Connections. Dis-connection. What does this mean to you? There is so much that I could say about the connection I have between my son and I, and how it was damaged initially by my traumatic birth, and subsequent years of ill health. I could write about my post-natal depression, and my lack of bond with my baby. I could write about the impact on the connection with friends and family, with my husband and colleagues. Today, I don’t feel like dwelling on any of that. I just haven’t got it in me right now. Once again Covid arguments and judgments are flaring up, and I feel like I am suffocating in a sea of anger, distrust and blame. I understand that Birth Trauma Awareness Week is focused on the negative impact a bad birth experience can have on the connection a mother has with their baby, and this is vital in helping medical professionals, and society in general, understand what we mothers go through. But I have chosen to focus on the women in the corner, who have experienced a terrible birth, and who will read those stories and feel comforted by their familiarity with what is being described….but who also want to know what happens after that. What connections come out of a bad birth experience? If that connection isn’t there at the beginning, can it ever be regained?
As I write this today, Monday 19th July 2021, I am taking a break from updating my website, which I set up almost one year ago. I am branching my website out a little, to include the stories of people who have also found happiness after a traumatic birth, or who have found a way to live a full, active life with their stoma, despite the turbulent start. This past year I have connected with so many people, in so many ways – either through our shared experience of a traumatic birth or by having an ostomy. Despite my initial misgivings, social media, in particular Instagram, has proved to be a vital organ in the body of the post-trauma community. I thought that Instagram was all about pouting selfies, beautiful filtered photos and cliched inspirational quotes, vacuous tripe which did nothing to help those struggling in difficult situations. How wrong I turned out to be.
I took my first tentative steps onto social media last summer, when I launched my blog on both Facebook and later Instagram. At the time, I only knew a handful of friends or acquaintances who had experienced a traumatic birth like I had, but no-one who had a stoma as a result, or who I felt able to discuss openly our shared experience. I pinned a post on my Facebook page explaining my story in brief – the birth, the stoma, the PTSD and mental health issues, but also the ultimate recovery and happy life I was now leading. Initially it was shared only by friends, but before long strangers began following the blog. I started getting messages from women who thanked me for talking so openly about a topic with which they were sadly all too familiar. It was a strange concept to me – there were women like me after all, so many women, from all over the world, and who were so keen to connect to share our feelings on a subject which so few can understand.
There is an instant connection between the women who have been through a difficult birth. We are part of the tribe which no one wants to be in, but which in reality has been around for as long as women have been giving birth to babies. Although our births may be different, and the impact on us all varies, we have a mutual understanding of the crushing disappointment which accompanies a poor birth experience. The maternal guilt you feel if the magical bond with your treasured baby isn’t flowing through your veins like you feel it should. The terror that this bond will never come. The tension that can be caused between partners, the silent screams we all have when yet another person glibly states “but at least the baby is ok”. We understand the battles with well meaning family members, and friends, who comment “maybe if you have another baby it will help you forget the trauma of the first” – without any concept of the anxiety which surrounds anything baby related at all. A baby can never, indeed should never, be a sticking plaster to heal the brokenness which can be caused by the birth of another.
Over on Instagram, the sense of connection was even greater, as on there it is much easier to connect with communities of women, mothers, health professionals and organisations with the same aim – to support, empower and heal women who have been traumatised by childbirth. I poured through the accounts of women just like me, and exchanged messages with many of them. There is something very powerful about the connection between us mothers – we are a force to be reckoned with, and there is enormous fighting spirit amongst us all. We recognise that some mothers are still in the early days of grieving for the birth they thought they would have, for the women they used to be, and those of us who are further down the path, are happy to take on the fight for those who feel unable to. There is no judgement. There is no competition. There is, quite simply, connection – true, real, and honest.
As for the connection with my baby? Well, my baby is now almost 10. I adore him, I love him just the way I thought I should from the beginning. The part of me which was clouded over, which couldn’t breathe because of the veil of trauma, hurt and exhaustion blanketed over my heart, has now cleared. My heart is full, my love for my son is like no other I feel. The connection I have with him is unique and glorious.
So take heart ladies. You will find that connection with your child, it isn’t lost forever, simply temporarily misplaced. In the meantime, you have an entire, warm and loving community of women all waiting to connect with you. It’s no compensation for the connection you are currently waiting for – but it makes that wait immeasurably easier to deal with. Connections are all important, and are ultimately what makes us human.