Birth Experience Vs. Expectations Counselling
Congratulations, you’ve had the baby! But while you have got through the first stage of becoming a parent there are many things about the birth experience that you might be upset or disappointed about, and these could be affecting your relationship or preventing you from moving forward. One or both of you are experiencing one or more of the following:
BIRTH EXPERIENCE VS. EXPECTATIONS
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You had it all planned, down to the music, the mood, what your partner would be doing, why no doctors would be needed and how calm you’d be, pushing that baby out as if you were a natural earth mother … DIDN’T HAPPEN!! Turns out you didn’t even come close to your original birth plan and now you feel all sorts of stuff that you’d rather not say because it’s not what you think you ‘should’ be feeling, thinking or experiencing. You are now the parent of a newborn, and everyone’s telling you how lucky you are and how grateful you should be, yet that doesn’t change the loss of control you’ve experienced and the loss of the dream you had of how you wanted to give birth. You may even have started to personalise it so that it’s become something to do with you – perhaps you feel a ‘failure’ because you didn’t perform the role you ‘should’ have done as a mother. Emotions such as grief and intense anger may be interfering with your relationship, and if these are not dealt with promptly they could become a pre-cursor to post-natal depression. It’s time to reach out for help now. Let’s talk before it breaks.
They listened to you, reassured you and were there for all your pregnancy milestones, but when the big moment came they may have been busy with another mum and bub, playing golf, on holiday, or caught up in their own emergency … whatever! It doesn’t change the fact that you had been working with this one medical expert, and building your trust and faith in them for your own special time to enter the unknown, but when it came to the crucial moment they weren’t there for you. You may or may not accept the reason why, but you feel let down and unsupported right from the beginning of your baby’s life. These feelings may be affecting your relationship with your partner and all your support people. Let’s talk before it breaks.
For the mother-to-be, the birth experience was nothing like you thought it would be. It wasn’t like all the books said, or like you’d seen on TV and in the movies. Quite frankly, it was traumatic, it freaked you out and you’re still not over it, no matter how hard you try to move on. You already feel as if you are alone, in uncharted territory, and now all the what-ifs, could-haves, should-haves and shouldn’t-haves are kicking around in your head, messing with your ability to be present. For the father-to-be, during the birth of your child, you may have experienced a feeling of incompetence or loss of your role as you watched your partner in pain and physical trauma, and there was nothing you could do to fix the situation. Everything now seems to be all about the mother and baby and how they’re doing, and you may be starting your parenting life feeling as if you are going unnoticed, while you’re possibly still quietly suffering from the shock of the delivery. You may also be feeling excluded and confused about where you fit in with the arrival of the new baby and the change in the relationship dynamics. Let’s talk before it breaks.
You may be experiencing the feeling of being ‘ripped off’ regarding the birth experience you wanted, and for some mums this can have a devastating impact on you and your relationship. You may have scheduled a C-Section and the baby came early so you had to go through the experience of a natural birth when you hadn’t prepared for it. For other mums-to-be, you passionately wanted a natural birth but you ended up in hospital due to complications and had to have an emergency C-Section. Whatever your birth experience, you had nearly nine months to envisage your hopes and dreams, and build up the picture of what you wanted, and at the end of the day those dreams were shattered. Your experience may evoke many feelings and could possibly be the cause of anxiety, stress and post-natal depression. All of these can have negative impacts on your relationship and need attention immediately. Let’s talk before it breaks.
You’d read and done everything you could to prepare for a natural birth, but then for reasons beyond your control the baby had to be delivered by C-Section. You’re feeling devastated as your dreams of the ‘ideal’ delivery have been crushed, and you feel you have failed at the most natural thing a woman is made to do. The new father is now confused. On one hand the result is great – mum and bub are alive and well – yet on the other hand mum isn’t dealing with the fact that she couldn’t give birth the way she had envisioned. You can’t help her at all and as the hormones and oxytocin levels surge in her, even just holding the baby could cause her to lose her temper or burst into tears. There are so many emotions flying around, the woman you love is now struggling, and you’re at a loss as to how to support her. Let’s talk before it breaks.
You thought that as soon as you saw your tiny pink baby you’d fall madly in love – that all those primal urges and emotions would wash over you and create a magical, lifelong bond that nothing in the universe could break. Instead, it feels as if you have given birth to an alien that cries nonstop, is never calm and cannot be soothed. The attachment isn’t happening, you are not yourself, and there’s no end in sight. Deep down you are filled with confusing love and a desire to look after this baby, yet there’s a part of you that wants to be back at work or some place where you feel in control, which doesn’t involve the baby. You may be feeling guilty, ashamed or concerned about the repurcussions of disclosing these negative feelings and uncertainties. The father-to-be may also be having mixed feelings towards the baby and the whole experience of parenthood unfolding before him. This is a time when all relationships are vulnerable and therefore a time when it’s even more important to get things out in the open. Let’s talk before it breaks.
