Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, "I will try again tomorrow." -Mary Anne Redmacher
Happy Belated Mother's Day, from the Center for Mindful Living, to every maternal figure in earshot! We are grateful to you and the nurturing you provide for your family - be that biological or emotional. Your love ripples out and helps our whole world be a gentler place. Thank you.
Being a mother can be extraordinarily difficult. Every shape and role of mother I have seen requires such love, patience and wisdom - and the slow simmering pain of having your heart sprout legs and move through the world outside of your body. I have had the honor of working closely with mothers through my entire career as a therapist - from parents of medically fragile children, foster and adoptive parents, step parents, working with a local nonprofit, teaching parenting classes in Douglas County jail, to my role now as an attachment oriented therapist in private practice.
Because of my philosophy and experiences in attachment combined with my passion for healing trauma, I have found myself a niche with women who are experiencing post partum depression or anxiety, or who have experienced birth trauma.
A recent study of birth experiences in the United States has found that for every woman who dies in childbirth, another 70 come close. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 50,000 women a year have "severe maternal morbidity," a term for nearly dying during or as a result of childbirth. Other women's health organizations believe that number is closer to 80,000 women a year. While these findings show us the urgent need to improve women's access to quality healthcare, I don't believe any adult would be too surprised: we all know a friend or family member who has experienced the terror of a close-call labor.
There are many women who have their own stories of loss of control or existential fear, but because "it all turned out fine" they don't acknowledge the trauma they experienced, or are encouraged to minimize their own emotional needs to heal from their trauma because "you and baby are healthy, you should be grateful!"
Then the busy-ness of motherhood kicks in, along with the long list of expectations: to breastfeed (but not in public), to lose that baby weight, to get back to work (but not too fast lest you be judged going the other direction), to be an open and enthusiastic sexual partner, to raise your child in the "right" way, to get this baby to sleep through the night (Don't cry it out! But don't coddle!), to shoulder the mental labor of running a household - but don't forget, this is a magical time so smile! Enjoy every moment, otherwise you're doing it wrong!
First off, I'm going to let you all in on a little secret: you don't have to enjoy every moment. Moments are fleeting, and they give you a spectrum of joy, pain, despair, laughter, exhaustion... to attempt to "enjoy" these moments is an exercise in sustained guilt. Second, you absolutely don't need to feel guilty for feeling bad after nearly dying. And if you and your baby survived labor with minimal long lasting repercussions, that does not mean that everything is "fine." You have been injured, and that requires healing.
Recovering from trauma is complex and can take a long time, and you have permission to take good care of yourself, listen to your body, and ask for help. It's okay to cry, to be frustrated. And if you need to talk to someone about what happened to you, please know that you can. There is a cadre of marvelous people in the world - other mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, sisters, friends, clinicians - who can help you hold some of this weight while you work on feeling better.
If you are experiencing some of the feelings I mentioned in this article, please don't hesitate to ask for help. We here at the Center are a good resource, but we're not the only people in town dedicated to helping. A good place to start is the United Way - call 211 and let them know what sort of help you might need. Childcare, counseling, breastfeeding support, parenting classes and support groups... they have a huge list of organizations around town that can help you. It may feel lonely right now, but know you are not in this alone. You've got this, and we would love to help you.