Months have gone by since A's birth and NICU stay. She is so healthy and thriving. And yet, at times I still feel like I have not processed all that happened. At the time I just coped. I did what I needed to do to get through every day. Now time has passed, I sometimes look back with feelings of guilt, horror and shock.
I have attended some counseling sessions to process A's NICU stay and the guilt and anxiety I have felt around her ongoing feeding issues. I found it so helpful to talk to a sympathetic ear.
But, I've never really processed all that went on around the birth.
When I think about it now, it's coloured by all that has gone on since. On the one hand, I know now that Baby A is fine, so I look back and wish I had worried less and been kinder to myself. On the other hand, in the 'mummy' circles I mix with, I keep hearing over and over why a c-section is bad for a baby, and that overload of knowledge just makes me feel like I did bad by her. I know the ongoing issues she has had from prematurity and feel guilty for them.
In reality I know there was no other option for us. It was emergency c-section or death. I know which I'd prefer. Still, I have strong feelings that my body really failed us, and I can still see that failure on baby's A's face everyday (her NG tube.)
I heard about 'Birth story listening sessions' on facebook. Run by a wellington based doula, it's a one hour session where she listens to your birth story and helps you reframe it.
Susie the doula was lovely. I felt relaxed with her, but a little nervous and awkward, as you do when you open up to a stranger. To begin I told her the basics of what happened at the birth (as recounted here). Then she asked me to pick a specific moment that still hurts to look back on, to talk about.
I picked the moment I saw the photo of baby A. It was at that point, lying on the theatre table, that I realised I wasn't going to be able to 'see' her face to face for a while. Looking at the photo that Matt was showing me on the back of the camera, I felt nothing. I felt no rush of love, no bonding. I felt numb. All I could see was a tiny head and some nurse hands. I could hardly see the back of the camera, because I couldn't hold it myself, and my eyes wouldn't focus. It wasn't the 'magical' moment when you meet your baby. I felt no connection to her.
What do you imagine when you think of giving birth? For me it was immediate skin to skin, at the very least seeing my baby with my own eyes, nuzzling, cuddles straight away (not three days later!), feeding and so on. I got none of that, and it hurts.
So when I saw her photo, and felt nothing, it hurt, it really did. And when I eventually did see her, hours later, it was not what I expected. I was wasted after surgery, so not in the best state. There were so many people around her incubator. All I could see was a tiny head, covered in breathing apparatus. I couldn't see any resemblance to Matt or I. She could have been any baby. I loved her yes, but I didn't feel like her mother.
Susie helped me re-frame my feelings around those early days. I have held onto the feeling that my body failed Baby A. But I need to let that go.
Susie told me different ways my body had nourished my baby.
I had carried A, grown her inside me.
I cuddled her skin to skin nearly every day that she was in NICU (some days she had cuddles with her Dad.) The proven benefits of skin to skin for preemies are too numerous to count. Those cuddles healed her, and me.
I pumped breastmilk for her for 8 months.
I made the best decision I could on the day, with the knowledge I had, and now we are both here, we are both alive.
My body nourished my baby, and did not fail her.
I nourished my baby and I am a good mother.
I am still on a journey of 'forgiving' myself for all that went on. I'm not going to lie and say that I feel over it all now from one session. I don't think I will be able to fully move on until we are finished having children. But the session really helped me to be kinder to myself. To see the positives from a hard situation.
While most people have been positive to me about all that happened, I have had harsh words from some about the risks involved with c-sections and with not providing her breastmilk past 8 months. And, I need to learn to tune out those voices. I have done the best I know how, and while that might not fit with some peoples vision of 'mothering,' that doesn't matter. I need to learn to not engage with those conversations, not to waste my energy feeling hurt.
At the end of the session, Susie asked me to imagine that photo, when I first saw Baby A. The original caption I might have had on it was "You failed her. You are a bad mother. You let her down." She asked me to cross out that old caption, and asked me what I would write now.
"You are a great mum. You did the best you could for your baby. Your body nourished her. Be kind to yourself."
If you live in Wellington, and would like a Birth Story Listening Session, contact Susie on firstname.lastname@example.org and on 022 652 9003, or check out her website www.susiethedoula.co.nz
(I was not compensated for this post in any way, just writing about a genuine experience that I found helpful)