One of the hardest things about birth trauma is the loneliness. It can feel as though you truly are completely and utterly by yourself sometimes; adrift in a small boat on a huge ocean, with nothing but the highest waves creating unbreakable walls between you and the rest of civilisation. It can feel as though nobody else will ever understand what you are thinking, feeling or experiencing. It can feel as though you and YOU alone, are the only person who has suffered in this way. Of course, I know from the many messages, tweets, emails and comments I receive that sadly this isn’t true. There are other women like me. Drifting, alone, scared. And many of these women are more alone because the thing that they are drifting from, the trauma that has led them to this place of nothingness and numbing, frustrating anger, that trauma is the one thing they are being denied. We are ‘catastrophising’. We are ‘exaggerating’. We are fantasising, we are confused, we are damaging. We, and our trauma, are not acknowledged.
Three days ago I had my first CBT counselling session, and during the hour I spent in that little room I was asked to talk about the reasons why I had been referred. She knew that I was having trouble sleeping, and that I was suffering with anxiety, and she knew that I’d previously mentioned a ‘difficult’ birth with my son. But she wanted to hear me speak, and she wanted to hear about my feelings, and what was going on in my life right now. She asked me what I thought was the root of my anxiety. Why I had such a fear of driving to unfamiliar places, of being lost, of letting people down. Why I had trouble falling and staying asleep. Why I felt that some days were just too hard.
There can only ever be one answer to all of that. My son’s birth.
It’s what I see when I cannot sleep. The faces hidden behind the masks as the bars of the bed are heaved up with a clanging bang. The eyes screaming silently and unspoken words hanging in the air like droplets of steam. The silence. Always the silence. Absence of sound where there should be the beating of my son’s heart.
The image of my baby, wrapped in a scratchy blue hospital blanket, his eyes closed and his mouth curled into an angry O. My son, sitting in the arms of a stranger, crying, wailing, waiting. My son, needing me to hold him and love him and believe that he is mine.
All the guilt, shame, fear, loneliness. It all comes to me in the night, and sometimes when I least expect it. And that same guilt fear and shame can creep up on me too. It can wrap around me slowly, through the course of a week, until I can no longer deny it’s existence. And I know I am going down. I know that this is going to be a bad day. I know that this thing will, eventually, take me.
And, after almost seven years, these thoughts, feelings and dreams are still impacting on my life. They are not getting better. It’s been almost see years and I am not getting better. And no matter how many times I have been told to move on, to forget what happened, to be grateful for what I have… no matter how many times I still cannot shake this feeling. It will be with me forever.
And my counsellor? She told me that I was suffering from trauma related anxiety. That what happened with my son was so huge that my brain just couldn’t cope. She used an analogy of a factory. The brain has a conveyor belt filled with memories, that move along through the course of your life in little boxes. These boxes pass along the line, are processed by us, and are stored in the relevant places. But sometimes, an event occurs that is too big for a normal sized box. It needs a bigger box that requires a little more unpacking in order to fit through.
My son’s birth was too big for me to cope with. My son’s birth was too much for me to process. My son’s birth was a trauma.
And there is that acknowledgment.
Not something I created. Not something I exaggerated. Not something I was confused about.
And the relief was like a wave of warm water. I was being acknowledged, at last. I was allowed to feel this way. I was allowed to, one day. shed the guilt and shame and fear.