Why the “All that matters” syndrome should really just go suck it.
All too often, when the birth didn’t go quite as the mother had hoped for, well-meaning folk are always so quick to produce the, “all that matters is that it’s a healthy baby” . Or the “you know, the end result is all that matters, not the delivery. ” Or even the “that’s not important, darling. All that matters is that you and baby are fine”…All that matters… *cue silent head shake*…Now, I have absolutely no doubt that these well-meaning friends and family are truly just trying to offer that poor mother a bridge over her troubled waters. Except, all that the “bridge” is really doing is belittling her actual feelings, and adding an extra layer of shame. Shame that she really doesn’t need.
And yet, day in and day out, you’ll find countless mothers who have been left with that great disappointment that haunt them, are now also then strapped down with the weight of that guilt being handed down by others. Consequently, due to this, they are then silenced into burying any negative emotions about their birth experience – and left in silent turmoil by themselves. I mean, how dare she be sad when she was just blessed with a healthy child in her arms, right?! That’s the basic message that is being given to these moms. Balls, is what I say.
I know, or at least, Im sure that it’s supposed to be a sort of well-intended means of short circuiting that mother’s sadness, for her to then focus on what is “really important”. But, please excuse me while I try to suppress my frustration at that line of oversimplified, narrow-minded, and poorly-informed line of thought. Because, here’s the thing: that mother’s birth experience is “really important”. So very important! It is a vital part of her metamorphosis into motherhood, and whatever way it goes down that day- good or bad- will have a lasting effect on every fibre of her being. Conscious or subconscious.
So, to that mother, I’d like you to know:
Your heartbreak is real. Your pain is real. Very real.
Whether it happened because it was that you were bullied into a c-sect, or because for the sake of baby and/or you, it was absolutely necessary, or that it didn’t go as you had hoped for – it doesn’t matter – it can be a traumatic experience all the same. If you balled your eyes, and voiced your disappointment by wailing through it all, hysteric sobbing, or if you stoically navigated your way through it all in silence- it doesn’t matter – what you felt was real. And it DOES matter.
I have been fortunate in that I have had birth experiences that I had hoped for (here and here): In my birth space, I felt safe and secure, respected, surrounded in love, unrushed, peaceful, gently cradled by people who believed in my body, understood birth and its sacredness. However, I had to fight for that. And I had to fight hard. It’s sad that often that’s what it takes these days to be “allowed” to give your body half a chance at vaginal birth. But I can only imagine…In fact, no… I cannot even imagine the emotions I would have had, had I let that doctor bully me into fitting into his C-sect schedule.
And yet, I’ve seen it over and over again – in friends, acquaintances, even moms I just met in the clinic or in the queue who oddly end up sharing their birth experiences with me, along with their anger and frustration in how it all went down. Frustration with the doctors, with the process, and frustration with themselves. Rage with how it was all handled, rage with themselves, or rage for the “how did I allow it” guilt.
Don’t be mistaken, this is not about that natural vs c-sect debate at all, this is about a mother having suffered a form of trauma. So to the momma who may have felt like you were steered down a certain path through the use of fear tactics, don’t be mistaken, Momma, something traumatic did happen – you were robbed of your power.
To the moms who found themselves in a situation, where you were made to feel as if all the decisions rushed, without your full consent or proper consideration, I hear you. Honestly, it’s really not even a question of c-sect or natural, it’s about feeling empowered in the choices around your birth. Not being stripped of it.
Sometimes, you get subtly bullied down a path you didn’t even realise you were on. And sometimes things just don’t happen the way you had hoped for, where situations beyond your control necessitate a change in plan or expectation. Either way, the lasting effects of that birth experience often haunts mothers for the longest time thereafter. For months, days years -longer than they would even let on.
Bringing a child into this world is not a daily occurrence – there’s only so few times you’ll have the honour of doing it in this lifetime. And each birth is so unique and sacred, that you will never get a chance to relive it. Like, ever again. You will simply never get it back. Its permanent. So there should be no surprise then in the gravity of impact that the birth experience will have on a mother. Her perception of that birth is what counts!
It’s important to know that birth trauma can take many forms (nature of delivery, physically traumatic births, psychologically bullied, etc.), but essentially boils down to a mother feeling cheated out of certain hopes or expectations with regards to the birth of her child, and feeling emotionally scarred by it. In fact, did you know that there are several studies that link the increase in post-natal depression with that of a mother’s dissatisfaction of her birth experience? Which may often lead into Post Traumatic stress Disorder. (See here and here and here ). Coupled with that, their general ability to better adapt to their new life as a mother is also directly impacted upon by their level of satisfaction with their birth experience.(It’s also good to note that yes, Post Natal Depression is a chemical/hormonal matter, and what is key is that various factors may have a negative impact on a mother’s natural hormonal cocktail at birth, like pharmaceutical drugs (pain relief), as well as any trauma experienced during child birth. The chain reaction is immense, but that is another post in itself.)
Often, as reported by many such a mother, many of their friends and family could not comprehend the depths of their grief. And that all those well-meaning “all that matters” comments just made them feel that because they were trying to express any of their pain, they were actually just being unappreciative of their healthy child. And this just couldn’t be further from the truth!
So, to these mothers, let me say it to you now…it’s okay to grieve.
Your heartbreak is real. That pain is real. And more than that, your pain is justified. Let me say that again, Your pain is justified. You have every right to grieve, without guilt. Shedding tears for your experience does not make you a bad mother. Does not make you ungrateful. Does not make you love your child any less. And certainly does not make you any less of a mother. And if I could, I would hug you right through this screen, right now.
Birth trauma is real and it certainly needs real support, not the diminutizing or dismissive comments that are often so easily flung at you – no matter how much they are coated in ignorance and good intentions.
You need to know that its ok to grieve your birth experience…You need to know that you deserve to be treated with respect and the appropriate care, so as to allow yourself to work through the experience… In fact, it’s very key that you do grieve. Everyone knows that when mothers are happier and healthier, so is everyone else…So, for the sake of yourself, your baby’s well-being, and the general harmony of your home, recognize the realness of your emotions and acknowledge them. Allow yourself to cry, to be angry, to go through the range of emotions that often accompany trauma. And then purge yourself of the guilt, rage, grief, and fear. Release it, so that you can move on from it to fulfill and embrace your mothering fully, without being weighed down.
Because the thing is, all that matters is all of it…just everything. Motherhood is such a complex and all-encompassing affair, and starts right from the time that little life sparks inside of you…Perhaps, some would argue, even before that – by merely making the choice to become one. There are so many different facets to it, all of which make up the whole. You, your baby, your emotional stability, all of it matters.
So take care of yourself, mommas! X
If you feel you need help in this regard, or suspect you may have Post Natal Depression, the Post Natal Depression Support Association website has all their contact details.
Or perhaps you’re interested in Hypnotherapy to help you address your grief or trauma, then contact Kim Young, a Professional Hypnosis Practitioner, from Beautifully Born on 073 085 6645