So your boobs are bitten and battered. Your baby is hungry. You don’t want to do formula, the information from the professionals is conflicting and you’re getting more and more distressed. Experts have watched your attempts to breastfeed, and poked and squeezed you in ways that make you feel as if you are simply a dairy cow, and yet it’s still not working. Perhaps the milk is not there, perhaps you have too much milk, maybe the latching and attachment isn’t working or the baby vomits everything it’s just drunk. Whatever the problem, it’s awful! You’ve seen the images of buxom milk-dripping mothers with babies swinging from their boobs breastfeeding with no problems and yet for some reason it’s not working for you. As a result, you feel like a failure because you can’t give your baby what everyone’s touting as ‘the best nutrition possible’. The pressure is enormous and the personal impact devastating. Even if you decide to give up this process and move to formula, then you find yourself stressing about what that will do to your baby. Why does it feel as if you can’t get any bit of this process right? Let’s talk before it breaks.
Relatives can be a blessing and a burden – sometimes both at once. They bring their own expectations and experiences that can help and hinder through actions, suggestions, knowing glances, gestures and so much more. You are trying to navigate your own world that’s just changed from two to three, yet there are others around who are giving you unasked-for ‘best advice’ and ‘points of view’. Frankly, it sucks. You just wish they’d all leave you alone so you could try things out for the first time without everyone watching and remarking on your performance like sports commentators at a grand final match! Not to mention the fact that you feel as if every family member has become way too familiar with your boobs, which are constantly on display! You know everyone wants to help, but you also know they sometimes have their own agendas. How do you deal with that and keep your relationship with your partner solid? Many family members unconsciously undermine your partner and that can create doubt, second-guessing, assumptions and bad vibes between the two of you. What’s really crazy about this interference is most of that stuff isn’t even yours – it’s your family members’ values, opinions and points of view. You need to come together as a couple and develop strategies to help you become resilient to the family and their ‘care’. Let’s talk before it breaks.
It all got too much for the father-to-be (for a variety of reasons) and he left before the baby was born. You’ve gone through the birth and have now come out the other side with a beautiful baby but no support, and you’re feeling devastated that your baby’s father has gone and your relationship is over. For some women, this could be a blessing in disguise, and that’s okay. For many women, him leaving at this sensitive time of your life, while you’re lying there with a dependant newborn in your arms, is an overwhelming and confronting experience. You’re consumed by loneliness yet you’re trying to keep it together for the sake of your new baby. Also, many people will ask you about the father as they assume he’s around, so you find you have to keep explaining it or shut down the conversation. Either way, it’s so upsetting and so hard to deal with, you may feel it’s easier to avoid engaging with people and having to go through the whole thing again. However, the reality is that there will almost always be some connection between you and the father where your child is concerned. So even though it may feel as if you have gone from two to three and back to two again, you will actually still be three but in a different form. What you need to do is find ways to maintain the relationship for the sake of your child. Let’s talk before it breaks.
You didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, avoided all the ‘bad’ and ‘risky’ foods, lightly exercised and completely behaved yourself. It seems as if you’ve deprived yourself of so much for so long all in the name of a healthy baby and yet now that’s all done … your baby isn’t ‘perfect’. You think it’s your fault – and if you don’t, your partner does. Where do you go with that? How is your relationship going to survive if you don’t start talking about it now? Let’s talk before it breaks.
Sometimes a delivery doesn’t go to plan and the mum sustains an injury. Unfortunately, that injury isn’t like a sprained ankle or broken arm but is in a far more private and personal place – one that’s connected to a lot of emotion and issues of identity. Some new mothers may also have had other medical injuries or complications that will change them completely from the woman who entered the hospital before the baby was born. How do you both deal with that? How does an injury or change in the mother’s body impact on your relationship? How does it alter the roles and expectations of care for the baby if the mother can’t be the primary carer? You have entered a new world that probably lay outside your considerations, and you need to work out how to support each other and your child so you can move forward. Let’s talk before it breaks.
All those fears you had about entering the unknown and having a baby for the first time pale into insignificance when the unexpected happens and your smaller-than-a-tub-of-butter baby is whisked into the neonatal unit, put in a perspex box full of harsh lights and you can’t even touch them. The baby’s life is touch and go, and the stress, worry and anguish that come with this are almost unbearable. You also have to deal with telling everyone, going through the ‘Oh my gosh’ comments and explaining everything over and over, as well as being at the hospital night and day. You’re both brand-new parents and this additional stress and trauma is a great deal for your relationship to bear. How do you stay strong together and still deal with all the emotions, thoughts and concerns you’re going through? You need support, emotional release and a whole heap of other things to get you through this tough time. Let’s talk before it breaks.
Without question this is the worst nightmare for any parent, and if you are reading this and it has happened to you, my heart goes out to you during this dark and terrible time. You may not believe it right now but things will get better in time, and there are steps you can take even now to help you deal with the loss of your child and reduce your vulnerability to post-natal depression and anxiety. I imagine that it feels as if your whole world has been turned upside down in ways you never even anticipated – right now you can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel and you probably just want to hide in a dark place and never come out. Firstly, just know that others have gone before you and managed to find happiness and forge a bright future. In these difficult times the strain on your relationship could prove destructive so it is important to take a positive step together. The sooner you get support – not just immediately after this tragic event but for several months following – the sooner you can both begin to heal. Let’s talk before it breaks.