All around are bright coloured balloons, the cake waiting for candles to be lit and wishes to be made. Gifts wrapped in shiny paper call out to be opened.
Deep inside turmoil churns away. Today is suppose to be happy, a celebration but instead there is pain, sorrow and sadness. This isn’t suppose to be how you feel today, the birthday of dear little one.
The birthday of your child can be a challenge when suffering with birth trauma. The conflict of emotions felt can be deeply troubling and painful. Guilt, anger, sadness, sorrow and grief. On a day when you wish to be celebrating, and sharing the joy of your child’s birth you instead can feel like your world is closing in, threatening to smother you. Others may not understand, after all your ok now, right? Trauma leaves its mark and cannot just be wiped away, however much we wish it, and even though months even years may have passed the scars still remain.
So what can help you to cope with birthdays after Birth Trauma?
How you feel matters
All to often we are quick to discount our feelings, we try to put them in a little box, shut down the lid and keep them hidden away. How You feel matters. You are important, the day your little one was born, was your day too. It was the day you became a parent, that months, even years of dreams and expectations became a reality. When birth is difficult, doesn’t go how we had planned, how that makes us feel matters. Think of it another way. What other traumatic event would anyone go through where they then every year were faced with reminders of what they had been through, but also be a day where the expectation was to celebrate?
Sadly for many they way they feel and have been affected by the birth of their baby isn’t acknowledged. Those around them may feel they should have moved on and be ‘over it’. However when we have been deeply affected and changed by such a traumatic experience this is difficult to do, especially when finding support can be hard. Your dreams and plans may have been shattered, your start as a new parent, full of pain and fear, this stays with us sometimes affecting us for a very long time.
In all the excitement of present buying, cake baking and balloon blowing there lies lurking in the background a dark oppressive fog. The joy of my child’s 3rd birthday is overshadowed with memories and flashbacks of a yesterday that feels all too fresh despite times advancement. It’s been 26,280 hours since my child’s birth and most of these hours have passed with some thought; some reliving; deep breathing anxiety that lingers from the point I thought my life was over, that I wouldn’t get to know my little girl or grow old with her daddy. It’s been 3 years and my daughter is filled with excitement for a day she knows we celebrate. Of course that is only right, I wouldn’t wish these thoughts on her so I’ll slip on the mask that’s showing signs of wear and I’ll sing happy birthday because that’s what you have to do right? The time will come when she’s full of cake and happy memories dreaming sweetly in bed, when my mask can be removed and I’ll weep for a yesterday that remains so clear in my thoughts, for what it was and for what it could have been. – Claire
Guilt and Grief
I can hear you saying, ‘but this is the birth of my baby’, you want to be happy, you want to celebrate, but you feel all this pain, and so the feelings of guilt can cascade, tumbling in your mind, causing great distress. As the day approaches you may instead of joy feel increased anxiety and even fear. The events of the birth may return to your mind, vivid and painful. Everyone around you may be excited and full of expectation, eager to know what you have planned. The guilt that you may not feel the same way can be crushing, and fear can hold you back from telling those that love you how you are really feeling. Guilt that your struggling with the birthday of your child can be overwhelming.
So where does grief fit in?
Well grieving what is lost, how you have been affected and all that this means for you and your family is important. Grieving is part of your healing and coping with the feelings of guilt. Having the space to grieve even this, your child’s birthday is vital. It’s also ok. It’s ok to be sad, to feel hurt, to feel anger and loss. It’s ok to feel happy that for you this day meant trauma and pain. It’s ok to struggle and need the love and support, as well as understanding, of those around you. When you have the space to grieve, then guilt will start to release its grip.
Take time for you
What really helped me was learning, with time, to separate my daughters birth, from what happened that day. I realised that I could celebrate her, her life, our experiences and memories, the gift that she has been to me. Yet I could also feel the pain and hurt that was her birth, that I nearly lost her and nearly lost my life too. That the day was the most terrifying of my life, but also the best day of my life, because it gave me her. I spent time looking for and dwelling on the tiniest moments of light I could find, in the darkest of hours, like how they held her above me before they whisked her away and she looked a tiny fairy, plucked from a flower.
Gradually those moments of light burned brighter and gave me strength and calm. I thought too about all the memories we had built the year before, no matter how small and how precious they were to me, even the difficult days. Then on the day itself I would try to celebrate those moments, our memories, our surviving, our not losing each other. I would however then at the end of day as she lay sleeping, take time for me. Time to cry, sometimes heartbreaking racking sobs. Time to acknowledge what had been taken from me and how I had been changed and suffered. I would let my heart feel it, all of it. Time too to reflect on my complete gratitude to have had a life with her, to watch her grow and take her first step and lose her first tooth.
Never should you feel that you don’t matter, that the day is your journey too. So take time for You.
Remember what matters. Do what is right for you.
Jumping Castles, balloons, cakes, and games. A clown or magician, party bags and gifts. The pressure to have a big celebration can be huge. We can place so much pressure on ourselves to do the most amazing birthdays. Remember what really matters. Our children want our time and love. Everything else are extras. So ask. What is right for us, as a family. What can I reasonably do, and cope with? There are no right or wrongs, birthdays can be as unique as you.
Maybe it’s a day out just as a family, maybe a cosy day in watching films and eating cake. What matters is you all feel loved, that you care for yourself, as much as you do for others. What matters is that emotionally you are nurtured and supported. What matters is that your child has you by their side, and can feel the depth of your love. Cakes are eaten, toys get broken, but love lasts forever, so does building beautiful memories.
So happy birthday little ones, no matter how hard it may be. Remember that while it is they day your child came into the world, it’s your day too, that you matter and that sometimes from the hardest, darkest of times there is hope, healing and glimpses of light, that carry you on beyond birth trauma.