleep. It took a few weeks for charlotte to get into the swing of things, but once she had it down, we never looked back. We had a few hiccups along the way with sleep regressions, teething and illness but a few tweaks to the schedule and she was back on track in no time. With the help of this schedule, she started sleeping through the night at around 9 months of age and that’s when I started to feel a whole lot more normal.
A major traumatic event in your life can’t be forgotten about quickly. You can push it to the back of your mind, but eventually it will rear its ugly head. So get help, and give it time.
Also, give it time, at the time. Do not rush back into everyday activities. People often jump back into work to try and take their mind off what they’ve been through. In my experience, this doesn’t work and only leaves you feeling tired, frustrated and upset.
I was not a huge fan of meditation before I had Charlotte. And to be honest, I’m still not a huge fan. The thought of having to sit still and only focus on one thing is a difficult concept for me. But for someone with an overactive mind, meditation is awesome. I don’t do it very often, but when I do, I always feel better afterwards. There are many apps out there to guide you through meditation. Smiling Mind and Headspace are the two that I use. It doesn’t have to be a long meditation, it just has to be restful for your brain. Set a daily alarm, and let that brain rest.
- Write it down
Words can be extremely cathartic. I had thought about starting a blog for a very long time but never really had the guts to do it. When I actually put words to paper they just flowed out of me. When I first asked my husband’s opinion on what I had written he said ‘did you really just write this today’? As though all of that could not possibly have been written in such a short period of time. But I guess that’s what happens when someone’s story is dying to make it to the surface, lying dormant, waiting to be given the oxygen it needs to break free and be heard.
As soon as my husband had read it, I already felt like a weight had been lifted. Even though he already knew all of what he was reading, it just felt so good to get it out there and to know that other people could soon read it too. I was excited. It was refreshing.
I’m not saying you should start a blog, but write it down somewhere. Get rid of the hurt, the anger, the devastation, the sadness. Write it and burn it if you have to. Put it in a journal and bury it. Or share it with the world. The choice is yours.