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Bringing Baby into the World is Leaving Mums and Dads Traumatised

When you are preparing to welcome a little one into the world it is such an exciting and anxiety provoking time for most. This journey may have started with a long awaited or very unexpected positive test but from that moment your life was changed. We work hard to prepare for the change reading books that show you growth from a tiny bean to a pumpkin, attend appointments waiting to to hear a heartbeat and watch them change from scan to scan, attend antenatal classes, stock the nursery and maybe even go into nesting mode and paint the whole house. Even with all this prep though get talking about birth with people and you will quickly find that there is a lot of trauma tied up in this experience in our western world. The day that is supposed to be the most beautiful in your life is leaving many Mum's and Dad's scarred (in more than just the delightful physical sense associated with babies arrival).

Trauma can be understood as any event that reduces your systems ability to cope with future stress, this means that what is considered traumatic for each individual varies greatly and there is no one birthing experience that would be considered to be trauma free. I remember being on placement during my studies in the hospital setting when I was advised that a Social Worker would attend to all women who birthed via C section to assist with the processing of this, as someone with no kids of my own at the time I was shocked, why were caesarean births assumed at default as being traumatic processes, wasn't there a way parents could be supported to still feel empowered and safe regardless of how their baby enters the world? Later in life I was to learn that the divide between caesarean and vaginal delivery meant little in whether birth was a traumatic experience. Attend any baby shower and you are sure to hear stories of people who felt unheard, unsupported and unsafe in these precious moments.

Allowing birth to feel safe and supported not only benefits the parents reducing the negative effects of trauma on their nervous systems, emotional wellbeing and their lives in general moving forward but also has importance for their infant who straight away will look to these caregivers for support to regulate their nervous system and have their needs met. So with moments this important at stake how is it that our systems just accepts the level of trauma being caused to people. I'm not suggesting that all birth experiences can become orgasmic, lotus flower opening moments with the power of a few positive thoughts but I am saying that there is lots that isn't being done that could drastically improve birthing experiences.

Firstly we need to be talking far more about what birth looks like when not everything goes to plan, not as contraception or a joke but actually giving expecting parents a blue print in what to expect and how they can best navigate the medical system if things aren't going to plan. There are some fantastic midwife and doula led podcasts and books available (The Midwives Cauldron, Birth, Baby and Beyond, Built to Birth and The Modern Midwives Guide to Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond) that break this down. Having this knowledge means that we can throw out the idea of a birth plan and instead approach birth with a clear idea of your preferences knowing what you would like to happen in a range of the potential circumstances that can arise during and after birth (yes, you can still write these down to provide to your care team and I would). Make sure your birth partner knows as well so that if you are the birthing parent you can be confident that someone else in that room knows exactly what you want.

If you start exploring some of the circumstances that can arise be mindful of any anxiety this may provoke, remember you are only researching them so you can be prepared if they do arise though it is likely that very few or possibly even none of them will actually occur for you. If it is to much though feel free to delegate this task to your support people, as having this knowledge will help you to speak the medical language should you end up birthing in a hospital setting, if ever unsure in your journey use the BRAIN tool to explore the benefits, risks, alternatives, your intuition and ask what would happen if you did nothing.

If you're still in the process of preparing for birth another avenue available to reduce the likelihood of trauma is to seek out hypnobirthing education, a doula or perinatal mental health support who can support you to build trust in yourself and find calm during the process. Setting the space to feel dark and comfortable and/or having a safe place or happy memory in your mind can assist your bodies production of oxytocin aiding both birth and regulation.

Maybe however you have already given birth or been present as a support person and the events have been traumatic there are things you can do to assist in the sense making both straight away and down the line. A prominent trauma therapist wrote about their experience of a significant event in their lives and their response of ensuring they retold the story with as much detail as possible before falling asleep as soon as they could following the event. In the whirl wind of new parenthood, sleep deprivation and visitors it can be hard to find a moment to but when you do find a listening ear or journal your experience, tell your story. Even after the immediate event continuing to tell your story in supportive environments can assist you to piece together the narrative. You may find there are gaps in your recollection, recontact your care staff and seek their input to find out why certain decisions were made and how the process unfolded. Ideally I would wish that after each birth a little birth summary was provided to families to allow them to return to as they desire.

As I navigated my own birth I communicated to my care team that is necessary my preference was to grieve my birth 'plan' rather than grieve my baby or have loved ones grieve me. This was my acknowledgment to myself that something was being lost but that at the same time it would be an informed decision for good reason. I share this in the hopes that you too can give yourself permission to grieve any parts of your birth that didn't eventuate in the manner you had hoped. Often you will hear that the arrival of a healthy baby is all that matters but the birth of parents is also crucial (even if it is your 7th baby, you've never been their parent before) and it is okay for you to take time to grieve for an experience you didn't get to have.

More than anything though should your birth have resulted in negative physical (I have no expertise in this area but know many experiences are complicated further by long term physical harm resulting from birth) or mental consequences provide feedback to your care providers. Not only is telling stories in private settings important but personal stories identify and reflect important public matters. It is only through being heard that we can hope to see systemic changes and see birth reclaimed as a positive space even if it looks different to how we may have first imagined.

Fertility, pregnancy, birth and parenting are all emotional experiences and seeking support at any stage in these journey's can make the world of difference. So if you have experienced trauma, stress or would just like additional support in relation to birth trauma, family planning, IFV, pregnancy loss, stillbirth or any other challenges related to parenting reach out for support today.

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